Moses Graham v. Richard B. Alexander

United States. Circuit Court (District of Columbia) - Washington (D.C.)
United States. Supreme Court - Washington (D.C.)
United States. Circuit Court (District of Columbia) - Alexandria (Washington, D.C.)

Claim for Freedom Made

Importation Violation


Special Verdict March 1840

Special Verdict for Defendant April 18, 1840

Appealed by Defendant April 19, 1840

Dismissed January 1843

Case Documents

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Attorney for Plaintiff(s):

Attorney for Defendant(s):



On June 1, 1838, Moses Graham petitioned for his freedom against Richard B. Alexander. Graham based his petition on the terms of the June 7, 1825 will of Elizabeth Brown which emancipated his mother Milly and "her children," though it did not specifically mention Moses. The Court interpreted the will to include Moses Graham and provided in a March 1840 decision by a jury trial that he should be emancipated at age thirty-one. Richard B. Alexander appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court on a writ of error, arguing that under its Act of 1792, chapter 103, section 36, Virginia law specified that emancipation could only be by will or deed, and presumably required the specific naming of the individual to be emancipated. Although Justice Roger B. Taney authorized the writ in January 1840, three years later in January 1843 the Supreme Court dismissed the writ of error, ordering Alexander to pay the costs. The lower court ruling stood and Moses Graham obtained his freedom at age thirty-one.

This case summary was written and researched by William G. Thomas III, and edited by project scholars.