B. Slavery in Colonial and Revolutionary Massachusetts
C. Freedom Suits of the Pre-Constitutional Era
D. The Mum Bett Case
E. The Quock Walker Case
The Massachusetts Constitution, Judicial Review and Slavery
There is an extensive literature on the existence and abolition of slavery in Massachusetts. Some electronic resources are described in the Windowpane entitled Electronic Resource Guide.
Literature regarding the development and abolition of slavery in Massachusetts and other northern states is vast and complex. This section is intended to provide basic information to students and educators, so that a context is provided for the legal cases. Websites that provide a brief overview include www.slavenorth.com and www.slaveryinamerica.org. Noted books on this subject include Joanne Pope Melish, Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and Race in New England, 1780 - 1860 (2000) and Arthur Zilversmit, First Emancipation: The Abolition of Slavery in the North (1967).
Thus, the Supreme Judicial Court relied on a brand new state constitution and the emerging principle of judicial review twenty years before the United States Supreme Court articulated this principle in Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803).
The full text of Chief Justice Cushing's remarks is printed in John Cushing, The Cushing Court and the Abolition of Slavery in Massachusetts: More Notes on the "Quock Walker Case," 5 The American Journal of Legal History 118 (1961).
See sources cited in note 1, supra.
James Otis, The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved (1764), available at www.teachingamericanhistory.org.
Melish, supra note 1 at 56 - 57.
See, e.g., Zilversmit, supra note 1 at 100 - 103.
See Elaine MacEachern, Emancipation of Slavery in Massachusetts: A Reexamination 1770 - 1790, 55 The Journal of Negro History 289 (1970); Zilversmit, supra note 1, at 103 - 105.
See Emily Blanck, Seventeen Eighty-Three: The Turning Point in the Law of Slavery and Freedom in Massachusetts, 65 The New England Quarterly 24, 27-28 (2002)(listing all documented freedom suits).
See Zilmersmit, supra note 1 at 616-617.
Original court records are in the custody of the Supreme Judicial Court, Division of Archives and Records Preservation. There are many secondary sources about the Mum Bett case; electronic sources include:
Mum Bett identified herself as Elizabeth Freeman in her will. However, she remained known as Mum Bett throughout her life.
The Sheffield Declaration has been posted online by The Trustees of Reservations, the organization that owns the John Ashley House. http://www.thetrustees.org/ashleyhouse.cfm
Zilmersmit, supra note 1 at 619.
Sedgwick's daughter, Catharine, wrote a biographical essay about Mum Bett This entire essay is available at
Original court records are in the custody of the Supreme Judicial Court, Division of Archives and Records Preservation. Electronic information about the Quock Walker cases is available at The Long Road to Justice, www.masshist.org/longroad/01slavery/walker.htm. See also The Honorable Peter Agnes, The Quork [sic] Walker Cases and the Abolition of Slavery in Massachusetts: A Reflection of Popular Sentiment or an Expression of Constitutional Law?, 1992 Boston Bar Journal 8 (1992); Zilversmit, Quok Walker, Mumbet, and the Abolition of Slavery in Massachusetts, 25 The William and Mary Quarterly 614 (1968); Spector, The Quock Walker Cases (1781- 83): Slavery, its Abolition, and Negro Citizenship in Early Massachusetts, 53 The Journal of Negro History 12 (1968); O'Brien, Did the Jennison Case Outlaw Slavery in Massachusetts?, 17 The William and Mary Quarterly 219 (1960); Cushing, supra note 3.
As noted, many historians and legal scholars have studied the Quock Walker cases. The summary of court proceedings presented here relies primarily on court papers and John Cushing's article on the Quock Walker cases. See note 3 supra.
As discussed in the section of this website entitled The Massachusetts Judicial System, the Supreme Judicial Court was both a trial court and an appellate court during its early history.
Proceedings of the Supreme Judicial Court were not transcribed at this time. However, Chief Justice Cushing recorded his charge in his notebooks, and the entire charge is reprinted in Cushing, supra note 3, at 132-133. Early practice permitted each of the five justices individually to instruct the jury; however, no other charges have survived. Id.
Melish, supra note 1 at 65.
Agnes, supra note 16 at 11. See also William Nelson, Marbury v. Madison: The Origins and Legacy of Judicial Review 34-40 (2000)(arguing that several state courts, including Massachusetts, implicitly or explicitly applied the principle of judicial review during 1780-1800).