I am really delighted to mention that Jessica Thompson (UNC Law 2014) has an exciting paper on the trusts that North Carolina Friends employed in the 1810s and 1820s to manumit enslaved people and also to hold them in quasi-slavery. This is a topic that's needed a lot of attention for a while and it sits at the intersection of a bunch of important themes: how Quakers employed legal technology to undermine the system of slavery, how the trusts themselves fit into existing trust doctrine, how the moderatly anti-slavery William Gaston (later a justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court) worked with his Quaker clients to develop the trust and then defend them before he went on the Court. how the North Carolina Supreme Court dealt with the trusts, which so clearly were undermining North Carolina law because if upheld they would permit enslaved people to have substantial autonomy. And then the trusts and estates professor in me loves to study the family dynamics of the settlors whose children then wanted to undue the trusts and reclaim the labor of the enslaved people who were in trust.
Cribbing now from part of Jessica's abstract:
This paper traces the debate over the legality of Quaker manumission efforts in North Carolina through an examination of three major cases presented before the North Carolina Supreme Court between 1827 and 1851. It combines research in the Quaker archives with an examination of the trial records and the record in the Supreme Court, as well as the published opinions. Thus, this paper moves beyond the previous work that has either looked only at the Quaker records and not the legal records or the North Carolina Supreme Court’s published opinions without telling the full story of the record below. A central question for this paper is how dissenters turned to the neutral technology of law to achieve a result that was at least partially at odds with the established policy of the state. That raises subsidiary questions about the ways that one renowned North Carolina lawyer, William Gaston, sought to defend his use of the innovative strategy and how North Carolina jurists responded to this challenge to state policy. This paper, thus, lies at the intersection of a series of questions about religious freedom, legal innovation, policy, and stare decisis.
The full paper is here. The image is of Guilford College, where many of the records that Jessica used in this paper are housed.