From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Lyons, Charles

(born: 1826  -  died: 1853) 

Charles Lyons was born a free person in Kentucky around 1826. He was said to be the son of a free Black man and his mother was a Seneca Indian. In 1846, Charles Lyons was arrested in St. Louis, MO, because he did not have a license; it was an 1835 Missouri law that required all free Blacks and Mulattos have a license in order to live in the state. For more about the law see "Freedom Licenses in St. Louis City and County, 1835-1865" by Ebony Jenkins, available online .pdf at Charles Lyons was a boatman, he worked on riverboats, and when home in Missouri, he lived among the other free African Americans in St. Louis. He felt that as a free man, he was entitled to the same rights as other free persons who were not required to purchase a license to live in Missouri. Charles Lyons, represented by attorney C. C. Carroll, challenged his arrest and the state law that required he purchase a license: State v. Charles Lyons. Attorney Henry Geyer represented the state and argued that Charles Lyons rights had not been impinged by law because Lyons was not a citizen of Kentucky where he was born a free person. [Attorney Geyer would use the same argument in the Dred Scott case.] Charles Lyons lost his case when Judge John Krum denied his constitutional challenge, and in December of 1846 Lyons purchased a license, a copy of which is online at the Missouri Digital Heritage website. A second case involving Charles Lyons concerned the $50 fee his lawyer paid to get him out of jail, and then passed the cost on to Lyons. Charles Lyons made application to Judge Krum for discharge of the $50 fee under the habeas corpus act [see Charles Lyons' petition for habeas corpus in the St. Louis Circuit Court Records, December 9, 1846]. The fee went unpaid and attorney Carroll attempted to collect his fee from the City of St. Louis [see Carroll vs. The City of St. Louis on p.444 in Reports of the Cases Argued and Decided in the Supreme Court of the State of Missouri, Volume XIII, 1849]. For more about Charles Lyons case and how his case influenced the Dred Scott case, see Mrs. Dred Scott: a life on slavery's frontier by L. V. Velde; see also "Opinion in the case of Charles Lyons, a free Negro: determined in the St. Louis Circuit Court, November term, 1846" printed by the Union Press in St. Louis, MO.

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Lyons, Charles,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed June 13, 2024,

Last modified: 2017-08-19 07:35:08