ARTICLE: Millward on Enslaved Women, Bodies, and Maryland Manumission Law

Advertisement from J.M. Wilson for sale of Maryland and Virginia Negroes. Source: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture / Photographs and Prints Division (Click Image)

Jessica Millward,. “‘That All Her Increase Shall Be Free’: Enslaved Women’s Bodies and the Maryland 1809 Law of Manumission.” Women’s History Review 21, no. 3 (2012): 363–378.


This article investigates the relationship between manumission laws and enslaved women’s bodies in Maryland, USA. The point of departure is the 1809 ‘Act to Ascertain and Declare the Condition of Such Issue as may hereafter be born of Negro or Mulatto Female Slaves,’ which minimized age requirements for freeing enslaved children. If the status of living or future children was not established at the time the manumission document for the mother was presented in court, then any such children were to remain in bondage. As this article argues, the 1809 law represented what lawmakers, slaveholders, and bondpeople already knew—that freedom, like enslavement, was tied to a bondwoman’s womb. By investigating apprenticeship records, legal statutes, manumission documents, and African American petitions for freedom, this article argues that the deployment of black women’s bodies within the law challenged, extended, and defined definitions of freedom in the decades leading up to the Civil War.

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