On this day in history, Contraband of War David Harkless died. The death was certified by J. Solis Cohen and the certificate recording his approximate age of 57, a married man, is in the archives of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation. There were no known causes for his death.
Contraband Harkless was given this “legally complicated and politically fraught designation,” implying he was a “human chattel who, as the Union armies moved in the South, rushed toward the advancing troops, there to join the ranks of their liberators.” Due to the Act Prohibiting the Return of Slaves (passed two years earlier by Congress), these Contrabands could not legally be returned to their owners.
Most of the contrabands were not completely emancipated until the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. This occurred in late 1865 – after Harkless’ death – and abolished slavery.