top of page
NEXT PUBLIC MEETING: May 1 , 7:30 p.m. at Pohick Regional Library. All are welcome.

Slave Sues Silas, but Silas Dodges Subpoenas


In April 1836 one of the enslaved people in the James Keene estate, a man named George, sued Keene’s son Oliver and Silas Burke, claiming he was owed his freedom. The suit was filed in the District of Columbia, which included present-day Alexandria, Virginia until 1846.


Over a period of three years, the chief judge of the U.S. Circuit Court in D.C. issued seven separate summonses for Silas Burke, but he never came. It’s difficult to imagine Silas never set foot in Alexandria from 1836 to 1839, but the judge’s order called for him to be taken to court if he was discovered in any part of the District. It may have helped that Silas Burke was a fellow judge.


Pictured here are part of the lawsuit and two of Silas's summonses.

Take me back to the document library.

George Kean v. Oliver Kean & Silas Burke. In O Say Can You See: Early Washington, D.C., Law & Family, edited by William G. Thomas III, et al. University of Nebraska-Lincoln..

bottom of page