History, Department of


First Advisor

Dr. William G. Thomas

Date of this Version

Spring 4-2020


William Kelly, ""She’s been her own mistress...”: The Long History of Charlotte Dupee v. Henry Clay, 1790-1830," Poster presentation, UNL Spring Research Fair, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. April 2020.


Copyright 2020 by the authors.


In February 1829, Charlotte Dupee, an enslaved woman, sued for her freedom in the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia. The defendant was her enslaver, United States Secretary of State Henry Clay. Situating her as the main historical actor, this research illustrates how Dupee’s life experiences as an enslaved woman directly informed the decisive timing of her freedom suit. By expanding Dupee’s story beyond 1829 to reconstruct her life from girlhood to manumission, we also gain a greater understanding of the nuanced and precarious nature of alternative pathways to freedom.