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Aaron Cooper

(ca. 1784-?)

The freedom suit Aaron Cooper initiated through the Adams County Superior Court showcases a truly harrowing experience, much like Solomon Northup’s famous account: that of a man who was born free and had known no other life to find himself snatched out of his own home at the age of thirty-five or forty, brutalized, and sold to the Deep South. Born in Delaware to freed parents, Nanny and Richard, who were Quakers, he was apprenticed out as a boy and learned the miller’s trade. He became a literate and industrious member of his local community, well known and respected, as were his parents, and he married a free woman from Philadelphia, Hetty, with whom he had seven children, all of them understood to be free by their neighbors, according to the witnesses who testified for him in the case.                                                                    
Sometime around May 5, 1811, five armed men burst into their home and carried him off, no doubt to his own terror and that of his family. Obviously, this had been a carefully orchestrated plan: he was quickly conveyed to a slave trader at an area tavern and, within short order, boarded onto a vessel and sold to a Natchez man, Parmenas Briscoe. The case ground through the courts for three years. Cooper utilized the resources available to him in order to prove his case, and a combination of his own savviness at presenting himself as a sober, industrious citizen who had been unlawfully wrenched away from his family and friends in conjunction with the diligent efforts of his lawyers and those who testified on his behalf aided him in eventually winning his release from slavery and a return home. The census of 1820 indicates that he was firmly ensconced within the presence of his family in Kent, Delaware.

  • 1784
    Approximate year of birth
  • 1811
    Kidnapped from his home in Delaware and sold to Natchez . He initiated a freedom suit and eventually regained his liberty.
  • 1820
    US census shows him living again with his family in Delaware.

Further Reading

Cooper, Aaron (fmc) v. Briscoe, Parmenas, 1811, Historic Natchez Foundation, Box 43, File 22.

Kimberly M. Welch. Black Litigants in the Antebellum American South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018, 42-44, 45-49, 54, 89, 165, 186, 237n55.