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Guide to the John W. Williams papers, 1822-1835 and undated

Summary

John W. Williams was a Philadelphia lawyer. A small collection of legal papers, correspondence, and clippings chiefly concerning an 1835 lawsuit in which Robert Aitken of Baltimore alleged that a mulatto girl living in Philadelphia was Emily Winder, the daughter of Milly Winder. Milly Winder was Aitken's former slave whom he had freed in 1824, while keeping her daughter as his slave. Aitken claimed that the child had been stolen from him and given to Jacob Gilmore and his wife, free African Americans, to raise as their child. John W. Williams handled Aitken's suit for the girl's return. Includes affidavits, subpoenas, and notes on the testimonies of both black and white witnesses for the defense and the prosecution, including the testimony of Milly Winder, who told of her attempts to locate her daughter after she was freed.

Collection Details

Collection Number
RL.01389
Title
John W. Williams papers
Date
1822-1835 and undated
Creator
Williams, John W.
Extent
0.1 Linear Feet, 32 Items
Repository
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Language
Material in English

Collection Overview

Samll collection of legal papers, correspondence, and clippings chiefly concerning an 1835 lawsuit in which Robert Aitken of Baltimore alleged that a mulatto girl living in Philadelphia was Emily Winder, the daughter of Milly Winder. Milly Winder was Aitken's former slave whom he had freed in 1824, keeping her daughter as his slave. Aitken claimed that the child had been stolen from him ten years earlier and given to Jacob Gilmore and his wife, free African Americans, to raise as their child. Gilmore claimed that the defendant could not be the slave Aitken was searching for, in that he claimed that a woman gave the girl to him and his wife several years before Aitken's slave went missing.

Papers include the notes and evidence compiled by John W. Williams, the lawyer for the plaintiff Aitken, to present the case before the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. The lawyer for the defense was David Paul Brown. Witnesses for the defense claim to have known Emily as a little girl in Philadelphia prior to 1825, and believed her to be white, while witnesses for the prosecution claimed Emily was Aitken's missing slave. Includes the testimony of Milly Winder, who told of her attempts to locate her daughter after she was freed and who claimed that the woman in question could not be her daughter that went missing. This case occurred before the passing of the Federal Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which removed the possibility of a court trial prior to the removal of an alleged fugitive slave.

Collection arranged chronologically within one folder.

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How to Cite

[Identification of item], John W. Williams Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Contents of the Collection

Copy of “Robert Aitken manumission to Negro Milly,” 1822 Apr. 3

Set for 1824 Jan. 1, providing that she continues to be a good servant. Any children she might have in the intervening period are also to be free. Baltimore, Maryland.

Folder 1
Deposition by Robert and James Aitken before Justices of the Peace for Baltimore City, 1835 May 13

States that Emily Winder, born in 1816 or 1817, had been taken from Robert Aitken's residence on July 26, 1825.

Folder 1
Letter, 1835 June 2, from Robert Aitken, Baltimore, to John W. Williams

Appears to concern the matter for Emily Winder.

Folder 1
Ten Dollar Reward: advertisement written by Robert Aitken for the return of an 8 or 9 year old girl named Emily

Desription reads, “Nearly white very black eyes and hair; her mother is a yellow woman known by the name of Milly Winder.” Reward would be twenty dollars if she had to be returned from outside of the state, 1835 June 9. The ad originally ran 1825 Aug. 24, and it claims she was taken July 26, 1825. It also mentions Emily may have been taken by another black individual.

Folder 1
Warrant of arrest for Emily Winder, Philadelphia Co., Pa., 1835 June 13
Folder 1
“Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, City and County of Philadelphia, In the matter of Emily Winder, a fugitive slave,” 1835 June 15

Handwritten copy of Archibald Randall's initial judgment in the case regarding Robert Aitken and Emily Winder.

Folder 1
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia) subpoena of Maria Congo before Honorable Archibald Randall to testify in case concerning Robert Aitken and Emily Winder, 1835 June 15
Folder 1
Court order to Sheriff of Philadelphia Co., Pa. to ensure Maria Congo appears before the Court of Common Pleas, 1835 June 15
Folder 1
Warrant of Removal granted by Archibald Randall, Esq., judge of the Court of Common Pleas for the City and County of Philadelphia Pa., to Robert Aitken for the return of Emily Winder to his possession, 1835 June 15
Folder 1
Transcript from the Docket of Alderman Binns, Commonwealth vs Maria Congo, 1835 June 16
Folder 1
Andrew Aitkin's 1st Administration Account, 1835 June 25

Deals with the administration by Robert Aitken of his father's will.

Folder 1
Letter, 1835 June 26, from B. Mayer, Baltimore, to John Williams

Reference to providing legal volume with information on similar cases and laws/statutes that support the case.

Folder 1
Affidavit: William Pechin attests to the presence of Milly Winder's daughter, Emily, within Robert Aitken's household in 1824-1825, 1835 June 27

Includes clipping of advertisement for ten dollar reward for Emily's return.

Folder 1
Letter of reference as to the character of James Aitken, M.D. and Robert Aitken from their family physician, 1835 June 27
Folder 1
Letter of reference as to the character to James Aitken, M.D. from his former private tutor, 1835 June 27
Folder 1
Release: James Aitken to Andrew Aitken, 1835 June 29
Folder 1
Questions for Jacob Gilmer, 1835 June 29
Folder 1
Transcript of testimonies in Court proceedings for the case, 1835 June 15-July 1

Includes the testimonies of various individuals from Baltimore and Philadelphia, such as Maria Congo, a cousin of the late Mrs. Gilmer who apparently informed Mr. Aitken of Emily's presence in Philadelphia. Also contains testimony of Jacob Gilmer, Emily's adoptive father, and Amelia (Milly) Winder, who said she did not believe the woman in question was her daughter that went missing after she was freed. 36 pages.

Folder 1
John Williams's notes for arguing the case before the court, circa 1835

This was likely Williams's opening statement and begins with the following statement: “Judicial Duty - not popular will - to administer, not adjust the laws. Otherwise my client and I should not be here.”

Folder 1
Questions for Williams's examination of a witness, circa 1835

This witness was present in the Aitken household when Emily went missing. Includes more notes for arguing the case.

Folder 1
Affidavit: Robert Aitken stated that Emily is his slave that was removed from his household while she was a child, circa 1835
Folder 1
Williams's collection of laws and statutes that have some bearing on the case, circa 1835
Folder 1
Williams's notes, likely closing arguments, for the case, circa 1835

Williams argues that the issue is simply a pecuniary matter between Aitken and Gilmer.

Folder 1
Directions to Mr. Aitken, from Williams concerning the evidence they would need for the case, circa 1835
Folder 1
Williams's notes outlining his arguments within the case and analyzing the testimony of each witness, circa 1835
Folder 1
Clipping of report on the case from the Philadelphia Inquirer, circa 1835

Gives detailed summary of major points of the case.

Folder 1
Williams's notes on the details of the case, undated
Folder 1
 

Related Material


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Provenance

The John W. Williams papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a gift in 1973.

Processing Information

Processed by Rubenstein Library staff, 1973

Encoded by Jessica Carew, May 2012

Accession(s) described in this finding aid: 1973