Lucy Terry Prince: Woman Argued Case Before Supreme Court

She may not be a lawyer but she is the first African-American to argue a case in front of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Born in Africa, Lucy Terry Prince was recognized as a woman of intelligence and determination despite having a difficult life during her childhood. At the age of five, she was already working as a domestic servant to Ebenezer Wells of Deerfield, Massachusetts. She was freed from Wells when Abijah Prince, who became her husband, earned money to buy her freedom.

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Prince's lawsuit
Her husband had inherited land in Northfield from his master. He also acquired additional land in Guilford, Sunderland and New Hampshire. However, in the 1790s, Colonel Eli Brownson, their neighbor in Sunderland, attempted to get their land. Brownson claimed part of the land. The case was heard and tried before Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase on circuit in Vermont.

During the trial, Lucy had a lawyer but because of her speaking abilities, she decided to argue her case before the court. She was able to defend her family’s rights and won the case. Justice Samuel Chase said that Lucy’s argument was better than he had heard from any Vermont lawyer.

Other accomplishments
Besides getting involved in legal battles, Lucy also had her contribution to literature. She was the first documented African-American poetess. She is known for her poem “Bars Fight.” The “Bars Fight” is a poetic ballad commemorating the Indian attack on a Deerfield haying party. It was in 1819 when its first known printed version came out. The poem was published in a book of Western Massachusetts History 36 years after.

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Lucy Terry Prince died on July 11, 1821 at the age of 97. A long obituary was published in The Vermont Gazette of Bennington and was reprinted in part by The Franklin Herald of Greenfield, Massachusetts. She was a brave and accomplished woman.

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