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In 1834, an enslaved woman named Minerva submitted a petition to the U.S. District Court of Western Louisiana, claiming that her late master had freed her and her three children in his will but that his wife, Rachel, had “forcibly carried” them from their home in Arkansas to Mexico in order to continue holding them in bondage. Minerva’s story, recovered from previously unexamined records of the U.S. District Court of Western Louisiana, reveals that freedom was less a “natural state” to be enjoyed than a legal claim to be defended. Cases like Minerva’s also had consequences beyond the courtroom, contributing to a growing misperception in both Mexico and the United States that the Mexican authorities had adopted the “freedom principle” and fully abolished slavery. These rumored policies would prove what the Anglo colonists in Texas had long suspected—that their rights would never be assured under Mexican rule.
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