Wednesday, November 11, 2020

When a Trust Could Set You Free

The fall issue of "Financial History,” published by the Museum of American Finance, includes an article on the free black businesspeople of antebellum New Orleans and Charleston. 

After the American Revolution, the number of free blacks in Charleston grew. By 1820 some whites found the trend disturbing. "As a result…the state legislature passed a law prohibiting immigration and outlawing manumission. Those slaveholders still wishing to free their slaves would have to adopt more sophisticated, legally intricate estate planning devices in hopes of circumventing the 1820 law."
One universal approach adopted by many owners involved the establishment of a “trusteeship” with the creator of the trust acting as the beneficiary. The beneficiaries could then exercise emancipation rights whenever they chose. William Ellison, a free mulatto and cotton gin manufacturer with family in Charleston, “purchased” his daughter Maria in this manner in 1830. After technically purchasing her, he immediately vested her ownership in trust by “selling” her for “one cent” to Col. McCreight. The trust stipulated that though owned by McCreight, he was to allow her to reside with the Ellison family. Under the trust, William Ellison could emancipate at any time; upon his death, the agreement required that McCreight “secure her emancipation as soon as possible here or in another state.”

1 comment:

Jim Gust said...

Great find!