FIRE AND RAIN: OLD AGE FOR SLAVES AND FREEDMEN
Jack [Conklin] was an affrican, brought into this country about 55 years ago, all of which time, he has lived in bondage, except the last 5 or 6 years of his life. In these last years, his infirmities, and age, rendered him unable to do but little towards his maintenance. His friends built him a small, very plain low cottage in which himself, and his aged wife Doll, lived, perhaps with more real comfort, contentment, and true Joy, than is ever known in the most splendid, and decorated mansions.
Augustus Griffin (1799)
At the end of their lives New York slaves were still legally bound laborers although they were often unable to perform useful work for their owners. For the first time since childhood, aging slaves began to be considered burdensome and unsalable by their masters. As health and strength deteriorated, some elderly slaves were subjected to either callous mistreatment or to abandonment to a dependent, impoverished freedom. The law dealt rigorously with the widespread attempts of owners to divest themselves of slaves who were no longer productive. Other slaves enjoyed at least a minimal, and in many cases a comfortable retirement provided by solicitous masters. The slave family was largely unable to provide emotional or physical care for the elderly slave, who usually lived apart from his separately owned relatives, as he had done during youth.
The ability of individual slaves to produce work of value to their owners depended on their general health, mental capacity, and physical endurance. Slaves aged forty‑five to sixty years first began to experience at varying rates a diminution in physical capacity inherent in the aging process. Aging slaves shared physical problems with the white population. Cardiovascular and locomotor difficulties, palsy, arthritis, osteoporosis, reduction of speed, strength, and agility, dental problems, loss of hearing, cataracts, inability to focus at near distances, decrease in perceptual abilities, and senility commonly affect all older populations to some degree.1 These degenerative processes reduced the ability of slaves to perform useful work; owners were frequently put in the position of supporting dependent slaves for extended periods of time. Elderly slaves were also more susceptible to pneumonia, smallpox, yellow fever, and other acute infectious and viral diseases which periodically incapacitated them for work. Chronic morbidity characterized old age for many: "To be old in early America was to be wracked by illness. It was to live in physical misery, with pain as a constant companion." Benjamin Franklin spent his last years plagued by infirmities for which eighteenth‑century medicine knew no cure,2 as, undoubtedly, did many New York slaves.
The definition of old age for a slave varied widely. Slaves were considered to be too old for the slave trade at age thirty‑six to forty. In 1659, ". . . negroes had been sold to Stephan Van Bol [at New Amsterdam] at 180 dollars each, viz. those of 16 to 40 years old; those of the age from 12 to 16 were rated at 3 to 2 of the others, and those under 12 years at two for one."3 None were mentioned as being over the age of forty. Director Peter Stuyvesant at New Amsterdam reported that slaves brought in on the Sparrow (Musch) in 1664 "were on an average, pretty old, and as the Skipper alleges, rejected by the Spaniards . . . ." 4 Stuyvesant then wrote to M. Beck, Vice Director at Curacao, that he had sold all of the Sparrow (Musch)'s cargo, "excepting five negro females, who, from their advanced age, could not find a purchaser except at a very low price."5 Old age in this transaction was not specifically defined. The ship Gideon arrived at New Amsterdam in 1664 with 290 slaves--153 men and 137 women. The receipt given to the captain for his cargo of 290 blacks stated that a group of impartial men had judged 89 of them to be over thirty‑six years of age and that therefore "three of them must be counted for two." The cargo was described as "a very poor lot."6 John Watts, in 1762, commented on the high salability of young imported slaves--males under thirty were preferred.7 Slave merchants considered blacks in their thirties to be old, reflecting their diminished sale value in both the Atlantic trade and domestic colonial slave markets.
New York colony and state official population categories, tax policies, and legal statutes alternately used age forty‑five, fifty, fifty‑five, and sixty to determine old age for the black population. Only eight censuses divided New York's black population into age categories from 1746 to 1830 (with fifteen such censuses for the white population, 1703 to 1820).8 All six censuses between 1746 and 1771 used age sixty to separate old blacks from the rest of the population.9 The 1820 federal census adopted age forty‑five, while the 1830 federal census employed age fifty‑five as the cutoff point for classifying older black adults.10
Local and state governments periodically taxed slave property, excluding both children and the elderly from such assessments. In 1734 a tax was placed for a ten‑year‑period on slaves aged fourteen to fifty years. In 1801, every able‑bodied slave held for life between the ages of twelve and fifty years was appraised at one hundred dollars for taxation purposes.11 The town of Gravesend took an inventory of taxable slave property in 1802 and 1805; it separated children aged three to sixteen years from adult slaves aged sixteen to fifty years.12 Tax assessments routinely excluded slaves over the age of fifty, indicating that society did not consider this group to be valuable property.
In restructuring its manumission laws between 1785 and 1817, New York State struggled to ensure that freed slaves would not become dependent on public poor rates in large numbers. Masters were required to assume full responsibility for the future dependency of any slave manumitted after the age of fifty (freed 1785 to 1817) or forty‑five (freed 1817 to 1827). A public column appeared in the January 22, 1796, edition of The Argus or Greenleaf's New Daily Advertiser proposing a plan for the gradual emancipation of all the slaves in the state. It suggested that all slaves then under age twenty‑five should be freed at age twenty‑five, all slaves aged twenty‑five to forty‑five should be freed in five years, and all slaves over forty‑five years of age should continue as slaves for life. This writer shared the concern evident in the manumission laws that aging slaves (defined as over age forty‑five or fifty) might soon be incapable of supporting themselves if freed and would not have enough years of productivity left during which to accumulate savings or property with which to support themselves in old age.
The age at which slave labor became marginal varied, of course, from slave to slave. At age forty to forty‑five slave salability and monetary value began to decline and productivity began to fall, although labor could be effective until age sixty or beyond.13 Considered to be past their years of prime labor, such slaves were expected to decrease further in both market value and work output. They were less attractive to potential buyers not necessarily because of any current incapacity but because fewer good years of service could be expected from them than from newly purchased teenagers or young adults. John Hewlett of Oysterbay was still able to sell his thirty‑four‑year‑old slave Dick for a good price of 70 in 1754. Dick changed hands another four times until Jonathan Scudder sold him to Solomon Ketcham for 50 in 1766.14 Dick's sale price had declined from 70 at age thirty‑four to 50 by age forty‑six, reflecting his increasing age and decreasing long‑term prospects for profitability. When John Watts tried to sell his middle‑aged slave Belinda in 1762, he realized that she would not bring much money, being neither young nor pretty. Although she was a very good cook and had been with the household a long time, "her simplicity led her to triffle about charms" (African fetish practices) which alarmed Watts's female family too much for him to keep her. When she was finally disposed of in 1764 Watts noted that "the old wench" sold for 250 bushels of Indian corn.15 Henry Lloyd, in 1726, hired out his sister‑in‑law's slave Phillis, age forty‑six, for 9 per year. He informed Mrs. Lloyd that Phillis's employer wanted to buy her, and advised that the sale take place: "[Since Phillis is] now growing in years I should think it most your interest to sell her (she will fetch a good price now)." Three years later Lloyd was still able to sell Phillis for 40, even though she was valued at only 35 in an estate inventory a year later. Lloyd was aware that if Phillis was not sold soon, her age would preclude the location of any prospective buyer. Another member of the Lloyd family was willing to purchase just such an older slave in 1785, paying 30 for forty‑eight‑year‑old Hannah.16
Aaron Mellick, a New Jersey farmer, purchased forty‑seven‑year‑old Yombo, a tanner, currier, and leather finisher, in 1786. In 1798 he bought a slave family--Dick (farmer), his wife Nance (cook and housekeeper), and their three children, Diana, Sam, and Ben (Joe and Ann were born subsequently). When he died in 1809 Mellick held $835 in slave property, most of which was ordered to be sold in his will. The parents and their five‑year‑old daughter Ann were to remain on the farm with his son, but their other four children and Yombo were each sold to a different owner:
Slave Age Value($)
Ann age 5 35
Joe age 9 120
Ben [Dick] age 13 225
Sam age 15 225
Diana age 18 100
Dick and Nance ages unknown 80
Yombo age 70 50
Yombo was valued at far less than the children aged nine to eighteen years, but he found a buyer in John Hastier even at age seventy. Hastier, a tanner‑currier, may have been the owner of Yombo's wife and could have been prompted by both humanitarian reasons and the hope of obtaining some years of skilled work from Yombo, who was an experienced leather worker.17
The valuation of slave property in a sample of twenty‑eight estate inventories indicated that older slaves usually had minimal or zero market value. John Badeau's twenty‑four‑year‑old woman was worth 40, while his seventy‑year‑old woman was appraised at only 3. Col. William Smith of the Manor of St. George in Suffolk County owned twelve slaves at his death. Two old negroes, Tomro and Dyou, were valued at only 20 together, while four other pairs of negroes were worth from 40 to 120 together. Abraham Depeyster's inventory of eight slaves reflected the decreased value of slaves over the age of forty‑five compared to younger slaves. Three slaves between age forty‑five and fifty were worth considerably less than slaves aged eighteen and thirty‑four years.18
Old age for slaves began between age forty‑five and sixty; this sector of the slave population became a progressive economic and social burden to be borne by both individual owners and the white community, with no prospect of future returns or gain on this depreciated human investment. This group included the 14.4 percent of all blacks and 21.5 percent of adult blacks who were over age forty‑five. Only 6.1 percent of all blacks and 8.5 percent of adult blacks were over age fifty‑five; in the mid‑eighteenth century 6.8 percent of all male blacks and 11.2 percent of male black adults were over sixty years of age. The difference between the proportions of the adult population over forty‑five and over fifty‑five or sixty indicated a sharp falling off in survival rates during these years. The proportion of elderly in both the black and white populations was similar:
Percent over Percent over
and Females and Females Percent over
Combined Combined 60‑‑Males
Black White Black White Black White
Census Sample 1820 1800‑1820 1830 1830 1746‑1771 1698‑1786a
Population 14.4 12.8 6.1 5.9 6.8 5.6
Population 21.5 23.1 8.5 9.5 11.2 10.5
NOTE: Black figures for over age forty‑five are based on the 1820 census, while white figures represent an average of the 1800, 1810, and 1820 censuses. The over fifty‑five group is based on the 1830 census for both blacks and whites. The over‑sixty figures for blacks are based on an average of five censuses: 1746, 1749, 1756, 1771, and New Rochelle, 1771. White figures for over age sixty are an average of eleven percentages from censuses 1698 to 1786. See app. 12 for figures on the proportions of the population over age forty‑five, fifty‑five, or sixty, by race, sex and year.
aWhite population figures include both males and females in the 1698, 1706, 1712, and 1712 Westchester County censuses, and males only in the seven censuses between 1746 and 1786.
There were slightly greater proportions of men over forty‑five in the adult black male population than women over forty‑five in the adult black female population, but by age fifty‑five slightly higher proportions of women than men were left in the male and female adult populations.19 The 1830 federal census reveals that in the southern six counties of New York there were 90.3 men per 100 women among blacks aged thirty‑six to fifty‑five years, but only 70.9 men per 100 women among blacks aged over fifty‑five years--indicating a greater female survival rate to old age. The black male population over age forty‑five in 1820 (1,274) declined by 52.7 percent to 603 men over age fifty‑five in 1830. The female black population over age forty‑five in 1820 (1,573) declined by a smaller 45.9 percent to 851 women over age fifty‑five in 1830. Women who survived past their childbearing years to age fifty had a potential lifespan equal to or slightly longer than men.20 Thirty‑one of the 1,454 blacks in the over‑fifty‑five population in the southern six counties of New York in 1830 were over the age of one hundred, forming 2.1 percent of the elderly.21 These thirty‑one black centenarians were composed of twenty‑two females and nine males,22 reflecting both the higher rate of female survival to very old age and the greater absolute number of females available in the total population to live past one hundred years compared to men.23
The elderly slave population can be divided into two age groups. The years between forty‑five or fifty and sixty‑nine constitute early old age, when the likelihood is greatest of still enjoying health, being capable of independence, and of producing at least some work for owners;24 most old slaves were in this group. Based on a white population model for 1830, the vast majority (83.1 percent) of the elderly were between age fifty and sixty‑nine: 52.8 percent of the over‑fifty population was in its fifties, and 30.3 percent in its sixties.25 The other 16.9 percent of the elderly were in a state of advanced old age past their seventieth birthdays; they were likely to be the entirely dependent sector of the black or slave population.
Although the 16.9 percent of the elderly who were over age seventy were often totally past labor or only able to perform minor chores, slaves like Caesar on the Nicoll estate (mentioned below) were able to work until age eighty. Benjamin Perine, a former slave on Staten Island, died on October 3, 1900, at age 103; he also worked through his advanced years, only stopping all labor at age 102.26 Harry, who belonged to Richard Smith of Smithtown, died in December 1758, at age 120 years. His health and strength remained unimpaired almost until death--he was capable of a good day's work past age one hundred.27 John Baxter, a Flatlands, Long Island farmer, noted in his diary the tasks performed by his seventy‑one‑year old slave, Old Mink:28
July 7, 1791. Mink began to cradle, I began in the afternoon.
July 23, 1791. Old Mink riding fresh hay home.
Only 3.9 percent of the elderly were beyond age eighty. Slaves and former slaves who lived past age eighty are disproportionately preserved in the historical record29 due to the oddity of great age. A 1739 newspaper obituary mentioned the death of a negro man at Smithtown reputed to have been 140 years old and able to recall a time when there were only three houses in New Amsterdam.30 In 1824 the death of Mary Peterson was noted at age 103 years.31 Caesar was born in 1737 to two slaves on the 1,300 acre Bethlehem estate of Rensselaer Nicoll, eight miles below Albany. He was held for the next ninety years as a slave on the Nicoll estate until the abolition of slavery in New York State in 1827; Caesar experienced a stability of residence and ownership unknown to most New York slaves. He was permitted to retire at age eighty at the death of his second master, Francis Nicoll, in 1817: "though still a powerful man, he claimed and was granted the privileges of age." The descendants of his original master continued to care for him on the estate for another thirty‑five years (the last twenty‑five of which he was free) until his death at age 115 in 1852. He had seen six generations of his master's family and five generations of his own black family. Caesar was laid to rest in the Nicoll family burying ground with a marble stone at the head of his grave.32
Most slaves did not live long enough to reach an age of total dependency. Estimates for the white population in several colonies, 1650 to 1790, conclude that only from 6.6 to 34.6 percent of persons alive at age twenty survived to age seventy.33 Research on southern slaves indicates that "not enough reached retirement age to be more than a negligible expense to the average owner. . . . In 1860 . . . only 1.2 percent were over seventy; thus the owner of as many as a hundred seldom had more than one or two senile slaves to support."34 Aged slaves may have been more onerous to owners of small slaveholdings, in both the South and in New York. An old slave's marginal labor was less desirable in small households and farms where every strong hand was needed and where they could not be usefully employed (as they were on large plantations) in the care of young black children and on numerous minor jobs connected with the slave quarters. Most owners in New York held no more than two or three slaves and could poorly afford to support even one ill or aged slave over an extended period.
Slaves and sometimes whole slaveholdings as entities inexorably moved through a natural life cycle from youth to old age. Unless the personnel of a slaveholding was changed through death or sale to rotate out late middle‑aged slaves and replace them with younger blacks, a holding of several newly purchased, youthful slaves would eventually together become an entire holding of aging, potentially dependent slaves. At his death in 1768 Abraham Depeyster held eight slaves--only three were prime, healthy workers. On the large Manor of Morrisania in 1755, out of twenty‑nine adult slaves, six were aging (45 to 59 years old), five were in their sixties, and three were over age eighty. This slave labor force had reached a point in its collective evolution where it represented a growing liability rather than a positive asset. Although the twenty‑one children on the estate would eventually replace the aging slaves, the elderly would nevertheless have to be supported at considerable present expense by the Morris family.35
* * * * *
Life was unstable for the average slave--he was sold, hired out, bequeathed, and shifted around several times during his life. Slaves who belonged to solicitous or responsible masters may have found old age to be a time of increased security and certainty--they were far less likely to be sold than during their youth. Once past their prime productive years, slaves moved down the occupational scale36 to positions as casual or light workers around the premises, declining eventually to the status of dependent pensioners in advanced old age. They were infrequently offered for sale or purchased. A random sample of newspapers, 1701 to 1827, included fifty‑seven advertisements offering 125 slaves for sale. Age information was available for seventy‑five of the slaves--only three were between age thirty‑five and forty‑four, and none were older. A sample of 312 completed bills of sale, 1660 to 1817, involved 245 individual blacks; ages were known for 101 of the slaves. Five were between age thirty‑five and forty‑four and only five were over age forty‑five.
Obium was owned by the prominent Sylvester family on Shelter Island--at the death of Nathaniel Sylvester in 1687, he was sold for 25 to James Lloyd, first Lord of the Manor of Queens Village. When James Lloyd died in 1693 Obium passed to the control of the estate executors, who hired Obium out for periods of two or four years of service to three different men over a twelve year span. Obium was then sent to John Nelson in Boston (father‑in‑law to Henry Lloyd, second Lord of the Manor), for another two years. He reluctantly left his position in Boston in January 1709/10 when he was returned to Henry Lloyd at Queens Village, with whom he remained until his death sometime after 1756. Obium had lived with at least seven different masters during his life. He achieved stability only during the later years of his life, when old age precluded his being sold or hired out.37
Not only were older slaves less frequently sold, but they also ran away far less often than younger slaves. While some owners would have preferred their older slaves to run away rather than remain in the household as liabilities to be supported, masters of slave property over the age of thirty‑five possessed more stable investments. By age thirty‑five the majority of slaves had formed families (even though apart) and had settled into and adjusted psychologically to the pattern of their enslavement. The idealism and rebelliousness of youth, with its energy and aptitude for change had evolved into a more conservative attitude which found greater comfort in the status quo (barring a crisis such as the sale of a loved one) than in a radical and risky restructuring of life through flight into the unknown.
Ordinary runaways and blacks who fled to the British lines during the Revolution were generally under the age of thirty‑five. Ages are known for 150 out of 218 voluntary runaways in the southern six counties of New York, 1726 to 1814. Only 11.3 percent of the runaways were over the age of thirty‑five, and only three out of the 150 (2 percent) were over the age of fifty. Out of 268 New York blacks evacuated with the British troops in 1783, only 15.6 percent were over the age of thirty‑five, and 3.7 percent (ten blacks) were over the age of fifty. The elderly in both groups were underrepresented in terms of their proportion in the general population.38
Tom was an unusual runaway. Described by his master as between age ninety and one hundred, he had remained at liberty for the past three and one half years.39 Of the ten elderly blacks over age fifty evacuated with the British troops,40 five were on their own and five were accompanied by family members or friends. Adam Way, at age eighty, was the oldest New York black listed in the ship registers, and was described as "worn out."41 Christian Halstead, also travelling alone, was described as a "feeble fellow" at age fifty, as was the "worn out" Francis Herbert at age sixty‑five (accompanied by his younger forty‑four‑year‑old wife Betsy Herbert). Only one older couple was evacuated together: fifty‑eight‑year‑old John Thomas, his fifty‑two‑year‑old wife Elizabeth Thomas, and their eight‑year‑old daughter.
* * * * *
Old age was a different experience for New York slaves in small holdings than for slaves on large southern plantations. Companionship, physical comforts, and emotional support were provided by family members and fellow blacks to the elderly in the South. Slaves were socialized to have and show respect for age. Older persons were addressed as "aunt" or "uncle," reflecting a value system of kinship obligations which also functioned among slaves unconnected to each other by blood or marriage. Slaves as a group were likely to be separated from their families; they created a substitute social system in which non‑kin slaves performed traditional family functions for each other.42 Younger slaves assumed responsibility for their old people:43
The aged slaves had a high degree of security, emotional as well as physical. Their masters' error lay in the supposition that the modest protection of the Big House accounted for their widespread cheerfulness and contentment, for the old folks' ability to live decently and with self‑respect depended primarily on the support of their younger fellow slaves.
When freedom came, the old slaves faced the withdrawal of their masters serenely, confident that they would be taken care of by family, friends, and the black community at large, as they always had been.
One slave described the care given to old slaves who were abandoned by their owners: "Their children, or other near relations, if living in the neighborhood, take it by turns to go out at night with a supply saved from their own scanty allowance of food, as well as to cut wood and fetch water for them; this is done entirely through the good feelings of the slaves, and not through the masters' taking care that it is done."44
On large southern plantations retired slaves often served an important function in the slave quarters. They disciplined the young children while the parents worked in the fields, taught hunting and fishing skills, tended slave poultry and vegetable gardens, and "contributed something to the comfort of their neighbors and kin."45 Old slaves achieved respect and often power through their study of herb and folk medicine and magic; they attended to the physical and spiritual illnesses of the slaves on the plantation. They played a useful and esteemed role in the black social sphere:46
Kin terms of address taught young slaves to respect older ones. . . in slave communities where older slaves played crucial roles. "It is from the grandparents of both sexes . . . that children learn of family history, folklore, proverbs, and other traditional lore. The grandparents are felt to be living links with the past." Elderly slaves--fictive aunts and uncles among them--played that role among Afro‑American slaves. . . .
In New York the small size of slaveholdings meant that most slaves spent some or all of the different phases of their lives apart from parents and siblings (during youth), and from spouses, children, and grandchildren during adulthood and old age. Older slaves who were separated from their families had to rely on other slaves in their masters' households to serve as fictive kin on a daily basis--as they had done all their lives. However, since the elderly generally lived with either none or only one or two other blacks, they could rely on black help in old age much less than could southern slaves who were surrounded by great numbers of other blacks on large plantations. As an example, fifty‑year‑old Manveall was owned singly by a slaveholder in New Rochelle in 1698; his probable son Manveall, age twenty‑four, was owned by a different master in the same town.47 He had neither friends nor family on the premises. Old slaves in New York often could not receive direct daily support from their families and from the broad slave community.
Some evidence suggests that black families were anxious to care for their elderly and were occasionally able to do so in spite of their confinement in separate slaveholdings. The widow Ann Ryerss stipulated in her 1825 will that "Mary negro woman [is] to be cared for and her daughter Hannah [is] to be allowed to attend her."48 Other owners combined forces with their slaves' families to provide care for the elderly and infirm. On March 24, 1797, John Peter De Lancey purchased a slave family for L180 consisting of Peter (age forty‑five), his wife (age thirty‑five), and their two children. Twenty years later, De Lancey boarded Peter out with his wife Hannah (now free) and paid her for his care over a two‑year period:49
Received 40 dollars payment for clothing, boarding, lodging and taking care of my husband Peter la Blackman, slave to De Lancey, from January 1, 1816 to January 1, 1817, by Hannah Johnson.
Since elderly slaves in New York were isolated from other blacks both family and friends--in small slaveholdings, their ability to play out the traditional roles open to aged blacks on large southern plantations was restricted. Depending on their masters' work requirements and on their physical health, old slaves may have had little mobility and been largely restricted to the confines of their owners' properties. Old Mink, a seventy‑six‑year‑old slave, was able occasionally to attend community and familial functions outside his master's premises. On June 9, 1796, Old Mink attended a funeral held at the private burial ground of Garret Wyckoff. On October 7, 1797, he went to the wedding of his son Tone.50 Opportunities to pass on knowledge and skills to younger slaves and to perform useful and important roles in the black community on a daily basis were more rare for slaves held in small units. On public occasions and holidays, when blacks and slaves could gather, the elderly may have been accorded positions of honor and prominence. At Pinkster Day celebrations in Albany, banjo drums and the "toto dance" were featured, with the festivities headed by an eighty‑five‑year‑old Guinea negro, King Charlie, "whom all the blacks obeyed."51
The small proportion of old slaves who lived on large holdings had increased opportunities both to live with family members and to play a useful role among other blacks. Fourteen of the fifty slaves on the Manor of Morrisania in 1755 were over the age of forty‑five. Several generations of black families could have lived together on the estate, as suggested by naming patterns within the group.52 Old Hanch (age eighty‑two) may have been the mother of little Hanch (age fifty‑two) and was the probable wife of Mulatto Harry (age eighty‑two).53 Fifty‑two‑year‑old Betty could have been the mother of thirty‑one‑year‑old Long Betty, while three generations could have been represented between Old Peter (age fifty‑nine), Long Peter (age forty‑one), and Peter Short (age eighteen).
In the few large households New York's aged slaves were able to perform tasks for other slaves and serve as sources of folk history for their families and friends--black and white--as they did in the South. On the large Schuyler estate near Albany, one "white‑wooled negroe‑man" sat by the chimney and made shoes for all the other slaves.54 Caesar, a retired former slave who was maintained on the Nicoll estate from age eighty to 115, had access to his grandchildren and great‑grandchildren--to his occasional dismay: "[He passed] the summer days sitting on the 'stooep,' which faced the west, playing his fiddle and throwing chunks of wood at his great‑grandchildren, as he had a somewhat testy temper and did not like being 'bothered with young niggers.'"55 In one portrait of old age, slaves served as cherished sources of family nostalgia and anecdotes:56
In some instances where an old negro wench had acted as the dry nurse of her young master or mistress, she would insist upon accompanying them [at their marriage]. . . although her services would be of little value, unless it might be as a kind of oracle for the family in all matters of old family history, or of the weather. . . . She, together with the other old negroes of the family, would become high authority in all the numberless superstitions which are accustomed to congregate about a farmer's kitchen fireside. . . the younger members of the household, white and colored, would delight to assemble on the long winter evenings to hear their stories.
* * * * *
Most New York slaves were dependent on their masters for the quality of their housing, food, and care during old age. Their segregation from enslaved relatives and friends and their isolation in small holdings forced them to rely primarily on the changing dispositions and resources of their masters rather than on the helping abilities of other slaves.57 Southern slaveholders widely congratulated themselves on the generous care they provided for their pampered, retired plantation slaves. Public and social opinion condemned owner neglect of superannuated slaves and worked to ensure conformity to at least minimal standards of food, clothing, housing, and medical care for the aged. A paternalistic slaveholding system ostensibly guaranteed care and protection in return for work, loyalty, and dependency. These reciprocal obligations between master and slave enabled slaves to legitimately assert their right to good care during old age. The response of individual masters, both North and South, to peer expectations of proper conduct and slave requirements for support during old age ranged from genuine interest and generous support during a comfortable retirement to outright indifference, barbaric abuse, and attempts to free old slaves to lives of begging and hardship. The majority provided a level of at least minimal material comfort.58
New York owners were well aware that their older slaves often required care and were capable of accomplishing only a small amount of work; their labor limitations were keenly observed and discussed. When Henry Lloyd, second Lord of the Manor of Queens Village, wrote his will in 1763, he perceived that one or more of his slaves was approaching the point of dependency, and ordered his four sons to equally share the burden of support:59
the old Negroe's near past labour when that shall happen to be provided for in proportion, . . . the proportion to be Equally born by my said Sons.
Henry Lloyd divided the manor between his four sons, one of whom lived in Connecticut (John Lloyd I), and two of whom resided in Boston (Henry Lloyd II and James Lloyd II). The remaining son, Joseph Lloyd II, lived on the manor and shared the responsibilities of managing it with his nephew, John Lloyd II. Henry Lloyd II corresponded from Boston to his brother and nephew about their mutual business interests and their joint ownership of the estate's slaves. On August 15, 1767, Henry Lloyd II wrote to John Lloyd II regarding the expenses incurred in the support of the old servants. He left it to John's discretion to judge the amount of work they were capable of doing and agreed to reimburse him for costs arising from their maintenance. Apparently dissatisfied with the account sent to him, Henry wrote to John again in December regarding board expenses arising from the shortfall between the labor output of the old slaves and the cost of supporting them:60
I cant think you are intitl'd to anything more than will make good what the labour of the old Servants for Two Years past (had they been left to do only what they themselves would Choose to do and more I would not desire) falls short of their Expences, my proportion of which I am quite willing and ready to pay.
Two years later, John Lloyd II and his uncle Henry were again involved in a dispute over the ability of their old slaves to work and the costs of maintaining them. Henry objected to the allowance for Bridget, insisting that she was not yet in a state of ill health or old age which would require equal support contributions from the four Lloyd brothers as stipulated in his father's 1763 will. John Lloyd justified the charges for Bridget in a letter written two weeks later on August 17, 1769:61
Bridget took to her room some time in October where she was Confined till near May and almost the whole of the time as Helpless as an Infant at best could with Great difficulty put on her Cloths and most of the time had it done by her Nurse. Doctor Townsends opinion was that she might go off very suddenly however she lived through the winter with Good care and is this Warm weather in as Good health as people of her age generally are so that I think the above reasons are Sufficient for that Charge.
While some masters may have tried to force old slaves to produce beyond their capacities,62 others recognized that their aging slaves were past work and permitted them to substantially retire from active labor. In the 1749 estate inventory of Adolph Philipse, four men (of unknown age) were acknowledged to be "not fit for work."63 Old slaves on the Schuyler estate near Albany enjoyed an uninterrupted retirement due to Col. Schuyler's edict that his widow was never to sell any of the slaves:64
Mariamat and Dianamat were almost superannuated . . . their wooly heads were snow white, and they were become so feeble, that they sat each in her great chair, at the opposite side of the fire. . . . They were arrived at that happy period of ease and indolence, which left them at full liberty to smoak and scold the whole day long. . . .
Other slaves were abused. In a 1782 letter to Chancellor Livingston, John Jay indicated that the ill treatment or abandonment of aged slaves and freed blacks was not uncommon: "I hear my father has given some of the servants free and that some of the other of the older ones have been put out. Old servants are sometimes neglected. Desire Mr. Benson to keep an eye on them, and not let any of them want, and for that purpose place 50 in his hands . . . ."65 The testimony of southern slaves also indicates that master treatment of aged slaves was sometimes cruel. Some owners tried to sell off their superannuated workers or free them before they became a burden to the plantation. Old slaves were sometimes set loose to fend for themselves--without food, clothing, and shelter:66
One man, on moving to Mississippi, sold an old slave for one dollar, to a man not worth a cent. The old slave was turned out to do the best he could; he fought with age and starvation a while, but was soon found, one morning, starved to death, out of doors, and half eaten up by animals. I have known several cases where slaves were left to starve to death in old age. Generally, they sell them south, and let them die there; send them, I mean, before they get very old.
The practice of insuring slaves in Alabama tempted owners of aging blacks to preserve their investments rather than the lives of their slaves: "As long as a negro is sound . . . and worth more than the amount insured, self‑interest will prompt the owner to preserve the life of the slave; but, if the slave becomes unsound and there is little prospect of perfect recovery, the underwriters cannot expect fair play--the insurance money is worth more than the slave, and the latter is regarded rather in the light of a super‑annuated horse."67 The lives of old slaves in New York were also occasionally terminated by masters unwilling to support them with no expectation of profit. A tavernkeeper in Bridgehampton, Long Island, ordered his superannuated slave to dig a well. He shovelled the dirt back while the old man was working in the excavation and buried him alive. As a result, the town passed an ordinance against "unorthodox, private slave or servant burials" which worked to conceal such surreptitious killings.68
* * * * *
When their masters died, all slaves (including the elderly) were vulnerable to a sudden shift in ownership and in living circumstances. Aging slaves often required particular care and support and were of little labor value either to their owners' descendants, estate executors, or to prospective purchasers. Provisions in wills for older slaves reveal what happened to aging slaves when their masters died and also give some indication of the general treatment afforded them by New York slaveholders. Testators who carefully planned for the future comfort of their aged retainers were those masters who would also have decently maintained such slaves while alive. Will provisions for old slaves indicate the type and level of care common in the white community.
INSERT TABLE 1 HERE see p. 513
A sample of 1,470 wills listed 3,660 slaves in the southern six counties of New York, 1669 to 1829; 93 wills mentioned provisions for a total of 89 old slaves and for the eventual retirement of 39 young slaves who were freed.69 The thirty‑nine slaves who were freed while young are included in this sample because their owners provided for their old age retirement with plans ranging from mandatory payments into a private social security system to bestowal of lifetime support payments out of the estate. Out of the eighty‑nine slaves who were currently old, fifty‑two were specially provided for by their owners; a little over half (58.4 percent) had masters who were concerned about a decent or comfortable retirement for their aged slaves. This level of solicitude was evidenced by slaveholders throughout the years 1669 to 1829.
Thirty‑seven of the eighty‑nine old slaves were disposed of in the same manner as were most young slaves--given to wives or children, simply sold or freed, or given the choice of new masters among either the testator's children or outsiders. Old age was as precarious for them as was youth. Forty‑four old slaves received secure retirements as a legacy in their masters' wills. They were ordered to be supported by surviving spouses and children or by the estate executors. These testators often admonished their children to maintain their old slaves comfortably. Benjamin Tredwell, Sr. of Madnan's Neck in Hempstead outlined in 1782 the care that was to be taken of his aged slaves:70
Whereas it is the desire of my two old negro slaves, Peter and Jenny, to live with my children after my decease, viz. Peter with such of my sons as shall possess my farm, Jenny with my daughter Sarah. I desire they respectively suffer my two old slaves to live with them, and to maintain them comfortably in their old age during their lives for their past faithful services to me--if they shall choose the same.
John Aerson in 1707 stipulated that two of his old negroes, Sambo and his wife Mary, were "to stay on the farm and are not to be sold, they are to have every Saturday afternoon to work for themselves."71 Another owner, John Thomas of Harrison's Precinct, also wanted to ensure that his elderly slave would not be displaced and could spend his last years on the accustomed family lands: "As my negro man Julius has served me faithfully, and I would not have him suffer in old age, I order that he be not sold, but to live on my farm with whichever of my sons he shall choose. And the other son shall pay 3 10 s. yearly for his support."72 Most commonly, testators simply ordered that the old slaves were to be supported: Marten Adriaense stipulated that his negro woman Lillie "shall be maintained by all my children during her natural life."73 These slaves could expect to be free from the traumas of sale or of chronic neglect, and could anticipate at least minimal levels of food, clothing, and housing during old age--if the directives of the wills were carried out.
Several testators worried that either (or both) the spirit and the letter of their wills would not be implemented. John Peters was concerned that his slave would somehow be sold: "My negro man Samuel Stillwell may live on my estate and not be sold--it is my desire that he live with my daughter Nancy, but her husband may not sell him."74 Another owner cautioned his executors "to take especial care of my negro slave Esopus, that the poor slave shall not suffer for want of anything that may be reasonable."75 Isabella Morris tried to ensure good treatment for her slaves in a codicil to her will: "Whereas my negro woman called 'Old Hannah' and the mulatto man 'Harry' have been good and faithful servants to me and my late husband, they are to live with such of my children as they shall choose, and they are to be careful and kind to them."76 Harmanus Rutgers, a New York City brewer, hoped to prevent the future neglect of his slave at the hands of his executors by instructing them to "provide a comfortable living for my old negro wench Jane and not suffer her to be abused or want."77
Of the forty‑seven slaves who were freed in their masters' wills with provisions for their support during old age, eight were old at the time of manumission and thirty‑nine were young. Out of personal caring and magnanimity or out of social and legal pressure not to let old slaves wind up on town poor rolls, these owners provided for their elderly former slaves and in advance for the retirement of their young freedmen. The care or lifetime support provisions for the eight old blacks who were freed were made in order to satisfy mandatory legal manumission requirements which forced owners to prevent their freedmen from becoming public charges. These laws were in effect for all slaves freed between 1712 and 1785 and for old slaves freed after 1785.78
Samuel Bowne freed his elderly slave with a legacy of lifetime support payments out of the estate:79
In consideration of the faithful services of my negro woman called Isabella, I do manumit and set her free . . . and my will is that my executors pay her yearly during her natural life the interest of 150. . . . But as the said Isabella is infirm and growing old if she should choose to remain with my wife, I then give her to my wife and advise my wife to be kind to her. . . .
Richard Nicholas ordered in 1772 that if his "negroes Leeds, Quash and Doll are too feeble to provide for themselves, my executors to do so." A 1774 codicil to his will added that the three slaves were to be manumitted, and 300 was to be put out at interest for their relief.80 Two owners freed old slaves and left them a means of livelihood with which they could support themselves. Pieter Praa of Bushwick gave his old negro Jacob a little island in Maspeth Kill, which "Jacob shall have so long as he lives, to maintain himself."81 Samuel Thorne, Sr. freed his "old negro wench Dinah" at his death and gave her "a linnen and a woolen spinning wheel" as legacies.82
In spite of the instructions carefully incorporated into wills for the decent future care of old former slaves the implementation of these provisions was sometimes frustrated by the unwillingness or inability of the heirs and estate to bear the burden of maintaining dependent aged retainers. Jacob G. Vandenburgh's will stipulated that his freed negro Tom was to be maintained out of the estate during life. The executors later brought the will to court as the estate income proved insufficient to support both the heirs and Tom. They were ordered to continue to support Tom out of the proceeds of the property, with both Tom and the heirs to be funded at a lower level, if necessary.83 In another case, Mr. Mulheran's June 1829 will left all of his personal property to his niece on the condition that she should pay for the board of his free old colored servant Nancy, clothe her, and bury her decently at her death. The niece, however, was already boarding Nancy since June 1823 at Mulheran's request and sued the executors for payment for these six years of board and lodging. In spite of a bequest of $719.44 made to her by Mulheran as compensation, the court awarded her an additional $212.00 out of the estate.84
Almost half of the thirty‑nine young slaves who were freed with provisions for their future care were manumitted between 1712 and 1785--their owners made provisions to prevent their future dependency in order to conform to the stiff manumission laws. Masters who provided for the welfare of young healthy slaves freed after 1785 did so voluntarily as their estates were not liable for the future maintenance of such slaves. In exceeding the demands of the law, owners who freed and also provided for the comfort of their former slaves during old age or dependency often placed a burden of lingering responsibility on their heirs and estates.85
Testators who freed young slaves with provisions for their eventual need in old age sometimes took great pains to ensure that their bondsmen would not suffer want during their lives. Jacob Griffen freed his slave Ichabod with a legacy out of the estate and gave "certain monies to [his] son‑in‑law John Bates to help [his] negro man Ichabod when he grows old, or is sick, or other ways disabled."86 John Cornnel set up a lifelong program of watchful support for his manumitted slave:87
My negro Charles to be set free to labor for himself--my executors to be as a father or guardian to him, to see that he is not wronged when he labors if he chooses to stay anywhere nigh. If he lives to be old and past labor, and has not wherewith to support himself, my nephew Benjamin Haviland to take care to support him while he lives.
Several owners set up a retirement plan when they freed their servants to which the ex‑slaves would contribute regularly to provide support for themselves during incapacity or old age. These masters were concerned about both their former slaves' future welfare and in saving their heirs and estate the expense of supporting these freedmen in their old age, as required by law. Simon Sands ordered that his wife maintain his Indian man Harculas on the farm. He then freed his black slaves Cato and Sary at his death with the "condition that Cato pay 40 shillings yearly to support him in old age or infirmity, otherwise to be at his own disposal at his decease."88 The annual payments usually went to the estate executors or heirs to be retained as a source (other than the estate itself) of funding for the support of dependent former slaves. Silas Hicks agreed to free Stephen at his death, "provided he will return to my executors yearly the sum of 3 for the use of my wife and children. Nevertheless, if the negro man never becomes chargeable to my estate, then he shall give that money to whom he will at his death."89
* * * * *
Many southern and northern slaveowners freed their old slaves in order to escape the responsibility of supporting them.90 The Maryland legislature addressed this problem in the 1750s:91
An act passed by the Maryland Assembly in 1752 complained that "sundry Persons in this Province have set disabled and superannuated Slaves free who have either perished through want or otherwise become a Burthen to others." The legislators uncovered a problem: in 1755, 20 percent of all the free Negroes in Maryland (153/895) were "past labour or cripples," while only 2 percent (637/29,141) of white men were in this category. To remedy the abuse, the assembly forbade manumission of slaves by will, and insisted that masters feed and clothe their old and ill slaves.
The New England colonies responded to the problems posed by freed old or infirm blacks who wound up as public charges by passing laws which required all masters or their heirs and executors to support their former slaves if they became dependent (Connecticut, 1702). Massachusetts (1703) and Rhode Island (1729) enacted statues which forced owners to post heavy bonds as guarantees that their emancipated slaves would not become burdens to local poor authorities.92
New York evidenced its persistent concern about the manumission of elderly and infirm slaves in a series of acts designed to prevent masters from dumping slaves who were incapable of supporting themselves on the public poor rolls. The passage of these laws, with their constant focus on the potential support problem of elderly or infirm ex‑slaves, indicates that owners often tried to divest themselves of useless or burdensome slave property. A 1773 law addressed and imposed penalties against a variation of this problem--the poor maintenance or quasi‑abandonment through sale of aged slaves:93
There have been repeated instances in which the owners of slaves have obliged them after they are grown aged and decrepit, to go about begging for the common necessaries of life, whereby they have not only been reduced to the utmost distress themselves, but have become burthens on the humanity and charity of others; and sometimes also such owners by collusive bargains, have pretended to transfer the property of such slaves to persons not able to maintain them, from which the like evil consequences have followed.
In 1818 the New York State Supreme Court of Judicature heard a case of the deliberate sale of an infirm slave. Peter Van Rensselaer of Claverack sold his negro woman Sarah on December 20, 1814 to Asel Woodworth, a very poor man who was unable to maintain her; he had paid Woodworth $40.00 to take her off his hands. Sarah, of unknown age, was infirm, subject to fits and incapable of performing labor--all of which defects were set forth in the bill of sale between Van Rensselaer and Woodworth. Woodworth soon sold her; Sarah subsequently changed hands another three times before being left in the streets of the town of Claverack to be supported by the overseers of the poor.94
In its efforts to prevent the transfer of financial responsibilities for elderly slaves from masters to town poor rates, New York set in place continuing legal safeguards from 1712 through 1827. While such legislation was primarily intended to protect communities from escalating costs, it also protected old slaves from abandonment to starvation by making manumission expensive and hedged with financial obligations. From 1712 through 1717 masters were required to post a 200 bond to guarantee that they would pay 20 per year for life to any slave they freed. This effectively halted almost all manumissions, prevented the dumping of old slaves, and functioned as a lifelong pension system for the very few blacks who were freed under the program. This statute was modified in 1717; for the next sixty‑eight years masters had to post a 200 bond before freeing any black to ensure that they would maintain their ex‑slaves if they ever became public charges.95
A major revision of the manumission process occurred in 1785. A master was now permitted to free any slave under the age of fifty (reduced to age forty‑five in 1817) without providing indemnity or security to the town if he first obtained an overseer of the poor certificate stating that the slave was under age fifty and able to provide for himself. Once local poor officials certified a slave and agreed to his manumission, any future dependency in old age would be the responsibility of the town rather than of the former master and his heirs. These provisions worked to prevent the manumission of slaves over the age of fifty, who would not be eligible for overseer of the poor certification. From 1785 until 1801 the manumission of slaves over age fifty still required the posting of a 200 bond (as it had since 1717), to guarantee that the former slave would not become a town charge. From 1801 through 1827 masters could free slaves over age fifty (lowered to age forty‑five in 1817) without a bond, but they, their heirs, and estates were liable for any future charges incurred by poor authorities in the maintenance of their former slaves.96
These legal and financial disincentives to manumission were designed to prevent the abandonment of aged slaves. They undoubtedly discouraged owners from freeing blacks who were already old; such slaves did not benefit directly from the widespread post-1785 voluntary manumission movement. Old slaves were underrepresented in samples of both testamentary manumissions and manumissions by deed.97 Out of 1,876 slaves who were freed by instruments of manumission between 1701 and 1831, 511 slaves were identifiable by age.98 Only eleven of the 511 slaves freed were over the age of forty‑five (2.2 percent), although approximately 14 percent of the black population was over age forty‑five. Only one old slave was freed between 1701 and 1792.99
In spite of low manumission rates for elderly slaves, by 1820 there were equally high proportions of young and old free blacks in the southern six counties of New York: 83.4 percent of blacks under age fourteen, 83.3 percent of blacks aged fourteen to twenty‑six years, 89.4 percent of blacks aged twenty‑six to forty‑five years, and 81.8 percent of blacks over the age of forty‑five.100 Although the older population appeared to have been freed since 1785 in the same proportion and at the same rate as had younger groups, they had been manumitted during middle age and entered old age as freedmen. Since such a large financial advantage accrued to owners who freed slaves before age fifty (or forty‑five from 1817 to 1827), it is probable that most of the older slaves over the age of forty‑five registered as free in the 1820 census had been freed before the age of forty‑five or fifty with an overseer of the poor certificate.
The cutoff age for certification by overseers of the poor was fifty between 1785 and 1817; slaves may have been commonly freed at age forty‑eight or forty‑nine. The legislature reduced the upper age limit for certification to forty‑five in 1817, perhaps as an effort to lessen the incidence of manumission at the edge of old age. Owners had little to lose and everything to gain by freeing a slave who was nearing age fifty. He was of diminished resale and labor value and represented only a continually declining investment which would soon become a liability to the estate. Owners may have been slightly more reluctant to free slaves before age forty‑five, as they still had several good years of labor to offer.
Owners who contemplated freeing their slaves were pressured by financial considerations to do so before the slaves reached age forty‑five or fifty. Slaves in their forties who were aware of this provision may have cautiously reminded owners to free them while they could still be certified. Since documentation on the exact age of a slave born before 1799 was generally unavailable, masters were tempted to conceal the real ages of their bondsmen and pass off sturdy‑looking older slaves as under the legal age of certification. Quamino Buccau, a slave in New Jersey, was manumitted with an overseer of the poor certificate in 1806: "Quamino, although supposed by the [manumission] paper to be not more than forty, was in reality over forty‑four years of age at the time. William Griffith probably kept this fact purposely out of sight. When Quamino's attention was called to this discrepancy, he laughed heartily, and said, 'Well--well--I trust it's all for de best.'"101 In order to thwart such misrepresentations, poor authorities maintained a high degree of vigilance over the certification process. Abraham Hyatt of New Castle wanted to free his forty‑seven ("or thereabouts") year old slave, only to be refused clearance by town overseers of the poor. Hyatt appealed to the Court of General Sessions of the Peace in Westchester County, which agreed to certify and manumit the slave on May 24, 1809.102
* * * * *
Once freed, blacks had to rely on either themselves, their families, the black community, the families of their former owners or employers, on town charity dispensed through local overseers of the poor, or on institutional relief. White society projected public pauperism as the likely position of elderly or ill former slaves, as revealed in the legislative obsession with preventing free black dependency on poor authorities. The organized free black charitable community was initially able to aid only a small proportion of elderly freed blacks. In the town of Oysterbay, where 44.3 percent of blacks were free by 1790,103 the negro community sought to take responsibility for its aged members. At a town meeting in April 1788, "the petition of the negroes praying that they might be allowed to associate themselves for the purpose of raising a sum of money to support the aged and indigent was granted."104
The black family as an institution was not expected by whites to be able to support and harbor its elderly. Before 1827 black families were largely unable to provide for aged free parents and grandparents as most blacks were still either slaves or free but dependent workers in white households. As an example, Sojourner Truth's parents, Ma‑Ma Betts and Bomefree, were manumitted by the heirs of their recently deceased owner, Charles Hardenbergh, in approximately 1808. Since Bomefree was already over age fifty and infirm, the manumission laws were circumvented by his being freed to the care of his still‑young wife. Hardenbergh's heirs permitted the couple to remain in the cellar room where they had formerly lived as slaves; they were to support themselves as best they could. Ma‑Ma Betts died five years later; the nearly blind and helpless Bomefree was then alternately sheltered for several weeks at a time in different households of the Hardenbergh family. Sojourner's owner only permitted her to visit her father twice during the years before his death. Bomefree bewailed his loneliness to her and mourned the absence of his thirteen children: "They are all taken away from me! I have now not one to give me a cup of cold water--why should I live and not die?" Sojourner tried to comfort him:
She had heard the white folks say, that all the slaves in the State would be freed in ten years [in 1827], and that then she would come and take care of him. I would take just as good care of you as Mau‑Mau would, if she was here. . . . Oh, my child, replied he, I cannot live that long. . . . She now says, Why I thought then, in my ignorance, that he could live, if he would. I just as much thought so, as I ever thought any thing in my life--and I insisted on his living: but he shook his head, and insisted he could not.
The Hardenbergh family subsequently changed their care of Bomefree. They freed two aged slaves, Caesar (Ma‑Ma Betts's brother) and his wife Betsey and placed Bomefree under their care in an isolated cabin in the woods. Betsey and Caesar soon died, followed eventually by Bomefree, who "was found on his miserable pallet, frozen and stiff in death," with no food or water in the hut. A black painted coffin, a jug of spirits, and a funeral were proved by the Hardenbergh family, who buried Bomefree in "the uncared‑for ground reserved for the bodies of [their] most faithful slaves." None of his many children, all of whom had either died or been sold away as slaves, had been able to comfort or support him at the end of his life.105
Except for those blacks whose owners had provided for their future welfare in deeds or wills which gave them legacies of funds, shelter, or maintenance, most of the free elderly found that the traditional black old‑age care syste--slavery--had broken down. During the eighteenth century few blacks ever experienced a free old age in New York due to stiff manumission laws. Normal black old age meant reliance on slaveowners for food, housing, clothing, and medical care. With the increasing achievement of freedom for the black population of New York after 1785, old age took on new meanings outside of a slave system.
White workers relied on savings, assets, or profits from the sale of their businesses to support them at the end of their lives. Farmers generally held on to their economic power and lands as long as possible--retirement often only shortly preceded death. If old age or incapacity necessitated a cessation of labor, elderly parents turned over their agricultural holdings to their children in return for specific food provisions, cash income, support, and housing during old age which were carefully stipulated in binding legal agreements.106 Aged farmers could also sell part of their lands to raise cash or lease out some of their property to income‑producing tenants. Even with all of these alternatives, "the threat of old‑age dependency and the specter of the almshouse hovered over many who had only marginal resources at their disposal."107
Blacks who were freed after having spent most or all of their adult lives as slaves had acquired very little cash, goods, or lands upon which they could rely in old age. Many elderly slaves may have feared the prospect of freedom. Jupiter Hammon, the first published black poet in the American colonies, did not desire freedom for himself at age seventy‑six:108
I am now upwards of seventy years old, and cannot expect, though I am well, and able to do almost any kind of business, to live much longer. . . . For my own part I do not wish to be free, yet I should be glad if others, especially the young Negroes, were to be free; for many of us who are grown up slaves, and have always had masters to take care of us, should hardly know how to take care of ourselves; and it may be more for our own comfort to remain as we are.
A large number of free older blacks remained dependent on the families of their former masters or white employers. A proportion of masters, out of humanity and concern, and apart from legal requirements and responsibilities, personally cared for their elderly former slaves and their families and kept or took them back into their households. In 1820 almost a third of free blacks over the age of forty‑five lived in white household--either as working employees or as retired dependents. Many aged free blacks were retained as nominal servants even though they were beyond their years of usefulness. Lawrence B. Platt was baptized at age eighty‑three on May 20, 1835, and was listed as the servant of Henry W. Platt of Herricks.109 Sylvanus Cato, "an old colored man, lived on the place of Silas Mott," until his death in 1851.110 Samuel Nelson, age seventy, was buried in the Town Ground in Eastchester in 1869, after being "for thirty years attached to the John Grigg family."111 Old age was cushioned for the first generation of elderly free blacks by the remnants of a paternalistic slave system in which white families continued to care for their present and former black retainers.112
The Sammis family of Hempstead ran an inn with slave labor: "After all had been freed their former master frequently undertook their care during idle winter months, and two of them refused their liberty and remained with the family till the end of their lives, when they were buried in the family plot."113 Samuel Claus was freed by his owner at age thirty‑eight in 1803 and was later listed as the free head of a household containing five members in 1810 in New York City. He was cared for during old age by David L. Hall, a white employer: "When old he came to me and I provided for him in Liberty Street with his wife and daughter in the basement under the office. . . . He died . . . in my employ in 183 after a short illness." Hall continued to maintain contact with Claus's daughter Cassandra and with Claus's namesake grandson, Samuel Claus Waldron.114
While the Sammis slaves and Samuel Claus depended on their individual relationships with these whites for help in old age, other blacks relied on the organized efforts of white groups. Slaves who were freed in the 1770s by Quaker masters benefited from the membership's philosophy and requirement that former slaves be rewarded through Quaker help for their past years of unpaid labor. The Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of 1779 directed that former masters of freed blacks should look after the temporal and spiritual welfare of their ex‑slaves. The Mamaroneck Meeting required Friends to continue to maintain negroes who had grown old or infirm in their service. The August 7, 1781, Harrison Meeting dealt with the question of "whether Friends who had had their services during the prime of their lives, should not do something for their compensation and support." In 1794 the Charity Society of Jericho and Westbury Monthly Meetings was formed "for the use and benefit of the poor among the Black People, and more especially for the education of their children." Quaker slaveholders provided care, compensation, and public institutions to service their freedmen to an extent unparalleled by other owner groups. Quaker philanthropy founded the New York Manumission Society in 1786, the New York African Free School in 1787, the Colored Orphan Asylum in 1836, and the Colored Home in 1839.115
With growing public sentiment for voluntary manumission in the 1780s, and with the realization in 1799 that slavery would eventually be phased out in the state, legislators for the first time were willing to take chances on incurring public debts for the support of ex‑slaves. Certain features of manumission and gradual emancipation legislation left local towns ultimately responsible for the support of needy, freed blacks. Slaves freed before age forty‑five or fifty from 1785 through 1827 with an overseer of the poor certificate created a potential group of dependent, elderly blacks to be maintained by poor rates. Healthy slaves who were certified as sound and capable of self‑support in their thirties or forties by overseers of the poor might become ill or infirm with age--they would then be the responsibility of the public authorities.
Three other groups of slaves posed potential support problems for towns. In order to obtain reluctant slaveowner support for passage of the initial 1799 gradual emancipation act the law entitled owners to manumit any slave immediately after the passage of the act without having to abide by overseer of the poor certificate or bond requirements. When the legislature debated the passage of this clause, it rejected State Senator Spencer's motion specifically to exclude old and sick slaves from this one‑time blanket manumission giveaway, thereby inviting owners to deposit aged and infirm slaves on the public doorstep.116 On March 17, 1817, New York State passed the last act of its gradual emancipation program. It freed all slaves born before July 4, 1799, effective on July 4, 1827, thereby putting an end to slavery in the state.117 The small proportion of slaves who had not already been voluntarily freed by owners would be liberated on that date. Since most elderly slaves were already free by 1827, the universal emancipation of adult slaves over the age of twenty‑eight on July 4, 1827, placed only a small additional number of superannuated former slaves on town poor rolls. Town overseers of the poor could also expect to provide care (reimbursed by the state) for some of the elderly former slaves of loyalist owners whose estates had been confiscated during the American Revolution.118
Needy former slaves whose old masters were unwilling to house them, whose masters had died, and where their heirs and executors could not or would not care for them became public charges under the jurisdiction of local poor authorities. Although former owners, their heirs, and estate executors were financially responsible for the eventual support (should they become town burdens) of all slaves who were freed between 1712 and 1785 and for the future dependency of slaves who were freed between 1785 and 1827 over the age of forty‑five or fifty without overseer of the poor certificates, it mattered little to elderly blacks whether or not their former masters' estates were required by law to repay the town for their care--their treatment and placement would be the same. Ultimately, overseers of the poor cared for needy or elderly freed slaves on a daily basis whether or not such charges were reimbursable by private funds.
Local overseers of the poor boarded out white dependents with families in town who were willing to care for them in return for payment for contracted periods of time. Towns also used this system to care for aged or indigent free blacks; they sometimes placed such dependents within the black community. The towns of North and South Hempstead jointly paid Black Charles the sum of 3 in 1787 for nursing a "negro wench."119 Most often, however, elderly free blacks were sheltered with white families: Elizabeth Mott of Hempstead left a sum of money which was due to her "for keeping for 1 1/2 years an old negro wench" to her son‑in‑law as a will bequest.120 The woman was probably placed with Mott either by town poor authorities or privately by an owner who boarded out his elderly or sick or former slave for care.121 The Bushwick town clerk paid James Hedenburgh 10 on August 4, 1801, "for board and funeral expenses of an old negro man named Prince, and three dollars for conveying said Negro to N. Town to David Gipson."122 The town of Riverhead was left with the responsibility for an elderly black woman as of its April 7, 1829, budget report. The overseers of the poor placed her with Isaac Swezey for a year, who was paid in 1830 "the sum of $8.98 in addition to the amount allowed him by the Town Auditors." The town again disposed of Old Rose with Swezey for another year beginning on April 6, 1830, "at $1.00 per week with washing and extra expenses paid so long as the overseers may wish her kept." On April 5, 1831, she was shifted to the home of Abraham Luce for the following year at the rate of $1.11 per week. Costs for the three years of support amounted to $118.70 plus additional expenses which were borne by the town.123
Sesor, a former servant of the heirs of Col. Phineas Fanning, became dependent on the town of Riverhead in 1798 at the age of 101 years. The initial expense of the overseers of the poor of Riverhead for Sesor was to reimburse the town of Southampton the sum of 10.16.2 on March 29, 1799, for its support of Sesor during some part of the preceding fiscal year. From April 2, 1799, until his death on February 24, 1807, at age 110 Sesor was boarded out with his former owner or employer's family for all but one of the last eight years of his life at a total cost to the town of 128.17.0. The Fanning family was not responsible for his maintenance and was paid to care for him. Expenses for Sesor included charges for clothing, nursing care during sickness, and the cost of constructing a coffin in additional to regular board and maintenance expenses.124
Indigent elderly free blacks either received town charity dispensed by local overseers of the poor or institutional care in the almshouse or later in the Colored Home. The Quaker‑founded Colored Home (1839) was designed for the relief of infirm or aged black paupers in New York City. According to statistics on inmates in 1847, "the Institution had, during that period, under its care nearly 1,000 persons; a large proportion of whom were from the Alms‑House."125 The elderly residents had been slaves in various states--New York, New Jersey, and in the South. Many had been in the almshouse prior to admittance, without either family or former masters to provide for them. Old Sarah Henry lived in the Home for several years before her death at age ninety. Born in New Rochelle in Westchester County, she had served in the family of William Post, and said she "was married on the day the Asia fired on the city."126
Although almost a third of the elderly free black population either lived in white households as workers or dependents or were in institutions, as table 2 shows, most of the free black elderly in 1820 lived in black‑headed households. The 2,330 free blacks over the age of forty‑five in 1820 in the southern six counties of New York were more likely to live in black‑headed households than were younger free adults. While 56.9 percent of all free black adults lived in black‑headed residences, 66.4 percent of
RESIDENTIAL CIRCUMSTANCES OF FREE BLACKS OVER THE
AGE OF FORTY‑FIVE, NUMBERS AND PROPORTIONS, 1820
Number of Number in White Number in White Total Number Total Number Number
County Free Black Households Which Households Which of Elderly Free of Elderly Free of Elderly
Elderly Contained Both Contained Only Blacks Who Blacks Who Free Blacks
Slaves and Free Free Blacks Lived in White Lived in Free in
Blacks Households Black‑Headed Institutions
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Kings 107 13 30 43 40.2 63 58.9 1a 0.9
New York 1,440 26 431 457 31.7 927 64.4 56b 3.9
Richmond 13 6 0 6 46.2 7 53.8 ... ...
Suffolk 236 2 30 32 13.6 204 86.4 ... ...
Queens 334 16 78 94 28.1 240 71.9 ... ...
Westchester 200 14 79 93 46.5 107 53.5 ... ...
Total 2,330 77 648 725 31.1 1,548 66.4 57 2.4
SOURCE: Compiled from data in 1820 Census, Manuscript Population Schedules.
aOne free black was in the poorhouse.
bTen free blacks were in Belview Hospital, eleven were in the State Prison, five were in the Penitentiary, twenty‑four were in the Alms House, and six were in New York Hospital.
free black adults over the age of forty‑five lived in black households. Free black children and the free elderly were less commonly found in white households than adults between the ages of fourteen and forty‑five both because of their need for care and because they were less attractive to white employers as laborers.127 With restricted work opportunities in white households, elderly free blacks either maintained themselves in their own homes through cottage enterprises and subsistence agriculture or lived in the households of younger free family members.128 By 1820 large enough proportions of the black population had become free and were heads of household so that some of the elderly could find shelter with relatives.
While many elderly freedmen became dependent on former masters, their own families, or on public charity, many others, whether freed during youth or old age, were able to support themselves and maintain independent households until death. Aaron Purdy died of old age in January 1854 at age seventy‑two and was described as a laborer. Gilbert Sutton, who died of an abscess at age sixty‑nine in 1863, was a farmer at the time of his death. These two black men worked to support themselves in a self‑reliant old age.129 Prince Gedney was listed as a free black head of household in the federal censuses for White Plains from 1810 through 1850, at which time he was ninety‑three years of age and maintaining his own residence. He died in December 1855 at age ninety‑seven.130
Joseph Ryerss was freed at age forty‑one in 1802 by the will of his owner Gozen Ryerss. Nine years later Joseph officially certified his free status in court at the same time that he manumitted his twenty‑two‑year‑old son Henry. It is likely that Joseph had been able to amass a considerable amount of money between 1802 and 1811--enough to purchase the son whom he freed and to buy land worth $1,215 two weeks later. His son Henry Ryerss bought land of his own in 1815 located adjacent to his father's holding. Joseph Ryerss was also able to buy the freedom of his son's wife Peggy De Hart prior to their marriage. In 1820 Joseph Ryerss headed his own household in Castleton composed of ten members, six of whom were children under the age of fourteen. When Joseph Ryerss died at age eighty‑one in 1842, he was survived by his wife Susan, his son Henry, and two grandchildren. In his will he left his wife his house, "where I now reside on south side road along the North shore of Staten Island"--afterwards to belong to his son Henry. Joseph Ryerss retained both his property and his independence throughout old age, and was buried along with the rest of his family on his own land.131
Death was often the only deliverance from slavery for blacks; it could occur during any phase of the human life cycle. Old age became closely associated with death only during the nineteenth century when infant, childhood, and young adult mortality rates progressively declined.132 In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries death was a common occurrence in all age groups, but the elderly were over-represented in the age distribution of a sample of black deaths in the southern six counties of New York from 1697 to 1827.133 While 14.4 percent of the black population was over age forty‑five in 1820, 20.8 percent of all black deaths from 1791 to 1827 involved blacks over the age of fifty.
Between 1697 and 1790 most black deaths (91.8 percent) were of slaves. Between 1791 and 1827 the proportion of black deaths formed by slaves fell sharply to 37.7 percent. By 1791 to 1827 most black decedents (60 percent) were of unknown status. Since 27.4 percent of blacks in the southern six counties of New York were free by 1790, 43.9 percent by 1800, 71.8 percent by 1810, and 85 percent by 1820, it is probable that most of the unknown group who died between 1791 and 1827 were really free. The known free category remained small until 1828, by which time all blacks were legally free134--no specific legal status was normally indicated for free blacks in church burial records in any time period.
Legal Status 1697‑1790 1791‑1827 1828‑1911
of Deceased Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Slave 178 91.8 66 37.7 1 0.3
Free 2 1.0 4 2.3 362 99.7
Unknown 14 7.2 105 60.0 ... ...
Total 194 100.0 175 100.0 363 100.0
Only very small proportions of black deaths listed in church records had the name of a family member included in the record. White church officials labelled people at death in terms of their relationship to significant others. At death almost all slaves were listed only as the property of their masters rather than as family members: 173 out of 178 slaves during the years 1697 to 1790, and all of the 66 slaves during the years 1791 to 1827. White society perceived slave family connections to be secondary to enslavement, and may often have been unaware that slave family ties even existed among kin divided by separate ownership or by the scramble of newly freed blacks for employment and housing after 1785. Even long after freedom former slaves were referred to at death in terms of their former slave to master relationship. On December 29, 1738/9, J. Hempstead noted in his diary that "Mareah, an old negro woman above 90 was buried. She was formerly servant to Alexander Pygan, deceased, but has been free near 50 years."135 Even though Mareah had been free for fifty years, the white community associated her with her former owner rather than with any black family she may have had.
The proportion of blacks identified as slaves or servants decreased between 1697 and 1911 from 89.2 percent to 3.3 percent of black deaths as blacks increasingly gained freedom. Although the proportion of all blacks identified at death as family members rose over time from 3.6 percent of deaths 1697 to 1790, to 11.4 percent from 1791 to 1827, to 22.6 percent between 1828 and 1911, it always constituted the minority of cases. Blacks increasingly had no affiliation listed at all; white church officials usually did not record the family relationships of freed blacks. Virtually all blacks were free between 1828 and 1911, but only 22.6 percent had family members listed next to their entries at death--the vast majority were considered anonymous persons in the church record. Once property status could no longer classify blacks, no other was considered important enough or appropriate to list. The black family did not replace the owner as the primary connection in the eyes of the church.
Affiliation at 1697‑1790 1791‑1827 1828‑1911
Death Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Family member 7a 3.6 20c 11.4 82f 22.6
Slave/servant of owner 173 89.2 66d 37.7 12g 3.3
Miscellaneous‑‑friend, laborer, or both relative and servant ... ... ... 3 0.8
No affiliation 14b 7.2 89e 50.9 266 73.3
Total 194 100.0 175 100.0 363 100.0
aThis group consisted of two women of unknown status listed as a spouse and a widow, and five children of slaves.
bTwo of these blacks without affiliation were free.
cThis group consisted of eleven slave children, and nine adult blacks listed as spouses or widows: one was free, one was a former slave, and seven were of unknown status.
dOne of this group was free but referred to only as the former slave of the white family who now supported him.
eTwo blacks in this group were free.
fThis group consisted of 47 free children of parents, 28 spouses, 2 widows, and one spouse whose primary listing was as a wife, with "bond slave" written afterwards. Four other blacks were listed as a mother, grandchild, and two as brothers.
gOf these twelve servants, five were adults and seven were children, two of whom were specified as living in the white household.
Evidence indicates that in the early eighteenth century some slaves were buried in black graveyards by family members and friends with African or Afro‑American cultural ceremonies. In 1713 Rev. John Sharpe commented that "they are buried in the Common by those of their country and complexion without the office, on the contrary the Heathenish rites are performed at the grave by their countrymen."136 In 1722 the Common Council of New York City passed a law regulating the burial of slaves: "All negroes and Indian slaves dying within this corporation on the South side of the fresh water be buried by daylight at or before sunset."137 This act prohibited night funerals for public security reasons. It indicated that the black community buried its dead according to its own fashion after working hours without white supervision. In 1731 New York City passed another ordinance dealing with the problem of slave burials. In order to prevent the congregation of large numbers of slaves at funerals, "where they can plot against their masters," it was ordered that blacks were to be buried by daylight with no more than twelve slaves in attendance.138 This concern indicates that large nighttime black funerals may have been a common occurrence; they provided occasions during which black community and family networks could function autonomously.
Burials arranged during this early period by blacks took place on common lands or in places set aside specifically for their use. By 1762 New York City had a negro burying ground located "east of Broadway [which] covered the northerly part of City Hall park and the block extending from Chambers to Reade Streets."139 It is likely that slaves were routinely denied burial in white churchyards. At a town meeting on November 6, 1725, Bushwick residents resolved that "no negro at all shall be buried in this aforesaid churchyard."140 On November 15, 1731, the New York Gazette listed 478 recent white smallpox victims according to their church affiliation, which was probably also synonymous with their church of burial.141 No religion (church burial group) was listed for the seventy‑one black casualties of the smallpox epidemic, suggesting that their funerals took place outside church grounds.
Although death and burial are familial events, for many slaves and for some of the first generation of freed blacks (formed 1785 to 1827), these rituals were carried out and their nature determined by white owners, employers, or church officials rather than by the black family itself. As an example, William Gilbert, Sr. ordered his children in his 1797 will to decently inter his slave Bett at her death.142 White communities noted the deaths of slaves in their towns and often took great interest in such local demographic events. J. Hempstead, in his March 13, 1748/49, diary entry wrote that he had "found brother Salmons negro man Lymass dead today--a good old servant and christian."143 John Baxter regularly commented on the activities of his neighbors, including the births, marriages, deaths, crimes, and escape attempts of their slaves. On June 9, 1796, his own slave Old Mink attended a funeral at "a burying ground at Garret Wyckoff's" (probably of a slave privately buried on Wyckoff's property). On April 28, 1807, Baxter noted that two negroes were buried in "Negros burying ground in Flatlands, one belonging to D. Stoothoff, the other to Joris Lott."144 It is unknown whether these two slaves were buried by their families or by Stoothoff and Lott, and whether both blacks and whites were in attendance at the funeral. Whites may have often officiated at black burials; on January 18 and 20, 1802, the pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Huntington "attended and preached at two negro funerals."145 Such occasions probably had entirely separate meanings for the whites who arranged the burials of their slaves and for the friends and relatives of the deceased who mourned in Afro‑American ceremonial, religious, and emotional ways.
Many slaveowners buried their slaves on their own property, either in a reserved section of the family plot, or in separate burying areas set aside for their slaves. Slaves were sometimes placed in special sections of graveyards which belonged to groups of several white families. Slaves of the Leggett and other households were buried near a white graveyard at Hunt's Point.146 John Thorne (1690‑1768), formerly of Flushing, established a separate burying ground for slaves on his plantation in Gloucester, New Jersey. A small black settlement composed of his manumitted slaves arose adjacent to the Thorne slave graveyard, which came to be called Guineatown.147 Poet Jupiter Hammon was a slave on the large Manor of Queens Village belonging to the Lloyd family: "It is probable that he died at Lloyd Neck [between 1790 and 1806] and was buried in one of the plots of ground reserved for slaves. Headstones from many of these graves have disintegrated over the years."148 A memorial plaque erected by the Oysterponds Historical Society in Suffolk County commemorates the graves of twenty slaves and their owners, Dr. Seth H. Tuthill and his wife Maria, proprietors of the Hog Pond Farm. "It was their wish that they be buried with their former servants."149
Anthony Hannibal Clapp was buried in 1816 with an elaborate epitaph and tombstone in the private burying ground of his owner Major Jonas Hawkins in Stony Brook, Long Island. A sculptured violin was carved on the tombstone above a lengthy description of Anthony as a well‑liked slave and an accomplished fiddle‑player:150
Anthony, though indigent, was most content, though of a race despis'd deserv'd he much respect--in his deportment modest and polite. Forever faithfully performing in life's drama the eccentrick part assign'd him by his Maker. His philosophy agreed with his example to be happy Himself, and to make others so, . . . . Upon the Violin, few play'd as Toney play'd, His artless music was a language universal, and in its Effect--most Irresistible. . . .
Another slave, Cane, was owned by the Mount household (related to the Hawkins family) and was buried in the same slave burying area of the Hawkins property as was Anthony. A white woman, Ruth Hallock, wrote the tombstone inscription for "the Mount family's well‑loved slave":151
Beneath this stone was put the mortal part of Cane, a colour'd person. He was born the 27th of December 1738 and died the 12th of January 1814, in the 77th year of his age. Cane was an honest man. Tho nature ting'd his skin, and custom mark'd Him "Slave"! his mind was fair, free and independent. . . .
Between 1790 and 1827 specific burial places were partitioned off to serve the black community. The movement for separate cemeteries, accompanied by a mushrooming of black churches, came from the growing free black population; it was their response to discrimination in white churches and exclusion from white burial grounds. Whites acceded to black demands for their own institutions as they confronted the problem of where to bury black people who were not simply "slaves." In 1815 the town of Brookhaven laid out a "negro burying ground" in the village of Setauket.152 In 1794 "sundry black men" petitioned the Common Council of New York City for "aid in purchasing a piece of ground for the interment of their dead," which request was approved in April 1795. On June 22, 1795, having organized themselves as the African Society, they approached the city seeking permission to build a black church and cemetery on the city‑owned lands given in trust for their use. In 1825, the trustees of St. Philip's Church asked that these lots on Chrystie Street "used for burying colored persons" be transferred to the church corporation.153
With the rise of black institutions after 1800, growing numbers of freed persons were buried in black church grounds; some were also buried in those white churchyards and private or town cemeteries which accepted blacks.154 The successful among the first generation of freed blacks were able to acquire property and provide for the funeral arrangements of themselves and their families. Joseph Ryerss, freed in 1802, was buried in 1842 on his own land, as were his children and grandchildren. His will permitted the sale of his property to provide for his wife's support or to pay off his son Henry's debts, but the burial area was to remain untouched: "I hereby direct and authorize my said executor, notwithstanding any disposal made of my property aforesaid to reserve my family burying ground, to remain as such burying ground forever."155
Many free blacks, however, continued to rely on the patronage of their former masters at death. Ira Morris noted that Richmond County blacks after 1827 often stayed with their old owners to serve as freemen, and "were placed at their death alongside of their old white friends in the family burial plots of the Island."156 At his burial in December 1823, Old Bob was described as a "colored man, formerly a slave and supported by Peter and Elbert Hegeman." J.O. Hegeman and his mother were present at the funeral.157 Old Bob had continued to live with and was buried by his former masters. Michael Onderdonk was buried at age eighty on January 11, 1859, and was listed as "an old colored man, former slave of J. Onderdonk."158 His association with slavery and the Onderdonk family persisted in church memory at least thirty years beyond his attainment of freedom. Both Hannah Martin on July 6, 1847, and Caesar Jay on October 4, 1847, were buried on the farms of their former owners or employers.159
Former slaves who became dependent on poor authorities for support in old age were buried by their towns. Many superannuated blacks who formerly belonged to confiscated loyalist estates were buried by local overseers of the poor at state expense. Some of the ex‑slaves of attainted loyalists Richard Floyd (Rose), Frederick Philipse (Wall), Daniel Kissam, Sr. (Tone), and John Rapalje (Harvey) became paupers and were buried by overseers of the poor (in addition to Nero in the town of Eastchester).160 Between 1808 and 1825 several free blacks in the town of Southold were listed as either being "poore" at their deaths (two) or actualy died at the poorhouse (eight)‑‑all were presumably interred under the auspices of local poor officials.161 Two colored men, Venice Pell and John Smith, were buried by the town of Eastchester in 1847 and 1849.162 The town of Flatlands provided a coffin and funeral services for Jack in 1830.163
* * * * *
The quality and meaning of each stage of life changed dramatically for New York's black population once it achieved freedom. Childhood, marriage, parenthood, and old age took on new definitions as the black family reconstituted itself under freedom. The rituals of baptism, marriage, and burial eventually became black ceremonies determined by black families. Old age and death became passages of importance to kinfolk and friends alone once the market/labor value and health of the elderly ceased to be of concern to the white community except when free blacks became dependent on poor authorities. Apart from occasional private manumissions in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, this transition from slavery to freedom began just prior to the American Revolution and lasted until 1848, when the last child born to a slave woman in 1827 was released from involuntary servitude.
1Robert N. Butler and Myrna I. Lewis, Aging and Mental Health: Positive Psychosocial Approaches, 2nd ed. (Saint Louis, Mo.: C. V. Mosby Co., 1977), pp. 21, 25, 34, 37, 110‑12; W. Andrew Achenbaum, Old Age in the New Land: The American Experience Since 1790 (New York: The John Hopkins University Press, 1978), pp. 28‑29.
2David Hackett Fischer, Growing Old in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 67.
3"M. Beck, Vice Director at Curacao to Gov. Stuyvesant," May 16, 1659, Valentine, comp., Manual of the Corporation of N.Y.C., 22:593‑94.
4"Stuyvesant to the Directors, June 10, 1664." O'Callaghan, Slavers, pp. 205‑6, in Goodfriend, "Burghers and Blacks," p. 139.
5Valentine, comp., Manual of the Corporation of N.Y.C., 22: 593‑94.
6"The Council of New Netherland to the Directors at Amsterdam"; "Receipt for the above Negroes," August 17 and 30, 1664, Edmund B. O'Callaghan, ed., Voyages of the Slavers St. John and Arms of Amsterdam, 1659, 1663; Together With Additional Papers Illustrative of the Slave Trade under the Dutch (Albany: J. Munsell, 1867), pp. 221‑25; O'Callaghan, ed., Calendar of Historical Manuscripts: Dutch, pp. 268, 333.
7Coll. NYHS, Letter Book of John Watts, p. 31.
8The fifteen censuses which divided the white population into age categories used either forty‑five, fifty, or sixty to denote the oldest age category.
9Censuses of 1746, 1749, 1756, 1771 in Bureau of Census, Century of Population Growth, table 95, p. 182; table 96, p. 182; table 97, p. 183; table 98, p. 183; "New Rochelle, 1771," NYGBR 107 (1976): 196‑98; "Shelter Island--Census of 1771," in Mallmann, Historical Papers.
101820 Census, "Aggregate Amount of Persons. . . "; 1830 Census, "Aggregate Amount of Persons. . . ."
11"An Act for the Assessment and Collection of Taxes," Journal of the Assembly of New York State, 24th Session (1801), p. 261, NYHS.
12"Assessment List of Taxable Property in the Town of Gravesend, 1802 and 1805", John Stillwell Collection, NYHS.
13Menard, "Maryland Slave Population: A Demographic Profile," pp. 31‑32, separated working adults from old slaves at age fifty. Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll, p. 520, found that "with blacks as well as whites considered 'old' at fifty, slaves of that age commanded no higher a purchase price than eight‑year‑old children. . . ."
14Huntington Town Records, Including Babylon, 1653‑1873, Introduction by Charles Street, 3 vols. (Huntington, N.Y.: The Long Islander Print at the authority and expense of the two towns, 1887‑1889), 2:418‑20.
15Coll. NYHS, Letter Book of John Watts, pp. 97‑98, 126, 154, 236.
16Coll. NYHS, Papers of the Lloyd Family, 1:270‑71, 307, 311; 2:779. Phillis was sold for 40 to Henry Lane in 1729. Her previous owner, Mrs. Joseph Lloyd, subsequently repurchased Phillis from Lane, accounting for her inclusion in the 1730 estate inventory of Joseph Lloyd's property.
17Mellick, Story of an Old Farm, pp. 602‑12. See p. above on Yombo.
18Only 28 out of a sample of 384 estate inventories listed slave property over the age of fifty. Estate Inventory of John Badeau, New York City, April 2, 1787; Estate Inventory of Col. William Smith, Manor of St. George, Suffolk County, February 18, 1704/5, Scott and Owre, Genealogical Data from Inventories; Estate Inventory of Abraham Depeyster, New York City, January 25‑26, 1768, New York Public Library. See pp. ‑ above for a listing of the slaves in Depeyster's estate inventory.
19See app. 12.
20Demos, A Little Commonwealth, table 2, p. 192, indicates that at age fifty white women in Plymouth Colony approached and then later slightly exceeded males in life expectancy.
21Out of 16,994 whites over age fifty‑five in the southern six counties of New York in 1830, thirteen were over age one hundred, forming .08 percent of the elderly population. Blacks may have reached very old age in slightly larger proportions than whites. The difference between .08 and 2.1 percent in the proportion of the white and black elderly who were past one hundred years may reflect either a real difference or only a bias in the census age categories. Whites were grouped into decades from age fifty to one hundred, while blacks were divided into only two age groups of either 55 to 100 or over one hundred. Many very elderly blacks really in their eighties or nineties, could have been included in the over‑one hundred group, thereby inflating that figure while comparable whites were put into the more precise "eighties" or "nineties" categories available for them.
22These thirty‑one centenarians lived in the following towns: Islip (one female), Somers (one male), Gravesend (one female), Flatbush (one female), Five Wards, Brooklyn (one male), Northfield (two females), Castleton (two males and five females), Newtown (one male), Oysterbay (two females), South Hempstead (one female), and four males and nine females in New York City. 1830 Census, "Aggregate Amount of Persons. . . ."
23Black sex ratios were low (an excess of women over men) after 1820 in the southern six counties of New York. See table 1, p. above.
24Stampp, The Peculiar Institution, p. 319, also noted that slaves under seventy could still produce a limited amount of work: "Doubtless most Negroes in their sixties were not very productive, but they usually did enough work at least to pay for their support. Even slaves over seventy were not always an absolute burden, though it may be assumed that most were."
251830 Census, "Aggregate Amount of Persons. . . ." Precise decade by decade age categories for the elderly black population were not included in the 1830 or in any earlier censuses, necessitating the use of a white population model. In the southern six counties of New York in 1830, 10,900 white males and 12,182 white females were over the age of fifty, totalling 23,082 persons. Of this group, 52.8 percent were in their fifties, 30.3 percent were in their sixties, 13 percent were in their seventies, 3.4 percent were in their eighties, .4 percent were in their nineties, and .06 percent were over age one hundred. Males and females were similarly distributed along the old age spectrum. See app. 13 for detailed figures on this elderly population.
26Morris, History of Staten Island, 2:47‑48; Board of Education, "The Black Man on Staten Island," pp. 84‑85.
27Furman, Antiquities of Long Island, and Notes Geographical, pp. 194‑95; Hartell, "Slavery in Long Island," p. 59.
28Old Mink died nine years later at age eighty. Journal of John Baxter of Flatlands, Long Island, 1790‑1826, LIHS. See pp. , above on Old Mink. To cradle meant to cut grain with a cradle scythe.
29Forty‑two slaves or former slaves who survived to age eighty or beyond were located in church records (baptismal and death registers), vital records, manumission documents, wills, manuscript diaries, town records, British ship evacuation registers, miscellaneous manuscript collections, genealogical articles, and secondary works used in this study.
30Furman, Antiquities of Long Island, and Notes Geographical, pp. 194‑95; Hartell, "Slavery on Long Island," p. 59.
31Hartell, "Slavery on Long Island," p. 59.
32Caesar's headstone was still in place in May 1923, but was stolen in 1926. Sill, "Notable Example of Longevity," pp. 65‑67; Russell Bruce Rankin, "Gravestone Records from the Nicoll‑Sill Burying Ground, Albany County, N.Y.," NYGBR 58(1927): 151. Sill, p. 67, incorrectly states that all slaves under age sixty‑five were freed in 1808 in New York State, while all older slaves (including Caesar) remained as slaves for life. Slavery was abolished in New York on July 4, 1827, for all slaves born before July 4, 1799--Caesar also achieved freedom on that date. No slaves were legally born in the state after July 4, 1799. See pp. , above on Caesar.
33Fischer, Growing Old in America, pp. 225‑26.
34Stampp, The Peculiar Institution, pp. 318‑19. Stampp solved the problem of whether "a substantial number of aged 'aunties' and 'uncles' spent their declining years as pensioners living leisurely and comfortably on their masters' bounty" by stating that most slaves never survived to old age, so that the few who did represented only a minor problem for owners. This analysis ignores small slaveholdings, where old slaves would be more burdensome and less welcome as long‑term fixtures.
35See pp. ‑ above on the age structure of New York's slave labor force, the Depeyster slaveholding, and the evolution of the slave labor force on the Morris estate.
36Kulikoff, "Beginnings of the Afro‑American Family in Maryland," pp. 188‑89, noted that many old slaves in the South experienced downward job mobility with age, passing from skilled labor to fieldwork.
37James Lloyd had married Grizzell Sylvester (daughter of Nathaniel), forming a family connection between the two estates. James Lloyd purchased four Sylvester slaves in 1687--Tomeo, Gyon, Tony, and O[p]ium. Francis Brinley's accounts as the executor of James Lloyd's estate, 1693 to 1704 and 1708, indicate that Obium was placed out for five separate terms of service with three different men--Mr. Oliver, Francis Brinley, and Capt. Willet. Obium was baptized on August 20, 1732, at the First Church in Huntington. Records of the First Church in Huntington, Rev. Ebenezer Prime. Three other Lloyd slaves (Nero, Ann, and Hezekiah) were also baptized at this church. "Obeum" was still alive in 1756, since he was listed as having received a "purge" from Dr. Samuel Allen on September 20, 1756, in a bill presented by the doctor to Henry Lloyd (and paid in person by slave poet Jupiter Hammon on an errand from his master). Obium was at least age sixty‑nine at the time of his death (after 1756) and probably far older. He was referred to as a man in the 1687 purchase document, and in James Lloyd's 1693 estate inventory, indicating that he was already an adult at this point. Coll. NYHS, Papers of the Lloyd Family, 1:109‑11, 115, 121, 147, 161; 2: 543. Will of James Lloyd, Manor of Queens Village, proved September 2, 1693, in Helen Z. Wortis Collection, Box 351A, notes on Obium, 1650‑1700 file section, LIHS.
38Blacks over fifty formed only 2 percent of runaway slaves and 3.7 percent of blacks evacuated with the British, although 14.4 percent of the black population was over age forty‑five, and 6.1 percent were over age fifty‑five.
39Runaway Slave Ad, Frothingham's Long Island Herald, 7 June 1791. The other two advertisements for older runaway slaves (Cato and Siah) were Runaway Slave Ad, Loudon's New York Packet, 4 July 1785; Runaway Slave Ad, The Long Island Weekly Intelligencer, 11 June 1807.
40Christian Halstead (age fifty), Adam Way (age eighty), Cath. Livingston (age fifty), John Thomas (age fifty‑eight), Elizabeth Thomas (age fifty‑two), Cyrus (age fifty), Jane Samson (age fifty‑two), Dinah Johnson (age fifty‑four), Francis Herbert (age sixty‑five), and Dick Roach (age fifty‑five), Book of Negroes Inspected on the 30th November 1783 . . . on board the fleet laying near Statten Island . . . ; Book of Negroes Registered . . . between April 23 and July 31, 1783 (Book 1), and July 31 and November 30, 1783 (Book 2), British Headquarters Papers, Document 10427, pp. 76, 80, 92, 94, 119, 127, 133, 141, New York Public Library.
41Ibid., p. 80; Gutman, Black Family, p. 243, noted that such "very elderly blacks [as Adam Way] were unusual ship passengers."
42Gutman, Black Family, pp. 216‑19.
43Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll, pp. 522‑23.
44Moses Granby, "Life," in W. L. Katz, ed., Five Slave Narratives (New York, 1968), p. 32, quoted in Fischer, Growing Old in America, pp. 64‑65.
45Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll, p. 523.
46Gutman, Black Family, pp. 218‑19.
47Randolph, "Census of 1698, Mamaroneck, Morrisania, and New Rochelle." See pp. ‑ above on the possibilities for coresidential slave family life in New Rochelle in 1698. Only two other censuses before 1820 included information on the elderly black population by household: 1771 Shelter Island census in Mallmann, Historical Papers "New Rochelle, 1771," NYGBR 107 (1976): 196‑98. The 1703 New York City census ("N.Y.C., 1703," Doc. Hist., 1: 395‑405) separated the black population into male and female adults and children by household, but lumped both blacks and whites over the age of sixty into one category.
48Will of Ann Ryerss, Northfield, September 15, 1825, Wills of Richmond County, 1787‑1863, on file at the Surrogate's Office, St. George, Staten Island, Liber C, p. 962, SIIAS.
49Bill of Sale, Valentine Nutter to John Peter De Lancey, March 24, 1797, De Lancey Family Papers, MCNY. Hannah gave De Lancey a second receipt for another $40 he paid her for the same services up to January 1, 1818. "John Peter De Lancey to Hannah Johnson," De Lancey Family Papers, MCNY.
50Journal of John Baxter of Flatlands, Long Island, 1790‑1826, vol. 1, LIHS.
51Furman, Antiquities of Long Island, and Notes Geographical, pp. 265‑69.
52"1755 Slave Census," Doc. Hist., 3:510. Sixty‑eight‑year‑old Hary, referred to as "Mandos Hary," was probably the son of Mando, listed as a Morris slave in 1698. Randolph, "Census of 1698, Mamaroneck, Morrisania, and New Rochelle," pp. 104‑5. Yaff, age forty‑seven in 1755, was most likely the son of Yaff, mentioned in Col. Lewis Morris's 1690 will. Will of Lewis Morris, Harlem, February 7, 1690, Shonnard and Spooner, History of Westchester County, 1: 153; Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 1: 182. See pp. ‑ above on the age structure of the Morris family slaveholdings. Also see pp. ‑ above and app. 6 on black family groups at Philipsburgh Manor, another large New York slaveholding.
53See p. above for the provisions for Old Hanch (Hannah) and Harry in the 1746 will of Isabella Morris.
54Grant, Memoirs of An American Lady, 1: 302‑3.
55Sill, "Notable Example of Longevity," p. 67.
56Furman, Antiquities of Long Island, and Notes Geographical, pp. 222‑23.
57After 1790 increasingly large proportions of the black community were free; some older slaves during these last years of slavery in New York may have been able to receive comfort and support from free family members and friends and from free black charitable enterprises founded in the years between 1790 and 1827.
58Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll pp. 519‑21.
59Coll. NYHS, Papers of the Lloyd Family, 2:643‑44; Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 6:252.
60Coll. NYHS, Papers of the Lloyd Family, 2:707‑9.
61Ibid., 2: 718‑19.
62Fischer, Growing Old in America, p. 66. In describing the attitude of masters toward old slaves, one southern black wrote that they "contrive all ways to keep them at work till the last hour of life. Make them shell corn and pack tobacco. They hunt and drive them as long as there is any life in them."
63Estate Inventory of Adolph Philipse, Manor of Philipsburgh, February 12, 1749, photocopy, Tom Paine Memorial House, New Rochelle, N.Y.
64Grant, Memoirs of An American Lady, 1: 302‑11; 2:222‑23. Mariamat and Dianamat had come from Africa when very young and were the mothers or grandmothers of all but one of the other slaves on the estate.
65Arthur Alexander, "Federal Officeholders in New York State as Slaveholders, 1789‑1805," Journal of Negro History 28 (1943): 331. For Peter Jay's will, see Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 9:262.
66Narratives of the Sufferings of Lewis and Milton Clark p. 112, quoted in Fischer, Growing Old in America, pp. 64‑66.
67Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll p. 520.
68Journal of the Trustees of the Freeholders and Commonalty of Easthampton Town, 1725‑1925, 7 vols. (n.p., 1926), 1: 241. This case most likely occurred in the 1760s.
69See pp. ‑ , ‑ above on the sample of wills and will provisions. See table 4, pp. ‑ above on the disposition of 3,484 of the slaves (excluding the 39 freedmen and the 89 elderly). Undoubtedly, more than 89 out of the 3,660 slaves were elderly, but only this group were specifically referred to as being of advanced age.
A sample of 384 estate inventories listed 1,149 slaves as property in the southern six counties of New York, 1675 to 1829. Twenty‑eight inventories included thirty‑nine elderly slaves over the age of fifty as items in the estate appraisal; only one document indicated the future provision for the slaves (the two were sold). Inventories commonly listed the value and contents of estate property, and only occasionally included details of their eventual disposition.
70Will of Benjamin Tredwell, Sr., Madnan's Neck, Hempstead, August 3, 1782, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 10:278.
71Will of John Aerson, Brooklyn, August 11, 1707, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 2:6‑7.
72Will of John Thomas, Harrison's Precinct, January 28, 1775, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 9:206.
73Will of Marten Adriaense, Flatbush, February 12, 1724, Wills--Commissioner of Records, Kings County, St. Francis.
74Will of John Peters, New York City, December 1789, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 14:193.
75Will of Cornelius Van Duyn, Brooklyn, October 26, 1754, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 5:39.
76Will of Isabella Morris, Morrisania, August 9, 1746, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 4:383. The original will is located in Will Liber 1751‑1754, vol. 18, pp. 94‑96, microfilm reel WL 36 or 2367, HDC.
77Will of Harmanus Rutgers, New York City June 26, 1750, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 4:447‑49.
78Most of the elderly were freed prior to 1785. After 1785 it made more economic sense for an owner to free his slave at age forty‑five or fifty with no future obligation than to free him beyond these ages and then be responsible for any future public dependency.
79Will of Samuel Bowne, New York City, November 5, 1771, Genealogy of the Bowne Family of Flushing, New York, 3:3, New York Public Library.
80Will of Richard Nicholas, New York City, 1772, NYGBR 36(1905): 176.
81Will of Pieter Praa, Bushwick, August 6, 1739, NYGBR 65 (1934):313; Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 3:312.
82Will of Samuel Thorne, Sr., Flushing, February 28, 1731/2, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 3:71. In the 1698 Flushing census Thorne was listed as the owner of five slaves: Coffe, Dinah, Kate, Charles, and Tony, indicating that at the time of his death in 1732 he had held Dinah for at least thirty‑four years.
83Wood v. Vandenburgh, January 1837, in Catterall, ed., Judicial Cases Concerning Slavery, 4:391‑92.
84Mulheran's Executor v. Gillespie, July 1834, in Catterall, ed., Judicial Cases Concerning Slavery, 4:389.
85Only these thirty‑nine young slaves had known specific arrangements made for their free old age. An additional 389 young slaves were freed between 1669 and 1829 (see pp. ‑ above) in wills; none had provisions for old age, but 137 received legacies which would help them to support themselves and avoid dependence on town poor rolls.
86Will of Jacob Griffen, White Plains, June 9, 1777, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 12:157.
87Will of John Cornnel, New Rochelle, October 8, 1771, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 12:241.
88Will of Simon Sands, Cow Neck, February 23, 1782, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 12:291‑92.
89Will of Silas Hicks, Hempstead, February 9, 1773, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 10:272. For other owners who set up social security systems for the mutual benefit of their estates and their ex‑slaves, see Will of Jonathan Griffen, Scarsdale, December 10, 1784, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 13:355‑57; Will of James Thorne, Flushing, August 20, 1766, photostat of the original in Marriage and Birth Records, Wills and Inventories of Flushing, Long Island, 1677‑1783, Bowne Collection, New York Public Library (also abstracted in Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 12:375).
90Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll, p. 520.
91Kulikoff, "Beginnings of the Afro‑American Family in Maryland," p. 189.
92Greene, Negro in Colonial New England, pp. 138‑39.
93"An Act to Prevent Aged and Decrepit Slaves from becoming burthensome within this colony," March 8, 1773, Lincoln, Johnson, and Northrup, eds., Colonial Laws of New York, 5:533‑34. The provisions of this law were repeated in the 1788 comprehensive recodification of New York's slave laws, and bolstered in 1801.
94Overseers of the Poor of the Town of Claverack against the Overseers of the Poor of the City of Hudson, August 1818, in Johnson, ed., Reports of Cases in Supreme Court of Judicature, 15:283‑85.
95"An Act for Preventing Suppressing and Punishing the Conspiracy and Insurrection of Negroes and other Slaves," December 10, 1712, Lincoln, Johnson, and Northrup, eds., Colonial Laws of New York, 1:761‑67. "An Act for Explaining and Rendering more Effectual an Act of the General Assembly of this Colony entitled, an Act for Preventing, Suppressing and punishing the Conspiracy and Insurrection of Negroes and other slaves," November 2, 1717, Lincoln, Johnson, and Northrup, eds., Colonial Laws of New York, p. 922.
96"An Act granting a bounty on hemp to be raised within this state . . . ," April 12, 1785, Laws of New York State, 8th Session, Chap. 68, 2:121. This 1785 act provided for the manumission of slaves under fifty with an overseer of the poor certificate, but did not describe the process for slaves over age fifty. This was further clarified in 1788, which act required masters to continue to post a 200 bond (as they had for all manumissions since 1717) in order to free a slave over age fifty as a guarantee that they would prevent the slave from becoming a charge to the town. If an owner freed a slave by will and failed to post the 200 bond, the slave would still be freed but the estate heirs and executors were liable for the support of the slave should he become unable to maintain himself. "An Act Concerning Slaves," February 22, 1788, Laws of New York State, 11th Session, Chap. 40, 2:675‑79; "An Act Concerning Slaves and Servants," April 8, 1801, Laws of New York State, 24th Session, Chap. 188, 5:547‑52; "An Act Relative to Slaves and Servants," March 31, 1817, Laws of New York State, 40th Session, Chap. 137, pp. 136‑44.
97Most manumission documents were certified by overseers of the poor and were filed by local officials in registers kept in the town clerk's office. It is possible that manumissions which took place outside of the overseer of the poor approval process were not filed with the other documents or were not routinely entered into the town records. In this way some manumissions of the elderly could remain unlocated and therefore underrepresented in this study.
98See pp. ‑ , ‑ below on the manumission sample.
99The following masters freed eleven old slaves: Rachel Sniffin, Manumission of Cuff [age 56], 1804; Andrew Lyon, Manumission of Sylvia [age 46], 1805; Thomas Brown, Manumission of Mike [age 50], 1801, Rye Records, vol. D, in Charles Baird, Chronicle of a Bordertown--History of Rye, Westchester County, New York, 1660‑1870 (New York: Anson D. Randolph & Co., 1871; reprint ed., Harrison, N.Y.: Harbor Hill Books, 1974), pp. 181‑88, 393; William Fosbrook, Manumission of Susannah age , September 12, 1797; Thomas Carpenter, Manumission of Philip Ward [age 47], December 5, 1803; Walter L. Cochran, Manumission of Titus Grey [age 50] July 5, 1794; Cornelius Villee, Manumission of Eve [age 48], August 9, 1801. Villee had purchased Eve three months earlier from Nicholas Schenck for 40. Although Villee promised to free Eve after eight years of faithful service, she bought her own freedom from him for $100. Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , pp. 29, 72, 149‑50, 191, MCNY. William Johnson, Manumission of Cullaman [age 55], March 7, 1745 [effective 1749], Frost, ed., Records of the Town of Jamaica, 3:349; Jonah Wood, Manumission of Mary [age 53], January 30, 1800, Huntington Town Records, 3:199; Abraham Hyatt, Manumission of Jack [age 47] May 24, 1809, Historical Records--North Castle/New Castle: Colonial History and Minutes of Town Meetings 1736‑1791; Historical Records of New Castle 1791‑1850, 2 vols. (North Castle/New Castle, N.Y.: By the Town Historian, 1975‑1977), 2:111‑12, NYGBS; George Clinton, Manumission of Dian [age 55], May 15, 1800, Yoshpe, "Record of Slave Manumissions," p. 80.
1001820 Census, "Aggregate Amount of Persons. . . ." Information on the proportion of blacks who were free by age and sex group was not included in 1790, 1800, or 1810 federal censuses. See table x, p. and pp. ‑ below on the proportion of blacks who were free by age group in the southern six counties of New York in 1820.
101William J. Allinson, Memoir of Quamino Buccau: A Pious Methodist (Philadelphia: Henry Longstreth, 1851), p. 15.
102Abraham Hyatt, Manumission of Jack, May 24, 1809, Historical Records of New Castle 1791‑1850, 2:111‑12. Six other cases were located in which overseers of the poor refused to certify and agree to a manumission and were then overturned by a court ruling: Benjamin Morgan, Manumission of Nancey [age 36‑38], June 13, 1809, Eastchester Historical Society, Records of the Town of Eastchester 1665‑1835, 10:25‑26; Ida Striker, Manumission of Dinah, November 5, 1795, and Ida Striker, Manumission of Sarah, November 10, 1795, Register of manumissions of slaves . . ., pp. 94, 95, MCNY; Cornelius Stryker, Manumission of Hannah, October 7, 1820, and Garret Stryker, Manumission of Sue, October 17, 1820, in Gravesend Town Records, Book 7, Town Meetings, pp. 100, 101, St. Francis; Nicholas Underhill, Yonkers, Manumission of Sam, May 27, 1816, Westchester County Historical Society.
103Bureau of Census, Heads of Families, 1790.
104Oyster Bay Town Records, 7:100.
105Gilbert, narrator, Narrative of Sojourner Truth, pp. 18‑25; Bernard, Journey Toward Freedom, pp. 14, 50‑52.
106See Philip J. Greven, Jr., Four Generations: Population, Land, and Family in Colonial Andover, Massachusetts (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, Cornell Paperbacks, 1972), chap. 6.
107Achenbaum, Old Age in the New Land, p. 29.
108See pp. above and below on Jupiter Hammon. Jupiter Hammon, "An Address to the Negroes of the State of New York," (1787) in Stanley Austin Ransom, Jr., ed., America's First Negro Poet: The Complete Works of Jupiter Hammon of Long Island, with a Biographical Sketch by Oscar Wegelin and a Critical Analysis by Vernon Loggins (Port Washington, N.Y.: Ira J. Friedman Division, Kennikat Press, 1970), pp. 107, 112. For further information on Jupiter Hammon, see scattered references to him in Coll. NYHS, Papers of the Lloyd Family, 1:309‑10; 2:543, 746; Erskine Peters, "Jupiter Hammon: His Engagement with Interpretation," Journal of Ethnic Studies 8 (Winter 1981): 1‑12; Oscar Wegelin, Jupiter Hammon--American Negro Poet: Selections from his Writings and a Bibliography, Heartman's Historical Series, no. 13 (New York: Printed for C.F. Heartman, 1915); Charles Vertanes, "Jupiter Hammon--Early Negro Poet of Long Island," Nassau County Historical Journal 18 (Winter 1957): 1‑17.
109Daughters of the American Revolution, Several Chapters of New York State, Unpublished Cemetery, Church, and Town Records, vol. 236: [Records of] Christ Episcopal Church, Manhasset, New York, Baptisms [1828‑1852] (n.p., 1961‑1962), New York Public Library.
110Records of the Reformed Dutch Church of Wolver Hollow (Oyster Bay), Burials 1777‑1860, p. 102, NYGBS.
111His son, Samuel Nelson, Jr., died the same year as a casualty in the Civil War. Eastchester Historical Society, transcriber, Burial Records of St. Paul's Church, Eastchester, series 2, vol. 3, sections 1‑3 (Eastchester, N.Y.: By the Society, 1973).
112Three other elderly blacks were described as servants. Jane Lyons, who died at age seventy‑five in 1858 was a servant of James Herriman of Jamaica. Lucy Laurence, "an old slave" of Little Neck, died in 1856. Church Records of Long Island--Vital and Church Records of Flushing and Vicinity, Deaths 1847‑1870, pp. 93, 99, Frost Collection, NYGBS. Mary Suydam, the wife of Peter Suydam at John Lott's, was listed as a "bond slave" at her death in 1871 at age sixty. Her husband lived with John Lott--it is unclear whether Mary stayed with him, was held as a bound servant elsewhere, or was a free servant but was labelled in terms of her former slave status, as was Lucy Laurence. Stryker‑Rodda, copier, Records of the Protestant Dutch Reformed Church of Flatlands.
113Bernice Schultz, Colonial Hempstead (Lynbrook, N.Y.: The Review Star Press, 1937), p. 247.
114Mary Danbency, Manumission of Samuel Claus, April 19, 1803, Slaves--Miscellaneous Manuscripts, Folder 2, Manuscript Room, New York Public Library; 1810 Census, Manuscript Population Schedules, New York County, Ward Two, p. 21; Letter, David L. Hall, New York, February 8, 1867, Slaves--Miscellaneous Manuscripts, Folder 2, Manuscript Room, New York Public Library. The death of Samuel Claus's daughter Cassandra at age sixty‑seven on February 6, 1867, must have prompted Hall to write this letter detailing the history of the Claus family.
115Thomas E. Drake, Quakers and Slavery in America, Yale Historical Publications, Miscellany no. 51 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1950; reprint ed., Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1965), pp. 77‑78; Scharf, History of Westchester County, 1:675; Baird, Chronicle of a Bordertown--Rye, pp. 187‑88; Marion F. Jackson, "Old Jericho and Its Quakers," Nassau County Historical Journal, 22, no. 1 (Winter 1961): 1‑15.
116"An Act for the gradual abolition of Slavery," March 29, 1799, Laws of New York State, 22nd Session, Chap. 62, 4:388‑89. In response to Abraham Van Vechten's proposed clause permitting manumission of any slave after the passage of the act, Mr. Spencer moved (unsuccessfully) to add to it the following stipulation: "Provided such slave so manumitted shall not at the time of such manumission be superannuated and unable to gain a livelihood by labor." Journal of the Senate of the State of New York, Second Meeting, January 2, 1799, 22nd Session (1799), pp. 107‑8, NYHS.
117"An Act Relative to Slaves and Servants," March 31, 1817, Laws of New York State, 40th Session, Chap. 137, pp. 136‑44.
118 See pp. ‑ below on superannuated former slaves of loyalist masters.
119Records of North and South Hempstead, 6:279.
120Will of Elizabeth Mott, Hempstead, March 7, 1737, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 3:260.
121Other owners boarded out their old or sick slaves for care. See p. above on John Peter De Lancey. In the 1750s the estate of Adolphus Philipse paid a woman for boarding an old slave Bess until her burial in 1754. Adolph Philipse, Inventory and Administration of Estate, 1749‑1763, Manuscript Room, New York Public Library.
122Bushwick Town Records--History, Deeds, Births of Slaves 1660‑1825, p. 431, St. Francis.
123Arthur Channing Downs, Jr., ed. Riverhead Town Records, 1792‑1886 (Huntington, N.Y.: The Long Islander, printed by order of the town of Riverhead, 1967), pp. 324, 326, 328.
124Downs, ed., Riverhead Town Records, pp. 30, 32, 33, 37, 40, 44, 48, 49, 52, 53, 54, 55, 57, 727. Sesor must have been either born free, freed for military service during the Revolution (although he would have been in his eighties at the time), or freed on March 29, 1799, during the temporary moratorium on manumission law requirements in order for the Fanning family to be absolved of financial responsibility toward him. On April 6, 1802, Sesor was placed with John Genning at the rate of four shillings per week for the ensuing year rather than with the Fanning family. In a footnote to the death register, it was recorded that "Caesar, servant of the heirs of Col. Phineas Fanning, died at Riverhead aged 110 years." Suffolk Gazette (Sag Harbor), 6 April 1807.
125Mary W. Thompson, Sketches of the History, Character, and Dying Testimony of Beneficiaries of the Colored Home in the City of New York (New York: J.F. Trow, Printer, for the benefit of the institution, 1851), p. 77. The April 1846 report indicated a past population of 450 inmates in the Home since its opening. "Sixth Annual Report of the Society for the Support of the Colored Home, 1845‑1846," Special Collections, Columbia University. Also see Statistics of the Colored Home, Instituted in 1839 (New York: John A. Gray, 1849).
126Thompson, Sketches of the History of Beneficiaries of the Colored Home. The British warship Asia fired brief rounds on the city of New York on August 23, 1775, to prevent patriots from removing British gunworks on shore. Thomas Jefferson Wertenbaker, Father Knickerbocker Rebels--New York City During the Revolution (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1948), p.63.
127See pp. ‑ below on the proportion of free black adults and free black children that lived in black households.
128Future research based on the 1820 federal census would reveal what proportions of elderly free blacks either headed their own households or lived as dependents in the black households of younger adult family members. Detailed analysis of the households in which free blacks over the age of forty‑five appeared in the census would indicate the proportion of the elderly that lived alone, that lived in pairs with their spouses, that headed households which also contained children, and that lived in extended families which were headed by younger adults with their own offspring. The failure of the 1820 census to classify blacks over the age of forty‑five into more discreet age groups, however, masks the anticipated differences between blacks in early old age (age forty‑five to sixty‑nine) and those aged over seventy years. Many of the blacks in their forties and fifties could be expected to head households which still included their own children. Free blacks over the age of seventy were more likely to become dependent members of younger free black households.
129Daughters of the American Revolution, Several Chapters of New York State [White Plains and Mount Pleasant Chapters], Unpublished Cemetery, Church, and Town Records, vol 248 [Unpublished Town Records of Westchester County, New York State]: A Record of Births, Marriages, and Deaths in the Town of Harrison, County of Westchester [1847‑1863] (n.p., 1963‑1964), pp. 3‑24, Local History and Genealogy Room, New York Public Library.
130The date of his manumission is unknown--it is likely that either he or his ancestors once belonged to the white Gedney family of the Manor of Scarsdale. Gedney may have been a free head of household even before 1810. On December 12, 1809, the Highway Commissioners of White Plains met to divide the town into road districts, and "Prince Gidney a man of couler" was among the landowners or residents listed. Harry Archibald, copier, White Plains, New York, Minutes of Meetings of Freeholders and Inhabitants 1725‑1811, p.76, New York Public Library. In the 1850 census, Prince Gedney was listed as the head of a household consisting of only one other person--a ninety‑two‑year‑old black woman who also bore the surname Gedney. 1850 Federal Census, White Plains, Manuscript Population Schedule, p. 268, line 23, New York Public Library. For his death see Daughters of the American Revolution, Unpublished Cemetery, Church, and Town Records, vol. 248: A Record of Births, Marriages, and Deaths in the Town of Harrison, 1847‑1863, pp. 3‑24.
131Gozen Ryerss freed his negro men James and Joe after his death but ordered his executors to "sell all the other negroes male and female." On April 24, 1811, Joseph Ryerss produced a copy of Gozen Ryerss's will, by which he was freed, to the Judges of the Court of Common Pleas in Richmond County. His right to freedom was certified by a Surrogate Court judge on April 29, 1811. Having established his own freedom, Joseph Ryerss then manumitted his son on April 24, 1811, whose freedom was officially registered with the town clerk of Castletown on April 30, 1811. Joseph Ryerss may have also had his freedom certified in court in order to establish his right to vote. See p. below. Although there is no mention of a legacy left to Joseph in Gozen Ryerss's will abstract, it is possible that Joseph received money from his former master or his heirs (the original will would clarify this point). Since Gozen Ryerss ordered that all his other slaves be sold at his death, Joseph could not have obtained custody over Henry in 1802 through his master's will. Henry was born in Northfield, indicating that he probably belonged to a different owner from his father, who must have purchased Henry when he could accumulate the funds. On May 6, 1811, Joseph Ryerss bought 1 1/2 acres of land for $1,215 from James and Mary Barton. Henry Ryerss bought 3/10 of an acre of land next to Joseph Ryerss's property in 1815 from Capt. Benajah Leffingwell.
Joseph Ryerss's household in 1820 included one male and one female both over the age of forty‑five (Joseph and his wife Susan), one male and one female both aged twenty‑six to forty‑five years (possibly son Henry and his wife), and six children under the age of fourteen (three males and three females). It is likely that the eighteen‑year‑old Susan Ann Ryerss who married Henry Ming in 1834 was one of the children who lived in the Joseph Ryerss household in 1820. Henry and Peggy Ryerss bore five known children, three of whom did not survive--Joseph (named for his grandfather, died 1829), Margaret (named for her mother, died 1835), and Samuel (died 1837). It is possible that the black man Samuel Ryers, listed as a communicant of St. Andrew's Protestant Episcopal Church of Northfield on December 26, 1830, was Henry's son. At Henry's death in 1844 he was survived by two sons over the age of fourteen--Joseph (named for his dead older brother and grandfather) and Henry (named for his father). Although both Joseph Ryerss and his son Henry managed to hold on to their respective properties from 1811 and 1815 until 1842 and 1844, even these successful free blacks died in debt. At his death in 1842, Joseph Ryerss's property had no value and he was $400 in debt. He ordered his executor to sell the property and use the interest to support his wife Susan if the property was insufficient to provide for her. Any funds left at her death were to be used to pay off his son Henry's debts. Henry Ryerss died intestate in 1844 in possession of 3/10 of an acre of land worth $300 and very little personal property; these resources were insufficient to pay his debts. At the time that his estate was settled in 1847 Henry's mother Susan (Joseph Ryerss's widow) still lived on Henry's land (where she had probably resided since Joseph's death in 1842). See p. above on Joseph Ryerss's burial. The history of the Ryerss family was compiled from the following sources: Joseph Ryerss, Ms. File, SIIAS; Will of Gozen Ryerss, Castleton, October 21, 1800, proved January 13, 1802, Liber A 239, Abstract, Staten Island Historical Society. The original will, File 85, Liber A, p. 239, is filed in the Surrogate Court Clerk's Office, County Court house Building, Richmond County, and is registered as missing from the file in May 1982. A copy of the missing original will should exist in the form of a clerk's copy recorded in a Will Liber. These libers also in the custody of the Surrogate Court Clerk's Office, were unavailable to the public as they were uncatalogued and in storage in 1982. Town Book for Castletown for the entry of Black Children born of Slaves after July 1, 1799, microfilm reel 49, pp. 16‑18, NYHS; Petition for sale of real estate of Joseph Ryerss by Jacob de Groot, December 26, 1843, File 493, Estate of John Ryerss, Surrogate Court Clerk's Office, County Courthouse Building, Richmond County; Petition for Letters of Administration In the Matter of the Administration of the Goods, Chattels, and Credits of Henry Ryers to Surrogate Court of Richmond, Jacob De Groot, February 15, 1847, and Jacob de Groot to Surrogate Court, County of Richmond, March 15, 1847, both in Estate of Henry Ryerss, February 20, 1847, Liber 3, p. 122, File 499, Surrogate Court Clerk's Office, County Courthouse Building, Richmond County; Will of Joseph Ryerss, Castleton, December 18, 1841, probated November 15, 1842, File 493, Surrogate Court Clerk's Office, County Courthouse Building, Richmond County; Will of Joseph Ryerss, Castleton, December 18, 1841, Wills of Richmond County, 1787‑1863, on file at the Surrogate's Office, St. George, Staten Island, SIIAS; Board of Education, "The Black Man on Staten Island," pp. 81‑84; 1820 Census, Manuscript Population Schedules, Richmond County, p. 116, line 3; Vosburgh, ed., Records of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church on Staten Island, formerly Northfield, vol. 2; R. Vosburgh, ed., Records of St. Andrew's Protestant Episcopal Church at Richmond, Staten Island, formerly Northfield (n.p., 1923), vols. 2 and 3.
132Fischer, Growing Old in America, p. 108.
133See pp. ‑ above on mortality and on the sample of black deaths.
134Seventeen slaves were still listed in the 1830 census in the southern six counties of New York even though slavery ended in New York State in 1827.
135Diary of J. Hempstead, p. 344, in Helen Z. Wortis Collection, Box 351A, LIHS.
136"Reverend John Sharpe's Proposals," p. 355.
137"A Law for Regulating the Burial of Slaves,"October 3, 1722, Osgood, comp., Minutes of Common Council of N.Y.C., 1675‑1776, 3:296.
138Common Council Meeting, November 18, 1731, Osgood, comp., Minutes of Common Council of N.Y.C., 1675‑1776, 4:88.
139John Clapperton Kerr, "Some Old Rope‑Makers and Rope‑Walks of New York City," NYGBR 57 (1926): 235.
140Bushwick Town Records--History, Deeds, Births of Slaves 1660‑1825, p. 351, St. Francis.
141Out of 478 white deaths, 229 were in the Church of England, 212 in the Dutch Church, 15 French Church, 1 Lutheran, 16 Presbyterian, 2 Quaker, 1 Baptist, and 2 Jewish.
142Will of William Gilbert, Sr., New York City, March 15, 1797, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 15:73.
143Diary of J. Hempstead, p. 515, in Helen Z. Wortis Collection, Box 351A, LIHS. Hempstead noted the deaths of other slaves or free blacks in the vicinity of Oyster Ponds in his diary.
144Journal of John Baxter of Flatlands, Long Island, 1790‑1826, vols. 1 & 2, LIHS.
145William Robbins, copier, Baptisms, Marriages, and Deaths in the Records of the Presbyterian Church of Huntington, L.I., 1766‑1817, NYHS.
146A. Hatfield, Jr., "Early Settlers of West Farms, Westchester County, N.Y.," NYGBR 44 (1913):314.
147John R. Stevenson, "Bill of Sale of A Negro Slave in New Jersey in Colonial Days," NYGBR 29 (1898):140. Thorne's father‑in‑law lived on an adjacent property and also established a slave graveyard on his land. Guineatown developed next to this clustering of slave burial grounds.
148Ransom, ed., America's First Negro Poet, pp. 15, 32‑33. Researcher Oscar Wegelin tried to locate Jupiter's grave in 1914. He searched unsuccessfully for it in the Lloyd family burial plot and in the area reserved for Lloyd tenants.
149Helen Z. Wortis Collection, Box 351B, file 14 Burials/Cemetery (Slaves), LIHS.
150It is believed that Micah Hawkins, son of Major Jonas Hawkins, wrote the epitaph on Anthony's tombstone. The private burying ground is on the property of the Hawkins‑Mount house, a registered National Landmark currently administered by the Museums at Stony Brook. The burying ground, with both Anthony's and Cane's tombstones in it, is illustrated in a painting entitled The Slaves Grave by Shepard Alonzo Mount in the collection of the Museums of Stony Brook. Shepard's brother, William Sidney Mount, painted several pictures of local blacks in Setauket and Stony Brook, Long Island, between 1836 and 1856. See Frankenstein, Painter of Rural America. This information is based on a written communication with Jan Armstrong, Registrar/Researcher, the Museums at Stony Brook, September 1, 1983. Both Anthony's and Cane's original tombstones are in the Museums at Stony Brook; markers have been substituted in their place in the burying ground on the Hawkins‑Mount house property. Also see Helen Z. Wortis Collection, Box 351B, file 14 Burials/Cemetery (Slaves), LIHS.
151Helen Z. Wortis Collection, Box 351B, file 14 Burials/Cemetery (Slaves), LIHS. A bench in the kitchen of the Hawkins‑Mount house is traditionally known as "Cane's seat." Also see Kate W. Strong, "A Babe in a Basket," Long Island Forum, 7, no. 8 (August 1944):157.
152Records of the Town of Brookhaven, 1798‑1856, 2:495‑96.
153Common Council Meeting, October 27, 1794; Common Council Meeting, April 7, 1795; Common Council Meeting, June 22, 1795; Common Council Meeting, September 30, 1825, Osgood, comp., Minutes of Common Council of N.Y.C., 1784‑1831, 2:112, 137, 158; 14:787.
154In 1779 and 1801 the First Moravian Church of New York City buried blacks in the "Burial Ground without Town" and in the "Freshwater burying ground." Records of the First Moravian Church, New York City, Deaths 1752‑1890, NYGBS. From 1826 to 1851 black burials at St. Paul's Church in Eastchester took place locally (probably in the churchyard) except for three blacks who were buried in Turtle Bay Cemetery, Brooklyn (1851) and Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn (both 1851). Eastchester Historical Society, transcriber, Deacon's book 1826‑1841; Sexton's Book 1842‑1851, 2 vols. (Eastchester, N.Y.: By the Society, 1966). From 1833 to 1848 free blacks in Rye were buried at either Rye or Port Chester, also probably on church grounds. Sherman, "Vital Records of Christ's Church at Rye," NYGBR 37‑38 (1906‑1907); 46‑48 (1915‑1917). In 1871 and 1873 blacks were buried in the Flushing Cemetery. Kenneth Scott, transcriber, "Records of St. George's (Episcopal) Church, Flushing, Long Island, Burials 1790‑1896," NYGBR 111(1980):107, 109, 110.
155Joseph Ryerss, Ms. File, SIIAS; Will of Joseph Ryerss, Castleton, December 18, 1841, probated November 15, 1842, File 493, Surrogate Court Clerk's Office, County Courthouse Building, Richmond County.
156Morris, History of Staten Island, 2:46.
157Records of the Reformed Dutch Church of Wolver Hollow (Oyster Bay), Burials 1771‑1860, p. 81, NYGBS.
158Ibid., p. 103. His death was also listed in Church Records of Long Island--Vital and Church Records of Flushing and Vicinity, Deaths 1847‑1870, pp. 57‑151, Frost Collection, NYGBS.
159Sherman, "Vital Records of Christ's Church at Rye," NYGBR 48 (1917):231. Hannah Martin, age fifty‑five, was buried on the farm of John Park in Harrison, and Caesar Jay was interred on the farm of John C. Jay. C[easer] Jay had earlier appeared in 1820 as the free head of a household with three members in the town of Rye. 1820 Census, Manuscript Population Schedules, Rye, p. 234.
160See pp. ‑ below on these former slaves of loyalist owners.
161Robbins, "The Salmon Records," NYGBR 48 (1917):348, 350. Shubol Negro (Poore) died on April 9, 1808, and Bloom Negro (Poore) died on October 13, 1810; Van Buren, comp., Records of the First Church in Southold, NYGBS.
162Eastchester Historical Society, transcriber, Sexton's Book 1842‑1851, St. Paul's Church.
163On March 27, 1830, the overseers of the poor of Flatlands paid David Neefus $1.50 for "making a coffin for Jack a colored man deceased"; they also paid William Papaw $1.50 for funeral services. It is probable that William Pa[w]paw was of black/Indian ancestry. "Poor Account of the Town of Flatlands, April 1, 1824‑March 29, 1830," Vital Statistics (Typewritten.), LIHS.
THUNDER ROAD: THE LONG JOURNEYTOWARD FREEDOM