The case of Margaret Aurelia Porter v. Reuben Reynolds reveals the conflict between free and slave holding states in early 19th century America and how the movement of slave bodies into borders that recognized their emancipation presented a dilemma for owners attempting to execute their return. The litigation involved Margaret Porter, a slave owner, who in 1810 sued Ruben Reynolds for harboring three of her slaves that escaped from the state of Maryland to Pennsylvania. Porter demanded $1,500 in damages for the loss of labor and income that resulted from her missing property. Margaret’s father, Stephen Porter, filed the lawsuit and legally represented her since women could not appear as “persons” before the law during this period.
|Subpoena from Margaret Porter |
requesting the presence
of Reuben Reynolds, circa 1810
|A letter from Reynolds to|
William Master discussing
his case, 1811.
There is also no documentation about Reynolds, Betty, or her three sons beyond the case. What is known is that Reynolds lived in Pennsylvania and that his declaration about the free status Betty and her three sons was unwavering. There is a strong possibility that Reynolds may have assisted Cesar, George and Emanuel considering the indignation he displayed about Stephen Porter and Kidman in his letter to William. Pennsylvania was also a Quaker stronghold and they vehemently opposed slavery.
|Testimony from Betty |
life as a slave, undated.
Betty, like many other slaves that rebelled against the slavocracy, took the fates of her children into her own hands. If Reynolds did assist Betty then she calculated correctly that he and his wife would be able to protect and guide her sons to freedom. Her daughter was still being held as a slave by Porter when she gave her testimony. Unfortunately, the records do not detail how the case ends, whether Porter was reimbursed or the destinies of Reynolds, Betty, and her three sons and daughter.
Post by Chianta Dorsey
Images from the Margaret Aurelia Porter v. Reuben Reynolds records. May not be reproduced without permission.