The story of Jenny Spew, who sued her slave owner and won
THE PEOPLE VS. JENNY SPEW..The slaves who sued over slavery..Part 2.
Jenny Slew was born about 1719 as the child of a free white woman and a black male slave. She grew up as a free woman. by the time she reached her mid forties she had been married to one or more black men who were slaves but lived her life as a free woman until 1762 when she was kidnapped and enslaved by John Whipple She was enslaved from January 29, 1762 to March 5, 1765.
Jenny found an attorney and in March, 1765 sued Mr. Whipple in the Inferior Court of Common Pleas on a charge of trespass for holding her in bondage illegally.
In the civil suit “Jenny Slew, Spinster, (because marriage to enslaved Black men was not legal or recognized) versus John Whipple Jr., Gentleman” she asserted through her counsel that as a child’s legal status follows that of the mother, she was a free woman. The complaint stated that “on Jan. 29, 1762 John Whipple with force and arms took her held and kept her in servitude as a slave in his service and thus restrained her of her lawful liberty and did other injuries to the amount of £25.”
Whipple countered that he possessed a bill of sale for the purchase of Jenny Slew, and that she had no legal standing to sue him since she had been married. Under Massachusetts law at that time a married woman had no legal identity separate from her husband and therefore could not sue on her own behalf. The court dismissed her petition on a technicality, ruling that since Jenny had been married ,”Jenny Slew, Spinstress” did not exist.Despite slaves not being allowed to marry or it being recognized under the law it seems in Jenny’s case the white man flaunted their own law.
A year later Jenny Slew filed an appeal with the Essex Superior Court of Judicature in Salem, which granted her a jury trial. The court took into consideration that she had not been married at the times of the two trials, and that under the state’s 1706 anti-miscegenation statue, her marriages to slaves were of questionable validity,therefore not legally recognized under the law. They decided that her status as a “spinster.”Ws true and legal under the current state of american law. In November of 1766 the jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff and ordered Whipple to free Jenny Slew. She was awarded £4 in damages and £5 in costs.Jenny Slew was an example of an odd but often common incident of free Black People being kidnapped into slavery on american soil and was the first of many cases of African Americans taking legal action against the state and their slave owners in order to free themselves from slavery