Deposition of Peyton Drew, Clerk of Virginia General Court
Judgment by Peter Randolph
Court Summons of Susanna Clay
Verdict of the Jury
Claiming descent from a female Indian imported into Virginia and illegally enslaved, Rachel sued Thomas Clay, of Powhatan County, for her freedom. In May 1773, the court ruled that Rachel and her family were free, but before she won her suit her master sold her to John Draper, of Wythe County, where she lived in slavery for forty years.
In June 1813 when Rachel was in her sixties, she learned of the 1773 ruling and sued Draper. Her legal counsel faced the difficult task of convincing twelve white men that a sixty-year-old African American woman should be free. Because no African American could testify against a white person, Rachel’s lawyers had to rely on testimony from elderly white people who could not make the long trip from Powhatan County to Wythe County and who had not seen Rachel in forty years.
Rachel's attorneys eventually succeeded in having the case transferred to Powhatan County in 1816, but not until May 1820 did a jury, having heard three days of testimony, reach its verdict: “We of the Jury find that the plaintiff is free and not a slave, and we do assess her damages to one penny.” Forty-seven years after she first won her freedom, Rachel won her freedom again. More importantly, the liberties of her children and grandchildren had also been assured, if courts where they lived learned of and followed the verdict in Powhatan County.