Bell Family Network

Several members of the Bell family utilized the courts to obtain their freedom. Mary Bell and her children later tried to use the courts to uphold their manumission, but when the legal system failed them, they turned to the Underground Railroad and became involved in the Pearl Incident in 1848. Several members of the family were enslaved by the Greenfield Family.

For more information on the Bell family and their many attempts at seizing their freedom, see Emancipating the Bell Family: An Inquiry into the Strategies of Freedom-Making.


The Bell Family Network has been gathered from court, probate, census, burial, and Freedman's Bank records by Kaci Nash.

1. Daniel appears as the "next friend" of his daughter Harriet for her petition for freedom in July 1846, which would suggest that he was free by that time. An article that circulated in papers around the eastern states in late 1848 stated that Daniel "got his freedom papers complete only some time last year." See, for example, "Beauties of the Slave System," The True Wesleyan [New York], September 23, 1848. [back]

2. For more on the Pearl Incident, see Mary Kay Ricks, Escape on the Pearl: The Heroic Bid for Freedom on the Underground Railroad (New York: HarperCollins, 2007). [back]

3. In his will dated December 27, 1875, Daniel bequeathed one fifth of his estate to "the sons and daughters of my deceased daughter Harriet." [back]

4. In his will dated December 27, 1875, Daniel left one fifth of his estate to Caroline, "the daughter of my now deceased daughter Norah." [back]

5. Norah and her daughter Caroline were emancipated in April 1862 under the Compensated Emancipation Act. In her petition, Sarah Jane O'Brien described "Ellen Nora" as about 25 years old, "Dark Colour, about 5 feet 3 or 4 inches in Height very Healthy, and Good Worker. Caroline is aged 6 months a Mulatto, Good health." Sarah reported that Norah was a "Good Cook Washer and Ironer and Good Worker Generally." See Petition of Sarah Jane O'Brien, 5 May 1862 in Civil War Washington. For the Bills of Sale transferring Nora and her daughter from Susan Armistead to the O'Briens, see District of Columbia, Recorder of Deeds, Liber JAS 215, pp 389-391. [back]