The Paradox of Liberty

Joseph Trammell’s Freedom Papers

Gift of Elaine E. Thompson, in memory of Joseph Trammell, on behalf of his direct descendants

In 1852, Joseph Trammell registered as a free person in Loudon County, Virginia and continued to do so every two years until 1865. During slavery, legally free African Americans were required to register with county courts and secure Certificates of Freedom, also known as freedom papers. Trammell used this handmade tin to protect and carry his precious documents. For Trammell and other free African Americans, carrying their papers was necessary in order to avoid being mistaken as a fugitive and risk being enslaved.