Explore kinship and family networks of multigenerational black, white, and mixed families of early Washington, D.C. These networks have been created using information derived from the court records, as well as genealogical research. Cases reveal deep interconnections between the families of early Washington. Because of the importance of kinship and family in matters of freedom, the petition for freedom case files in particular often contain genealogical information for the black and white families involved in these suits. The families presented here are selected for full analysis and presentation because of their prominence in the court records.
The Bell family tried to use the courts to uphold their manumission. When the legal system failed them, they turned to the Underground Railroad and became involved in The Pearl Incident.
Several generations of the Davis family petitioned the Court for their freedom from various masters, arguing that as descendants of a free woman, they should be entitled to their liberty.
Several members of the Dunbar-Graham family petitioned for their freedom from descendants of Richard Brown on the grounds that they were to be emancipated when they reach 31 years of age.
Several members of the Lee family petitioned for their freedom in fear that their present master would not adhere to the deed of emancipation that freed their mother and stipulated they be manumitted upon reaching specific ages.
Many members of the Queen family petitioned courts in Maryland and D.C. for their freedom, based upon their descent from a free woman. They had varying degrees of success.
Multiple generations of the Thomas family petitioned in Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. for their freedom, arguing that as descendants of a white woman, they should be entitled to their liberty.
Elizabeth Brown sold an enslaved family to her sister, Francis Alexander, with the condition that they be freed after a specific number of years. Several petitions for freedom were filed against Mrs. Alexander's heirs when this condition was not upheld.
Members of Carroll family defended freedom suits filed by several enslaved families including the Queen Family, who claimed freedom by way of descent from a free woman.
Several enslaved people held in bondage by members of the Greenfield family filed petitions in the Circuit Court, using various arguments to try and obtain their freedom.
Francis Scott Key, his uncle, Philip Barton Key, and his son, Philip Barton Key II, represented both enslaved persons and their owners in freedom petitions before courts in Maryland and D.C.
The Wharton and Pile families enslaved numerous members of the Thomas Family and also traded and exchanged them with their neighbors and acquaintances. Many of the Thomases petitioned for their freedom in D.C. and Maryland.