Edward Prigg v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Decision Date01 January 1842
Citation16 Pet. 539,41 U.S. 539,10 L.Ed. 1060
PartiesEDWARD PRIGG, Plaintiff in error, v. The COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Defendant in error
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[Syllabus from pages 539-542 intentionally omitted] ERROR to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The defendant in error, Edward Prigg, with Nathan S. Bemis, Jacob Forward and Stephen Lewis, Jr., were indicted by the grand jury of York county, Pennsylvania, for that, on the first day of April 1837, upon a certain negro woman, named Margaret Morgan, with force and violence, they made an assault, and with force and violence, feloniously did take and carry her away from the county of York, within the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to the state of Maryland, with a design and intention there to sell and dispose of the said Margaret Morgan, as and for a slave and servant for life. Edward Prigg, one of the defendants, having been arraigned, pleaded not guilty. The cause was tried before the court of quarter sessions of York county, on the 22d day of May 1839; and the jury found the following special verdict:

'That at a session of the general assembly of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, holden at the city of Philadelphia, on the first day of March 1780, the following law was passed and enacted, to wit, 'An act for the gradual abolition of slavery:

§ 3. All persons, as well negroes and mulattoes, as others, who shall be born within this state, shall not be deemed and considered as servants for life or slaves; and all servitude for life, or slavery of children, in consequence of slavery of their mothers, in the case of all children born within this state, from and after the passing of this act as aforesaid, shall be and hereby is utterly taken away, extinguished and for ever abolished.

§ 4. Provided always, that every negro and mulatto child, born within this state, after the passing of this act as aforesaid (who would, in case this act had not been made, have been born a servant for years, or life, or a slave), shall be deemed to be, and shall be, by virtue of this act, the servant of such persons, or her or his assigns, who would, in such case, have been entitled to like relief, in case he or she shall be evilly treated by his or her master or mistress, and to like freedom dues and other privileges, as servants bound by indenture for four years are or may be entitled; unless the person to whom the service of any such child shall belong, shall abandon his or her claim to the same; in which case the overseers of the poor of the city, or township or district, respectively, where such child shall be so abandoned, shall, by indenture, bind out every child so abandoned, as an apprentice, for a time not exceeding the age hereinbefore limited for the service of such children.

§ 5. Every person who is, or shall be, the owner of any negro or mulatto slave or servants for life, or till the age of thirty-one years, now within this state, or his lawful attorney, shall, on or before the first day of November next, deliver or cause to be delivered in writing to the clerk of the peace of the county, or to the clerk of the court of sessions of the city of Philadelphia, in which he or she shall respectively inhabit, the name and sirname, and occupation or profession, of such owner, and the name of the county and township, district or ward wherein he or she resideth; and also the name and names of any such slave and slaves, and servant and servants for life, and till the age of thirty-one years, within this state, who shall be such on the said first day of November next, from all other persons; which particulars shall, by said clerk of the sessions and clerk of the said city court, be entered in books to be provided for that purpose by the said clerks; and no negro or mulatto now within this state shall, from and after the said first day of November, be deemed a slave or servant for life, or till the age of thirty-one years, unless his or her name shall be entered as aforesaid on such records, except such negro or mulatto slaves and servants as are hereinafter excepted; the said clerk to be entitled to a fee of two dollars for each slave or servant so entered as aforesaid, from the treasury of the county, to be sallowed to him in his accounts.

§ 6. Provided always, that any person in whom the ownership or right to the service of any negro or mulatto shall be vested at the passing of this act, other than such as are hereinbefore excepted, his or her heirs, executors, administrators and assigns, and all and every of them, severally, shall be liable to the overseers of the poor of the city, township or district to which any such negro or mulatto shall become chargeable, for such necessary expense, with costs of suit thereon, as such overseers may be put to, through the neglect of the owner, master or mistress of such negro or mulatto, notwithstanding the name and other descriptions of such negro or mulatto shall not be entered and recorded as aforesaid, unless his or her master or owner shall, before such slave or servant obtain his or her twenty-eighth year, execute and record in the proper county, a deed or instrument securing to such slave or servant his or her freedom.

§ 8. In all cases wherein sentence of death shall be pronounced against a slave, the jury before whom he or she shall be tried, shall appraise and declare the value of such slave; and in case such sentence be executed, the court shall make an order on the state treasurer, payable to the owner for the same, and for the costs of prosecution; but in case of remission or mitigation, for the costs only.

§ 9. The reward for taking up runaway and absconding negro and mulatto slaves and servants, and the penalties for enticing away, dealing with, or harboring, concealing or employing negro and mulatto slaves and servants, shall be the same, and shall be recovered in like manner, as in case of servants bound for four years.

§ 10. No man or woman, of any nation or color, except the negroes or mulattoes who shall be registered as aforesaid, shall, at any time hereafter, be deemed adjudged or holden, within the territories of this commonwealth as slaves or servants for life, but as free-men and free-women; except the domestic slaves attending upon delegates in congress from the other American states, foreign ministers and consuls, and persons passing through or sojourning in this state, and not becoming resident therein, and seamen employed in ships not belonging to any inhabitant of this state, nor employed in any ship owned by any such inhabitant; provided, such domestic slaves shall not be alienated or sold to any inhabitant, nor (except in the case of members of congress foreign ministers and consuls) retained in this state longer than six months.

§ 12. And whereas, attempts may be made to evade this act, by introducing into this state negroes and mulattoes bound by covenant to serve for long and unreasonable terms of years, if the same be not prevented: Therefore——

§ 13. No covenant of personal servitude or apprenticeship whatsoever, shall be valid or binding on a negro or mulatto, for a longer time than seven years, unless such servant apprentice were, at the commencement of such servitude or apprenticeship, under the age of twenty-one years; in which case, such negro or mulatto may be holden as a servant or apprentice, respectively, according to the covenant, as the case shall be, until he or she shall attain the age of twenty-eight years, but no longer.

§ 14. That this act, or anything herein contained, shall not give any relief or shelter to any absconding or runaway negro or mulatto slave or servant, who has absconded himself, or shall abscond himself, from his or her owner, master or mistress, residing in any other state or country; but such owner, master or mistress, shall have like right and aid to demand, claim and take away his slave or servant, as he might have had, in case this act had not been made: and that all negro and mulatto slaves, now owned and heretofore resident in other states, who have absconded themselves, or been clandestinely carried away, or who may be employed abroad as seamen, and have not absconded or been brought back to their owners, masters or mistresses before the passing of this act, may, within five years, be registered as effectually as is ordered by this act concerning those who are not within this state, on producing such slave before any two justices of the peace, and satisfying the said justices, by due proof, of his former residence, absconding, running away or absence of such slaves as aforesaid, who thereupon shall direct and order the said slaves to be entered on the record as aforesaid.

And the jurors further found, that at a session of the general assembly of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, holden at the city of Philadelphia, on the 29th day of March 1788, the following law was passed and enacted, 'An act to explain and amend 'an act for the gradual abolition of slavery,"

§ 1. For preventing many evils and abuses arising from ill-disposed persons availing themselves of certain defects in the act for the gradual abolition of slavery, passed on the first day of March, in the year of our Lord 1780, be it enacted:——

§ 2. The exception contained in the tenth section of the act of the first of March 1780, relative to domestic slaves, attending upon persons passing through or sojourning in this state, and not becoming resident therein, shall not be deemed or taken to extend to the slaves of such persons as are inhabitants of, or resident in, this state, or who shall come here, with an intention to settle and reside; but all and every slave or slaves who shall be brought into this state, by persons inhabiting or residing therein, or intending to inhabit or reside therein, shall be immediately considered, deemed and taken to be free, to all intents and purposes.

§ 3. No negro or mulatto slave, or servant for term of years (except as in the last exception of the tenth s...

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