The Eight encountered Louis Napoleon, the son of a slave, an abolitionist activist, and a “conductor” of the Underground Railroad, who took enormous risks to help others. He was part of an anti-slavery movement in which African-Americans played an integral role in the fight for freedom.
The court ruled that the eight were free upon arriving on New York’s free soil, and the case became a battle cry for secession when appeals defied the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford.
The case was part of the broader judicial landscape at the time: If a law was morally repugnant but enshrined in the Constitution, what was the duty of the judge?
Should there be, as some people advocated, a “higher law” that transcends the written law?
These questions were at the heart of the Lemmon case. They were difficult and important ones in the 1850s — and, more than a century and a half later, we must still grapple with them today.
The Jay family’s legacy of abolition work is epitomized by John Jay II’s defending the eight enslaved women and children in the Lemmon Slave Case.
On October 29, 2023 a free public program at Jay Heritage Center in Rye, Westchester County, NY will dive into the case, the dramatic events and characters, and its impact on the Ne York State and the United States.
Hon. Albert M. Rosenblatt, Retired Associate Judge, New York Court of Appeals and author of The Eight: The Lemmon Slave Case and the Fight for Freedom (SUNY Press Excelsior Editions, 2023) will discuss the case with Hon. Philippe Solages, Jr., Acting Supreme Court Justice, Court of Claims Judge, Nassau County Criminal Court with a special guest appearance by Luanne Wills-Merrell, a descendant of two of the formerly enslaved.
This event is presented by the Historical Society of the New York Courts and the Jay Heritage Center, and co-Sponsored by the Westchester Bar Association and the Westchester Black Bar Association.
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Photo of Juliet and Jonathan Lemmon courtesy Shirley Craft, from findagrave.com.