Esther & children v. Bernard H. Buckner

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


Esther argued that she had been taken to D.C. long after Buckner moved to the capital, and the delay of more than a year between his arrival and his bringing her across the line was a violation of Maryland's law barring the importation of slaves. Maryland's non-importation law applied in D.C. and gave slaveholders precisely one year to bring enslaved persons into the District from the moment a slaveholder had established bona fide residency. If they did not meet either of these conditions, then under the law, Esther and each of her children would "immediately cease to be a slave, and shall be free." (Chapter 67, Section I)

Buckner brought Esther and her children into Washington just days after the one-year window expired. He tried to claim that their importation fell within the year because he was moving furniture for weeks and claimed he intended to reside permanently throughout the move. But the jury enforced the law to the letter. Esther and her two children were immediately free.

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