Elizabeth Key Grinstead

Elizabeth Key Grinstead (b. 1630 - d. c. after 1665) was the first woman of African ancestry in the North American colonies to sue for her freedom from slavery and win. Elizabeth Key won her freedom and that of her infant son John Grinstead on July 21, 1656 in the colony of Virginia. She sued based on the fact that her father was an Englishman and that she was a baptized Christian. Based on these two factors, her English attorney and common-law husband William Grinstead argued successfully that she should be freed. The lawsuit in 1655 was one of the earliest "freedom suits" by a person of African ancestry in the English colonies.

In response to Key's suit and other challenges, in 1662 the Virginia House of Burgesses passed a law that the status of children born in the colony would follow the status of the mother, "bond or free", rather than the father, as had been the precedent in English common law and was the case in England. This was the principle of partus sequitur ventrum, also called partus. The legislation hardened the boundaries of slavery by ensuring that all children of women slaves, regardless of paternity, would be kept as slaves for labor unless explicitly freed.

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