but annie can send a letter

Mr. President

It is my Desire to be free. To go to see my people on the eastern shore. My mistress won’t let me. You will please let me know if we are free. And what I can do. I write to you for advice. Please send me word this week. Or as soon as possible. And oblige.

Annie Davis

On August 25, 1864, Annie Davis, an enslaved woman living in Maryland, wrote this letter to President Lincoln asking if she was free. No reply from President Lincoln has been located, but the answer to her question would have been: “No.”

President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, freeing slaves in states that had seceded from the Union. But it excused slave-holding border states like Maryland that had remained loyal to the Union, as well as parts of the Confederacy already under Northern control. And further the Emancipation Proclamation ultimately depended on a Union military victory.

That means slavery continued to exist in Annie’s Maryland until a rewritten Maryland Constitution freeing slaves came into effect on November 1, 1864. And the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States finally finished the work of freeing the slaves nationwide when ratified after the end of the Civil War on December 6th, 1865—150 years ago this week.

“Our freedom is bound up with the freedom of others—regardless of what they look like, or where they come from, or what their last name is, or what faith they practice.” —President Obama

Find out more about Annie’s letter from USNatArchives​, and watch President Obama’s speech today on the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.