A Question of Freedom: The Families Who Challenged Slavery from the Nation’s Founding to the Civil War (Yale University Press, November 2020)

“a rich, roiling history that Thomas recounts with eloquence and skill,” New York Times

2021 Mark Lynton History Prize (Columbia University School of Journalism)

2021 SHEAR Best Book Prize (Society for Historians of the Early American Republic)

2021 PROSE Finalist (American Association of Publishers)

2021 George Washington Prize Finalist

2021 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title

The story of the longest and most complex legal challenge to slavery in American history. For over seventy years and five generations, the enslaved families of Prince George’s County, Maryland, filed hundreds of suits for their freedom against a powerful circle of slaveholders, taking their cause all the way to the Supreme Court. Between 1787 and 1861, these lawsuits challenged the legitimacy of slavery in American law and put slavery on trial in the nation’s capital.   Piecing together evidence once dismissed in court and buried in the archives, Thomas tells an intricate and intensely human story of the enslaved families (the Butlers, Queens, Mahoneys, and others), their lawyers (among them a young Francis Scott Key), and the slaveholders who fought to defend slavery, beginning with the Jesuit priests who held some of the largest plantations in the nation and founded a college at Georgetown. A Question of Freedom asks us to reckon with the moral problem of slavery and its legacies in the present day.


Essays, Op-Ed articles, Digital works, and Other Writings:

When Enslaved People Sued Georgetown’s Founders for Freedom,” The Washington Post, August 19, 2016.
My Home, The House of the Dead, The New York Times, September 7, 2013.
History Harvests: What Happens When Students Collect and Digitize the People’s History, Perspectives on History, with Patrick D. Jones and Andrew Witmer, January 2013.
The Civil War’s ‘Brother Artists'” in The New York Times, co author with Leslie Working, November, 17, 2012
Humanities in the Digital Age in Inside Higher Ed, co author with Alan Liu, October 1, 2012
Page 99 Test for The Iron Way, The Page 99 Test, October 27, 2011.
A Turning Point for Richmond: The Virginia Historical Society’s Civil War Exhibition, June 26, 2011, Southern Spaces
“How Do We Remember Our Confederate History?” Roanoke Times, April 17, 2010.
“William Jennings Bryan, The Railroads, and the Politics of ‘Workingmen,'” Nebraska Law Review, Vol. 86, 2007.
“What is Digital History? A Look at Some Exemplar Projects,” with Douglas Seefeldt, AHA Perspectives, May 2009.
“Writing a Digital History Journal Article from Scratch: An Account,” Digital History, 2008.
“Shaping Nebraska: An Analysis of Railroad Land Sales, 1870-1880” with Kurt Kinbacher, Great Plains Quarterly, Vol. 28, 2008.
“The Countryside Transformed: The Eastern Shore of Virginia, the Pennsylvania Railroads, the Creation of a Modern Landscape,” with Brooks M. Barnes and Tom Szuba, Southern Spaces, 2007.
“Television News of the Civil Rights Struggle: The Views in Virginia and Mississippi,” Southern Spaces, 2004.

Recent books, chapters, and peer-reviewed publications include:

“Places of Exchange: An Analysis of Human and Material Flows in Civil War Alexandria, Virginia,” William G. Thomas III, Kaci Nash, and Rob Shepard, in Civil War History December 2016

Railroads and regional labor markets in the mid-nineteenth-century United States: a case study of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad,” Richard Healey, William G. Thomas, and Katie Lahman, in Journal of Historical Geography Vol. 41, July 2013, pp. 13-32)
The Iron Way: Railroads, the Civil War, and the Making of Modern America (Yale University Press, 2011)
“‘Swerve Me?’: The South, Railroads, and the Rush to Modernity” in The Old South’s Modern Worlds: Slavery, Region, and Nation in the Age of Progress ed. by Diane Barnes, Brian Schoen, and Frank Towers (Oxford University Press, April 2011)
“Interchange: The Promise of Digital History” in The Journal of American History, September 2008.

“Black and On the Border,” co-author with Edward L. Ayers and Anne S. Rubin, in Slavery, Resistance, Freedom ed. Gabor Boritt and Scott Hancock, Oxford University Press, 2007.
“Nothing Ought to Astonish Us: Confederate Civilians in the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign” in The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864, ed. Gary Gallagher, University of North Carolina Press, 2006.
in A Companion to Digital Humanities, ed. Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, and John Unsworth, Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.
“The Differences Slavery Made: A Close Analysis of Two American Communities,” co-author with Edward L. Ayers, in The American Historical Review. 
Lawyering for the Railroad: Business, Law and Power in the New South, Louisiana State University Press, 1999.
The Civil War on the Web: A Guide to the Very Best Sites, co-author with Alice Carter and Richard Jensen, Rowman & Littlefield, 2000.