A former slave sues for back wages in 1840

Grant County Circuit Court, Civil case files, 1838-circa 1945 (Grant Series 64, Box 51) and Minutes, 1837-1870, 1873-1911 (Grant Series 67, Volume 2): selections


In 1831, George Wallace Jones (1804-1896) brought his spouse and seven enslaved African-Americans from Missouri to Wisconsin. In the fall of 1840, one of them (called "Paul, a man of color" or "Paul Jones" in court records) claimed that because slavery was illegal in Wisconsin, he was owed back wages and sued Jones in Grant County Circuit Court. Eleven of the 12 jurors sided with Paul Jones, but the lone holdout eventually prevailed and the jury concluded on Oct. 4, 1840, that he was not owed any compensation for his years of forced labor.

Given below (click "View the Document") are the court records documenting this case. They total more than 70 pages and include testimony, summonses for witnesses, depositions, and pages related to separate cases in which Paul Jones sued other people for money.

Highlights include:

  • March 26, 1840: the attorney for Paul Jones claims he is owed back wages by George Jones
  • March 26, 1840: George Jones describes purchasing Paul Jones as a slave
  • March 26, 1840: certified copy of March 18, 1829, bill of sale for Paul Jones
  • Undated affidavit by George Jones arguing why he should not have to pay Paul Jones back wages
  • October 4, 1840: jury finds in favor of George Jones
Recollections of the case by participants are included in Davidson, J. N. Negro Slavery in Wisconsin. (Milwaukee, 1896), pages 118-120 and Negro Slavery in Wisconsin and the Underground Railroad. (Milwaukee, 1897), pages 35-36 (both available elsewhere in Turning Points in Wisconsin History)

Paul Jones worked as a day laborer and musician until about 1851, when he died in Grant County of cholera. George Jones became a congressman from Wisconsin and a senator from Iowa, but his sympathy for the South (he was a friend of Jefferson Davis and his sons fought for the Confederacy) put an end to his political career when the Civil War broke out.




Related Topics: Wisconsin in the Civil War Era
Abolition and Other Reforms
Creator: Circuit Court (Grant County).
Pub Data: Unpublished Civil case files, 1838-circa 1945 (Grant Series 64, Box 51) and Minutes, 1837-1870, 1873-1911 (Grant Series 67, Volume 2): selections. Housed at Southwest Wisconsin Room, Platteville Area Research Center, University of Wisconsin-Platteville, One University Plaza, Platteville, WI 53818
Citation: Grant County Circuit Court. Unpublished Civil case files, 1838-circa 1945 (Grant Series 64, Box 51), and Minutes, 1837-1870, 1873-1911 (Grant Series 67, Volume 2). Housed at Southwest Wisconsin Room, Platteville Area Research Center, University of Wisconsin-Platteville, One University Plaza, Platteville, WI 53818. Online facsimile at:  http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1812; Visited on: 2/17/2019