Bernie D. Jones


This article develops Welke’s theme and proposes that in the field of legal history, the analyses can not be limited to “race, gender, or class,” but that matrices of race, gender, and class must be considered at their intersections, “race, and gender, and class,” where they might shed light on the significance of shifting legal modalities. It explores how race, gender, and class as legal policy in the 19th century could be crucial for the formation of family and marital relationships in the private sphere. The focus here is upon free women of color living in the antebellum North who had been the previously enslaved partners and biological children of their owners. The men made them bequests of manumission and property in their wills, because the law of slavery did not recognize them as spouses and members of the men’s families. Trusts and estates law gave the men a loophole to force societal recognition of the women and children. Their status as slave women in the South limited their ability to defend their claims, however. Denied the legal status of white wives and children, moving to northern states was crucial for defining them as family members and for ensuring their change in class status from object of property to property owner. Legal institutions in northern jurisdictions like Cincinnati, Ohio, were instrumental in effectuating this change.