Lemmon Slave Case: Courts Rule Slaves Brought into NYS Free Before the Civil War

Created by Prof. Laura A. Hymson,
BHSEC Faculty

NYS Common Core Grades 11 & 12:
United States History and Government
Participation in Government and Civics

The Lemmon Slave Case provides students of U.S. history a window into the legal challenges and moral conflicts over slavery before the Civil War. This case requires a close examination of federal and state law. The New York courts freed slaves brought into the free state, while the United States Supreme Court decided Dred Scott was not free though he had traveled to a free state with his master’s family. Many curricula place a strong emphasis on the Dred Scott decision, but the Lemmon case shifts focus to New York and allows students to contemplate state’s rights implications and the interpretation of the law through a lens of human equality.

This lesson plan meets the following guidelines of New York State’s Common Core Social Studies Framework (2017):


Teacher’s Guide PDF

Lesson Plan PDF

Student Activities PDF


The Historical Society’s website contains a wealth of related resources, including mini-biographies of the lawyers and judges involved in the case.

The Superior Court Judgment

The Lemmon Slave Case
Judicial Notice Article

Louis Napoleon
Conductor on the Underground Railroad

Chester Arthur
Lawyer for the Slaves

John Jay
Lawyer for the Slaves

Erastus Culver
Lawyer for the Slaves

Henry Lapaugh
Lawyer for the Lemmons

Elijah Paine
Superior Court Judge

Appeals to the Court of Appeals

William Evarts
Lawyer for New York

Charles O’Conor
Lawyer for the Lemmons

Samuel Foot
Former Court of Appeals Judge

William Wright
Court of Appeals Judge, Affirmed

Hiram Denio
Court of Appeals Judge, Affirmed

Thomas Clerke
Court of Appeals Judge, Dissented

George Comstock
Court of Appeals Judge, Dissented

Samuel Selden
Court of Appeals Judge, Dissented

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