Margaret Morgan, Petition for Freedom

The list of sources that follows are, for the most part, primary documents that I have consulted in my research into the life of Margaret Morgan, an enslaved woman who petitioned for freedom in the 1830s.  A great many of these sources are located in  the Court Records and Archives Departments at The Historical Society of Harford County in Bel Air, MD.  There are two secondary sources on the list as well, books that provide some background information about the now-famous Prigg v. Pennsylvania Supreme Court Case that arose from Margaret’s capture and a book containing information about the property on which Margaret was likely born.  Unfortunately none of these sources show what happened to Margaret after the Harford County Court ruled against her in 1837.  It is likely that she was returned to either Margaret Ashmore or to Dr. William McElhiney, a Bel Air man to whom she and her children had been sold prior to her petition for freedom.

Archer, Stevenson and Henry Dorsey (Clerk), “Summons: Margaret, Hester, Lucy, Charles, Elizabeth, Amanda, Margaret, and William J. McElhiney.” Court Record No. 103:15, pg 24. 18 March 1837. Harford County Court Records. The Historical Society of Harford County, Bel Air, MD.

This summons, issued by Judge Stevenson Archer in March of 1837 calls for Margaret and all of her children, as well as a Dr. William McElhiney to appear before the Court of Harford County. This document indicates that between Margaret’s capture and the court case in August of 1837, she (and her children) were in the possession of Dr. McElhiney. It also lists the county sheriff of the time as John Carsins.

Ashmore, Margaret, “Letter to the Court.” Legal Document. 7 July 1845. Slavery-Manumissions-1840-1849, Folder 4060. The Historical Society of Harford County, Bel Air, MD.

In this document, written by Margaret Ashmore, of Dubuque County, Iowa Territory, Mrs. Ashmore gives permission to Otho Scott to sell or set free any persons “to whom she is entitled in the state of Maryland” In particular she mentions a boy named Moses, a boy named James, a girl named Ellen, and Ellen’s infant child Sam, whom were in possession of William Day. She also mentions a girl named Susan in the possession of Hannah March.

Baker, H. Robert. Prigg v. Pennsylvania: Slavery, the Supreme Court, and the Ambivalent Constitution. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2012.

Although primarily concerned with the legal and constitutional outcomes of the Supreme Court case that arose from the controversy surrounding the kidnapping of Morgan and her children, this book contains an overview of the events prior to the 1842 Supreme Court case.

Bond, William B., “State of Maryland v. Negro Jerry Morgan Indictment.” Court Record No. 114.12.4. 18 August 1837. Harford County Court Records. The Historical Society of Harford County, Bel Air, MD.

Jerry Morgan, the husband of Margaret Morgan, was charged with assaulting Jacob Forwood on March 25th of 1837. Forwood accused Morgan of aiming a loaded gun at him and threatening to fire it. He was accused of then beating Forwood upon the head, shoulders, and arms and threatening to kill him. The Grand Jury of the State of Maryland for the body of Harford County found him guilty and stated that Morgan had “beat with intent to murder a certain Jacob Forwood” on the 25th of March, 1837. William B. Bond was involved in this case as well, signing the document as the Deputy of the Attorney General of the State of Maryland for Harford County.

Bond, William B., “Negro Margaret + Others v. William J. McElhiney Petition for Habeas corpus.” Court Record No. 103:15, pg 2. 18 March 1837. Harford County Court Records. The Historical Society of Harford County, Bel Air, MD.

This petition to the judges of the County Court proves that Margaret and her children were in the possession of Dr. William J. McElhiney of Bel Air in 1837. It lists the attorney for the petitioners as a William B. Bond. This document summarizes the events of Margaret’s “arrest” in Pennsylvania by Nathan Bemis and his claim that she and her children were slaves belonging to the estate of the late John Ashmore. It states that Margaret felt that she could prove her freedom to the court. It also lists the names of the persons to be brought before the court: Joseph Prigg, Francis W Nichols, and John Flowers.

Bond, William B., “Negro Margaret + Others v. Margaret Ashmore Administrix for John Ashmore. Petition for Freedom.” Court Record No. 103:15, pgs 4-5. 2 May 1837. Harford County Court Records. The Historical Society of Harford County, Bel Air, MD.

This is the record of the court case that Margaret brought against Margaret Ashmore. It states that following her capture and return to Harford, she and her children were sold by Nathan Bemis to Dr. McElhiney of Bel Air but that the sale had been rescinded and they believed that they were now to be in the possession of Margaret Ashmore.

Jurors of the Harford County Court, “Verdict in the Case of Negro Margaret + Others v. Margaret Ashmore, Administrix of John Ashmore.” Court Record No. 103:15. 29 August 1837. Harford County Court Records. The Historical Society of Harford County, Bel Air, MD.

This verdict confirms that the court ruled against Margaret Morgan in her petition for freedom. It provides a list of the jurors for the case: Aquila P. Moore, Harry D. Gough, Richard Mistrager(?), George N. Warden, Barnet Clark, Daniel R Wattens, Thomas L Stump, Aquila Brown, Daniel Bay, Sam Galloway, Henry L. Preston, Josias Bailey.

Bemis, Nathan J., “Margaret Ashmore to Negro Jim Manumission.” Manumission. 22 April 1845. Slavery-Manumissions-1840-1849 #1, Folder 4060. The Historical Society of Harford County, Bel Air, MD.

In this document, written by Nathan J. Bemis as agent and attorney for Margaret Ashmore, manumits Jim, a thirty year old man in her possession in March of 1849, following his service to Hugh C. Whiteford.

“Deposition of John Flowers.” Court Case 103:15 pg 28. August 1837. Harford County Court Records. The Historical Society of Harford County, Bel Air, MD.

This document, created as proof that Margaret Morgan was the property of Margaret Ashmore, provides some details regarding her early life at Mill Green.

Maryland. Cecil County. 1870 U.S. Census, population schedule. Digital images. October 30, 2014. http://ancestry.com.

This Census document lists a Margaret Morgan, 66 years of age, working as a domestic in the household of Samuel Meams. She is listed as having been born in Maryland and being unable to read or write.

Weeks, Christopher. An Architectural History of Harford County, Maryland. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1996.

This book contains historical information on Mill Green, the area in which the Ashmore family owned property and where Margaret Morgan was likely born. Of particular interest is the entry on Nathan Bemis’s Mill, which replaced the earlier Ashmore Mill at the site in 1827.

 

 

Adapted from Researching Margaret Morgan by Jacob Bensen

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