Charity Wilson: A Free Woman’s Fight for Freedom
“An outrage! Free Negro almost kidnapped and placed in servitude!” read the headline to the Licking Valley Register in August of 1842. As was all too common in the Ohio River Valley, free people of color, indicted as runaways and discreetly smuggled away, found themselves stripped of their free status and suddenly bound to the damnatory institution that was American slavery. For free people of color in the antebellum South, freedom was always a tenuous and unfixed status. Prone to capture and sale, they were figures of contradiction - potential challenges to the very statutes of white supremacy and black subjugation that defined nineteenth century American society. However anomalous, however contradictory, however prone to capture and sale, these people remained. They established communities, forged their own political organizations, and in the case of one Charity Southgate, used the courts to better cement their precarious free status for themselves and their families.