Polly Strong’s Legacy

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The Legal Studies class at Vincennes University prepares students for future careers as paralegals. Part of their education includes a look back in time.

“Out of all the history classes I’ve had, this was never brought up,” said student Kerryelle Shaw.

Shaw is not alone. Most Hoosiers have never heard of Polly Strong or the role she played in the state’s history.

“Polly was a second generation slave, her mother had been a slave.” Professor Vanessa Purdom shares Polly’s story and how abolitionist lawyers helped her fight for her freedom from Vincennes innkeeper Hyacinth Lasselle.   

“Many people feel that Indiana is ultra conservative, but here we have an example of remarkable people that were very courageous in making sure that the fundamental rights of all citizens were available,” said Purdom

The Vincennes Library now holds many of the original papers from the court case Polly v. Lasselle. The documents reveal the Knox County circuit court first ruled in favor of the innkeeper. The case was then appealed to the state’s highest court.

“The state supreme court ruled that the state constitution is quite clear, no slavery or involuntary servitude, therefore Polly is free, and by extension that meant that all the slaves could no longer be held,”said historian Richard Day.

Little is know of what happened to Polly Strong. Records show she was baptized at St. Francis Xavier Church around the time her case was filed. The Indiana Historical Bureau reports just one mention of her in a state newspaper after the court decision.  We may not know how her life progressed, but we do know her legacy lives on.

“It’s an on-going struggle, and we can hark back to these people like Polly Strong that were soldiers in the battle for freedom that still goes on today,” said Day.

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