Mary Postell was the slave of a rebel officer when she was born. In the late 1770s, she fled enslavement and sought shelter behind British lines.
Mary Postell was born in the state of South Carolina. According to her subsequent version, she belonged to Elisha Postell when the American Revolutionary War began, and she lived along the Santee River, roughly 40 miles west of Charles Town.
Elisha Postell and his family were radicals. After he died early in the war, his widow married a revolutionary named Wearing, and Wearing relocated his workers to the Postell property. After the British took Charles Town in May 1780, some of Wearing’s people joined the British forces.
After Postell’s escape, she worked on forts and public works alongside other blacks. She was in Charleston at the end of the war with her husband. In the chaos, her certificate was taken from her by someone who claimed that they wanted to see her papers.
Postell then went to work as a servant for a man called Jesse Gray in Florida. Gray sold her to Samuel, his brother. When Jesse Gray returned to Nova Scotia, he purchased her from his brother. The trading was most likely done solely to generate bills of sale that could subsequently be used to show ownership. Gray then escaped Florida, bringing Postell with him to Nova Scotia.
Postell was afraid she would be sold when they arrived in Shelburne, so she took her children and fled. However, it was not long before she was discovered in Birchtown, and the subsequent court case revealed the precariousness of black freedom.
She was able to obtain two witnesses to testify on her behalf in Birchtown. They testified that she was a rebel’s slave who helped them build fortifications. While they were testifying on her behalf, mobs of whites burned down their homes and murdered one of their children. Gray claimed to have misplaced his original bill of sale, which he purchased from a man in Florida.
Despite this, Gray was thought to have established his ownership. He took Mary to Argyle and sold her to William Maugham for a hundred bushels of potatoes, most likely as a punishment for fleeing. He then sold one of her daughters to another man while keeping the other as a slave for himself. Although some blacks were granted citizenship, their freedom was never guaranteed.