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The Leiper Family

The Leiper family was originally owned by Nicholas Meriweather in Kentucky. Meriweather deeded Rose and her child and “future increase” to his own children in 1796. However, in 1803, after the death of Meriweather, due to his outstanding debt, the entire family—including Rose, Robert, and their children, Andrew, Peter, Charlotte, and Bob—was seized and sold to Charles Lynch, the future governor of Mississippi. In 1826, Lynch manumitted Bob and Rose, who were fifty-eight and fifty-one at the time, and their daughter Charlotte, thirty, the minimum age one could be freed in the state of Louisiana. In 1832, though, the long arm of slavery reached out and tried to pull Rose, her daughter Charlotte, and two grandchildren, Laura and Lorenzo, back into its grip. The four of them, with the help of Rose’s husband, Robert, their daughter Matilda, and the white father of her grandchildren, William Hasset, brought suit against the representative of her former owner’s family. They were ultimately successful in proving their freedom in this case.

Robert Sr. bought some family members, his children and grandchildren with Rose, for years after that. Ultimately, though, in 1838, at the age of seventy, Robert Sr., his daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren made the decision to emigrate to Liberia. Many members of the family remained in Natchez and continued into the 1840s to pay Lynch money to secure the freedom of other Leipers. The record is silent on Rose, though, and likely she passed away prior to facing the choice of whether to remain with her family in Mississippi or gambling on an elusive freedom in Africa. The couple’s son, Robert, Jr., married another free woman of color, Sophia Leiper, and their family lived in Natchez for several decades. 

Further Reading

Davis, Edwin Adams, and William Ransom Hogan. The Barber of Natchez (1954).

Davis, Edwin Adams, and William Ransom Hogan, eds. William Johnson’s Natchez: The Antebellum Diary of a Free Negro (1951).

Davis, Ronald L. F. The Black Experience in Natchez, 1720–1880 (1993)

Gould, Virginia Meacham. Chained to the Rock of Adversity: To Be Free, Black & Female in the Old South (1998).