Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Manumission Definition:

The act of freeing a slave.

Related Terms: Slavery, Emancipation, Villeinage

From the Latin term manumissio, "setting slaves at liberty".1

A formal document in which a slave owner freed a specific slave, thereby giving the slave the right to all freedoms held by free men and women.

Max Radin wrote:

"Manumission ... at Roman law, the act of freeing a slave. The term was used at common law for the freeing of a serf or villein."

As an example, of a manumission statute in a jurisdiction which, at one time, encouraged slavery, these words from the 1796 statutes of Maryland:

"[T]hat from and after the passage of this act, it shall and may be lawful for every person or persons, capable in law to make a valid will and testament, to grant freedom to and effect the manumission of, any slave or slaves, belonging to such person or persons, by his, her or their last will and testament; and such manumission of any slave or slaves, may be made to take effect at the death of the testator or testators, or at such other periods as may be limited in such last will and testament, provided always, that no manumission hereafter to be made by last will and testament, shall be effectual to give freedom to any slave or slaves, if the same shall be in prejudice of creditors, nor unless the said slave or slaves shall be under the age of forty-five years and able to work and gain a sufficient maintenance and livelihood at the time the freedom given shall commence."2


  • NOTE 2: Quoted in Fenwick v Champan, 34 US 461 (1835) in which the manumission was worded as follows: "[N]egro woman Letty, her daughter Kitty, a mulatto, with her three children, to wit, Eliza, Robert and Kitty Jane, with their future increase, and an old woman named Lucy, I do hereby declare them free at and after my death, and they shall have the right to live in and occupy the back room in the house."
  • Radin, Max, Radin Law Dictionary (Dobbs Ferry, New York: Oceana Publications Inc., 1970), page 200.
  • Tayler, Thomas, The Law Glossary (New York: Lewis & Blood Law Booksellers and Publishers, 1858), page 313. NOTE 1.

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