The First Slave Freed by Abraham Lincoln: A Biographical Sketch of Nance Legins (Cox-Cromwell) Costley, circa 1813 1873

by Carl M. Adams

A “Negro girle named Nance” first attracted nationwide attention in 1866, about eighteen months after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Chapter three of Illinois Republican Congressman Isaac Newton Arnold’s book, The History of Abraham Lincoln and the Overthrow of Slavery (1866), is subtitled: “Pleads the Case of the Negro Girl ‘Nance.’” Subsequent Lincoln biographers believe that Arnold acquired information of this case from William H. Herndon, Lincoln’s abolitionist junior law partner. The biographers who wrote of Nance (pronounced Nancy) each restated the basic fact that Nance obtained her liberty from servitude during the proceedings of Lincoln’s first Illinois Supreme Court session in the 1841 case of Bailey v. Cromwell.

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