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Copyright (c) 1998 The Law Review Association, Thomas Jefferson School of Law San Diego
 Thomas Jefferson Law Review

PERSPECTIVE: Thomas Jefferson as an Unsuccessful Advocate for Freedom in Howell V. Netherland

Spring, 1998

20 T. Jefferson L. Rev. 129


Aaron Schwabach*



In pre-Revolutionary America, the study of law was a "dreary ramble." 1 Neither case reporters nor casebooks existed for American cases; all law books were imported. As a result, the record of case law from that time is incomplete, and only two of Thomas Jefferson's legal arguments are still available to the researcher.

In an attempt to fill in the lacunae in Virginia case law, Thomas Jefferson collected and prepared for publication a set of colonial Virginia law reports; these were published three years after his death as Reports of Cases Determined in the General Court of Virginia from 1730 to 1740 and from 1768 to 1772. 2 Of these cases, only two were cases which Jefferson had argued, apparently selected for their subject matter. One dealt with the relationship between the State and the clergy; 3 the other was a suit by an indentured servant seeking freedom from his state of involuntary servitude. 4


A. Howell

Samuel Howell's great-grandmother was a free white woman who became pregnant by a black man. 5 After 1705, Howell's grandmother was born. 6 Under the law of the time, this child was bound to servitude until the age of thirty-one. 7 During this period of servitude, at some time after 1723, she gave birth to Howell's mother, who also entered into a state of servitude lasting until the age of thirty-one. 8 Samuel Howell himself was born into the life of a bond servant ...
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