In 1843, when Nancy Hillman, the only surviving heir of Georgetown’s most prominent free black man, tried to collect on money he was owed for 20 years, she faced two obstacles in the Circuit Court. First, was the claim barred by laches? More importantly, could she use the D.C. courts, at all? At that time, not even free blacks could testify in actions at law where any white person was concerned. Judge James Morsell heard the case. Washington attorney James H. Johnston tells what happened to Nancy Hillman in an engrossing story.

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