Friday, February 09, 2007

Rachael v. Walker: An Officer and A Slave

Rachael (not a misspelling), the plaintiff in Rachael v. Walker, 4 Mo. 350, 1836 WL 2300 (1836), was a slave in Missouri. In 1830, an agent purchased Rachael for J.B.W. Stockton and in the fall of that year took her to Fort Snelling, “on the west side of the Mississippi river, and north of the State of Missouri, and in the territory of the United States,” in what is now the State of Minnesota. Stockton “was an officer of the United States army attached to the troops” at Fort Snelling. He had been posted there for about two years (i.e., since about 1828). He apparently purchased Rachael because he had just married.

Stockton “held [Rachael] as a slave [there] until the fall of the year 1831” – about a year. At that point, he was transferred to Prairie du Chien, “in the Michigan territory and east of the Mississippi." Stockton took “Rachael with him as his slave, at which place he held her in slavery, till about the spring of the year 1834, when he took her to St. Louis and sold her.”

At both Fort Snelling and Prairie du Chien, “Rachael was only employed in attendance on Stockton and his family.” Although Stockton was an officer in the army, “Rachael was never employed otherwise than as a private servant in immediate attendance on Stockton and family.”

Rachael filed a suit to obtain her freedom in Missouri state circuit court. The defendant, Walker, argued that Stockton’s presence at Fort Snelling and Prairie du Chien should not be counted as residence there because he had been in the army. The Circuit Court judge agreed and

“instructed the jury that the law was, that if said Stockton was an officer of the army while he held the plaintiff in slavery, stationed at Fort Snelling and Fort Crawford by the property authority, and if he employed the plaintiff during that time only in personal attendance on himself and family, that such residence of the plaintiff as has been proved, does not entitle her to freedom.”

The jury returned a verdict in favor of Walker and against Rachael. Rachael appealed to the Supreme Court of Missouri.

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