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Publication Title

Minnesota History

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2024


Eliza Winston was an African American woman who spent her first forty-three years of life as an enslaved person. Born around 1817, she suffered captivity by multiple enslavers in the slave states Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Louisiana and in the free state Minnesota. The couple John McLemore and Betsy Donelson-McLemore kept her in bondage in Tennessee from 1822 to 1834. President Andrew Jackson's wife was a Donelson, and he intervened--while in office at the White House--to keep Winston enslaved by the Donelsons for another fourteen years. After the McLemores held her in urban Nashville, Mary Eastin-Polk brought her to a plantation in Maury County. Then, in 1842 the McLemores' daughter Kate inherited Winston and took her to urban Memphis. While there, Winston learned how to read, married, and started a family; and she interacted with free African Americans and people opposed to slavery. Her next two enslavers promised to free her but failed to do so. As a result, when her last slaveholders brought her on their vacation to Minnesota in 1860, she used her experiences to free herself.


This article was published in the winter 2023/24 issue of Minnesota History, a magazine published by the Minnesota Historical Society. The article was originally published at



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