Missouri Digital Heritage :: Education :: Before Dred Scott :: Rachel v. William Walker

Before Dred Scott:
Freedom Suits in Antebellum Missouri

Rachel v. William Walker (1836)

Rachel sued William Walker for her freedom in St. Louis in 1834. Rachel had been the slave of T.B.W. Stockton, an officer in the United States Army. For a time, Stockton was stationed in the Michigan Territory and Rachel lived there with him and his family. Slavery was outlawed in this territory because of the 1787 Northwest Ordinance. This ordinance allowed settlers into the land northwest of the Ohio River but outlawed slavery in the area.

Stockton later sold Rachel and her son, James Henry, to William Walker in St. Louis. At this time, Rachel sued for her freedom. She said she had lived in a free territory and according to the “once free, always free” precedent, was no longer a slave.

The St. Louis Circuit Court denied Rachel her freedom. The court said that since Stockton was in the U.S. Army, he could not choose where to live. It was not his choice to take Rachel to a free territory, so she had no claim to freedom.

Rachel appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court in 1836. The judges agreed with her claim to freedom. They said that if a military officer took his slave to a free territory, he lost his ownership rights. The Missouri Supreme Court said that Rachel was free.

The case of Rachel v. William Walker was referenced in the Dred Scott trials.