As we are doing history in a project based learning environment and preparing a presentation for the Suffield Historical Society on the other Underground Railroad, especially about the Flora’s kidnapping case, we posed a question: Did Exeter, her husband, has the legal custody of Flora, or did Hanchett, the slave owner, have the property rights over his slave. Flora’s case is about a married black woman who was kidnapped and sold back into slavery.
We found a book, Love of Freedom: Black Women in Colonial and Revolutionary New England, written by Catherine Adams and Elizabeth H. Pleck, and an article, “Flora’s flight: A Montgomery county freedom suit” from Library of Virginia, which both mention that Exeter sued Hanchett for his legal title to the ownership of Flora. In this case, the court of common pleas in Hampshire County, Massachusetts, sentenced Hanchett guilty because Hanchett was known as a villain in town. Exeter was awarded damages around £65. However, there was another state case in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in which Hanchett claimed that Flora and Exeter had “consented” to limit their marital rights in their wedding so that Flora should be remained a “servant” obligated to him, the slave master. Unfortunately, Exeter lost the case because the judges of the Court respect the property rights of an owner from outside the state as Exeter and Hanchett are from Connecticut.
As we connected with the Library of Virginia, we were given a court archive about Exeter v. Hanchett case. The document is all handwritten in cursive, so it will take us a significant amount of time to transcribe it. We will also post it on our classroom blog and ask other experts to guide us in the process. On top of that, we are wondering if the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Hampden County Superior Court have the same court documents and depositions about Exeter v. Hanchett case.
- “Love of Freedom: Black Women in Colonial and Revolutionary New England.”Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.
- FLORA’S PLIGHT: A MONTGOMERY COUNTY FREEDOM SUIT
- Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Freeman#/media/File:Mumbett70.jpg