Slavery in the Northwest Territory -
When the Northwest Territory was established in 1787 slavery was abolished in the territory as stated in Article 6 . Art. 6. There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory.
But results were not immediate. In 1800 William Henry Harrison became Governor of the Indiana Territory. In 1803 Harrison lobbied Congress to repeal Article 6 of the Northwest Ordinance to permit slavery in the Indiana Territory. He claimed it was necessary to make the region more appealing to settlers and that it would ultimately make the territory economically viable. Congress suspended the article for 10 years, and the territories covered by the ordinance were granted the right to decide for themselves whether to permit slavery. That year Harrison had the appointed territorial legislature authorize indenturing. He then attempted to have slavery legalized outright, in both 1805 and 1807. This caused a significant stir in the territory. In 1809 the legislature was popularly elected for the first time and Harrison found himself at odds with the legislature when the abolitionist party came to power. They immediately blocked his plans for slavery and repealed the indenturing laws he had passed in 1803.
Polly Strong’s case for freedom came before the Indiana Supreme Court in 1820. It had first been tried in Vincennes by a lower court. Polly Strong’s mother Jenny was a black woman captured by Indians from Kentucky at the age of 15. She was later sold as a slave in Detroit to a man named Isaac Williams. Subsequently she was sold to Antoine Lasselle in Vincennes. At the time of the trial, Polly, her mother Jenny and brother James were all considered the property of their present owner - Hyacinth Laselle nephew of Antoine Laselle. The lower court based Polly’s case on two facts. That she was the issue of a slave (and therefore she herself was a slave) and that her mother became a slave in Vincennes before the Northwest Ordinance became law. That lower court ruled that the early settlers in Vincennes being either French or from Virginia (where slavery was legal) lived under these early laws.