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57 Years: A History of the Freedom Suits in the Missouri Courts

August 03, 2012 Posted by: Tom Dewey, Librarian

Sestric, Anthony J. 57 Years: A History of the Freedom Suits in the Missouri Courts. St. Louis, MO: Reedy Press, 2012.

The new book, 57 Years: A History of the Freedom Suits in the Missouri Courts, is the collective story of the people who worked to legally undo the mandates of the slave laws through freedom suits. The book covers the time period from the Louisiana Purchase to the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. The author explains in his introduction that at the time of the Louisiana Purchase there were few laws concerning slavery in the United States and that the story of Missouri's struggle to come to terms with slavery is unique because of the state's distinct geographic and cultural diversity.

The book features insightful descriptions of freedom suits initiated by Marie Jean Scypion, Billy Tarlton, Dred & Harriet Scott and others. Sestric provides background material and biographical details about several lawyers such as Horatio Cozens and Roswell Field and some of the prominent judges like Hamilton Gamble, Matthias McGirk and others. The book depicts lengthy legal battles fought over many years in the Missouri courts. These passages provide personal accounts of the hardships that slaves endured to attain their freedom, and they are all very moving.


The author provides full reproductions of territorial laws describing slavery in the Louisiana Territory and in the state of Missouri and summaries of all available freedom suits from the Missouri State Archives. This information has never been gathered together in one volume before, and should prove helpful to anyone researching freedom suits.

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