The University of Nebraska’s online project documenting nineteenth-century slaves’ efforts to win their freedom through the District of Columbia’s court system has been upgraded with new tools that allow users easier access to information on the slaves, slave owners, and other people who touched their lives.
The redesigned “O Say Can You See: Early Washington D.C., Law & Family” website gives scholars and laypeople alike access to what will be the complete set of petitions for freedom suits filed in the District of Columbia Circuit Court system between 1800 and 1862. So far, thousands of documents from nearly 400 petitions for freedom suits have been transcribed and edited on the site. This site features deep relationship mapping of early Washington, D.C., showing how each person is connected to other people in the city and beyond. Each of nearly 1,300 people involved in those cases has an individual page that lists all of that individual’s legal, occupational, family and social relationships as documented by the court records, including spouses and children, slave owners and fellow slaves; judges, lawyers, executors and fellow clients.
William G. Thomas, a professor of history at the University of Nebraska and leader of the project, states that “each case is like a little story – each has a special twist or character that any reader would find extraordinarily enlightening and important. Anyone who’s working on the history of slavery would find this research incredibly valuable.”