Henry R. Pratt
(b. 1786 - d. 1852)
MSA SC 3520-14940
House of Delegates, Queen Anne's County, 1822; Slaveholder
Henry R. Pratt experienced an unusual form of resistance from one of his enslaved women, in 1821. Elizabeth Walkup, believing that she was descended from a free white or Indian servant, filed a freedom petition with the Queen Anne's County court. Several Maryland slaves attempted to use this tactic, utilizing colonial era statutes that determined the fate of servants who engaged in interracial relations. The 1681 law stipulated that children of a "ffreeborne Englishe or white woman" and an African slave would be manumitted from service.1 Elizabeth therefore hoped that it could be proven that her ancestor, Violett, was either white herself or descended from a free white woman. At the same time, her relation Alexander Walkup filed the same petition against his owner Edwin W. Pratt, presumably a relation to Henry.
Due to a Maryland law prohibiting testimony from an African American in cases involving whites, the Walkups' cases relied on the recollections of numerous local white citizens. Neither Edwin nor Henry Pratt appears to have been called as a witness in the trial. The first person to testify described Violett as having "an irish and indian look - long coarse black hair," when he met her in 1766. She was then enslaved by Christopher Ruth, a Queen Anne's County resident who died in 1775 or 1776.2 Later witnesses made similar contentions, though Boon Chance claimed that he had been told that the servant "was as white as she or he was."3
Ruth's probate records confirm some of these details. His 1775 inventory did include a 53 year old, mulatto woman named Violett, who was valued at 16 pounds.4 Ruth's will from the same year stipulated that, after several sums of money were distributed to other heirs, the remaining real and personal estate would be passed to Henry Pratt, his cousin and executor.5 This property would have included all of his human chattel, who were not specifically mentioned elsewhere in the will. The Census reveals that Henry R. Pratt's slave holdings had gradually increased during the intermediate years. He went from owning 36 African-American laborers in 1790, to 62 in 1810, the last year that he was recorded in Queen Anne's County.6 Jurors in the case were directed "that if they beleive Violett to have been a mulatto, the presumption growing out of the circumstance of her being a woman of colour is that she was a slave." They apparently decided just that, rejecting the petitions of Elizabeth and Alexander Walkup.7
following the unsuccessful freedom petition, Pratt was elected as a
state delegate for his home county.8 Soon after, Henry R. Pratt
also signed a petition for clemency for John Seward, who had murdered a
slave at some point in the 1820's.9 The victim was the mother of Perry Trusty and Ann Maria Green, who both ultimately fled from Queen Anne's County and later referred to the crime.10
However, there is little other evidence of his presence in the area
within local records or the federal census. Henry may have died
intestate or moved to another state. Either way, it is unclear what
became of Elizabeth Walkup and the dozens of other African Americans
formerly enslaved by Pratt.