A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

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Selection from the Massachusetts Historical Society: Legal Notes by William Cushing, [1793]

Questions to Consider


  1. Who was accused of assaulting Quock Walker in 1781? What was Walker's relationship to this person? At what age was Walker promised his freedom? Who promised him that freedom?
  2. What is William Cushing's opinion on the matter of the “servitude of a rational creature”? (p. 98) What does Cushing write concerning the current laws regarding slavery and the treatment of slaves in Massachusetts? (p. 94-95)
  3. On page 10, Candidus warns his readers of the consequences of abolishing slavery in Europe—what are they? According to Candidus, what happened to the slaves who were freed in the United States in the yeas after the American Revolution? (See p. 12)


  1. What bearing did the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 have on Quock Walker's case? According to Cushing, what effect did Quock Walker's case have on the issue of slavery in Massachusetts? What other events had taken place in Massachusetts in the 1780s to help bring about the end of slavery in that state?
  2. How did the Somersett case, which took place in Britain in 1772, reflect the international nature of slavery and the slave trade? How did the case affect Walker and other slave suits for freedom in America in the late eighteenth century?


  1. Why might Cushing have created his judicial notebook? When was it created? How might its creation date affect Cushing’s description of events?
  2. Candidus created this document in response to an earlier letter published in the newspaper by "Philo Africanus." Based on Candidus's response, what claims or assertions about slaves and the slave trade did Philo Africanus put forth in his letter? Why did Candidus feel that it was important to refute these claims?


  1. Cushing presided over the third trial involving Quock Walker. What were the causes of the other two trials? What did the Worcester County Court of Common Pleas decide in each of those cases? How did Cushing's verdict converge or diverge with these other decisions?
  2. How did Candidus attempt to persuade his audience of his argument? What is his evidence? (What historical or literary references does he include?) What might you conclude about his intended audience based on his argument?
  3. Why might Candidus have published his thoughts under a pseudonym? What does "Candidus" mean in Latin? Why might the author shave chosen this term for his pen name?


  1. How do Cushing and Candidus characterize African Americans? How were these characterizations similar to or different from popular images/understandings of African Americans in the late eighteenth century?
  2. When did Great Britain abolish the slave trade? How (or did) the abolition of the slave trade in Britain influence the abolition of slavery in the Untied States?