Silvio Morales

Document Type


Publication Date



John Lewis, David Fulton, Maryland Court of Appeals, slave, St. Domingo immigrants, Haitian Revolution, French refugees, Thomas Kell, African American, hairdresser


In 1815 the Maryland Court of Appeals did something that by the early 1800’s had become uncommon. The court granted a slave his freedom in the case of Fulton v. Lewis, 3H. & J. 564 (1815) The slave was John Lewis, a native of the island of Saint Domingo, present-day Haiti, who was imported into Maryland after the Maryland General Assembly enacted a law prohibiting the importation of slaves into Maryland.

To understand why Lewis was granted his freedom this essay explores the case by placing it in its historical context, and by reviewing certain Maryland laws regarding slavery prior to and during the War of 1812.

This essay will address the facts of the case and the events that led to Lewis’s importation and sale to David Fulton, while discussing the main characters involved. Second, in an attempt to fully appreciate the significance of the Court of Appeals ruling this paper will briefly discuss the social, legal and political history of Maryland between 1790 and 1815. Third, it will address the trial proceedings and the subsequent appeal to determine why Lewis was successful in obtaining his freedom when other African Americans were being denied freedom. Finally, it will examine an alternate theory as to the identity of Lewis than the one presented in the court records.


Law | Legal History

Included in

Legal History Commons