Statement certifying James Seymour's status

Teaching with Curated Collections

Statement certifying James Seymour's status

This letter is a confirmation of the free status of James Seymour, a 16-year-old African American boy. Dr. Alexander Garrett vouches for Seymour's free status, and states that Seymour's parents are also free. Justice of the Peace John L. Smith supports this claim. Garrett's support carried some weight; the doctor was well known in Washington, D.C., and served as Jefferson Davis' (future Confederate president) personal physician.

Seymour likely carried this letter with him when he traveled in order to avoid being detained. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made it easier for "slave-catchers" to kidnap black people and force them into slavery, even those who were free. In the 1860 census, Seymour is 22 and living with four family members in Washington, D.C. He works as a coachman, and, like the rest of his family, was born in Virginia.

This letter is part of the Franklin Steele collection at the Minnesota Historical Society. Steele was an early white settler in Minnesota, arriving in 1838 and staying for the rest of his life. How this document came to be in Steele's papers is a mystery.

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Washington, D.C.
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