Cal. Litig. 2020, Volume 33, Number 3

My Ancestors’ Wildest Dreams

By Kirra Jones McDaniel

Kirra Jones McDaniel is an associate in Polsinelli’s Products Liability and Toxic Torts Practice Group, with a secondary emphasis in Commercial Litigation. Kirra’s experience includes managing complex litigation from discovery through appeal. She has represented corporations in diverse industries, including food and agriculture, medical devices, automotive, industrial minerals, utilities, electrical components, and construction.

I am the great-great-great-granddaughter of Isadora Thompson, a Black woman who survived chattel slavery in the United States, and died free. In 1855, Isadora was listed in the property inventory of Baker Boswell Degraffenreid, one of the largest slaveholders in Fayette County, Tennessee. When Baker Degraffenreid’s daughter, Sarah, married Dr. Solomon Green, Baker’s wedding gift to his daughter consisted of various land holdings as well as 14 human beings, including Isadora. Baker drew up a "Deed of Gift" attempting to convey the women, men, and children, and their issue, to Sarah, as separate property, out of reach of her husband.

As the Civil War was fought and the South plunged into economic ruin, the event Baker Degraffenreid had sought to avoid occurred. My great-great-great-grandmother was pledged as collateral to secure Dr. Green’s debt, and his creditors wanted to collect. This is how my grandmother’s name came to be listed in a Tennessee Supreme Court case. Smith v. Green, a case filed in Memphis trial court before the Civil War’s end, but ultimately decided after the war ended in 1867, addressed the creditors’ ability to seize my grandmother to satisfy Dr. Green’s debt. The court held that since she had been emancipated in 1865, during the pendency of the case, the court could no longer hold her as property, and the debt was cancelled.

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