||29 Tenn. 305
|| Dispute over emancipation of slaves through will
||Lewis and others vs. Daniel, admr
||Tennessee Supreme Court
This case came to the Court via two enslaved people asserting their right to emancipation through their deceased owner’s will. The late Peter Singleton had included a provision in his will that provided for the emancipation of two people, Nelly and Patsy, upon the death of Peter and his wife Sally, on the condition that they be allowed to remain in Tennessee, and if not, then they were to be conveyed to Wiley F. Daniel. The question before the Court was whether Nelly and Patsy had indeed been emancipated upon Sally’s death or if title to them had passed to Daniel. The contemporary law on the emancipation of enslaved people through will dictated that it would be unlawful to emancipate a slave “except on the express condition, that such slave shall be immediately removed from the state; and that the bond and security, in a sum equal to the value of the slave, so to be emancipated, shall be given, conditioned that he or she shall forthwith remove from the State.” Act of 1831, Ch. 102. This requirement existed in addition to the Act of 1801, Ch. 27 requirement of dual assent for emancipation from both the slave’s owner and the county court. However, if the owner purported to emancipate a enslaved person through a will but neglected to petition the county court in compliance with the Act of 1801, Ch. 27, then “it shall be lawful for such slave to file a bill in equity, by his next friend; and upon its being made appear satisfactory to the court, that such slave ought, of right, to be set free, it shall be so adjudged, upon bond and security.” Act of 1829, Ch. 29. Finally, under the Act of 1842, Ch. 191, the court of the county in which an enslaved person had been emancipated (or any county in which he may reside) may, upon petition by the slave, permit him to remain in the county if the court determines that he is of good character and ought to be permitted to remain. Peter Singleton’s will had the issue that it purported to establish two simultaneous yet legally-inconsistent conditions: that the enslaved people be emancipated, yet also be permitted to remain in Tennessee. To settle this quandary, the Court relied on the well-settled principle of will construction that “if clauses are inconsistent, the primary provisions of the will shall prevail against the secondary.” The Court determined that Singleton intended to absolutely emancipate Nelly and Patsy, and therefore their emancipation was the primary provision. Accordingly, the Court holds that Nelly and Patsy shall be free upon the condition that they remove from the state, unless their county chancery court determines them to be of good character and allow them to stay.