Missouri Digital Heritage :: Education :: Before Dred Scott :: 1807 Missouri Territorial Statute

Before Dred Scott:
Freedom Suits in Antebellum Missouri



AN ACT to enable persons held in slavery, to sue for their freedom.*

  1. Persons held in slavery to sue as paupers, when.
  2. Suits, how instituted – counsel assigned petitioner – petitioner not to be removed.
  3. Petitioner about to be removed, defendant may be required to enter into recognizance; petitioner may be hired out when – person hiring to enter into recognizance.
  4. Weight of proof on petitioner – judgment.
  5. Appeal to general court.

Be it enacted by the Legislature of the territory of Louisiana, [as follows.]

1.  It shall be lawful for any person held in slavery to petition the general court or any court of common pleas, praying that such person may be permitted to sue as a poor person, and stating the grounds on which the claim to freedom is founded. If in the opinion of the court the petition contains sufficient matter to authorize their interference the court shall award the necessary process to bring the cause before them.

2.  The court to whom application is thus made, may direct an action of assault and battery, and false imprisonment, to be instituted in the name of the person claiming freedom against the person who claims the petitioner as a slave, to be conducted as suits of the like nature between other persons. And the court shall assign the petitioner counsel, and if they deem it proper shall make an order directing the defendant or defendants to permit the petitioner to have a reasonable liberty of attending his counsel, and the court when occasion may require it, and that the petitioner shall not be taken nor removed out of the jurisdiction of the courts, nor be subjected to any severity because of his or her application for freedom.

3.  If the court, or any judge thereof in vacation shall have reason to believe that the above order has been or is about to be violated, in such case the said court, or any judge thereof in vacation, may require that the person of the petitioner be brought before him or them, by writ of habeas corpus, and shall cause the defendant or defendants, his, her, or their agent, to enter into recognizance with sufficient security, conditioned as recited in the above order, or in case of refusal to direct the sheriff of the district to take possession of the petitioner, and hire him or her to the best advantage, which hire shall be appropriated either to the petitioner, or to the defendant or defendants, as the event of the suit may justify. And the person hiring the petitioner shall enter into recognizance with sufficient security, conditioned as the above order directs.

4.  The court before whom such suit may be tried, may instruct the jury that the weight of proof lies on the petitioner, but to have regard not only to the written evidences of the claim to freedom, but to such other proofs either at law or in equity as the very right and justice of the case may require. And the court on a verdict in favor of the petitioner, may pronounce a judgment of liberation from the defendant or defendants, and all persons claiming by, from, or under, him, her, or them.

5.  Suits instituted in any court of common pleas under this law, may be removed into the general court before judgment, or if judgment is given in any such cause in the court of common pleas, appeal, or writ of error shall lie to the general court as in other cases.

The foregoing is hereby declared to be a law for the territory of Louisiana, to take effect and be in force from and after the passage thereof.

June 27, 1807.   

*Repealed R.L. 1825, p.500, sec.13.

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