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slavery, Maryland, Civil War, apprenticeship, emancipation


The abolition of slavery in the State of Maryland, pursuant to the Maryland Constitution of 1864, resulted in the emancipation of thousands of black children, who, because of an unrepealed section of the Maryland Black codes, were quickly apprenticed to their former masters under the guise of a legal apprenticeship statute. Within this period of Maryland history is the story of Leah Coston and her two boys, Simon and Washington, who were apprenticed to their former master, Samuel S. Costen, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. This paper contextualizes the case of Coston v. Coston within the times and provides a unique opportunity to illustrate one family’s plight under this legal system. Moreover, throughout this paper I attempt to weave together the political, social, and ideological backgrounds of the integral players in the case by resurrecting their influence and motivations. I try to especially focus on the radical republican lawyers who represented Leah, as they devised a carefully crafted litigation strategy to attack Maryland’s apprenticeship system. All together, the case of Coston v. Coston presents the opportunity to reconstruct the legal history surrounding apprenticeship in Maryland at the end of the Civil War.


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