Robert R. Wilson Lecture | Rebecca J. Scott, Adjudicating Status in a Time of Slavery

March 06, 2017

Rebecca J. Scott, the John Hope Franklin Visiting Professor of American Legal History, delivered Duke University's 2017 Robert R. Wilson Lecture. Prof. Scott's lecture, "Adjudicating Status in a Time of Slavery: Luisa Coleta and the Capuchin Friar (Havana, 1817)," asks to what extent the exercise of authority under slavery was constrained by law. Was the Caribbean war refugee named Coleta a slave, or was she a free woman? When a Capuchin friar prepared to administer the last rites at Coleta's deathbed in Havana in 1817, she refused absolution, instead obliging the friar on pain of conscience to transcribe her final confession and submit her words to a judge in order to initiate a suit for freedom for her children. The record thus created reveals the deep indeterminacy of status, the entanglement of the law of property with the law of persons, and the limits of legal process in a slave society.