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Sun, 06.13.1830

Eliza Winston, Domestic Worker, and Abolitionist born

Eliza Winston

*The birth of Eliza Winston is celebrated on this date, c. 1830. 

She was a Black slave from Mississippi who was freed from her owners while with them on vacation in Minnesota, a free state.  In the summer of 1860, Eliza Winston, an enslaved thirty-year-old woman, was taken to St. Anthony, Minnesota, by her owners, Richard and Mary Christmas of Issaquena County, Mississippi.

During that time, it was typical for wealthy southern tourists to escape the yellow fever season by traveling via steamboat up the Mississippi River to northern destinations during the summer months. They took domestic slaves as servants. The Christmases traveled with their five-year-old daughter, Norma, and Winston to the Winslow House in St. Anthony, Minnesota, which was a free state.  Winston was determined to seek freedom there and told her story to Ralph and Emily Grey, free Black citizens.  According to her deposition, she and her late husband had previously purchased her freedom. Still, Ralph Christmas had purchased her from her previous owner, Mr. Gholson, and did not honor her emancipation.  

Judge Charles Vanderburgh agreed to hear her case; Minnesota was a free state.  The judge sent the sheriff to the Winslow House to take Winston into custody, but by then, the Christmas family had moved to a country house on Lake Harriet. When the sheriff arrived, the Christmas family first hid Winston but did not resist further when she was located.  The following day, she received a hearing in court, where she said she and her late husband had purchased her freedom from a previous owner, but it was not honored. After a hearing, the judge ruled that Winston was a free woman.  The Saint Anthony Weekly Express opined that the event would damage the tourism trade.  

That evening, a pro-slavery mob surrounded the Greys' home and demanded that Winston be returned to the Christmases. Still, with the aid of the Underground Railroad, she was already on her way to Ontario, Canada. Canada had abolished slavery.  According to interpretations of the Dred Scott case of 1857, Winston would return to slavery if she returned to a slave state.  She voluntarily returned to the Christmas family in Issaquena County before the Civil War broke out.

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