Edward, Hannah, and Susan (Fugitive Slaves)

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Edward, Hannah, and Susan were three slaves who became embroiled in a court case in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Little is known of the lives of Edward, Hannah, and Susan. They were slaves and lived in Virginia. Hannah was Susan's mother. In August 1853, their owner placed the three slaves on board the ship Tropic, which was traveling down the Ohio River and the Mississippi River to the state of Mississippi. The slaves' owner asked the captain of the vessel not to dock in Ohio, where abolitionist sentiment was strong. The captain intended to dock the ship in Covington, Kentucky, but river conditions prompted him to dock the vessel across the Ohio River at Cincinnati.

Cincinnati abolitionists immediately sought the freedom of Edward, Hannah, and Susan. William Troy, a free African American man in Cincinnati, brought suit demanding that the three slaves immediately be given their freedom. John Joliffe defended the three slaves. He argued that all three should be given their freedom, because their owner willingly allowed them to enter a free state. Judge Flynn, who presided over the case, disagreed with Joliffe's reasoning. The main reason for this was that Hannah testified that she desired to return to her owner. Joliffe unsuccessfully attempted to convince the judge that Susan was not Hannah's daughter. In the end, Flynn decided to give all three slaves back to their owner.

This story illustrates the difficulties that African Americans faced in the United States of America in the early nineteenth century. While many Northern states had provisions outlawing slavery, runaway slaves did not necessarily gain their freedom upon arriving in a free state. Federal law permitted slave-owners to reclaim their runaway slaves. Even with abolitionist aid, some slaves actually desired to return to slavery.

See Also


  1. Middleton, Stephen. "The Fugitive Slave Crisis in Cincinnati, 1850-1860: Resistance, Enforcement, and Black Refugees." Journal of Negro History 72 (Winter-Spring 1987): 20-32.