CANDLES IN THE WIND: SLAVE FAMILIES IN CRISIS
Now, my brethren, it seems to me that there are no people that ought to attend to the hope of happiness in another world so much as we. Most of us are cut off from comfort and happiness here in this world, and can expect nothing from it. . . . If we should ever get to Heaven, we shall find nobody to reproach us for being black, or for being slaves.
Jupiter Hammon (1787)
The slave family in New York functioned under a powerful set of disadvantages. Since family members were generally owned separately and spread out among several white households, family life involved an ever‑changing network of long‑distance relationships. On a day to day basis the slaveholding may have served as the most meaningful social unit for non‑related slaves who lived together. In addition to this trauma of family separation as a way of life, New York slaves shared with southern slaves the risks common to all bondsmen: sale and the death of their owners. These catastrophic events could shatter a slave's fragile family stability and also destroy the security and comfort that many slaves may have found in friendships with other slaves in their masters' households.
The personal fortunes and life cycle of an owner drastically affected the family life of his slaves; his financial fluctuations, marriage, the settlement needs of his children and his death interacted with the rhythms of his slaves' personal lives to interrupt their normal lifelong processes of family formation. Sale or the death of an owner changed both the lives of individual slaves and the lives of black families as ongoing systems. Sale could drastically alter a slave's living circumstances; he could be removed from relatives and friends with whom he may have been living, or placed farther away from already separately domiciled family members. At the death of an owner another major crises developed for a slave; the holding which served as either his biological or fictive family was likely to be sold off, bequeathed away, sundered, and scattered.
The total number of sales that took place during 201 years of slavery in the southern six counties of New York is unknown, as is the incidence of sale during the lifetime of the average slave. For the continuous flow of immigrant slaves reaching New York, sale was their initial American experience. All New York slaves stood at risk of sale during their entire lives. Indications of a large number of undocumented sales appear in manumission certificates, runaway slave advertisements, and provisions in wills; sale touched the lives of most if not all slaves. Some owners who freed their slaves mentioned that at some time in the past they had purchased the slave, indicating that the slave had been sold at least once during his lifetime.1 Advertisements for twenty‑six runaway slaves mentioned former owners, places of birth, or residence of the missing slave property. Out of 3,484 slaves disposed of in wills between 1669 and 1829, 326 were ordered to be either sold (or hired out and then sold) immediately or at some future date; 82 other slaves were marked as sold in estate inventories. These 453 undocumented sales and the 312 sampled sales described below undoubtedly constitute only a shadow of the true volume of New York slave sales.
A sample of 312 bills of sale which were written between 1660 and 1817 involved the sale and purchase of 245 slaves.2 For some of the slaves sale was a repeated occurrence; within the sample of 312 sales, 108 of the separate sales involved 41 slaves who were sold from two to six times each. The other 204 sales represented only one known sale per slave.3 In addition to the sample of 312 bills of sale, a random sample of newspapers, 1701 to 1827, provides a sample of fifty‑seven advertisements for the sale of 125 slaves.4 Bills of sale and for sale advertisements sometimes listed the reason that the slave was being sold.
As table 1 shows, the single most common reason for the sale of a slave was the division of a testator's estate; it was at this point that slaves would be separated from friends and family members. Most of the reasons in the completed bills of sale emphasized the property nature of slaves--they were used as currency and collateral. Slaves were traded along with lands and farms, put forward as security for mortgages, and used to raise cash or repay debts. Owners offering their slaves for sale stressed other reasons, primarily that they no longer needed extra labor. Eight owners sold adult women because of their childbearing activities; children were not considered an economic asset in small New York holdings.5
REASONS LISTED FOR SLAVE SALES
Reasons for Sale Bills of Sale Sale
To free the slave immediately 12
Need to raise cash temporarily 7
Part of a land or business transaction 5
Slave used as payment for lands bought 2
Mortgage‑‑slave pledged as security to creditor 6
Indebtedness‑‑slave used to repay debt to buyer 4
Financial deal‑‑exchange of property 5
Payment for caretaking arrangement 1
Estate division‑‑sale by executor 16 24
Owner leaving the country 4
No need for the slave's labor 9
No need for slave's labor and need for cash 4
Excessive childbearing by slave woman 8
At slave's own desire 1
None listed 254 75
TOTAL 312 125
Men and women were equally represented in contracted bills of sale and in sale advertisements: 120 males and 125 females were sold and 44 men and 43 women were offered for sale. Where the age of the slave is known, the preference among buyers was for young slaves under the age of thirty‑five:6
Number and Percent Each Age Group Formed of Total Sales
Sale Ads Bills of Sale
Number Percent Number Percent
Children under 14 29 38.7 41 40.6
Age 15‑19 17 22.7 17 16.8
Age 20‑34 26 34.6 33 32.7
Over age 35 3 4.0 10 9.9
Total 75 100.0 101 100.0
Bills of sale and newspaper advertisements reveal the personal impact of sale on the slave and his immediate social organization. As table 2 shows, slaves were sold and offered for sale with or without family members or other blacks from the same original slaveholding in a number of familial and non‑familial combinations.7 A major difference emerged between slave advertised for sale and those actually sold and purchased in bills of sale. A comparison of the two groups reveals that while large proportions of slaves were initially offered for sale with coresident slaves or family members, the majority of slaves were eventually sold off individually. For most slaves sale meant separation from other blacks with whom they had lived on a daily basis.
Sale Ads Bills of Sale
Number Percent Number Percent
Offered/Purchased Alone 29 23.2 215 68.9
Offered/Purchased With Other
SlavesFrom the Holding 45 36.0 14 4.5
Offered/Purchased With Other
Family Members 51 40.8 83 26.6
Total 125 100.0 312 100.0
Although in the advertisements for sale only 23.2 percent of slaves were available for purchase alone, 68.9 percent of those actually sold were bought alone. These blacks were cut off from friends and relatives in their former owners' households. Thirty‑six percent of slaves were advertised for sale along with other unrelated slaves from the same holding, but only 4.5 percent of real purchases consisted of several slaves from the same holding. These few slaves would be able to preserve some connection to their former environment and to important personal relationships. A large 40.8 percent of slaves offered in newspapers were listed with other family members, but only 26.6 percent of slaves were ultimately purchased with relatives. Sale was least traumatic for this group, although some of their family members may have been left behind in or near their old owners' homes.
INSERT TABLE 2 HERE
Slave families who were sold together were fortunate: Harry, his wife Bett, and their child Peg were all purchased by Abraham Wyckoff of Flatlands in 1800 from the Widow Lott for 180.8 The following nuclear slave family was advertised together for sale in the New York Daily Advertiser on July 24, 1793. These five slaves, however, may have eventually been separately purchased, splitting up the family unit:
To be sold--A black family, for town or country, consisting of a man, his wife, a girl of about twelve, another girl about five years old, and a fine male child capable of running about alone. The parents are sober neat and well‑disposed--have heretofore lived in the country. The woman excellent in a Dairy, Cooking, etc. The eldest girl very handy in attending at table. The younger a girl of hopes--in short, it is a useful, trustworthy family, and of late years has been accustomed to live in this city, where the man can earn from five to six shillings a day.
A New Jersey slave family endured a variety of separation stages due to scattered ownership and frequent sale of members. Thomas, aged approximately twenty‑five years, was owned by William Sears of Long Hill, New Jersey. His wife, Sarah, was owned by Matthias Mount of Machiponux or Freehold, New Jersey. In 1794 she was sold to Dr. Stephen De Hart of Staten Island, along with her one‑year‑old child. Thomas ran away from his New Jersey master the next year (probably to see his wife and child) and was caught and placed in jail on Staten Island. His master came to Staten Island and sold him later in 1795 to Stephen De Hart, the owner of Thomas's wife and child. Thomas, Sarah, and their child were finally united under one roof in late 1795, but that winter the now Widow De Hart sold the child to John Walton of Englishtown, New Jersey. The family was again disrupted and split between owners and states.9
The location of the homes of both buyer and seller are known for 156 of the 312 sampled completed sales. Of this group 128 slaves (82.1 percent) were sold to a new owner who lived within a distance of twenty‑five miles (the outer mileage limit that slaves could hope to travel by foot).10 The other twenty‑eight sales removed slaves too far away for plausible visitations.11 While most slaves were sold individually out of sight and daily communication with coresident friends and families, most also remained near enough to visit at least occasionally. Owners of slave property tended to sell their labor to neighbors, friends, and relatives within their own easy orbit of communication and contact distance, inadvertently also keeping slave families within the same nearby distances which defined eighteenth and early nineteenth‑century travel. Where sales took place between white friends or family members, slaves had greater chances of maintaining contact with blacks left behind as a by‑product of communications and visits between old and new owners.
In forty‑four of the sales specific towns for both old and new owners were listed in the sale contract. The median distance to the new home was 7.8 miles.12 The distances ranged from a low of four miles between Newtown and Bushwick or five miles between Eastchester and Mamaroneck, to 37 1/2 miles between Rye and Brookhaven (involving a water crossing as part of the journey) or forty miles between Brookhaven and Jamaica. Thirty‑one of the 156 sales were within New York City (13 by 2 1/2 miles), and another thirty‑two were within the same town, which meant that sundered family members could still maintain close relationships. Nine sales were within Richmond County, easily permitting visitations anywhere within its 13 1/2 by 6 1/2 mile boundaries.
Of the 156 sales, 33 were across state lines, usually between New Jersey and New York. Eleven of the thirty‑three were close enough for visiting and contact, as in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, to Staten Island. Seven sales shifted slaves from one county to another, from Richmond to Queens (an average of thirty miles apart), New York to Kings (ten miles apart), and Kings to Queens (twenty miles apart). No specific locations within the counties were indicated; if the towns involved were adjacent, the distances could have been somewhat shorter.
Between 1664 and 1785 most slaves were bought and sold for life; manumission was rare. With the growth in manumission sentiment and the implementation of gradual emancipation between 1785 and 1827, however, several new types of sales became common.13 After 1785 the time of a slave was frequently sold rather than his services for life. These limited‑term sales also disrupted family relations but held out the hope of freedom. Slaves were sold with a stipulated manumission proviso; some slaves were sold repeatedly, each time with an eventual manumission clause included. Children born to slave women in New York State after July 4, 1799, were legally born free but owed twenty‑five or twenty‑eight years of service to their mothers' masters. The unexpired time of these children had market value; 24 of the 312 sampled sales involved children sold with a provision that they were entitled to freedom at age twenty‑five (females) or twenty‑eight (males). On October 19, 1812, John H. Livingston sold twelve‑year‑old Ruth to Leonard Bleecker for $190 until age twenty‑five. Bleecker, however, noted on the document that he planned to free Ruth early at age eighteen.14
Other slaves were sold for a limited number of years only, but with no future manumission intended; the slave would probably revert again to the original owner, to be either retained, sold again, or freed. Ten of the 312 sales (concluded between 1796 and 1815) involved this type of arrangement. It served as a method of labor redistribution--owners could sell slaves off for a few years when their labor was not needed, profiting from the limited‑sale price. Abraham Polhemus of New York City, on August 29, 1798, sold nineteen‑year‑old Bill as a slave for fifteen years to Simon Van Nip, a Morris County, New Jersey, miller, for 108. At the end of fifteen years, Van Nip was to return Bill to Polhemus, if Bill was still alive.15 John Halsey, in 1805, sold his twenty‑year‑old slave Ceasar to Amos Curtiss for fifteen years for the sum of $200. The disposition to be made of Ceasar upon the termination of his period of service was unstated; he would presumably be returned to Halsey.16
Recently purchased slaves were often able to bargain with new masters for future freedom in exchange for a specific number of years of good service. When James Nicholson purchased Saul on October 13, 1798, they reached an agreement as to the terms of their work relationship. Nicholson "promise[d] to free, at the expiration of six years, his Negro man Saul, purchased this day from Mrs. Melmoth, for 175 dollars. If Saul conducts himself well, to the satisfaction of me and my family, he will be freed in five years."17 Eighteen such slaves struck a bargain with their new masters between 1794 and 1812 out of the sample of 312 sales.
Sales were sometimes arranged with the purpose of freeing the slave immediately. Whites, often New York Manumission Society officials, purchased a slave to secure his freedom from a master who was reluctant to either free the slave or allow the slave to buy his own independence. Blacks, themselves, sometimes induced whites to buy them from their present masters with the expectation of manumission. George Janeway bought George E. Moore from Jacob Moses for 40, the money having been provided by Moore "for that purpose." Janeway then freed Moore and released all claim to any goods or money which Moore might have acquired since his purchase.18
* * * * *
If a slave escaped sale during the lifetime of his owner, he could experience a severe crisis at the death of the owner. Family members who lived together and coresident blacks in the holding who enjoyed mutual support and friendship could be dispersed among several new owners. For some slaves the death of an owner set off a chain reaction of forseeable insecurity; these slaves were bequeathed temporarily to a wife or child with stipulated subsequent ownership changes.
The possibilities for slave family members to live together in small New York holdings were ascertained based on the age and sex distribution of slaves listed in individual wills, 1669 to 1829.19 A total of 1,192 slaves were counted as potentially able to live with conventionally defined family members--as spouses, nuclear families, or mothers with children. Analysis of the effects of owner death on slaves who lived in both real and theoretical (where information on their real relationships is missing) family units reveals that biological families and especially surrogate "holdings‑as‑families" were at great risk of separation during this crisis.
As table 3 shows, in all time periods there was a sharp difference in the incidence of family disruption through will provisions between definite slave families and those assumed to be families based on their sex and age composition alone. Although sample sizes were very small for known biological slave families, a distinct pattern characterizes the known and assumed family groups. In a total of 9 known marriages, only 1 was broken at the death of an owner (11.1 percent), but 56 out of 106 assumed marriages (52.8 percent) were broken. Out of 55 definite mother with child units, 12 (21.8 percent) suffered the removal of one or more children in a will, while 76 out of 95 assumed mother and child units experienced a separation (80 percent). Only 13 definite nuclear slave families who lived together were located. None were completely destroyed and none of the spouses were separated, but 5 suffered a break by the removal of some or all children (38.5 percent of families). Among the 103 assumed nuclear families, 82.5 percent suffered some kind of break: 51 (49.5 percent) were completely broken up 8 (7.8 percent) had the spouses separated, and 26 (25.2 percent) lost some or all of their
TABLE 3 should go here
This difference between the two groups illustrates the fact that many of the assumed families were not really related;21 at their death owners broke up slaveholdings with little regard for the holding as a social unit which often provided the main source of interpersonal relationships for slaves. The much lower incidence of breakup among real spouses and parents and children indicates owner recognition of these relationships and some effort to keep slave families together. The very small sample size of known families indicates that very few slave families lived together at all. Among those that did, the married couples may have lost all their children in prior sales, the mother and child units were all already without fathers, and small nuclear families were likely to be missing some of their children previously sold away.
Testators made many different kinds of provisions for their slave property.22 A full 26.5 percent of slaves disposed of in wills were given to their owners' wives under a variety of circumstances. Husbands left their wives slaves that the wives had themselves brought to the marriage as an inheritance from their fathers' slaveholdings; the wives retained the slaves as widows.23 Slaves were often given to wives only during widowhood or until the children came of legal age. Slaves left to widows could expect future insecurity; upon her remarriage, the children's maturation, or the widow's death, the slaves would once again suffer disruption and change--usually transferred to a child or sold. Twelve slaves were given the option of choosing their new master at the widow's remarriage or death. Thirty slaves served as wedding presents from the testator to his wife upon her remarriage. Slaves might also be hired out or sold at any time to support the testator's dependents.
The largest single type of disposition for slaves bequeathed in wills between 1669 and 1829 was to the owner's children; 38 percent were given to offspring. The slaveholding or the slave family, when broken up, was generally divided among several children. Testators in early New York did not practice primogeniture; slaves were dispersed equally among all children and between sons and daughters. Henry Brevoort, a New York City ironmonger, gave a wench Bet to his wife Mary, a boy Joe to his son Abraham, a girl Cill to his daughter Hester, a girl Diana to his son Nicholas, and ordered that his negro man Harry be sold with the rest of his personal estate. If the Brevoort children were adults, the three slaves would immediately be removed to different households. Bet, however, remained with the wife for fifteen years. When Mary Brevoort died in 1791 she freed Bet and her child Rebecca, who had been born during the interim. This holding of five slaves was completely dislocated by Henry Brevoort's death.24
The slaves owned by Nathaniel Sylvester in his large holding on Shelter Island lived in four family groups. In his 1679/80 will he gave his wife the negroes that belonged to her already (probably her parental inheritance): negro Jaquero, Hannah his wife, and their daughter Hope. Three married slave couples were bequeathed to his three sons. Tony and his wife Nanny went to son Giles, Joffet and his wife Jenine went to son Nathaniel, and Tamus and his wife Pym were bequeathed to his son Peter. Nathaniel Sylvester also gave each of his five daughters a negro girl. His estate inventory listed a total of twenty slaves worth 113, some of whom he owned in partnership; the disposition of the other six slaves is unknown. Sylvester bequeathed the nuclear family and the married couples in such a manner as to keep them together. The five girls, however, were probably the children of some or all of these four sets of slave spouses. The need to provide legacies for five daughters dictated that the children of his adult slaves would be sent to five households, all separated from their parents.25
Persons settling their estates sometimes stipulated that slaves were to be sold or hired out to raise cash or provide income for the family. A total of 322 slaves (9.2 percent) out of 3,484 slaves disposed of in wills were ordered to be sold under a variety of circumstances. The largest proportion, 287 slaves, were ordered to be sold outright. Twenty‑two slaves were to be sold at the wife's death or remarriage, six were to be sold for a limited period of time and then freed, four were sold to children, two were ordered to be either sold or set free, and one was to be sold upon bad behavior or freed upon good behavior. Ten slaves were ordered to be hired out, of whom two were to be hired out and then to be sold eventually, one was to be hired out for a period of time and then freed, and two were to be either hired out or sold, at the discretion of the executors.
The incidence of sale was higher in estate inventories than in wills due to the different purposes of these two types of documents. While wills were concerned with the distribution of slave and other property, estate inventories were straightforward property lists taken for business accounting purposes in order to settle the estate. Estate inventories did not ordinarily mention the distribution of slave property except when it was sold; dispositions for ninety‑four slaves in estate inventories indicated that eighty‑two were sold. Sales were also more common in estate inventories than in wills because they included sales which took place at both the bequest of the testator and the heirs who preferred to sell rather than retain their newly acquired slave property (which would not be reflected in wills).
Sale could entirely end the slaveholding as a stable social unit. The estate inventory of Johannis Rypell, a New York City baker, indicated that five of his six slaves were sold. The executors sold two negro men, Joe and Primus, for 95 each, a negro woman Dianna and her child for 100, and a woman Venus brought 79. One negro man named Tiortin was listed as "unsold." Three "negro's old bedsteads" were also listed as part of the estate's property.26
The other major category of disposition involved freedom. Out of 3,484 slaves disposed of in wills, 389 had some provision for either immediate or future manumission (11.2 percent). Most of these 389 slaves (366) were simply freed either immediately or later, often also with a legacy (135 slaves). For the other twenty‑three slaves freedom was one of the options given to themselves or their new owners; three slaves could have either freedom or the right to choose their new owners. Six slaves were to be sold for a period of time but then to be freed. Ten slaves were to be freed at the owner's wife's death; two of them would also receive a legacy at that time (in addition to the 135 above‑mentioned slaves). One slave was to be hired out and then freed, two were to be either sold or set free, and one was to be sold upon bad behavior or freed upon good conduct.
Barnabus Wines of Southold, in his 1762 will, not only freed two of his slaves, but gave them generous legacies:27
To negro man Peter, his chest and wearing apparel, and 10, also my gun and small iron pot, hoe, one scythe, one sickle. To my negro woman Peg, all her wearing apparel, and her beding, three pairs of sheets, two chests, one pot, one trammel, one pewter tongs, four old chairs, two basins, a linnen wheel, one cow and calf, one box. My negro man Peter and my negro woman Pegg are to be freed at my death, and I give Peter and Pegg one‑half acre of land with all the building preparations thereon, and some wood and timber during their lives. They shall keep a cow if they so choose. To negro man Tom, all his wearing apparel, bedding, and 1 in money. To my negro boy Ruben, 5. My executors shall give a bond that the negroes shall not be a burden to any town. . . .
Wines freed Peter and Peg with the ability to support themselves on a farm; they were given implements with which to hunt, raise crops and livestock, make linen, and house themselves. Tom and Ruben were given legacies but do not seem to have been manumitted.
As table 4 shows, in addition to being left to wives (26.5 percent) and children (38 percent), sold (9.2 percent), hired out, or freed (11.2 percent),28 slaves were disposed of in several other ways in wills. The will and estate inventory of Richard Charlton, Rector of St. Andrew's Church on Staten Island, illustrate the use of multiple types of dispositions in the settling of one estate:29
negro girl Bett‑‑to granddaughter Bayley family
negro boy Bremus‑‑to two granddaughters
negro man Adam‑‑to grandson Dongan family
negro boy Titus
negro wench Phebe to son John
negro man Carlos
negro wench Nan‑‑to Elizabeth Nicolls, but sold instead during testator's lifetime
negro man Jack‑‑sold to Jas. Guyon, Sr. for 40
negro Kinch‑‑sold to Alex Wallace for 80
negro wench Belinda and her children, a boy Jon age 3 and girl Silvia age 19
months‑‑sold to Justice Lake for 100
negro Cato‑‑sold to John Decker for 80
Charlton held thirteen slaves at his death; they were distributed among nine owners, consisting of one granddaughter, two granddaughters in joint ownership of one slave, one grandson, one son, and five buyers. The holding as an entity, with familial or friendship relationships, was destroyed. The only known family grouping in the holding consisted of Belinda and her two children; they were sold together and not separated. The six slaves bequeathed to family members would have had the greatest chance to maintain contact as a by‑product of the communications between their new owners. Until the grandchildren reached their majority, Bett, Bremus, and Adam would in fact remain with Titus, Phebe, and Carlos under the management of son John.
The ways in which persons writing wills disposed of their slaves changed from 1669 to 1829. Progressively fewer slaves were bequeathed to wives, children, friends, and relatives. While a high of 24 percent of all slaves bequeathed were given to wives for life in the 1721 to 1770 period, only 11.7 percent were disposed of in this way by 1801 to 1829. In the 1669 to 1720 period, 46.4 percent of slaves were simply left to children, but only 20.9 percent by the early nineteenth century. The incidence of sale also decreased over time. The major change occurred in the proportion of slaves who were offered immediate or delayed freedom. Far greater proportions of slaves were freed at their owners' deaths after 1791 due to relaxed manumission laws and a favorable public attitude toward both private manumission and the phasing out of slavery in the state. Slave families and slaveholdings were still disrupted by the deaths of owners, but increasing proportions of slaves were freed rather than kept by the testator's family or sold.
* * * * *
Slaves reacted to sale or the death of their owners with a mixture of fear, apprehension, sorrow, joy (in the case of a bad master), and resignation. They also sometimes responded by running away. On September 7, 1795, Abraham Van Alen of Kinderhook, Columbia County, sold Simon, age twenty‑five, to John Peter De Lancey of Mamaroneck for 100. Seven months later, Simon ran away. De Lancey described him as follows: "Likes wenches. Speaks low Dutch. Was seen going toward White Plains," and offered a twenty dollar reward for his return.30 Although there was no explicit connection between his sale and his disappearance seven months later, the events probably were related. White Plains was the next town to the north of Mamaroneck--Simon may have been heading north back toward Kinderhook.
A common impetus to flight was the death of the owner; it implied imminent sale and disruption for the slave family and the slaveholding. The estate inventory of Patrick McKnight, a New York City merchant, listed one negro woman called Isabella "eloped away this eighteen days." A note later added that she had been since found and sold by vendue for 34.31 After the death of Rem Remsen, an auction was held to sell off his slaves; five were sold, but "two negro men, Abel value 80 and Dick value 32.10.0 ran away and Cornelius Remsen was paid 9 for going to Boston in quest of them."32 These two slaves probably absconded in anticipation of being sold.
Estate executors as well as owners often expended time and money to locate runaway slave property.33 John Baxter, a Flatlands farmer, schoolteacher, and amanuensis, recorded in his diary his actions following the flight of his slave Taaft:34
April 2, 1797 Taaft the negro eloped.
April 3, 1797 Went after Taft as far as Thomas Bets
April 5, 1797 Went a negro hunting as far as Jamaica
in Co. with A. Wyckoff
May 3, 1797 Sold a negro Taft to Jacobus Lott for 90
When Taaft ran away, Baxter personally searched for him as far away as the 7 1/2 miles to Jamaica. Taaft was recaptured and sold away, either as previously planned or as punishment for the escape.
A random sample of 189 runaway slave advertisements for blacks who absconded in the southern six counties of New York between 1726 and 1814 listed 245 fugitives.35 This group included 220 blacks and 25 Indians and was composed of 170 men, 38 women, and 37 children. There were 218 primary runaways among the 245 slaves, defined as slaves who left on their own initiative. Children are considered to be secondary runaways, taken by parents involuntarily, except for ten children who ran away on their own.
Indians appeared with blacks in the steady stream of runaways. Indians may have been more likely to escape than blacks due to the familiarity of home turf for many and the proximity of friendly Indians.36 Black runaway slaves were also often welcomed and sheltered by Indian tribes.37 Out of the total of twenty‑five Indian runaways, seven were referred to as racially mixed. Masters seemed uncertain as to which group these slaves really belonged; owners generally labelled them as mulattoes or half‑Indians.38 Two of the seven obviously considered themselves to be Indian. Peter Huggeford's slave was a "negro man, a short well‑set Indian looking fellow," who "it is supposed will attempt to get among the Indians, as he has done twice before." He either perceived himself as Indian, was part Indian, or accepted Indian protection commonly offered to runaways.39 William Smith's "mulatto slave, half Indian half negro," ran away in the company of an Indian fellow from another owner, obviously identifying with this group.40 Black‑Indian miscegenation was also indicated in other cases in addition to the seven runaways referred to as half‑Indians. On December 18, 1793, a negro girl Tamer, age fourteen, with a yellow complexion, ran away. Her owner added that "an Indian fellow St. Murray would steal said girl."41 He could have been her father, a male relative, or a suitor. Such runaways were ostensibly negroes but had blood or other ties to the Indian community.
Most runaways (82 percent) were young adults between the ages of fifteen and thirty‑four, based on the known ages of 150 out of 218 primary runaway slaves:42
Age of Primary Voluntary Runaways, Blacks and Indians, Sexes Combined
Age Group Number of Runaways
5 ‑ 9 1
10 ‑ 14 9
15 ‑ 19 28
20 ‑ 24 49
25 ‑ 29 29
30 ‑ 34 17
35 ‑ 39 7
40 ‑ 44 5
45 ‑ 49 2
50 ‑ 54 2
55 ‑ 89 ..
90 ‑ 94 1
Ten children ran away as independent actors. Only one was under the age of ten;43 most children under the age of ten were secondary runaways taken by adult parents. A trickle of independent runs was undertaken by children aged ten to fourteen years (five boys and four girls) who were first experiencing biological maturity and new psychological independence from adults, both parents and owners. Escapes from slavery were more common among older teenagers aged fifteen to nineteen years; they began to initiate autonomous, assertive behaviors. Five of these twenty‑eight older teenagers had already experienced sale: three women with children (two had been sold recently), and two blacks for whom places of birth were listed, hinting at previous sales. No evidence of prior ownership exists for the other twenty‑three late teenagers, although runaway slave advertisements may simply have excluded this information. With slave labor first becoming valuable at puberty, many of these twenty‑three blacks had also probably already experienced separation from parents and sale, perhaps motivating them to escape.
The incidence of running away was highest in the twenty to twenty‑four age bracket, representing about a third (32.7 percent) of all runaways.44 This age‑related change in behavior could reflect certain events at this juncture in the life cycle of the slave: young spouses sold apart, young nuclear families split up, and young adults visiting parents and friends. Running away was a phenomenon of the young; only 11.3 percent of runaways were over the age of thirty‑five, with the numbers dropping precipitously after the age of fifty.45
New York slaves who ran away hesitated to leave in the cold winter months of December, January, February, and March. Escapes rose with the advent of warm weather in April and May, with an unexplained lull in June. The most popular month for running away was August, followed by a sharp dip in September. Another small peak occurred in October and November, as slaves intending to leave hastened to depart ahead of the coming winter weather:
Seasonality of Slave Runs, Blacks and Indians Combined
Month Definite Guess Total
January 4 6 10
February 5 1 6
March 10 5 15
April 19 1 20
May 19 6 25
June 11 5 16
July 15 7 22
August 21 11 32
September 14 1 15
October 19 1 20
November 7 13 20
December 13 3 16
Total 157 60 217
NOTE: One of the 218 primary runaways was excluded from this study as the month of escape could not be ascertained. The exact date of the run was available for 157 slaves; for 60 slaves, the date used was the date of the runaway slave advertisement. Since an ad could run for several months, unless the owner mentioned the date of departure, the ad itself provides only an estimate of the actual date.
Slave flights peaked at certain phases in the agricultural season, perhaps related to the workload for rural New York farm slaves. Peaks occurred in Spring at plowing and planting time, in August before harvest time, and after the crops were in, in October and November. Such rhythms, however, may have had more impact on the runaway patterns of southern plantation slaves, whose work routines were more seasonally determined and less varied than on small northern farms.
In only twelve cases could the local distance travelled by the runaway be guaged from the place of residence of the master and the destination suggested in his advertisement--to a former home or owner, to a black relative, or to a site where the slave had been spotted. Another eleven cases involved runs to or from outside New York State, some entailing longer than average distances; nine other additional cases involved imprecise routes. The twelve trackable slaves journeyed from four to thirty‑five miles away,46 mainly within a twenty‑five mile walking limit. These short distances suggest flights to relatives and friends with whom the runaway usually communicated and visited when permitted.
Masters generally had fairly good ideas both as to the reason for flight and the destination of their runaway slaves. Owners knew about their slaves' families and with which relatives in which towns slaves maintained contact--even though they did not recognize these relationships in law. Although lack of documentation shrouds the immediate reasons for most slave flights, some masters surmised that slaves were heading for former masters' homes or to see family members, indicating that sales and separations had taken place in the past. For 69 (31.7 percent) of the 218 primary runaways, the owner's advertisement suggested a motive for the escape and a possible future direction for the slave.
As table 5 shows, family reasons accounted for forty‑five of the sixty‑nine runs (65.2 percent) where motivations were known.47 The owners of twenty‑six slaves expected them to head for a former owner's home or neighborhood or a place of birth, presumably to visit friends, fictive kin from former holdings, and family members still there.48 Previous owners were listed in these advertisements as clues to the slaves' destinations. For two of the slaves, two prior owners each were mentioned, meaning that these blacks had run away from at least their third owner. In two cases where the purchase was recent, the runaway slaves were women who left with infant children, probably to see husbands or relatives still living with their former owners. Samuel Pearce's nineteen‑year‑old slave Charity took her two‑year‑old son with her when she left. Pearce noted that "it is probable they will endeavor to go to White Plains, as she was bought from Dr. Graham ten months ago and seemed anxious to get back."49 When Justus Thompson of Bushwick advertised for nineteen‑year‑old Jane, he stated that she took her nineteen‑month‑old daughter with her, and that they were purchased five months ago from J. Jackson of Brooklyn.50
TABLE 5 SHOULD GO HERE
The owners of nineteen other slaves specifically mentioned that the slave either ran away with or ran away to family members.51 John Decker and Widow Haughwout, both of Staten Island, were aware that their two blacks, either married or courting, were having a relationship separated only by enslavement. When Decker's man ran away and Haughwout's pregnant negro woman ran away, Decker and Haughwout jointly offered a forty shilling reward for their capture, adding that "it is supposed they went together."52 These two spouses or lovers fled two separate masters to be together. One slave couple who were owned together ran away to set up their own free household: Will and Betty "were last seen at a house in Roosevelt Street, owned by Mrs. Abijah Arden, of whom they had hired a tenement."53
Two men ran away to see their wives; no women ran away to visit their husbands, indicating the more passive role played by slave women. Hugh Grangent advertised for his mulatto slave John in the New York Weekly Postboy on January 14, 1750/51, writing that John "is supposed to be in this town, having a wife at the Widow Bowne's in Smith's Fly." Peter Keteltas, in advertising for his runaway slave, estimated that Jack, age thirty‑three, would run to either his wife or his mother. Jack "was purchased from Hendrick Emons of Rocky Hill, New Jersey, about nine years ago, and it is supposed he is either gone that way, where he has a mother, or else to Anthony Ten Eyck's at Albany, where he has a wife."54
The four nuclear families that ran away chose flight as a method of either reunion or family redefinition under freedom; in three of the four cases, family members were split between two masters. Owners considered the male slave as the instigator and main actor, who stole both himself and the owner's other property (his wife and children). Thomas Pell of Pelham Manor advertised for a slave family which had already been at large for two months. His negro man Abraham, age forty‑five, ran away and "took with him a small mulatto wench by the name of Moll, which he claims as his wife, and two negro children--one a boy age three and the other a girl five months." They had recently been seen on Long Island.55 Two owners, Adrian Martense, Jr. and William Berry, both of New Utrecht, advertised together for the return of their slaves. Sam, age twenty‑three to twenty‑four, ran away and took with him clothing, his wife named Bet, aged twenty years, and two female children aged one year and three years old.56
Ulster County slave Sojourner Truth recollected several family‑motivated slave escape attempts among the bondsmen that she knew. After Charles Hardenbergh sold his slave woman, her husband disappeared with three of their children to prevent any further sales. "It was rumored that all four of them were living with the Indians, way up in the hills." Sojourner's husband Tom once pursued his second wife on foot all the way from Ulster County to New York City after she had been sold away from him:57
He had tramped the rutted dirt roads and wet swamps, sleeping in the woods at night, dodging behind trees to avoid the wagons that rolled past. . . .
On reaching the city, Tom had hidden out for a month in those dark alleys that sheltered so many runaways. But he never had found his wife. Instead, the slave hunters had found Tom and returned him to Dumont. The scars on his back were what remained of his master's greeting to him that day.
Most runaway slaves set out alone: in this sample 155 slaves (63.3 percent) escaped on their own and 90 slaves (36.7 percent) left in the company of other slaves. Of the 189 newspaper advertisements for runaway slaves, 155 described a single slave and 34 described multiple slaves who had run away in groups of from two to six persons. The thirty‑four group runs were undertaken by various combinations of slaves. In thirteen cases two slave men ran away together; in six of the cases they had been owned together, and in seven cases they had been owned separately.58 Three black men who had been owned together ran away together. Two children who fled together had belonged to the same owner. Two sets of spouses ran away; one set had been owned together, the other set apart. Four nuclear families ran away together. Three of the four had had members who were owned separately; two owners each jointly placed the three newspaper advertisements.59 Nine mothers ran away from their owners, each taking a single child. Four large runaway groups consisted of three, six, and six slaves (each of these groups had been owned together) and six slaves who had been divided among three different owners.60 Twelve of the thirty‑four group runs involved separately owned slaves. While some of the escapes must have involved prior contact between the slaves and coordination of plans, others may have occurred spontaneously when a runaway suddenly appeared and urged his family member or friend to accompany him.
Women were far less likely to run away than men. Out of 208 primary adult runaways, 170 were men (81.7 percent) and only 38 (18.3 percent) were women.61 Both sexes exhibited similar flight patterns: 47.4 percent of women ran away alone, while another 23.7 percent of women ran away alone but took children along, totalling 71.1 percent of women who left independently compared to 75.9 percent of men. It took perhaps more courage for women slaves to depart alone, unaided by other adults, with the added burden of infants and young children.
The major difference between male and female runaways was in the proportions who ran away with spouses, families, or in large, sexually mixed groups; 28.9 percent of women left in this way, and only 7.1 percent of men (another 17 percent of men left in the company of one or two other presumably unrelated males).62 Women, more than men, ran away in supportive groups protected or led by males. Men engaged in another style of running away which no women used--men ran away together in twos or threes. Women did not band together with other women slaves to flee. Women either ran alone, ran alone with children, or in male accompanied groups.
A total of twenty‑seven children were taken along by adult runaways; twenty were under the age of five, three ranged in age from seven to eleven, and four had no age listed. Most of the children were infants or toddlers, burdensome in any runaway situation. Mothers who ran away alone took only one child each, while mothers who left in the company of husbands or large groups commonly took more children along (in five out of nine cases). The nine women who ran away alone and took only one child each generally brought along very young children (eight out of the nine cases), aged two months, nineteen months, twenty‑two months, one year, two years, two years, three years, three years, and ten years old. The nine mothers who took only one child probably either left other children behind or had some who were already sold off. The ages of these women (19, 19, 19, 24, 25, 25, 27, 32, and 1 unknown) indicate that at least five had probably given birth to more than the one child. Twenty‑seven‑year‑old Molly took with her her ten‑year‑old daughter Amey, who was probably her first‑born, but probably not her only child.63
Eight children were taken along by their parents as part of four nuclear families (one, two, two, and three children each). Four large runaway groups consisted of bands of three, six, six and six slaves. They included five mothers (one group had two sets of mothers with children) with one, one, one, three, and four children apiece. These mothers were accompanied by men runaways of unspecified relationship, enabling them to bring along larger numbers of children than could single women running alone.64 All but one of these eighteen children were under the age of five years.65
While the four women in nuclear families and the five women who left in large groups were often able to take along more children than could women who absconded alone, they also probably left other children behind. One twenty‑two‑year‑old woman brought along only a nine‑month‑old infant, and one thirty‑year‑old woman brought only her four‑year‑old son. Bet, age twenty, probably ran away with all of her children, aged three years and one year. Nan was eighteen when she ran away, and had probably only given birth to the eighteen‑month‑old child which accompanied her.66
Slaves who ran away alone, men who ran away with friends, mothers who ran away with children, spouses who fled together, and nuclear families who fled as a group were most often separated from some of their family members when they absconded. Flights undertaken for the short‑term purpose of visiting with a particular parent, child, or spouse for as long as possible meant that the runaway would be out of contact with other separately domiciled relatives during this period. When flights were undertaken in order to strike out for complete freedom, unless the plans included a series of stops to collect scattered family members, the escape to freedom could mean a permanent break in the established visitation routines between fleeing/hiding and stationary family members; they would not know where the runaway was.
While most slaves ran away in order to be with loved ones, unless the flight resulted in long‑term liberty and family reunion, it could prove as traumatic to family relations as sale or the death of an owner. A slave who successfully passed into freedom alone could be sundered from his relatives forever; attempts to see them could result in capture. Slaves who were recaptured by their owners could be beaten, killed, or sold even further away from their families than before. To the continual stream of runaway slaves in New York, the chance to be with parts of their families and perhaps to achieve freedom must have seemed worth the risk.
1Sixteen manumission documents mentioned the prior sale of nineteen slaves, eighteen of whom were now being freed. These nineteen cases were not included in the sample of 312 bills of sale, as information on the previous sale was often not in adequate detail. The sales described in runaway ads, wills, and inventories were also excluded from the bills of sale sample.
2This sample of 312 documents was collected randomly from town records and from miscellaneous slavery manuscript collections: Slaves--Miscellaneous Manuscripts, Folders one and two, New York Public Library; Slavery Collection and Plimpton Collection, Columbia University; Westchester County Historical Society; New‑York Historical Society. Isolated references to slave sales occurred in family genealogies in the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record. Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , Museum of the City of New York, also contained regular bills of sale unconnected to manumission cases. The New York Manumission Society--Reports of the Standing Committee, January 26, 1797‑March 11, 1807, reels one and two, New‑York Historical Society, contained case histories of slaves who sued for freedom often on the basis of fraudulent out‑of‑state sales.
3Of the forty‑one slaves who were sold more than once, twenty‑five were sold twice, ten were sold three times, three were sold four times, two were sold five times each, and one slave changed hands six times. Each sale of the same slave was counted as a separate sale in this sample. Some of the 204 slaves may also have been sold more than once during their lifetimes, but no documentation exists for their multiple sales.
4Newspaper issues were randomly sampled for the following publications and years: New York Gazette (Bradfords), 1726‑1744; Suffolk Gazette, 1804‑1810; Long Island Weekly Intelligencer, 11 June 1807 and 27 November 1806; Long Island Star, 1809‑1814, 1827; Frothingham's Long Island Herald, scattered issues 1791‑1798; New York Weekly Post Boy, 1747‑1767; New York Mercury, 1768‑1781; Loudon's New York Packet, 1785; The Argus, or Greenleaf's New Daily Advertiser, 1796; New York Commercial Advertiser, 1799, 1802, 1804, 1809; New York Journal and Patriotic Register, 1799; New York Spectator, 1799, 1802, 1804, 1809; New York Evening Post, 1802, 1804, 1809, 1827; New York Daily Advertiser, 1802, 1804, 1827. All at New‑York Historical Society.
5Female slaves who were sold because they bore too many children are overrepresented in the group where reasons for sale are given; these eight cases were not randomly selected.
6Children are treated as individuals in tallying sales even when they were sold with parents, since they were purchased on the same commodity basis as adults. Children may form a disproportionate amount of the group with known ages, as their specific age may have been more likely to be featured in the ad than for adults. Children form 30.4 percent of the advertised slaves (38/125), but form 38.7 percent (29/75) of advertised slaves with known ages. In completed bills of sale, children comprise 21.5 percent of all slaves sold (67/312) but 40.6 percent (41/101) of the group where an age is known.
7See pp. ‑ below on the sale of slave children.
8Journal of John Baxter of Flatlands, Long Island, 1790‑1826, vol. 1, June 30, 1800 entry, LIHS. Baxter commented that this slave family were "no great bargain."
9Thomas Eddy, Letter to New York Manumission Society, December 28, 1797, New York Manumission Society-Reports of the Standing Committee, January 26, 1797‑March 11, 1807, reels one and two, pp. 105‑6, NYHS. These slaves were entitled to their freedom by virtue of their having been sold into New York State; slave importations were prohibited in 1788.
10These 128 sales included 11 of the 33 out‑of‑state sales, the 31 within New York City, the 32 within the same town, the 9 within Richmond County, 6 of the 7 cross‑county sales, and 39 of the 44 sales where specific towns were listed for both old and new owners.
11These 28 sales included 22 of the 33 out‑of‑state sales, one cross‑county sale from Richmond to Queens, and 5 of the 44 cases where specific towns for both old and new owners were listed.
12The forty‑four sales were between the towns of Newtown and Bushwick (4 miles apart), Southfield and Westfield (5), Eastchester and Mamaroneck (5), White Plains and Mamaroneck (6), Bushwick and New York City (6 1/2), Mamaroneck and Rye (6 1/2), Rye Neck to White Plains (6 1/2), Rye and Mamaroneck (6 1/2), Flatbush and Newtown (7), Flushing and Jamaica (7), New York City to Westchester, six cases (7 1/2), Eastchester and Harrison's Purchase, Rye (7 1/2), Eastchester and Westchester (7 1/2), Oysterbay and Huntington (7 1/2), Hempstead and Flushing, two cases (8), New York City and Flatbush (10), New Utrecht and New York City (12 1/2), New Rochelle and New York City (13), New York City and Mamaroneck, seven cases (15), Bedford and Scarsdale, two cases (15 1/2), North Hempstead and New York City (17 1/2), Rye and Hempstead, four cases (20 miles partially across water), Southold and Brookhaven (25), Southampton and Brookhaven (30), Northfield and Mamaroneck (30), Rye and Brookhaven (37 1/2 miles, partly over water), Brookhaven and Jamaica (40), and Easthampton and Brookhaven, also separated by forty miles distance. These calculations were taken between the central points of the two respective towns.
13See pp. ‑ below.
14Leonard Bleecker, Manumission of Ruth, October 19, 1812, Yoshpe, "Record of Slave Manumissions," p. 94.
15Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , p. 229, MCNY.
16Bill of Sale, John Halsey to Amos Curtiss, August 6, 1805, Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , p. 230, MCNY.
17Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , p. 124, MCNY.
18George Janeway, Manumission of George E. Moore, April 22, 1801, Yoshpe, "Record of Slave Manumissions," p. 85.
19See pp. ‑ above. Although this methodology usually inflates the real number of slaves who lived with relatives, in some cases it hides real family members such as adult siblings, who were not counted as family members. Henry Beekman left his wife Gertruyd the use of negroes Robin and his brother Sam, and "such other two of my slaves as she shall choose." The executors were ordered to manumit Robin and his brother Sam after the wife's death or sooner if she consented. Will of Henry Beekman, New York City, October 23, 1775, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 12:341‑43. Based on their sexes alone, Robin and Sam would have been counted as unrelated male adults held together. In this case, their relationship was mentioned, and they would be kept and eventually freed together.
20It is possible that the 47.2 percent of unbroken assumed marriages, the 20 percent of unbroken assumed mother and child units, and the 17.5 percent of unbroken assumed nuclear families represent most of the core of real families within the assumed group.
21My methodology paired off all adult men and women in a holding as potential spouses and any children were distributed among them to make composite assumed nuclear families. As an example, Obadiah Smith's will listed a boy Micah, a negro wench Judah and two negro men, James and Dick. Judah went to his wife for life, and Micah to her during her widowhood. The two men were given to his two sons. This was counted as an assumed nuclear family; Judah was theoretically paired off with one of the men, and Micah was their child. The will broke up the spouses, with Micah remaining with his mother until the testator's widow remarried. Will of Obadiah Smith, Smithtown, November 17, 1761, William Pelletreau, comp., Records of the Town of Smithtown, Long Island, N.Y., with Other Ancient Documents of Historic Value [1650‑1836], 2 vols. (n.p.: By authority of the town, 1898), 1:55.
22The sample of 3,484 slaves bequeathed in wills includes 2,451 slaves in regular wills, 1,111 slaves in miscellaneous wills, and 50 blacks in wills that listed both black and Indian slaves, totalling 3,612 slaves (from which 128 elderly blacks are subtracted), leaving 3,484 slaves for whom dispositions are listed. Provisions for elderly blacks are discussed in chap. 9. Miscellaneous wills included dispositions for 1,111 slaves; they contained uncertainties as to the number of slaves in the holding. Words like "some," "certain," or "my" negroes were uniformly counted as two slaves. In the abstract of John Lawrence's will, he left his wife Elizabeth certain negroes, and to daughters Charity and Sarah, each a negro girl. Based on the abstract alone, two slaves to a wife and two to children would have been tabulated. The original will was more specific; he left two negroes, James and Bess, to his wife during widowhood, and two negro girls, Nell and Dianna, to his two daughters. In this case, the assumption that plural references refer to two slaves would be correct. Will of John Lawrence, Flushing, September 29, 1712, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 2:146; Original Will No. 391, Historical Documents Collection, NYGBS.
23Will of Daniel Betts, Newtown, May 27, 1762, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 6:186. Betts left his wife Deborah the negro wench she had brought with her.
24Will of Henry Brevoort, New York City, June 10, 1776, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 10:298; Will of Mary Brevoort, New York City, July 19, 1791, Coll. NYHS, Abstract of Wills, 14:256.
25Will of Nathaniel Sylvester, Shelter Island, 1679/80, probated November 27, 1680, Liber 2, Wills, Surrogate Court, New York City, in Helen Z. Wortis Collection, Boxes 351 A, B, C, LIHS. Wortis relied on the original manuscript will at the Shelter Island Public Library. Estate Inventory of Nathaniel Sylvester, Shelter Island, September 22, 1680, Manuscript No. 160, Shelter Island Historical Society, copied in Helen Z. Wortis Collection, LIHS.
26Estate Inventory of Johannis Rypell, New York City, December 4, 1761, Scott and Owre, Genealogical Data from Inventories.
27Will of Barnabus Wines, Southold, February 3, 1762, New York County Wills, 1758‑1764 reel, p. 397, NYGBS.
28These figures apply to the entire sample of will dispositions of slaves, combining evidence from all will types. Among the group of slaves who were listed in regular wills and in wills listing both blacks and Indians (the Indians were excluded from the dispositions sample), 28.9 percent were bequeathed to wives, 40.8 percent to children, 7.2 percent were sold, and 12.1 percent were freed. Among slaves listed in the group of miscellaneous wills, 23 percent were bequeathed to wives, 34.6 percent to children, 12.3 percent were sold, and 7.6 percent were freed. Some slaves were counted in more than one category, as they had serial or optional dispositions (sold for a period of time and then to be freed, etc.).
29Will of Richard Charlton, Richmond County, June 23, 1777, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 13:250; Estate Inventory of Richard Charlton, October 20, 1777, Manuscript Room, New York Public Library.
30De Lancey Family Papers, MCNY. This case was not included in the sample of 189 runaway advertisements.
31Estate Inventory of Patrick McKnight, New York City, October 5, 1738, Inventories of Estates--New York City and Vicinity 1717‑1844, NYHS.
32Estate Inventory of Rem Remsen, May 1, 1790, Scott and Owre, Genealogical Data from Inventories.
33The executors of the estate of Captain Beezley had to advertise for Domingo, a Spanish negro man, age forty, who was "supposed to be in or near the Swamp, having been with one Mary Carney, a white woman, who frequently used to harbor him near the Stockade." Domingo may have taken advantage of his transitory ownership position and the gap in authority after the death of his owner to escape. Runaway Slave Ad, New York Gazette or Weekly Post Boy, 27 June 1748.
34Journal of John Baxter of Flatlands, Long Island, 1790‑1826, vol. 1, LIHS.
35For a list of the newspapers used to compile the sample of runaway slave advertisements, see n. 4 above. One additional advertisement was derived from a 1679 legal case. Three of the 189 ads were placed by New Jersey owners, and two by Connecticut owners; they were included here because the slaves were either originally from New York or were running to a destination in the southern six counties of New York.
36Eleven percent of this sample of 218 primary runaways (24 out of 218) were Indian; Indians were probably over‑represented among runaways. The proportion of all slaves who were Indians is unknown, but 11 percent is probably too high an estimate. Although many of the Indian slaves were from other colonies and therefore as unfamiliar with New York as were their black counterparts, the many local enslaved or bound Indians found flight easy. McManus, Negro Slavery, pp. 102‑3, points out that both Indians and negro runaways received asylum with the Senecas and Onondagas in northern New York, and the Minisinks on eastern Long Island.
37Black runaway slaves were taken in by such Indian tribes as the Matinecocks, Montauks, Shinnecocks, and Massapequas on Long Island, with whom they often intermarried. Slave recovery clauses were included in colonial Indian treaties, indicating white concern over the haven afforded black runaways by local tribes.
38I counted all racially mixed runaways as Indians rather than negroes, as their society probably also did. Runaway Slave Ad, Loudon's New York Packet, 15 August 1785; Runaway Slave Ad, Long Island Star, 10 August 1814; Runaway Slave Ad, New York Weekly Post Boy, 30 July 1744.
39Runaway Slave Ad, New York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, 19 November 1770. This racial confusion reflected the intermarriage of black and Indian slaves and of negro runaways with tribe members; their descendants often passed into the Indian group in terms of racial and cultural identification. McManus, Negro Slavery, p. 103.
40William Smith, Manor of St. George, Runaway Slave Ad, in Henry Onderdonk, "Suffolk County in Olden Times," Journal of Long Island History, 6, no. 1 (1966):19.
41Micah Smith, Smithtown, Runaway Slave Ad (also see Samuel Thompson, Brookhaven, Runaway Slave Ad), in Henry Onderdonk, "Suffolk County in Olden Times," Journal of Long Island History, 6, no. 2 (1966):25, 27.
42New England's runaway slaves were also young; two‑thirds of the runaways were age twenty‑five or younger. Lorenzo Greene, "The New England Negro as Seen in Advertisements for Runaway Slaves," Journal of Negro History 29 (April 1944): 125‑46. Also see McManus, Negro Slavery, p. 106.
3Charlotte, age nine, ran away with thirteen‑year‑old Harriet from the same New York City holding; they were later seen in Bushwick. Runaway Slave Ad, Long Island Star, 29 December 1813.
44Kulikoff, "Beginnings of the Afro‑American Family in Maryland," p. 187, develops a similar timetable. "Few men . . . ran away in their late teens, but the numbers rose in the early twenties when the search for wives began, and crested between twenty‑five and thirty‑four when most men married and began families."
45See McManus, Negro Slavery, p. 107. He found only six slaves over the age of fifty in runaway ads in the eighteenth century.
46These twelve slaves travelled from Bushwick to Brooklyn (4 miles away), New York City to Bushwick (5), Brooklyn to New Lots (6), Newtown to New York City (7 1/2), New York City to Kingsbridge (7 1/2), Lower Yonkers to New York City (10), Jamaica to the New York Ferry (12 1/2), Hempstead to Westchester (15), New York City to White Plains (20), Oysterbay to Brooklyn (25), Staten Island to Tappan, Bergen County, New Jersey (30), and New York City to Smithtown, 35 miles away.
47Research on runaway slaves in the South also found that the prime reason for flight was to visit with family members and friends. Wood, Black Majority, pp. 248, 253, 264, noted that three types of slaves were most likely to run away: slaves with family ties, newly arrived Africans, and blacks who had recently changed masters. He also noted the frequent description of slaves as "the former property of someone" in advertisements, indicating the instability of ownership which threatened family relations. Kulikoff, "Beginnings of the Afro‑American Family in Maryland," p. 190, noted that 54 percent of all slaves whose destinations were described by masters, ran away to visit. Nine percent of runaways (20 out of 233) left to join their spouses. McManus, Negro Slavery, pp. 108‑9, ranked family reasons as one of the most common grievances which resulted in flight.
48The owners of seventeen other slaves suggested a particular destination for the runaway not identified as a former owner's home or place of birth. These locations sometimes included areas in which the runaway had recently been seen lurking. Some of these destinations may also have been former owners' homes, but were not designated as such in the advertisement.
49New York Mercury, 30 June 1777.
50Long Island Star, 25 January 1810.
51Another sixteen slaves ran away with family members but were not included in this group. Two adult brothers who ran away together and fourteen mothers who ran away with children were not considered as families running together; the children were taken along as dependent property. Owners did not list causes or destinations for the flights of these sixteen adults--they were excluded from the motivation sample. Spouses and families running away together were included in the group running away to visit kin. Kulikoff, "Beginnings of the Afro‑American Family in Maryland," table 8.5, p. 190, also included husbands and wives who ran off together in the "to visit spouse" runaway category. Both groups ran away in order to be with family members.
52Runaway Slave Ad, 5 July 1756, in Richard M. Bayles, ed., History of Richmond County, New York, from Its Discovery to the Present Time, 2 vols. (New York: L. E. Preston & Co., 1887), 1:150.
53Runaway Slave Ad, Long Island Star, 13 July 1814.
54Runaway Slave Ad, New York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, 8 February 1773.
55Runaway Slave Ad, New York Mercury, 30 June 1777.
56Runaway Slave Ad, Long Island Star, 22 September 1813.
57Bernard, Journey Toward Freedom, pp. 10, 47‑48.
58In these thirteen cases, nine of the pairs of men were both black, three of the pairs were Indians (one set were brothers), and one pair was a separately owned black and Indian.
59Thomas Pell, Manor of Pelham, Runaway Slave Ad, New York Mercury, 30 June 1777; Adrian Martense, Jr. and William Berry, New Utrecht, Runaway Slave Ad, Long Island Star, 22 September 1813; George Ramsee and Nicholas Carmer, New York, Runaway Slave Ad, Loudon's New York Packet, 23 May 1785; Johannes Remsen and John Schenck, Flatlands, Runaway Slave Ad, New York Spectator, April 1814.
60John Pugsley, John Hunt, and Arabella Hedy, all of the town of Westchester, advertised together for their six slaves who fled as a group on September 23, 1759. Two negro men, Jerrey (age thirty to forty), and Bohenah (age thirty‑five), were described as the leaders of the plot; they took a negro wench with three children (aged eleven, four, and two years) with them. New York Mercury, 8 October 1759. No relationships were indicated between the woman and either of the men--one could have been a husband, father, brother, or friend.
61High sex ratios in the southern six counties of New York did not account for the disparity between the proportion of male and female runaways. In the 1703 to 1771 period, the median sex ratio for the southern six counties was 133.2, meaning that 57.1 percent (133.2/233.2) of the adult population was male. From 1771 to 1820 sex ratios dropped until by 1820 sex ratios were low or even in every county except Richmond. Even though males formed 57.1 percent or less of the population they constituted 81.7 percent of runaways. Males ran away disproportionately to their share of the total population, and to women.
These findings also held true for the South. Kulikoff, "Beginnings of the Afro‑American Family in Maryland," p. 187, found that only 9 percent of all southern Maryland runaways between 1745 and 1749 were women, using a sample size of 223 slave runaways. Wood, Black Majority, p. 241, concluded that 77 percent of all runaways were males. The overall sex ratio was not so imbalanced as to account for this pattern. Wood, however, noted that women runaways tended to visit and then voluntarily return more often than men, and so may not have been advertised for in true proportion to their runaway numbers. Greene, "New England Negro as Runaway Slave," pp. 125‑46, used a sample of sixty‑two runaways, most (fifty‑four) of whom were males.
62Out of thirty‑eight adult female runaways, eighteen ran away alone, nine ran away alone and took one child along, four ran away with both husbands and children, two ran with husbands/lovers, and five ran as part of large groups containing adult male slaves, bringing along their children. Out of 170 male adult runaways, 129 escaped alone, three ran away together as a threesome, twenty‑six left in thirteen two‑man teams, two ran away with wives/lovers, four left as heads of household with their nuclear families, and six ran away as parts of large groups of runaways accompanied by women and children.
63Runaway Slave Ad, Loudon's New York Packet, 2 May 1785.
64Three of the four large runaway groups consisted of slaves from the same holding. No familial relationships between the men and women in these groups were mentioned by owners (although they all could have been nuclear families). Assuming that they were not related, in these cases the slaveholding functioned as an acting family. It made and implemented the decision to leave, included several children, and would presumably stay together during flight.
65These eighteen children were aged five months, nine months, one year, eighteen months, three were age two, two were age three, three were four years old, one was seven, one eleven, and ages were unknown for four of the children.
66Runaway Slave Ad, Loudon's New York Packet, 23 May 1785; Runaway Slave Ad, New York Mercury, 12 November 1781; Runaway Slave Ad, Long Island Star, 22 September 1813; Runaway Slave Ad, Loudon's New York Packet, 15 August 1785.
THE SLAVE LIFE CYCLE