Becoming Free


These records attested that Elizabeth Keckley bought her own freedom and that of her son, George, from Anne Burwell Garland, her owner, in 1855. The price was $1200. Freedom Papers were probably the most valued document owned by anyone who had once been a slave. They marked a legal transition from chattel, belonging to another, to the status of free (though not equal) American. In her memoir, Elizabeth Keckley recalled asking her master, Hugh Garland, if she might somehow buy her freedom. In reply, he offered her a quarter to pay the ferry boat across the river to the free state of Illinois. But she refused to become a runaway, preferring freedom "by such means as the laws of the country provide." She wanted legal freedom and the right to practice her trade in the familiar community of St. Louis. Shown here is Elizabeth Keckley's document of emancipation.

Know all men by these presents, that I, Anne P. Garland of the County and City of St. Louis, State of Missouri, for and in consideration of the sum of twelve hundred dollars, to me in hand paid this day in cash, hereby emancipate my negro woman Lizzie and her son George - the said Lizzie is known in St. Louis, as the wife of James, who is called James keckley, is of light complexion, about thrity seven - years of age, by trade a dress-maker, and called by those who know her, Garland's Lizzie - the said boy George is the only child of Lizzie, is about sixteen years of age, and is almost white, and called by those who know him, Garland's George. Witness my hand and Seall, this 13th day of November A.D. 1855. Witness Anne P. Garland John Wickham


Deed of Emancipation of Lizzie, Wife of James Keckley and George, son of Lizzie by Anne P. Garland. 13 November 1855. Obverse. St. Louis Circuit Court Papers. Missouri Historical Society