QUOCK WALKER CASE In large part the result of the realization that African American slavery was ideologically inconsistent with the goals and rhetoric of the American Revolution, northern states took the lead in abolishing slavery or otherwise providing for the gradual emancipation of slaves during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In some states, such as Vermont, constitutions were written or legislation enacted which specifically outlawed slavery and the slave trade. In Massachusetts, however, slavery was gradually ended as the result of judicial interpretation and action.
The most significant of several "freedom cases" leading to the death of slavery in Massachusetts was that of Commomvealth v. Jennison, commonly referred to as the Quock Walker Case of 1783. Quock Walker allegedly was the slave of one Nathaniel Jennison, who had forcibly captured his "slave" following an abortive runaway attempt. Jennison, in turn, was indicted by a local court for committing assault and battery on Walker. The case was subsequently appealed to the supreme court of Massachusetts in 1783. In his charge to the jury, Chief Justice William Gushing rejected Jennison's argument that his actions constituted legitimate means of apprehending a runaway slave on the basis that Jennison had earlier promised to manumit Walker. More significantly, Gushing held that although slavery indeed had been tolerated in Massachusetts, it was incompatible with the revolutionary spirit "favorable to the natural rights of mankind." Gushing concluded his charge by asserting that "slavery is inconsistent with our own conduct and Constitution; and there can be no such thing as perpetual servitude of a rational creature, unless his liberty is forfeited by some criminal conduct or given up by personal consent or contract." The jury concurred with Cushing's argument, upholding the indictment of Jennison. See also: FIRST EMANCIPATION.