Educator Resources

The Courts

The Courts

The Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Regional offices of the National Archives hold records from the United States District and Circuit Courts beginning in 1789. These records tell the story of slavery and freedom through suits of admiralty and bankruptcy, seizures of goods under Federal law, matters of equity, and violations of Federal criminal law.


The Schooner Charming Sally

Read about a case involving a slave trader charged with illegal transportation of slaves.

Refer to CaptionWarrant for the ship Charming Sally
Refer to CaptionDeposition of Lewis Ferris
Refer to CaptionDeposition of Phineas Dean

Documents from the Northeast Region ~ Boston


Bills of Sale, 1864

Even though Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, slaves were still being bought and sold in the south. Bills of Sale for slaves in Georgia were recovered when the U.S. Navy intercepted the southern ship Mary and claimed both the ship and its contents as prize. Examine the 1864 Bill of Sale for a slave named Henry and for Suzannah and two children.

Refer to CaptionSlave Receipt, page 1
Refer to CaptionSlave Receipt, page 2

Documents from the Northeast Region ~ New York City


Petitions of Edmund and Mary S. Kinney

Refer to CaptionKinney Habeas Corpus Petition

Examine court documents from the case of Mary and Edmund Kinney, an interracial married couple arrested in Virginia in 1879:

Petitions of Edmund and Mary S. Kinney (A.K.A. Mary S. Hall) for a Writ of Habeas Corpus

Edmund and Mary Kinney petitioned the court for a Writ of Habeas Corpus because they believed they were unjustly arrested for marrying as an interracial couple in Reconstruction era Virginia. They contented that marriage is a contract and that their freedom of contract, guaranteed in the Fourteenth Amendment, was violated. A petition is a formal request to the court to take action.

Documents from the MidAtlantic Region ~ Philadelphia



Related Resources

Read the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.

Examine the text of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Learn about other cases involving African-Americans.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Do you agree with the petition of Mary and Edmund Kinney that marriage is a type of contract, guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution? Why or why not?

  2. Take sides. New York was a major center for abolitionist and anti abolitionist movements. Consider your self an abolitionist in the North. How would you react to seeing the slave receipt? Write an editorial about those feelings.

  3. Discuss what it would be like to be a slave.

For more information about records available in these locations:

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