In 1836, an enslaved six-year-old girl named Med was brought to Boston by a woman from New Orleans who claimed her as property. Learning of the girl's arrival in the city, the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society (BFASS) waged a legal fight to secure her freedom and affirm the free soil of Massachusetts. While Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw ruled quite narrowly in the case that enslaved people brought to Massachusetts could not be held against their will, BFASS claimed a broad victory for the abolitionist cause, and Med was released to the care of a local institution. When she died two years later, celebration quickly turned to silence, and her story was soon forgotten. As a result, Commonwealth v. Aves is little known outside of legal scholarship. In The Case of the Slave-Child, Med: Free Soil in Antislavery Boston (University of Massachusetts Press, 2019), Karen Woods Weierman complicates Boston's identity as the birthplace of abolition and the cradle of liberty, and restores Med to her rightful place in antislavery history by situating her story in the context of other writings on slavery, childhood, and the law.
Karen Woods Weierman is Professor of English and the former director of the Commonwealth Honors Program at Worcester State University. She is the author of One Nation, One Blood: Interracial Marriage in American Fiction, Scandal, and Law, 1820–1870, published in 2005 by the University of Massachusetts Press.
Jerrad P. Pacatte is a Ph.D. candidate and School of Arts and Sciences Excellence Fellow in the Department of History at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey-New Brunswick. His teaching and research interests examine eighteenth and nineteenth century African American women’s history and the history of slavery and emancipation in early America and the Atlantic world. Follow him on Twitter @Jerrad_Pacatte!
Jerrad P. Pacatte is a doctoral candidate and School of Arts and Sciences Excellence Fellow in the Department of History at Rutgers.