HUNGRY HEARTS: SLAVE MARRIAGE
Quamino "married Sarah, a slave on a neighboring place. She was soon sold to a distance of five miles, and for some years they only met once a week. One Sabbath morning he went to see her, and found that she and her infant had been sold, leaving her little son, a boy nearly four years old. She now had a hard mistress; but, through the efforts of her husband, she was purchased by a neighbor, and, at length, on the removal of this purchaser, Quamino induced his second master . . . to buy her."
Memoir of Quamino Buccau (1851)
Slave marriage was a beleaguered institution in New York. As a result of the small size of slaveholdings and the random distribution of slaves among white households, husbands and wives normally lived apart for some, most, or all of their married lives. New York slave spouses who did live together or who lived nearby to each other shared with southern slaves the ever‑present risk of separation through sale and the death of owners; both groups were also denied the legal rights entailed in the marriages of free persons. The small, familially isolated units in which most slaves were held in New York, however, exacerbated the disruptive effect that slavery usually had on marriage. Married slaves in New York had less chance for marital cohabitation, contact, and stability than did those southern slaves who were held on big plantations on which mates could be found among the owner's large resident slave population.
The likelihood of New York slaves marrying or finding mates was affected by the small absolute size of the black population, the thin concentration of blacks scattered throughout the southern six counties, and the unequal numbers of black men and women in the population. The ratio of black men to women (expressed as the number of men per one hundred women)1 was generally high (an excess of males over females) between 1703 and 1771 in the southern six counties of New York. The black population consistently had a higher proportion of males than did the white population during these years due to the selective importation of male slaves into the colony. The surplus of black males disappeared once slave importations ceased with the American Revolution; by 1820 black sex ratios were either even or low.2
As table 1 shows, the ratio of black men to women varied from county to county and over time; sexual and marital opportunities for both slaves and free blacks3
depended on the local sex ratio in their places of residence. Until slave importations ceased and sex ratios began to fall after the Revolution, adult slave men faced a shortage of women in New York, as they did in the New England colonies.4 Adult black sex ratios were high in Kings, Suffolk, Queens, Richmond, and Westchester counties from 1703 through 1771. Slaves could certainly have journeyed to nearby towns to search for mates, but unfavorable sex ratios were endemic to the entire area. Although a male slave may have had the mobility to walk several miles to another town, there were already too many men there as well. New York City females could have provided wives for some of these males who were near enough to travel the distance.
Richmond County had consistently high black sex ratios from 1703 to 1830, with an even ratio only in 1746. Black child sex ratios were extremely high (400) in 1703 and again in 1756 and 1771, reflecting the importation of male adults and older male children as slaves. Child as well as adult sex ratios remained very high on Staten Island in 1820 as slaveowners resolutely retained their valuable male labor until 1827.
In Westchester County in 1712 the overall black adult sex ratio was 176.4 with 127 black men and 72 black women over the age of sixteen in the county. Twelve of the thirteen towns contained slaves; a surplus of male adults existed in every town except Mamaroneck (three men and three women) and Rye, where there was one extra female. The one extra woman in Rye might have found a husband in New Rochelle 7 1/2 miles away, where there were twenty men and only eleven women in the town. The small number of blacks in each town,5 coupled with the sexual imbalance, caused difficulties in family formation for slaves. The fifty‑five extra black men in the county either lived without wives, or those in border towns could have searched for mates in Connecticut or in nearby counties. Blacks in lower Westchester County towns like Westchester or Yonkers would not have found an overabundance of females in New York City, as the city's sex ratio was balanced at this time.
In 1755 a census of the adult slave population in twenty‑one towns enumerated 927 male adult slaves and 723 female adult slaves over the age of fourteen, in addition to 6 free black men and 2 free black women.6 The overall sex ratio was 128.7; fifteen out of the twenty‑one towns had high sex ratios, five had balanced sex ratios, and one had a low sex ratio. As table 2 shows, based only on the sexual composition of individual slaveholdings,7 1,008 blacks could have been coresident spouses living together in 504 marriages, forming 60.8 percent of the adult black population. The real figure would be far lower since a large segment of the group counted as able to live together with spouses based on the sexual composition of the holding were not really spouses. Based on the available number of
appropriately sexed other blacks in the town another 434 blacks could have formed 217 abroad marriages within their towns, constituting 26.2 percent of the black population. They would have had to settle for a nonresident marriage to a partner owned separately in the same town. Out of the 1,658 blacks, 216 (212 males and 4 females) could not have found spouses either at home or abroad within their towns of residence, totalling 13 percent of the black population.
The 13 percent of the slave population in 1755 that was unable to find spouses within their towns of residence based on the community's adult sex balance was almost totally composed of males; a surplus of 212 males existed among these twenty‑one towns. These 212 men formed 22.7 percent of the adult male black population enumerated in the 1755 census in the southern six counties of New York. The proportion of males unable to find females varied from town to town, depending on the local degree of sexual imbalance.8 With sex ratios high in all counties except for New York according to the 1756 census,9 the 22.7 percent of men unable to find wives near home had very few other chances to form marriages. Even the theoretical mobility of a twenty‑five mile walking radius did not furnish wives for most of these surplus males.
As an example, in Kings County there were twenty‑seven extra men in Brooklyn and six in New Utrecht. These thirty‑three males could have walked to the other Kings County towns of Bushwick, Flatlands, Gravesend, and Flatbush, but would find only four extra women within this accessible territory. The excess males in Brooklyn could have walked 7 1/2 miles to Newtown or ten miles to Jamaica to seek wives, but there were already nineteen extra males in Newtown, and the sex ratio in Jamaica is unknown. Hempstead, seventeen miles away, had thirty‑two surplus males. New Utrecht's six extra men had to walk even longer distances to reach these same towns, only to also be confronted with demographics which denied them opportunites for family life. The black adult sex ratio in New York City in 1756 was fairly balanced at 96.7, with 672 adult males and 695 females; a surplus of only twenty‑three adult women existed. Chances to find a wife were better for Kings County men in New York, but they had to settle for abroad wives, a ferry ride, and hours of walking to sustain a separated family life.
In contrast to the other counties, from 1703 to 1830 there was either an even sexual balance or a surplus of black women in New York County. Only in the 1746 census did New York City show a surplus of male adult slaves; the sex ratio dropped sharply by the next census only three years later.10 By 1820 the combined southern six counties of New York showed a surplus of black women due to the low sex ratios in New York11 and Suffolk counties. In the six county area combined, there were 5,719 black men and 7,552 black women, with a surplus of 1,833 women largely living in New York City and pressed to find husbands. The huge surplus of black women in New York County reflected the city's domestic labor demand for female slaves and free black female servants rather than male workers.12 Black females from surrounding counties may have been siphoned off and drawn to the city by employment opportunities which were less plentiful for free black males.
An analysis of black sex ratios in 1820 by age groups presented in table 3 reveals that the 1,974 marriageable black females aged fourteen to twenty‑six years faced difficult circumstances in New York City, where the sex ratio was a very low 50.2; there were only 991 males in this age group in the county. With two young women for every man, family life was problematical. Sex ratios were low in all age groups, providing no extra males from the older twenty‑six to forty‑five age category. The extra adult females in New York City may have found mates from the adjacent town of Westchester to the north, Kings County, and Richmond County, where males were both accessable and more plentiful. Although the overall black sex ratio was even for adult age groups combined in Kings County in 1820, adult black sex ratios were high in four out of the six towns: Bushwick (145.2), Flatbush (130.7), Flatlands (146.7), and New Utrecht (138). The extra males in these four towns
BLACK SEX RATIOS BY AGE GROUPS, 1820
Number of Blacks By Age and Sex Group
Kings 374 308 121.4 224 197 113.7 203 194 104.6 128 133 96.2
New York 1,354 1,601 84.6 991 1,974 50.2 1,409 2,053 68.6 617 887 69.6
Richmond 138 94 146.8 107 56 191.1 68 38 178.9 61 48 127.1
Queens 758 648 117.0 420 377 111.4 273 286 95.5 198 247 80.2
Suffolk 266 287 92.7 124 182 68.1 172 191 90.1 132 135 97.8
Westchester 342 355 96.3 244 240 101.7 210 191 109.9 138 123 112.2
Combined 3,232 3,293 98.1 2,110 3,026 69.7 2,335 2,953 79.1 1,274 1,573 81.0
SOURCE: 1820 Census, "Aggregate Amount of Persons. . . ."
NOTE: The 342 indentured blacks in Suffolk County are excluded from this analysis because no age and sex information was listed for them in the 1820 population census.
could have found mates among Brooklyn's excess females and among the many potential wives in nearby New York City. There was a great surplus of black men in Richmond County in 1820, with a sex ratio in the fourteen to twenty‑six age group of 191.1, and 178.9 in the twenty‑six to forty‑five age bracket.13
* * * * *
Once the obstacles of finding a mate within a small, widely scattered, sexually imbalanced population were overcome, several new problems faced prospective slave couples. They risked opposition to the union from their owners, they had to choose between private black rituals or a Christian church ceremony, and their marriage, however performed, would have no standing in law.
Although slave marriage existed under the impediments of ever‑changing circumstances of separate residence and ownership of spouses, it was an institution acknowledged by both black and white communities‑‑but not by New York law before 1809. Whereas slave marriages were legally binding and officially solemnized in Massachusetts as early as the 1650s,14 New York slave marriages were extra‑legal social relationships until 1809. No specific piece of legislation denied slaves the right to enter into legal marriage.15 Slave marriage was de facto outlawed due to the restricted status and powers of slaves under the British legal system which denied them the ability to make contracts.16 As property, slaves before 1809 could not enter into the legal contract of marriage; their unions were social, emotional, and biological rather than legal realities.17
Since slave marriage was not legally recognized and many churches were reluctant to marry slaves who could not maintain Christian marriage vows of fidelity and continual cohabitation, blacks may have commonly been married in informal ceremonies important only within the slave community. Churchmen commented on unsanctioned wedding ceremonies performed outside the auspices of the church. Rev. John Sharpe at New York in 1713 wrote that "their marriages are performed by mutual consent without the blessing of the Church."18 John Bartow, a missionary stationed in Westchester, also noted in 1725 that "they marry after their heathen way." Bartow described one unorthodox way in which blacks were married among themselves: "My negro man who was baptized by me and can read English had got a trick of marrying slaves with the office in the Common Prayer Book, and I forbade him because it was a desecration of the Holy rite."19 Such unofficial ceremonies performed by blacks may have been preferred by slaves; they persisted into the early nineteenth century, often with the approval of owners. John Dumont of Ulster County "summoned a Negro preacher called King, a slave from a neighboring property," to marry his slaves Sojourner Truth and Tom in 1816.20
Most New York slaves probably were never married in a formal church setting. Missionaries reported the opposition of masters to both baptism and to church marriage, which threatened to impose moral restrictions on their ability to treat slaves completely as property and to sell spouses away from each other. The politics of slavery interfered with black religious life; the low proportion of church marriages for slaves may also have been due to owner prohibition on church attendance by bondsmen. Slaves who married in church may have belonged disproportionately to the minority of religious owners who monitored and encouraged the spiritual well‑being of their blacks.
A total of 813 black church marriages were located in the southern six counties of New York, 1641 to 1827.21 They consisted of unions between two slave partners, one slave and one free partner, two free spouses, and between men and women for whom no status was listed (most of whom were really free):
Number and Percent of Marriage Types
1641‑1697 1709‑1770 1771‑1809 1810‑1827 1641‑1827
Slave to slave 1 2.2 20 74.1 49 14.9 20 4.9 90 11.1
Slave to free 2 7.4 33 10.0 8 1.9 43 5.3
Both free 2 4.4 2 7.4 86 26.1 10 2.4 100 12.3
Status unknown 42 93.3 3 11.1 161 48.9 374 90.8 580 71.3
Total 45 99.9 27 100.0 329 99.9 412 100.0 813 100.0
The years 1641 to 1770 account for only a very small proportion of the sample, while a full half of all located marriages were for the years 1810 to 1827. The earlier years are underrepresented in the study for several reasons: the smaller number of churches, the scarcity of preserved records, a smaller black population, and greater white resistance to slave religious participation before the 1750s. In the years between 1641 and 1770 almost all blacks were slaves; since churches did not widely marry slaves, this would also explain the low numbers of early black church marriages.
Records of black marriages were located in a sample of thirty‑five churches; of the thirty‑five churches, only sixteen ever married any slaves,22 indicating that whereas some churches married blacks, far fewer married enslaved blacks. Churches did not commonly marry blacks in the years before the Revolution--when being black was synonymous with being a slave. In thirteen of the thirty‑five churches that married blacks, white marriage records for the churches started many years before the listing of any black marriages. In these thirteen churches black marriage ceremonies were not being performed when the churches first opened in the 1639 to 1790 period; blacks only began to be included in the years 1776 to 1826.23 The twenty‑two churches that married blacks from the outset were generally only founded in the later years between 1774 and 1823; only seven of the twenty‑two churches were founded earlier (1660 to 1751) and began to marry blacks at the same time as whites. It was not until the 1780s that blacks began to appear frequently in marriage records; larger proportions of the black population were now free. Free blacks were able to contract legal marriage and may have preferred church to unofficial ceremonies; churches may also have been more eager to join black couples who could live together freely as man and wife.
Out of 813 black marriages, only 133 were of slaves (either two enslaved partners or one free and one slave spouse). In the 1641 to 1697 period, only 2.2 percent of black marriages involved slaves; the Dutch Reformed Church at New Amsterdam married almost solely blacks of unknown status who were presumably free. In the 1709 to 1770 period 81.5 percent of the small sample of twenty‑seven marriages involved slaves, reflecting the predominant status of almost all New York blacks. The sample size for the years 1709 to 1770 may have been so conspicuously small because of the enslaved status of almost all blacks‑‑slaves, disproportionately to free blacks, failed to marry in church. In the 1771 to 1809 period only 24.9 percent of black marriages involved slaves, even though in 1790 72.4 percent of blacks were still slaves, 56 percent in 1800, and 28.2 percent by 1810. Slaves were undermarried in churches in proportion to their numbers in the population; most black church marriages which did take place were of free blacks. This pattern continued in the years between 1810 and 1827, when 6.8 percent of black church marriages included slaves although in 1810 28.2 percent of blacks were still slaves, and 15 percent by 1820. The upswing in black church marriages after the Revolution mainly reflected a surge in free black marriages; slave marriages continued to be rare due either to church policy, owner interference, or slave custom and preference.
Whether or not slaves were married in church, masters may have often determined whether or not their slaves married, and who they married. Mr. Catlin of Ulster County forbade his slave Robert from courting Sojourner Truth, who was owned on the nearby Dumont farm. Catlin insisted that Robert marry one of the women on his own holding so than their children would be born as his property (rather than as Dumont's property should Robert marry Sojourner). Catlin caught Robert on one of his covert visits to Sojourner and gave him a savage beating; only Dumont's intervention prevented his death. Robert subsequently abandoned his efforts to see Sojourner and married a Catlin slave.24
Owners may have exercised a considerable degree of control over the church marriages of their slaves. The listing of the master's name in the church register reflected the owner's involvement, indicating that he may have brought the couple to church--it implied his knowledge, if not permission. In the sample of 813 marriages, 90 unions were between two slaves and 43 were between a slave and a free black. In eighty‑three out of the ninety marriages between two slaves (92.2 percent) both of their owners' names were listed in the church marriage register; in four of the marriages only one of the two owners was listed, and in three cases no owner names were included. In thirty‑nine out of the forty‑three marriages between slaves and free blacks (90.7 percent) the name of the owner of the slave partner was listed with the marriage. The fact that owners were so consistently listed reflected the primary status of the spouses as property. Church recordkeepers were careful to include the names of the owners of the property they were marrying.25
The majority of slave church marriages proceeded without the written permission of either owner. Church officials may have performed the marriage without written consent as long as the owners did not actively oppose the union. Some permissions may have been given verbally and were never entered into the church record. Individual church policy determined the conditions under which slaves could marry; while many may have ignored any input by owners, others may have insisted upon master permissions before agreeing to marry a slave couple.26 In one recorded case the master's refusal to give permission was sufficient to stop the wedding:27
Sat. March 23, 1805. at the parsonage in Brooklyn. Richard, a black belonging to Jeremiah Remsen and Nancy---. Consent of their masters not being given, the marriage did not take place.
A large minority of slave marriages performed in churches had permissions recorded even though there was no legal requirement for master consent to slave marriage.28 Out of ninety marriages between two slave partners, thirty‑eight bore the permission of an owner: thirty‑one had the permission of both masters (81.6 percent) rather than only one. Most of these thirty‑one marriages (twenty‑five) involved two separate masters who both gave permission for the union of their slaves. These ninety marriages between two slaves involved 180 individual slaves: 69 of the 180 slaves (38.3 percent) who married other slaves had their masters' permission recorded in the church register. Out of 43 slave spouses involved in 43 slave to free black marriages, 14 (32.6 percent) had a master's permission inscribed in the record. The lower proportion of slave to free black marriages accompanied by owner permissions reflected the step closer to freedom of those slaves who married freed blacks. Owners may have been less interested in and less able to exercise control over these unions.
* * * * *
Whether or not masters played a large role in selecting or approving a mate for their slaves, and whether or not the slaves married in church, the central characteristic of New York slave marriage was that slave spouses could not ordinarily live together. Slaves were randomly distributed among white households according to the labor needs of owners rather than according to the desires of slaves to find mates or remain with a married partner. The very small size of New York slaveholdings meant that most slaves would live in white households with from one to three other slaves of either inappropriate age or sex to be eligible as mates. Not only were slaves usually owned in households where there were no available mates, but personal romantic and sexual preference meant that lovers and marital partners were likely to be chosen from among the wider local slave population rather than from only a sole potential suitor on the master's property.
The following series of analyses indicate that a maximum of from 21.9 to 60.8 percent of adult slaves could have been living with their spouse at any given time; the reality was far lower. On their wedding day most slaves entered marriage with the knowledge that they would not live with their spouse and with the expectation that throughout most or all of their married lives they would continue to remain apart. For whites and free blacks marriage could bring love, comfort, security, physical affection, companionship, and a sharing of hopes, ambitions, worldly goods, and family life on a permanent, daily basis. For slaves, marriage most often meant single life characterized by emotional longing for the missing partner punctuated by sporadic episodes of love and reunion during visitations.
In a sample of 813 black church marriages, 1641 to 1827, information was available on eighty‑seven slave couples where one or both owners were listed.29 Of the eighty‑seven couples at the time of their marriage, twenty‑seven (31 percent) were owned together and sixty were owned separately (69 percent). Marriage, for the majority of these newlywed couples, meant continued separate residence. Typical of the sixty slave couples who entered marriage with a separately owned partner was the union of "Anthony, servant to Samuel Carman and Lib, servant to Joseph Clowes," on April 1, 1790, at St. George's Episcopal Church in Hempstead.30
Slaves often married other slaves living at a considerable distance away. On January 24, 1788, Jude, the servant of Joshua Raymond, Jr. of New London, North Parish, Connecticut, married Phillis, the servant of Benajah Gardner of Plumb Island, off Long Island's north shore.31 This couple were separated by Long Island Sound. On Saturday, September 3, 1801, at the parsonage of St. Ann's Church in Brooklyn, Joseph, a black man belonging to U. Van Sinderen of Flatlands and Buck, a black woman belonging to Abraham Emmons of Gravesend were married with the consent of both owners.32 Joseph and Buck lived at a maximum distance of 6 1/2 miles from each other.
Data from a sample of 2,523 slaves who appeared in wills written between 1669 and 1829 indicate that out of 1,301 adults, 462 (231 marriages) could theoretically have been living with a spouse based on the sex and age composition of the slaveholding. Therefore only 35.5 percent of adult slaves in this group could have been residing with a mate; the other 839 adults either were held alone or lived with other slaves whose age or sex ruled them out as marriage partners. Based on the age and sex composition of individual slaveholdings which appeared in seven censuses taken between 1698 and 1783 (including 1,760 slaves), only 646 out of an adult population of 1,221 slaves (52.9 percent) were theoretically able to live with a spouse.33 Based only on the sexual composition of slaveholdings that appeared in the 1755 slave census, 60.8 percent of adult slaves could have been residing with a spouse.34 The reality was far lower, however--a large proportion of the slaves statistically counted as able to live with a husband or wife (based only on the presence of an oppositely sexed adult slave in the same household) were in fact living with unrelated men and women, whose ages and sex made them appear as spouses while ignoring the real personal relationships which transcended these individual households.
Further evidence of the widespread separation of married slaves is contained in a sample of 412 child baptisms, 1639 to 1827, where one or both parents were listed in the church record.35 In 188 of the 412 baptisms, one or both of the parents were slaves: in 49 baptisms two slave parents were listed, in 119 baptisms a single slave parent was listed, and in 20 baptisms one slave parent and one free parent were listed for the child. In the forty‑nine baptisms where two slave parents were listed, twenty‑six sets of parents were owned together (53.1 percent) and twenty‑three couples were owned apart (46.9 percent). It is likely that all of the single listed slave parents lived apart from their spouses, who most probably would have also been listed had they belonged to the same owner (or been free). The slaves who were married to free blacks probably all lived apart from their mates, as did forty‑six of the slaves married to other slaves. In all, probably only 21.9 percent of the listed slave parents (52/237) lived with their mates.
Married slaves so often lived apart due to a variety of reasons: the small size of New York slaveholdings could not accommodate slave families, sales and the deaths of owners repeatedly scattered slave spouses, and white attitudes toward slave marriage condoned separation. The white community knew that slaves were married in emotional if not legal terms, often with church ceremonies cementing the bonds. In spite of this awareness, owners and clergy considered it normal and permissable for slave spouses to live apart from one another. "Phenix, son of Phenix, a negro belonging to George Shaw, and Peggy his wife, belonging to the Widow Rickers," was baptized on November 12, 1767, in New York City.36 Although slave marriage had no standing in law and separate ownership denied this couple a common domicile, church officials referred to Phenix and Peggy as husband and wife.
The fact that slave spouses were movable property who could be bought, sold, or transported at will enabled owners to shift members of the black population from household to household, either breaking or uniting married partners. Billy, age thirty‑one, a slave on a Long Island farm, obtained his master's permission to marry Jenny, a girl he had met on his frequent errands to a nearby farm. They "married in the manner of that day, the couple continu[ing] to live separately at the homes of their respective owners." When Jenny's master bought a farm in Westchester County several years later, Billy and Jenny appealed to their masters to prevent her removal. The masters exchanged two other slaves, bringing the couple under the same roof for the first time in their married life.37 These (and all) slave spouses were completely powerless, dependent on the moral and financial vicissitudes of their owners to determine the course of their family lives.
Slave couples who started out their marriage under common ownership and one roof, or who were held together at some point during their lives could at any time suffer separation. The death of their owners or sale could repeatedly change the circumstances of their married life. While owners often made efforts to bequeath slave couples together in wills,38 and while most sales deposited slaves within a twenty‑five mile walkable distance, these two crises worked to separate coresident spouses and place already separately domiciled couples further apart. On June 12, 1791, Samuel was baptized; he was the son of Harry and Diana, both slaves of Mr. John Duryee of Jamaica South. When his brother Cato was baptized three years later on August 31, 1794, Harry and Diana were no longer living together in Duryee's household. Cato's parents were listed as "Harry belonging to John Thatford and Diana his wife, belonging to Duryee of Jamaica South." This slave couple had resided together only temporarily and were now separately owned within the town of Jamaica.39 When Solomon Ketcham of Huntington wrote his will he ordered that his executors "shall give a pass to my negro James and his wife to look for a master for themselves." They would presumably select a common owner and remain together--subject, however, to future sale or separation at the hands of their next master.40
The marriage of Venture and Meg Smith typified the instability of residence but also the stability of affection and connectedness in many slave relationships.41 Born in Dukandarra, Guinea, in 1729, Venture was captured and sold via Barbadoes to James Mumford of Fisher's Island42 at age eight. At age twenty‑two in 1751 he married Meg, one of his master's slaves of about the same age. As a consequence of running away, he was sold away from his wife and one‑month‑old daughter in 1752 to Thomas Stanton at Stonington Point, Connecticut; this was the first residential separation of Venture and Meg. Eighteen months later, Stanton reunited the family by purchasing Venture's wife and child from Mumford for 700 old tenor. Venture lived with Meg for the next six years until he was sold to Col. Oliver Smith, also in Stonington Point in 1760. Although no longer residing together, Venture and his wife were within visiting distance of each other in the same town.
Venture bought his freedom from Smith five years later; his wife and children were still Stanton's slaves. Remaining in town for four more years as a free man, Venture must have been able to maintain contact with his family. In 1769, however, he moved to Ram Island (off the coast of Long Island), where he purchased his two sons Solomon and Cuff (both born while Venture and Meg lived together with Stanton, in 1756 and 1758). Venture and Meg continued to live apart from 1769 to 1773, with contact preserved through Venture's navigation career along the sound. In 1773 Venture bought Meg's freedom and "thereby prevented having another child to buy, as she was pregnant." Venture and his family bought a farm in East Haddam, Connecticut, in 1776; Venture and Meg lived together until his death in 1805.
During the first twenty‑two years of their marriage, between 1751 and 1773, Venture and Meg lived together under one roof as slave spouses for only seven years. Three of their four children were conceived during their periods of living together, although the fourth was conceived in 1773 during their period of greatest separation, by both legal status and distance. After not having shared a common household for thirteen years, both now free in 1773, Venture and Meg resumed habitation together for the next thirty‑two years.
It is unknown what proportion of slave marital relationships survived (and how long they survived) the barriers of separate residence, distance, and periodic dislocations through sale and resale. The great risks that slaves took to visit with their mates, the long distances they travelled, the laws they broke, the runaway attempts, the efforts to buy their mates' freedom, and the beatings they endured from their masters in order to be with their spouses indicate that love persisted for many couples over extended periods of time.
With a majority of New York slave spouses owned apart for some or most of their married lives, the ability to visit one's mate and children was crucial to the maintenance of love and family ties. Mobility was also important in the initial locating and courting of partners for slaves owned in small units segregated from other blacks. Non‑resident "abroad" spouses who lived within the same town were probably the most common form of union; they were often near enough to each other to permit frequent visitations. Slave spouses within towns such as Jamaica in Queens County which was 7 3/4 miles long and seven miles wide,43 or Brookhaven in Suffolk County which was nineteen miles from east to west and varied between thirteen and eighteen miles from north to south, were close enough to maintain contact. Owners considered a few miles a reasonable and walkable distance for slave visitations: On December 20, 1780, the New Jersey Gazette ran an ad for the sale of a black family: "they being man and wife would make it most agreeable to sell them together; however, a few miles separation will not prevent the sale."
Slaves from one town were able to choose and visit "abroad" spouses in neighboring towns and counties within a twenty‑five mile radius. Walking at an average rate of from three to four miles per hour, a distance of twenty‑five miles could be covered in from six to eight hours. A slave in Huntington could visit his wife twenty‑five miles away in Riverhead, spending from twelve to sixteen hours round‑trip on travel. This kind of distance was probably the outer limit for possible active relationships and journeys.44
Slaves on Staten Island (Richmond County) could visit relatives in any of the county's four towns, as the island was only 13 1/2 miles long and 6 1/2 miles wide at its broadest point. Blacks within Kings County (11.5 miles long and 10.3 miles wide)45 and within New York County (13 miles long and 2 1/2 miles wide) could walk to any point within the county. Slaves on Long Island, which included Queens and Suffolk counties, were bound more by walking ability than by the size of the island, which was 120 miles long and from twelve to eighteen miles in width at various points. Westchester County ran 37 miles long and from seven to twenty‑two miles in width, making access easier for southern Westchester slaves in Morrisania or Yonkers to visit New York City's Harlem Ward than to journey to towns at the northern end of the county. Slaves were often able to cross county lines to have relationships; Staten Island blacks were five sea miles from New York City46 with equally easy access to New Jersey. Whites apprehensively noticed that blacks travelled between Kings and New York counties for family and social meetings. Slaves in towns like Bushwick in Kings County could also easily cross over into Queens County to visit wives in bordering Newtown.
Although distances of twenty‑five miles were theoretically able to be traversed, the necessity for slaves to travel by foot over often difficult terrain worked to prevent frequent contact between family members separated this far apart. A description of travel conditions in Westchester County in 1776 suggests the hardships encountered by slaves who visited far‑removed spouses, parents, or children: "The distances between the villages over these roads were great and the only conveyances were the springless farm wagons. Carriages did not exist outside of the three or four great families of the County.. . . A trip to the village store required the better part of a day when the roads were good, while in winter they were often impassable for a week."47 Traveller Timothy Dwight recorded his journey over the length of Long Island on horseback in 1804; he considered an average day's journey to be thirty‑six or thirty‑eight miles.48 Most slaves would not have had access to either horses or wagons, and had to overcome both weather and distance unaided in order to see their families. Slave Sojourner Truth once walked twelve miles carrying an infant in her arms in order to visit her elderly free father only to find that he had just left for a place twenty miles away, rendering their meeting impossible that day.49
The ability to see separately owned married partners depended upon more than just geography and athletic endurance--slave mobility was restricted by slave codes and pass laws designed to control movement, forestall runaways, and prevent associations which could lead to planned insurrections. At the General Court of Assizes which met at New York in October 1682 it was reported that "Negroes and Indian Slaves" frequently gathered together in great numbers on Sundays and "att Other Unseasonable times useing and Exerciseing Severall Rude and Unlawfull Sports and Pastetimes" which profaned the Sabbath, disturbed the peace, and tempted "his Maties Subjects many whereof Are Likewise Drawed asside and mislead to be Spectators of Such their Evill Practices." The court ordered that black or Indian slaves could no longer absent themselves from their masters' properties "on the Lords Day or Any Other Unseasonable time or times without their Said Mas. Lycence or Consent First had & Obtained and Signified by A writing or Tickett" upon pain of a severe whipping.50
In 1690 the Kings County Court of Sessions prohibited blacks and slaves from riding the New York‑Brooklyn ferry without leave of service from their masters on Sundays. In 1697 the same court ordered that no New York blacks without passes or tickets should be brought over on the Sabbath--Kings County whites were anxious about black assemblies and communication on Sundays. In 1706 they were concerned about a gathering of blacks near the house of Dirck Van Sutphen in New Utrecht and ordered them to be apprehended.51
Legislation in 1702 in New York City stated that slaves over the age of fourteen had to be off the streets by sunset unless accompanied by a member of the master's family.52 The common council passed another provision in 1731: "Slaves [were] not to be out at night over age fourteen without a lantern."53 Slaves on the streets past dusk were supposed to be either in the charge of whites or at least highly visible in the dark.
The town of Brookhaven, on April 10, 1732, passed an ordinance that negro slaves should not be out at night unless for some "extraordinary occasion."54 On September 1, 1734, J. Hempstead of Long Island noted in his diary that a court was held that day "at our Prison house to judge 10 negro men slaves taken and secured in Prison last night for being unseasonably in a frolick. . . ." The three who had no leave from their masters were whipped and the seven who had permission were dismissed but had to pay their part of the fine.55
The town meeting of Smithtown on April 1, 1757, "voted that no negro be found without a pass from his master, not to exceed one mile, if any are found to exceed the mile, they are to be taken up and whipped twenty lashes and their master or mistress to pay two shillings for the same. Note any person hath a right to take them up and whip them according to this law, except they be going to their wives and are orderly fellows."56 The townsmen of Smithtown were willing to bend their pass laws to accommodate slave travel necessitated by the separation of married adults.
With most localities curtailing slave movement, especially at night--the only leisure time available for slave family life57--individual slaves had to rely on the discretion of their owners for opportunities to visit their mates. When John Jay manumitted his slave Plato and sold Plato's wife and child in 1787, he sought guarantees from their new owner that the family would continue to reside within visiting distance of all of its members.58 Jay sold Dinah, age twenty‑one, and her one‑year‑old child Mary to William Ivers of New York City on the condition that Dinah would be freed in nine years and Mary and all future children at age twenty‑eight. He also stipulated that "to prevent her being separated in the meantime from her husband and children, neither she nor any of them shall be carried to reside outside New York City." Ivers agreed that Dinah and her children would not be obliged "to live and reside out of the City and County of New York unless with the consent of her present husband Plato . . . whom the said John Jay hath manumitted." John Jay did not consider their loss of cohabitation to be a separation of Dinah and Plato‑‑different residences was a common arrangement for slave or slave/free partners. Separation for such couples was only defined here as placement beyond travelling distance, and both Jay and Ivers interpreted common residence in one city as sufficient contact for this black family. In an unusual provision, the free black husband/father was given legal veto power over any attempts to remove his wife or children beyond this distance.
Slaves depended on the attitudes and permission of their owners to determine how often they could visit spouses domiciled away from their masters' properties. Richard Floyd of Brookhaven contracted with Robart Kellem on September 19, 1679, to rent him land, cattle, and "a negori" for three years. Kellem "engage[d] not to abuse the negro but to let him go abroad now and then . . . and to keep the negar with meat, drink and clothes fitting for him."59 This slave's right to travel away from his master's premises was guaranteed in the rental agreement, but the frequency and duration of his excursions would be closely controlled by Kellem. One New Jersey slave, Yombo, "had a slave wife living at Elizabethtown. It was the master's custom to permit him occasionlly to visit her, for that purpose putting money in his pocket and lending him a horse and chair--as the two wheeled gigs of that day were called."60 The distance to be travelled, and the regularity and length of these visits are unknown.
Another slave in Glenville, New York, entered into a contract with his owners John S. and daughter Sarah Glen on September 2, 1805. They agreed to manumit him in six years provided he pay them $90 for his freedom and conform to certain expectations regarding his personal life. Yat was not to absent himself day or night from their service without consent. He was given specified holidays off: three days at Christmas, two days at New Years, two at Easter, and three for Pinkster. Yat was required to go to church at least once every four weeks. In addition, Yat's marital life was to be carefully monitored:61
the said Master and Mistress agrees to Allow said Negroe Man Yat to go and see his wife once every three weeks on Saturday to go from Schenectady two hours before Sun Sett and to return on Monday next in the forenoon at Ten o. clock or before. . . . the said Yat agrees not to keep any wives more than the one he is Married to, and not to Commit Adultery and to keep his own lawful wife. . . .
The procedures followed by Yat in visiting his wife before this 1805 contract are unknown, but the birth of his sons Tom on October 24, 1801 and Yate in August 1803 indicate that contact and marital relations had been taking place at least since January 1801. These two children of Yat[e] and a black woman Mary (presumably his wife) were baptized at the Dutch Reformed Church at Vedder's Ferry in January 1804 with a written solicitation from Yat[e] and Mary's masters, John S. Glen and Philip Vedder. For the next six years, with travel both day and night (and possibly also on holidays) restricted and rationed by his owner, and visits limited to three week intervals, Yat could expect continued, scheduled, but infrequent contact with his wife.
Not all slave spouses could count on their masters' benevolence in permitting visitations. Much social intercourse took place covertly, escalating to the level of running away or violence in order to visit relatives and friends when permission was not granted. Quack, a slave of Mr. Roosevelt, was one of those accused in the 1741 New York City slave plot. Although having been forbidden to visit his wife (the governor's cook), on one occasion Quack pushed past the guard and ran into the kitchen before being clubbed by a sentry and thrown out onto the street. In response to this action and the governor's order which denied him access to his wife, Quack took revenge and set fire to the governor's house in the fort.62
Slaveholders often complained that their slaves snuck out at night to visit with other blacks. One otherwise very valuable slave was put up for sale in 1759 because he persisted in absenting himself at night. Prospective buyer Henry Lloyd of the Manor of Queens Village pondered the transaction:63
I had the offer of a Strong healthy negro Fellow about 25 years old brought up in a ship Carpenters Yard as a Sawyer and boarers of holes and sometimes employ'd at the Smiths business said to be a diligent hard working Fellow and to be parted with for no other Fault then going out of nights. has the Character of being good natur'd the price 50 Sterling Money or 166 2/3 of a Dollar.
Sojourner Truth recalled an instance in which a slaveowner killed a negro man who insisted on visiting his wife. Charles Broadhead of Ulster County promised his slave Ned that he would be allowed to visit his wife (who lived from twenty to thirty miles away) when the harvest was over. When the harvest was in Broadhead reneged on his promise and refused to let Ned leave. Broadhead asked Ned if he still intended to go, "and on his replying `yes,' took up a sled‑stick that lay near him, and gave him such a blow on the head as broke his skull, killing him dead on the spot."64
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Many slave couples may have shared love and commitment over a lifetime. For other slaves, however, unbalanced sex ratios, the common separate ownership and residence of husbands and wives, distance, the difficulty of visitation, the dissolution of marriages due to sale, and the lack of legal recognition (before 1809) and protection (before and after 1809) of slave marriage may have prevented them from remaining with one mate over an extended period of time. Slavery dictated that black men and women had to adapt their emotional, sexual, and familial lives to the circumstances in which they found themselves. The amount of marital persistence in spite of separation and the degrees of familial connectedness achieved by the New York slave population remain unknown.
New York churches found it difficult to reconcile their demands for chastity, marital fidelity, and lifelong cohabitation of spouses with a slave system which forced mates to live apart from one another. White church officials complained about a loose sexual morality stemming from the enslavement of blacks in their parishes; they commented on the tendency of blacks to engage in adultery, polygamy, and divorce.65 Rev. John Sharpe explained that the reluctance of some blacks to enter baptism was due to "their polygamy contracted before baptism where none or neither of the wives will accept a divorce. . . . Some agree to break by mutual consent their negro marriages as I may call it and marry a Christian spouse. In these cases its difficult how to proceed without giving scandal or matter of temptation."66 The most common ministerial problem, however, was marital infidelity on the part of slaves who were either separately owned or were sold apart from each other. Sharpe noted that " . . . the husband and wife seldom happening to belong to one family . . . one of the married parties [is] sold at some hundred miles distance where they can never hope to meet again and have not continence to persevere single."67
Robert Jenney, stationed at Rye and Hempstead, wrote a letter to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts in 1725 describing the difficulties faced by separately owned slave partners:68
If any of them are weaned from that wicked custom [that they can change their wives upon every disgust], yet it is not marrying free from difficulties and inconveniences, whether they are both in the same or different families. If Christian persons live together as man and wife without marriage, they live in fornication, and if they are married they must not be parted, for whom God hath joined together let No man put assunder. Hence it will follow that if both parties are in the same family the Master lies under an obligation either to keep both or sell both, let his necessities be ever so pressing, which often obliges men to sell one when the other cannot be spared. And if they are in different families (as is the most usual) then the removal of one of the family to a different part of the country at some considerable distance is a parting of man and wife.
The acceptability level of pre‑ and extra‑marital sex within the black community is unknown.69 Some masters and churches insisted upon conventional white standards of morality among their slaves and slave members.70 On August 2, 1751, "Lucy, Servant Negro," a member of the First Church in Southold, appeared before the congregation and acknowledged:71
I, Lucy, [have] sometime since, been left to take a Negro man to be my husband, with whom I have lodged as his wife, without my master's knowledge, and which I knew was contrary to his consent, without lawful marriage. . . .
Lucy begged forgiveness for this breach of divine law; her confession was unanimously accepted by the congregation. Lucy's master either opposed the extralegal nature of their cohabitation or had earlier opposed her relationship with this man, thereby preventing an official marriage and leaving them no alternative to a covert life together. Lucy was guilty not only of improper sexual conduct but of disobeying the moral directives of her owner.
Other slaves were brought before this church body for the sin of fornication. On October 9, 1774, Peter and Ruth, servants of Joseph Wickham, confessed to fornication. On the same day, Peggy, the daughter of Peter and Ruth, was baptized in the church; the parents may have confessed in order to have their child baptized.72 Records indicate, however, that Peter and Ruth had been married on September 5, 1767‑‑the reason for their confession is unclear.73 Whether married or not, this commonly owned slave couple lived together as sexually active parents. Other Southold slaves admitted to fornication either in order to be permitted to be baptized themselves or to bring their children for this ceremony. On August 12, 1764, Jack, the servant of John Conkling, Sr., and John, the servant of Jonathan Conkling confessed to fornication; both were baptized on that same date. They may have been brought to church and to a reckoning of their transgressions by their probably related masters.
Black sexual and marital relations were further complicated by miscegenation throughout colonial and early New York. Evidence of relations between the black and white races remains in will provisions for mulatto offspring, baptismal and marriage records, and in court cases disputing paternity. The children of black‑white relations in New York were socially inconvenient--some were hidden away, abandoned, or bound out to service, while others were quietly cared for financially by their white parents. Some white owners explicitly admitted parenthood of their black children in their wills--others obliquely admitted the same through unusually generous provisions for negro children.74 Leonard Brown, a Yonkers farmer, wrote his will on October 6, 1752:75
My two mulatto children, Robert and Mary, are to be free, and my son Robert I leave in care of Charles Warner to be brought up until he is fifteen years of age, and then put to any trade he likes best, and I leave him 20. I leave to my daughter Mary 20 and if Abigail Emmans dies before my daughter Mary is of age, then Charles Warner shall have the care of her until she is fifteen, and they are both to have their freedom forever.
In addition to his two black children, Brown was succeeded by his wife Catharine and white daughter Elizabeth.
Thomas Hadden of the Manor of Scarsdale in Westchester County left legacies and careful instructions as to the future support, education, and training of his negro children.76 Although Hadden did not openly acknowledge his blood relationship to some or all of the six boys and one girl, one of the executors of his estate later confirmed that Thomas Hadden was their father. Jonathan G. Tompkins testified fifty‑five years later that he knew one of the children, Dennis Hadden, and that Thomas Hadden was allegedly the father of Dennis and of several other children, all of whom he had freed in his will.77
The prominent family of Col. Schuyler at Albany handled miscegenation on their estate by hiding the issue of the union and "whitening" the mistake. When a relative living on the property fathered a child with a negro woman servant, the ensuing mulatto boy Chalk was carefully educated and given "a well‑stocked and fertile farm secreted in the woods about two miles from the county seat." The family induced a white woman (a destitute stranger from another colony) to marry him, thus insuring the production of white children and confining the racial error to only one generation of Schuylers.78
Children produced by black and white parents were baptized in New York, and, in a few instances, interracial couples were married in church. Out of sixty‑one black baptisms performed in the Lutheran Church in New York City between 1725 and 1776, sixteen involved racial mixture.79 Ten unions produced the sixteen children; seven involved white women with black men, and three white men with black women. At St. George's Episcopal Church at Hempstead a black child Maria was baptized on September 13, 1801, and was listed as the daughter of Fanny Mott, a white girl at South Hempstead.80 Two interracial marriages were recorded in Christ Lutheran (the Swamp) Church in New York City: on December 18, 1798, Edward Halby Leh, a free negro, married Batty Closs, she having no parents in America. On February 4, 1799, John Patterson, a free negro, married Nancy Reader, a single white woman who claimed also to have no relations here.81
Legal actions were sometimes necessary to sort out the issues raised by miscegenation. On July 26, 1737, William Carr of New York City placed a notice in the newspaper declaring that he was no longer responsible for his wife's support: "Ann Carr . . . has behaved indecently by being too familiar with a negro man" and has broken their marriage contract, as recently proved in court.82 Two court cases concerned the efforts of white women to assign the paternity of mulatto children to white men; these women hoped thereby to secure husbands, avoid the scandal of unwed motherhood, and make the children legitimate. In one case a white woman, six months pregnant, charged a white man with being the father of her unborn child. He married her but three months later a black male child was delivered--the alleged father refused to recognize what was obviously not his child. The infant was later bound out at age two as a servant until age twenty‑one.83 Neither his white mother, his natural black father, or the legal white father whose name he bore would take responsibility for the mulatto child William. In the other court proceeding a white husband sued for an annulment of the marriage into which he had been forced upon the claim of a white woman that he was the father of her bastard child, subsequently discovered by him to be negro.84
A scarcity of black women and the fact that blacks and Indians were owned together in the same households as slaves and as bound servants meant that miscegenation would occur not only between blacks and whites, but between blacks and Indians. Local Indian tribes often sheltered runaway blacks and accepted them into the group as marriage partners. Indian receptivity toward unions with blacks meant that many marriages would also take place between free blacks and free Indians. Interracial sex and marriage between blacks and Indians was reflected in numerous church records. On December 30, 1760, "Sterling Negro of J.S. and Sarah Indian widow of Samson" were married in the First Church in Huntington.85 The First Church of Southold joined several such couples in marriage:86
September 5, 1800‑‑Isaac, a negro man formerly of Brookhaven to Catherine an Indian woman of Southampton.
September 11, 1802‑‑Joseph Smith a negro man was married to Mary Sackoots, an Indian woman.
November 3, 1814‑‑Jack, a negro man to Hetty a squaw.
A widow, Elizabeth Legatt, held a nuclear family in slavery together: a negro woman, an Indian man, and their two children. The "legal" relationship of these spouses is unknown, but these four people were meaningfully and biologically connected in the form of a traditional nuclear family. They were separated when Elizabeth Legatt made out her deed:87
To daughter Mary Legatt and her heirs and assigns forever, two negro children born of the body of Hannah, my negro Woman and of the issue of the body of Robin, my Indian slave, the boy being named Abram and the girl named Jenny.
The joining of the two enslaved races resulted in an amalgamation of typically black and Indian names by the late nineteenth century. On August 10 and September 4, 1861, two Indian women died--Arabella Pharoah, age eighteen, and Abigail Cuffee, age seventy‑six.88 Pharoah and Cuffee were most often used as black last names. On April 8, 1881, Commeny Pawpaw died at age forty‑three, labelled as colored, but with a notation as having "part Indian blood." There were seven members of the Pawpaw family (possibly derived from West African Popo peoples) in the baptismal, marriage, death, and church membership records of the Dutch Reformed Church at Flatlands between 1830 and 1888.89
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On February 17, 1809, the legislature of New York State legalized slave marriage.90 It also retroactively legitimized already existing slave marriages and the children born to such unions:
All marriages contracted or hereafter contracted, wherein one or more of the parties was, were, or may be slaves, shall be considered equally valid, as though the parties thereto were free, and the child or children of any such marriage shall be deemed legitimate, any law, usage or custom to the contrary notwithstanding. Provided that nothing herein shall be construed to manumit any such slaves.
The law stipulated that persons born as slaves and then freed could hold property. It also provided that owners of slave or bound‑to‑service children could now relinquish them to the custody of their parents with a certificate from local overseers of the poor that the parent or parents were willing and able to maintain them.
Slave and slave/free marriage was legalized because of the enormous judicial problems beginning to be posed by the growing free black population. In 1800 43.9 percent of the black population in the southern six counties of New York was already free--by 1810 this figure had risen to include 71.8 percent of blacks. Blacks who had been married as slaves and then freed needed to be considered legally married in order to hold, inherit, and convey property. Since freed former slaves were not required to register officially their earlier irregular black marriage rituals or perform a church ceremony again, the state chose instead to offer a blanket retroactive legalization of all such marriages.
The retroactive clause rendered all children born of pre‑1809 slave marriages legitimate. Peter Stringerland, a slave soldier during the Revolution, died during the war leaving "a child born of a [slave] woman, between whom and Stringerland the ceremony of marriage had taken place, previous to the birth of the child." When Stringerland's child sold his father's wartime bounty of fifty acres of land his right to do so was contested on the basis that since his father's slave marriage had not been legal, he could therefore not be a legal heir and owner of the property. The judge's opinion revealed one of the central purposes of the 1809 act--to legitimize the slave family so that property could be transferred and inherited; legal marriage creates legal heirs. He ruled that on the basis of the 1809 retroactive clause, the child of the soldier was legitimate: " . . . and being such, the legislature intended to remove the disabilities incident to slavery, so far as to permit the issue to take an estate of inheritance, and transmit it, in the same manner, as if no disability had existed."91
The widespread voluntary manumission of slaves from 1785 to 1827 also meant a dramatic increase in the number of marriages between freed blacks and slaves. The staggered process of individual manumission often freed one partner in a slave marriage years before his mate. The increasing numbers of freed blacks in the population meant that greater numbers of marriages would initially take place between free and slave partners. In the sample of 813 black church marriages, there were 43 marriages between slaves and free blacks from 1709 to 1827‑‑in 26 (60.5 percent) of the unions the male was the free partner. Free women were less likely to choose enslaved men as spouses. Slave women may have been eager to find free husbands in the hope that their spouses would be either able to buy their freedom or provide more fully for them than could a fellow slave. This pattern would suggest the playing out of traditional sex roles--aggressive, stronger free men joined with and were able to travel to visit weaker enslaved women. In either situation slave‑free spouses would be unable to live together unless the free spouse was employed and housed by his mate's owner. The 1809 act was designed to solve the problem of the legality of such unions between free partners who were able to contract marriage and slaves whose marriages had no standing in law.
Marriage between slaves and free blacks introduced a series of problems that were ultimately settled in the courts. Francisca, a free black woman,92 married a slave in 1817 at age seventeen; she bore a child Dinah, and died soon thereafter. Upon Francisca's death, Dinah became a town charge whose support was contested between Marbletown (the mother's town of birth) and Kingston (the residence of the slave father). The court ruled that since children followed the condition of slave mothers as to their legal status, the children of free wives and slave husbands followed the condition of their free mothers as to their civil rights. The settlement of the children belonged to the town in which the mother had her last legal settlement, without regard to her slave husband.
The judge also delivered his opinion on the 1809 marriage law:93
I understand the object of this statute to be merely to legalize marriages between such unequal parties, and to render their offspring legitimate; and I cannot admit that by such a marriage, a free wife subjects herself to the custody and control of the slave husband. The general law of baron and femme cannot apply to such a case.
He added that in such cases the mother "shall have the exclusive custody and control of [the children] as though their father were dead." Rather than coming under the custody of her legal father, Dinah was to be supported by the overseers of the poor of her mother's town of settlement. The law did not recognize the rights of an enslaved husband or father, either in establishing the legal domicile of his wife and children or in maintaining, in this case, his orphaned daughter. The traditional male role of legal dominance over wife and children and responsibility for their sustenance did not apply to slave men.
In addition to marriages between two slave partners or between one free and one slave spouse, a complicated type of marriage category was possible for blacks who were born between 1799 and 1827. Born technically free but owing service to their mothers' masters until age twenty‑five or twenty‑eight (twenty‑one for post‑1817 births), children born to slave women during these years matured to marriage age as bound servants.94 They were still subject to the conditions traditionally reserved for slaves: the threat of repeated sale, separate ownership of spouses, and stringent control over their lives by masters. Many of the marriages which took place between 1815 (when the children born in 1799 first reached marriage age) and 1848 (when the last of the children born in 1827 reached the age of emancipation) were between young adults born free but held as involuntary servants. Although slavery ended in New York State in 1827, a slave form of marriage persisted in the black community as late as 1848.
Benjamin Bailey and his wife were two of the children born between 1799 and 1827. Benjamin was born in Gravesend on March 2, 1800, to Mary, a slave owned by Stephen Hubbard, who selected the name "Benn" for his slave's child.95 Benjamin lived in Hubbard's household until age fifteen, when his remaining thirteen years of service were sold to Simon Voris of Flatbush. Voris permitted him a degree of personal freedom before he reached age twenty‑eight; he still remained in Voris's employ but as a paid wage servant. While residing with Voris, Benjamin married a woman also bound to service in Flatbush and fathered children. In 1826 (two years before his legal period of bound service was over), Benjamin moved with his wife and children to Brooklyn to establish his own household.96 Benjamin and his family later became dependent, with their support a matter of dispute between the overseers of the poor of the towns of Brooklyn and Gravesend.
Judge Radcliff at the Kings County Court of General Sessions placed the family under the jurisdiction of the overseers of the poor of Flatbush.97 The family's legal residence was judged to be in Flatbush where both Benjamin and his wife were bound to service, rather than in Gravesend where Benjamin was born or in Brooklyn where they freely chose to live. Judge Radcliff delivered an opinion on the legal consequences of marriages between matured children born between 1799 and 1827 who still owed service:
A man or boy bound to service marries a wife also born or bound to service cannot give a new settlement to the wife while both or either of them are in legal servitude. . . . The settlement of a child born of a slave follows the settlement of the mother and not of the father. . . . Ben's wife was not supported by her husband but by her mistress and under her control and power. . . . The marriage of slaves cannot draw after it all the consequences of the marriage of free people, because the settlement of a slave follows the settlement of the master or mistress not of the husband.
The court's decision was based on the same premise used in Marbletown versus Kingston, that slave or bound to service husbands could not provide legal settlements for their families. Although Ben and his wife were legally born free, their judicial status remained that of slaves in regard to marital rights. The customary restrictions of slave law were applied to the married free‑born children who still owed service.
These interpretations of the 1809 act which legalized slave marriage reveal its failure to protect the slave family. Slave marriage, once legal, still did not impart to slaves the traditional rights and roles of married partners. It did not buttress the position of the husband and father--slave men could not assume the traditional powers exercised by white men over their wives and children. Because children followed the legal condition of their mothers, men were completely sidestepped and excluded from the legal processes determining the status, whereabouts, and welfare of their children. Legal slave marriage did nothing to preserve the fundamental relationships of the blacks involved--it may have made little practical difference to slaves on an everyday basis.
Sales would continue to tear married couples asunder and separately owned partners would continue to live apart, both before and after 1809. Slaves married to free partners would also experience no change in their living circumstances due to their now legal marriages. When owner Martha Oakes wrote her will in 1811 she freed her slave Cate, "the wife of Dr. Udall's man Nat."98 Although married in the eyes of the law, Cate and Nat lived apart while slaves, and would probably continue to do so after Cate's manumission as long as Nat remained a slave.
The 1809 law maintained owner property rights while solving the problems of legal inheritance and of the validity of marriages consummated by former slaves or contracted between slave and free partners. The white slaveholding community may have had the most to gain in the short run by the passage of the act. By rehabilitating the black family in a legal sense, it acknowledged the responsibility of newly freed black parents toward their children, enabling owners to give unwanted children up to their parents. The law created both legal heirs and legal parents who could conveniently assume control over children whose labor was not required by white owners.
Because of its failure to protect the slave family, the legalization of slave marriage on February 17, 1809 was of limited value to blacks. It therefore produced neither a stampede on the part of already privately married blacks to marry in an official church sense, nor an apparent immediate increase in the numbers of blacks who married in church. Legalization may have had little long‑term effect on the wedding patterns of black couples, or on church procedures; later changes were due to freedom rather than legalization. It did, however, sharply curtail the number of marriages which took place in the year 1809, reflecting initial legal and ecclesiastical confusion as to the status of black marriage. Owners may have feared that legal slave marriage implied restrictions on their ability to house and sell married partners as their finances dictated. In a sample of 203 black marriages which took place in twelve churches in the southern six counties of New York from 1800 to 1818,99 86 blacks were married in the nine years from 1800 to 1808 (averaging 9.6 marriages per year), 2 in 1809, and 115 in the following nine years from 1810 to 1818 (averaging 12.8 marriages per year). The increase in the overall number of marriages and in the average annual number of marriages during the nine years which followed 1809 cannot be taken to indicate that 1809 was a turning point in nuptial behavior. The change occurred in the year 1815, in the middle of the post‑1809 group.
The rate of marriages remained relatively steady from 1800 to 1814, at an average of 9.1 (136/15) per year, dropping sharply only in the year of legalization. In 1815 there was a sudden increase in the number of recorded marriages. Extending the study past 1818 to include 1820,100 the numbers remained high at an average of 17.5 marriages per year (105/6) between 1815 and 1820:
A HAND DRAWN CHART HERE SEE P. 356
Population growth cannot explain the increase in the annual number of marriages between 1815 and 1820.101 This change, coming six years after the 1809 legalization, may have been related rather to the coming of marriage age of the generation of children born free but owing service after 1799. The oldest of these children reached age sixteen in 1815‑‑they may have been more concerned to marry through official channels (and churches may have been more eager to perform the ceremonies) in view of their free‑born status and certain future freedom. The concomitant growth of the free black population during these years added to the numbers of blacks for whom legal marriage would be practically meaningful. The immediate lack of response to the 1809 act may have reflected the continuation of religious practices and cultural customs which were observed and valid within black society--white legal conventions had little to offer blacks as long as they were slaves.
* * * * *
The dramatic rise in black church marriages in the 1770s through the end of slavery in 1827 was accompanied by discreet changes in the ways that black unions were recorded by the churches. As the chart on p. shows, most of these marriages involved free blacks and blacks of unknown status, most of whom were also free. The rising tide of free black marriages which occurred during these years was hidden in the unknown status category. Although censuses for 1810 and 1820 indicate that 71.8 and 85 percent of the black population in the southern six counties was free, only 2.4 percent of marriages involved two free partners, and only 1.9 percent of unions were between slaves and free blacks. Free blacks were included instead in the 90.8 percent of marriages in which no status was listed for the spouses.102
As the proportion of the black population that was free rose, black and free became a normal equation and assumption, replacing the former universal identification of all blacks as slaves--a status which required a particular legal definition in the church register. Marriages between free black persons no longer contained a reference to status--churches listed free blacks simply as marital partners with no demarcation as to either slave or free condition. Slave marriage was replaced by "black" rather than "free" marriage--color substituted for legal status. Many of the marriages which took place between 1815 and 1827 were between members of the generation of children born free after July 4, 1799, but owing twenty‑five or twenty‑eight years of service to their mothers' masters. Although they lived as bound servants and enjoyed few of the legal and marital rights of free blacks, these couples contributed to the swelling numbers of unknown status marriages from 1810 to 1827, and were treated in the same way as totally free blacks by the churches.103
While the number of black church marriages did not increase due to legalization of slave marriage, the way that churches described and listed blacks who married did change at this juncture. Fifteen of the thirty‑five churches which married blacks had records which covered the 1776 to 1827 period and contained sufficient numbers of black marriages to chart changes in church practices.104 Some churches changed their recordkeeping patterns radically, generally from 1808 through the 1820s. The 1809 legalization of slave marriage probably influenced the changes in 1808 and 1809, and the general spread of black freedom prompted the successive later innnovations.105
Ten of the fifteen churches married slaves as well as blacks during these years; five exhibited a marked change between 1808 and 1813. Their records ceased distinguishing slaves from free blacks--all blacks were now listed as "black people" of unknown status. Masters' names were also excluded from the record at this point. With blacks no longer labelled in terms of legal status, slave marriages per se disappeared, replaced simply by unions between black persons.106
Eight out of the fifteen churches changed the way they recorded black names after 1808‑‑from first names only or of sporadic recording of black last names to total or usual use of last names.107 Blacks began to be individuals bearing last names rather than property identified by first name only. This shift occurred at the same time as blacks ceased to be listed by legal status. As listings changed from slave to slave/free to unknown (and presumably free) status marriages, the proportions of spouses having last names also rose.
In the sample of 813 black church marriages between 1641 and 1827 including 1,626 spouses, there was a direct relationship between free status and the listing of a last name in church marriage records. Most of the spouses in the sample had last names listed because most of them were free:
Percent of Spouses That
Number of Spouses Having Last Names Are Free or of Unknown Status
Years Spouses Number Percent
1641‑1697 90 90 100.0 97.8
1709‑1770 54 6 11.1 22.2
1771‑1809 658 439 66.7 80.1
1810‑1827 824 661 80.2 94.2
Total 1,626 1,196 73.6 86.3
Restricting the sample to the 223 slave spouses, the vast majority did not have a last name recorded in the church register. This pattern persisted during all time periods. Only one slave marriage was recorded between 1641 and 1697, and both partners had last names. During the years 1709 to 1770 97.4 percent of the 42 individual slave spouses failed to have their last names listed in the marriage record, 87.8 percent of 131 slave spouses in the 1771 to 1809 period, and 75 percent of the 48 slave spouses in the 1810 to 1827 period (including both slaves who married other slaves and slaves who married free partners). While slave spouses more frequently displayed last names in the 1810 to 1827 period, the majority were still not accorded the dignity of a surname--which had by this time become routine for free blacks.
Detailed analysis of the 813 marriages, 1641 to 1827 combined, contained in table 4, indicates the relationship between the listing of a last name and the legal status of the black couple. Within the group of marriages involving two slave partners, the overwhelming tendency was for neither partner (81.1 percent) to have a last name listed. The proportion of black spouses having last names rose sharply in the group of marriages between slaves and free partners (only 30.2 percent of such marriages failed to have any last names listed), evidencing the more common church recognition and inclusion of last names for free blacks. In the majority of marriages (86 percent) between free black partners, both spouses had a last name listed--in only 10 percent of such unions were no last names recorded. In the group of marriages where the legal status of the couple was unknown, there was also a clear tendency for most couples to have two last names recorded (78.8 percent), only slightly lower than the proportion in the known free group; only 15.7 percent of these unions had no last names recorded. It is likely that most of the spouses of unknown status were also free. There was a clear progression from slave to slave/free to unknown to free status in commonness of inclusion of the last names of both spouses.
White church officials routinely recorded the last
INSERT TABLE 4 HERE
names of free black spouses at marriage, while omitting the last names of slave partners. This may have reflected white attitudes toward the limited validity, even after legalization in 1809, of slave marriage; inclusion of a family or surname may have seemed unnecessary since recognized families would not be set up and before 1809 heirs would have no standing in law. White church officials may never have inquired whether slaves had last names; the failure to record slave family names may have concealed a reality wherein slaves regularly knew and used these names among themselves.
In marriages where only one partner was listed as having a last name, the overwhelming likelihood was that it would be the male, in all categories of freedom. Out of 813 marriages, 57 recorded the last name of only one of the spouses--in 48 (84.2 percent) of the cases, the last name of the groom was recorded rather than that of the bride. This greater tendency to record male last names may have reflected either or both the traditional patriarchal values of church officials or the playing of dominant family roles by black men whose wives would assume their last names upon marriage. Males may have been more assertive than females in displaying and using their black family names.
Where slaves did have last names recorded at their marriages, the names were usually different from those of their owners. Out of ninety marriages between two slave partners, 1641 to 1827, in nine cases both partners had last names listed where information was also available on the last names of the owners. Fifteen out of these eighteen slave spouses (83.3 percent) bore last names different than those of their masters. Out of forty‑three marriages between slave and free partners, 1641 to 1827, fifteen cases included both the last names of the two black partners and the names of the masters of the slave partners. Out of fifteen slave spouses, fourteen (93.3 percent) had last names different from those of their owners. Both groups indicated the common use of personal black names apart from those of their current owners.
* * * * *
Slave husbands and wives in New York knew from their parents' experience and from the experience of friends and fellow slaveholding‑mates that their unions would eventually produce children whom they could love, but whom they could neither protect nor fully raise. Slave spouses created offspring who were the property of white masters first, and their own children second. New York slave husbands and wives, who so often lived apart, bore sons and daughters who would also live apart from one or both parents, and later from their own spouses and children. As spouses became slave mothers and fathers, the pull of the slave system against the slave family became ever more apparent.
1Wells, Population in America Before 1776, p. 273, considers a range of from 96 to 110 as a relatively well‑balanced sex ratio.
2Census data on the sexual distribution of the black population is unavailable from 1786 through 1810‑‑the evolution from male surplus to shortage cannot be traced over these years. Once the importation of predominantly male adult slaves from outside the colony and state stopped in the 1770s the native black population began to produce a more balanced number of males and females. The total six‑county sex ratio is low in 1820; it is heavily influenced downward by the large number of blacks in New York City, where the sex ratio was low due to demand for exclusively female domestic labor. In four of the other counties sex ratios declined to low or even levels once imports had stopped. Richmond County was the only area which had a very high sex ratio in 1820 due to its determined retention of male slave labor until 1827.
3Slaves and free blacks are treated together as one population, as this was the group able to mate within itself.
4Greene, Negro in Colonial New England, pp. 93‑95. Greene noted a disproportion between the sexes in all mid‑eighteenth century New England colonies. In Massachusetts in 1755 there were 1,500 male slaves over the age of sixteen and only 855 females.
5"Westchester Co., 1712," Doc. Hist., 3:574. The adult black populations in Westchester County towns were so small that the age and sex distribution per town drastically affected chances for family life:
Towns Number Adult Males Number Adult Females
Morrisania 14 12
Philipsburgh 17 8
Scarsdale 4 2
Mamaroneck 3 3
Pelham 6 2
Rye 4 2
Yonkers 20 6
New Rochelle 20 11
Eastchester 8 4
Westchester 27 18
Cortlandt's Patent 3 1
Rykes Patent 1 0
6The 1755 census did not include all towns within the southern six county area. "1755 Slave Census," Doc. Hist., 3:510‑21.
7This analysis is based on the sex alone of adults held together as slaves in a white household, ignoring age, personal preferences, and blood relation factors. All male and female adults living together were counted as possible spouses, providing a maximum estimate of what proportion of the black population could have lived together as married partners. It hides such errors as adult siblings owned together, and slaveholdings where the oppositely sexed "couple" were really a ninety‑two‑year‑old man and a twenty‑four‑year‑old woman held as slaves in one unit. In reality, a far lower proportion of blacks really lived together as married partners.
The only slaveholding for which the 1755 census provided information on the age as well as the sex of adult slaves was the Manor of Morrisania. Based on ten‑year age and sex groupings (see p. above), there could have been nine marriages between partners no more than ten years apart in age. Some of these adults, however, were probably related by blood (see p. below). Family relationships (as well as sexual preferences) could have limited the ability of the men to find mates among the women on the manor, some of whom may have been sisters, nieces, or cousins. Family ties among the slave population and a very uneven sex ratio on the estate (twenty men and nine women) meant that there must have been many non‑manor unions for the Morris slaves.
8The proportion of males unable to find mates per town ranged from 16.2 percent in New Utrecht to 55 percent of the males on the Manor of Morrisania:
Percent of Adult Males
Total Number of Number of Unable to Find Females
Town Adult Males Extra Males InTown
New Utrecht 37 6 16.2
North Division 49 8 16.3
Newtown 91 19 20.9
Huntington 48 12 25.0
Hempstead 127 32 25.2
Oysterbay 129 35 27.1
Scarsdale 28 8 28.6
Westchester 58 18 31.0
Brooklyn 80 27 33.8
and Islip 56 21 37.5
Pelham 15 6 40.0
Philipsburgh 20 9 45.0
Morrisania 20 11 55.0
9Bureau of Census, Century of Population Growth, table 97, p. 183.
10There may have been a relationship between the high sex ratio in New York City in the 1737/8 to 1746 period and the 1741 negro plot. Sex ratios dropped sharply after 1746 in the city, possibly as a response to the uprising and the fears it engendered about rebellious male slaves congregating in the city environment. This period of black adult male surplus also was the period of highest black fertility (two children per black woman), with a high proportion of children in the black population (47.2 percent). The reproduction rate in New York was usually depressed by the chronic shortage of black adult males in comparison to the other counties (see appendices 8 and 9).
11The provincial census of 1786 and the 1790 through 1810 federal censuses do not count the black population by sex. New York City took its own local censuses for purposes of counting jurors, electors, or tenants in 1805/6, 1807, 1810, 1813, 1816, and 1819. These censuses are somewhat unreliable, as some types of citizens may not have been included. The 1810 city census differs markedly from 1810 federal census tabulations. The city census includes 7,314 free blacks and 1,896 slaves, whereas the federal 1810 census totals 8,137 free blacks and 1,686 slaves. The city censuses do, however, provide valuable data on the sexual distribution of the city's slave and free black population:
City Census Overall Free Black Slave Sex
Years Males Females Sex Ratio Sex Ratio Ratio
1805/6 1,682 2,326 72.3 78.8 66.5
1807a 658 1,118 ... ... 58.9
1810 3,778 5,432 69.6 71.4 62.7
1813 3,485 5,381 64.8 66.2 55.0
1816 3,426 4,965 69.0 69.9 58.6
1819 3,939 5,984 65.8 65.9 61.3
aThis census counts slaves only.
Sex ratios were very low, with the slave sex ratio lower than the free black sex ratio. Proportionately, there were more female slaves than male slaves in the slave population compared to the free group. Herbert L. Osgood, comp., Minutes of the Common Council of the City of New York, 1784‑1831, 19 vols. (New York: pub. under the authority of the City of New York, 1917), 4:187, 650; 7:689, 702; 10:622. The 1816 census is in Hough, Statistics of Population of N.Y.C., p. 56.
12Low sex ratios and a preponderance of women servants were also noted in southern cities by Wade, Slavery in the Cities.
13This situation in Richmond County was the result of probable recent purchases of male slaves from other counties and the holding on by slaveowners to male labor in the prime age groups.
14Greene, Negro in Colonial New England, pp. 191‑95, 201, 208‑9. "Marriage being regarded as a civil contract, slaves as well as free white persons up to 1686 were married by magistrates; by either magistrates or clergymen after that date." Slave legal disabilities did not extend to the marriage contract; Puritan concern with the morality of slaves and servants conferred upon them the right to legal marriage. In order to curtail both interracial sexual relations and marriages, on May 30, 1705 (incorrectly cited as December 1705‑06 in Greene) the colony of Massachusetts passed "An Act for the better preventing of a Spurious and Mix't Issue"; it expressly forbade any master from denying marriage to his slave as long as the union was with another black. This act further solidified the right of slaves to legal marriage.
15Several interpretations state that slave marriage was legal in New Netherland under the Dutch. Johnson, Black Manhattan, p. 6, indicates that slaves were allowed to marry in New Amsterdam; wives and daughters had legal protection against the lechery of masters. Black slaves in New Netherland had freedom of motion and assembly, and could hold and acquire property; as a consequence of their general legal rights, they could also contract marriage. If slaves did lose the legal right to marry enjoyed under the Dutch, it stemmed from the general structure of British colonial law which denied slaves the right to make contracts (including marriage) rather than from a specific act of prohibition.
16This interpretation of the pre‑1809 status of slave marriage in New York is based on a written communication with Thomas J. Davis of Howard University, Washington, D.C., December 3, 1980.
17The rule of civil law in Maryland also considered slaves to be incapable of marriage: "Slaves are bound by our criminal laws generally, yet we do not consider them as the objects of such laws as relate to the commerce between the sexes. A slave has never maintained an action against the violator of his bed. A slave is not admonished for incontinence, or punished for fornication or adultery. . . . In consequence of my opinion, that slaves are incapable of civil marriage, I consider [certain negroes] in the light of bastards. . . ." Opinion of Daniel Dulany, December 1767, in Helen Catterall, ed., Judicial Cases Concerning American Slavery and the Negro, vol. 4: Cases from the Courts of New England, the Middle States and the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institution of Washington, Publication no. 374, 1936), pp. 46‑47.
18"Reverend John Sharpe's Proposals," p. 355.
19Klingberg, Anglican Humanitarianism, p. 155.
20Bernard, Journey Toward Freedom, p. 47.
21This sample included 401 marriages in New York, 111 in Queens, 110 in Suffolk, 112 in Kings, 36 in Richmond, and 43 in Westchester. These 813 marriages may represent only a small proportion of real black church marriages which occurred during these years. Approximately 178 churches were founded in the southern six counties of New York prior to 1827; the records of 81 (45.5 percent) of these churches were located for this study. Out of eighty‑one churches, only thirty‑five married any blacks; records for the other forty‑six churches contained no registers of black marriages. These churches may have either married no blacks during these years, or the appropriate records may have been missing or destroyed. Therefore the registers of these thirty‑five churches (often containing record gaps themselves) represent an undetermined proportion of black church marriages which took place in early New York. Even had the other 97 (178 minus 81) church records been located, doubling the count of black marriages, their combined total still would not have approximated the number of marriages which should have occurred over 186 years in a black population which ranged in size from 1,972 persons in 1698 to 23,766 in 1830.
22A complete listing of the thirty‑five church records used in this study is located in app. 7. Of the sixteen churches that married slaves, only the United Brethren Congregation (Moravian) on Staten Island, St. Ann's Protestant Episcopal Church of Brooklyn, and the Presbyterian Church of Newtown married large numbers of slaves in proportion to their total numbers of black marriages. The other thirteen churches only married small proportions of slaves compared to free blacks or blacks of unknown status.
Year Marriage Records Began Year Black Marriages Began
aThe Dutch Reformed Church at New Amsterdam began marriage records in 1639. It married blacks commonly in the 1641 to 1697 period; most of the couples were of unknown and presumably free status. No blacks were married between 1698 and 1764, and only nine between 1765 and 1788. Not until 1793 did this church marry blacks on a regular basis, thereby joining the other twelve churches in their pattern of early organization but late inclusion of blacks in marriage ceremonies.
24Gilbert, narrator, Narrative of Sojourner Truth, pp. 34‑36; Bernard, Journey Toward Freedom, pp. 45‑47.
25This practice remained the norm in all time periods from 1641 to 1827, with no pattern of change over time.
26Only five of the sixteen churches that married slaves ever listed owner permissions for marriages involving slaves:
Period During Number of
Which Permissions Marriages with
Church Were Recorded Permissions
Dutch Reformed Church of
New Amsterdam, N.Y.C. 1765‑1769 4 permissions
Christ Lutheran (the Swamp)
Church, N.Y.C. 1776‑1801 5 permissions
First Methodist Episcopal,or
Sands Street Church, Brooklyn 1802‑1810 5 permissions
St. Ann's Protestant Episcopal
of Brooklyn 1800‑1806 23 permissions
United Brethren Congregation
(Moravian), Staten Island 1807‑1826 15 permissions
The Dutch Reformed Church at New Amsterdam married 151 black couples between 1641 and 1827: eight involved slave partners (three had permissions), and four were marriages between slaves and free blacks (one had the master's permission). This church only rarely married slaves, and only occasionally recorded master permissions. There were sixty black marriages in Christ Lutheran (the Swamp) Church between 1776 and 1801; only seven of the marriages involved slaves or slaves with free blacks. Five of these seven marriages had permissions--two cases involving slave partners and three marriages between slaves and free blacks. This church married few slaves, most of whose marriages included permissions. No other New York City churches either listed or required master permissions. Ten black marriages took place in the First Methodist Episcopal, or Sands Street Church in Brooklyn between 1802 and 1810‑‑five involved slaves marrying slaves. All five slave marriages had master permissions listed, reflecting what must have been routine church policy on slave unions. At St. Ann's Church in Brooklyn, thirty‑two black marriages took place between 1800 and 1806; nineteen were of two slave partners and seven were of slave/free couples. Out of the nineteen slave marriages, seventeen had permissions, and six out of the seven slave‑free marriages also had permissions recorded. Almost all marriages involving slaves in this church were accompanied by required owner permissions. Between 1808 and 1827 only one out of forty marriages involved a slave couple for whom no permission was listed: "September 25, 1819. Thomas and Betsy, col. people of G. Martense." It is unknown whether the other six Kings County churches listed or required permissions in slave marriages. Records were unavailable for four of them, only early records were available for a fifth (1660 to 1696), and the sixth church only showed four black marriages (three of unknown status) 1677 to 1872. No permission was listed for its one slave marriage. Between 1807 and 1826 the United Brethren Congregation (Moravian) Church married twenty‑five black couples: twenty-one were between slaves or slaves and free blacks. Fifteen of the twenty‑one marriages had permissions entered in the record (eleven out of the fifteen slave to slave unions and four out of the six slave‑free unions). This church reflected the conservative slaveholding behavior of Richmond County--as late as 1826 masters' permissions for their slaves' marriages were still required. The United Brethren Congregation seemed to be the only Staten Island church marrying slaves--the two other area churches whose records were located did not marry blacks until after 1810, none of whom were slaves. In conservative Kings and Richmond counties, the above three churches may have been the only ones willing to marry slaves--and all three commonly included the permissions of masters when joining slaves.
27Many potential church marriages between slaves may have been prevented by owner opposition. At St. Ann's Episcopal Church in Brooklyn, 1800 to 1806, permissions were necessary and almost always recorded by John Ireland, who performed the ceremonies. Richard and Nancy were never subsequently married in this church; they may have married in an informal black ceremony or settled into a covert relationship. Frost, transcriber, St. Ann's Church at Brooklyn--Births, Marriages, Deaths.
28Marriage sample sizes are too small to conclusively demonstrate change over time in the proportion of slave marriages bearing an owner permission. Only one sampled marriage involving two slaves occurred between 1641 and 1697. In the 1709 to 1770 period, 15 percent of slave to slave marriages had a permission (twenty cases), 46.9 percent in the 1771 to 1809 period (forty‑nine cases), and 60 percent in the 1810 to 1827 period (twenty cases). Sample sizes were too small to compare permissions over time for slave to free black marriages. Most of the twenty slave to slave marriages in the 1810 to 1827 period took place in Kings and Richmond counties where blacks were still widely held as slaves as late as 1820. The higher incidence of listed permissions may have reflected the conservative practices of owners and church officials in areas of Dutch domination where the institution of slavery was resolutely maintained.
29Both owners were listed for eighty‑three couples, and only one owner for four couples. In the four cases where an owner was listed for only one of the partners, they were assumed to be owned apart. Sample sizes were too small for individual time periods to be able to discern patterns of change over time in the proportion of new slave spouses owned together or apart: 1641‑1697 (1 couple), 1709‑1770 (20 couples), 1771‑1809 (46 couples), 1810‑1827 (20 couples). In all of the last three time periods, however, a consistently high proportion of couples (57.9, 72.3 and 75 percent) were owned apart on their marriage day.
30John Sylvanus Haight, Adventures for God: A History of St. George's Episcopal Church, Hempstead, Long Island (n.p., 1932).
31De Witt Van Buren, comp., Records of the First Church in Southold, NYGBS. Also published as Wayland Jefferson, "Records of the First Church of Southold, Long Island, Marriages and Baptisms," NYGBR 64‑66 (1933‑1935); 64:327.
32Frost, transcriber, St. Ann's Church at Brooklyn--Births, Marriages, Deaths.
33See table , p. , and p. above on the will sample and see p. and table , p. above on the census sample.
34See pp. ‑ above.
35See p. above.
36"First Presbyterian Church of New York City, continued as the Second Presbyterian Church of New York City," NYGBR 7 (1876):67.
37Ottley and Weatherby, eds., The Negro in New York, p. 32.
38An occasional owner, like Barnabus Wines of Southold, kept his slave couple Peter and Peg together by giving them their freedom at his death, along with land, buildings, farm implements, and domestic goods to enable them to set up and maintain a household for themselves during their lives. Will of Barnabus Wines, Southold, February 3, 1762, New York County 1758‑1764 microfilm reel, p. 397, NYGBS.
39Ladd, Origin of Grace (Episcopal) Church, Jamaica, pp. 329, 331.
40Will of Solomon Ketcham, Huntington, September 20, 1781, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 10:151.
41Arna Bontemps, ed., Five Black Lives--the Autobiographies of Venture Smith, James Mars, William Grimes, Rev. G. W. Offley, James L. Smith (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1971). See p. below on naming patterns within the Venture Smith family.
42Fisher's Island was located in the sound between Long Island and Connecticut.
43Peyer, "Jamaica, New York, 1656‑1776," p. 34.
44In Maryland in 1698, "according to Gov. Francis Nicholson, visiting even at distances of 30 or 40 miles was common practice" among blacks. Menard, "Maryland Slave Population: A Demographic Profile," p. 37. A mobility limit of twenty‑five miles was certainly feasible for New York blacks.
45Historical Records Survey, Division of Professional and Service Projects, Work Projects Administration, Inventory of the County and Borough Archives of New York City, 2 vols. (New York: Historical Records Survey, 1942), vol. 2: Kings County, p. 4.
46Rosenwaike, Population History of N.Y.C., p. 32.
47Otto Hufeland, Westchester County During the American Revolution 1775‑1783 (White Plains, N.Y.: By the Author, 1926), p. 183.
48Timothy Dwight, Travels in New England and New York, eds. Barbara Miller and Patricia King, 4 vols. (New Haven: n.p., 1822; reprint ed., Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1969), 3.
49Gilbert, narrator, Narrative of Sojourner Truth, p. 22.
50"An Order Concerning Negros and Indian Slaves," October 4‑6, 1682, Coll. NYHS, Proceedings of the General Court of Assizes, pp. 37‑38. See p. 192 for a grand jury presentment against New York City in 1700 for permitting "the Generall breach and profanation of the Sabbath by the frequent meeting of negroes in tumultuous crowds."
51Don C. Skemer, "New Evidence on Black Unrest in Colonial Brooklyn," Journal of Long Island History, 12, no. 1 (Fall 1975): 48.
52McManus, Negro Slavery, p. 81.
53Herbert L. Osgood, comp., Minutes of the Common Council of the City of New York [1675‑1776] 8 vols. (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., under the authority of the City of New York, 1905), 4:88.
54Osborn Shaw et al., transcriber, Records of the Town of Brookhaven, Book C, 1687‑1789 (New York: The Derrydale Press by order of the Freeholders and Commonalty of the Town, 1931), p. 149.
55Diary of J. Hempstead, Long Island, 1735‑1748, entry, p. 278, in Helen Z. Wortis Collection, Box 351A, LIHS.
56Pelletreau, comp., Records of the Town of Smithtown, p. 170.
57Many slaves may have been given Sundays off work for relaxation and religious observation. This did not imply, however, private or public law permission to leave the master's premises to make long‑distance visits. McManus, Negro Slavery, p. 62.
58John Jay, Indenture Agreement, February 5, 1787, Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , p. 3, MCNY.
59Osborn Shaw and Harry D. Sleight, transcribers, Records of the Town of Brookhaven, Book B, 1679‑1756 (New York: The Derrydale Press by order of the Freeholders and Commonalty of the Town, 1932), pp. 16‑17.
60Andrew D. Mellick, Jr., The Story of An Old Farm or Life in New Jersey in the Eighteenth Century (Somerville, N.J.: Unionist Gazette, 1889; reprint ed., New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1961), p. 603.
61Percy Van Epps, "Slavery in Early Glenville, New York," Sixth Report of the Town Historian, in Contributions to the History of Glenville, New York, pt. 6 (Glenville, N.Y.: n.p., December 1932), pp. 101‑2, 103, Local History and Genealogy Room, New York Public Library.
62Horsmanden, New York Conspiracy, pp. 100‑3, 110‑11.
63Coll. NYHS, Papers of the Lloyd Family, 2:560‑61.
64Gilbert, narrator, Narrative of Sojourner Truth, p. 40.
65SPGFP missionaries were also concerned about slave morality in colonial South Carolina. Francis Le Jau adopted the custom of reading a warning to every negro man he baptized: "the Christian Religion does not allow plurality of Wives, nor any changing of them." Le Jau later proposed to masters that they ensure that their slaves neither marry nor part without their consent. The clergy recognized the slaves' attachments to each other and tried to regularize these relationships into Christian modes by utilizing master control to prevent polygamy and adultery. Wood, Black Majority, pp. 140‑41.
66"Reverend John Sharpe's Proposals," p. 355.
68Klingberg, Anglican Humanitarianism, p. 157. In 1802 Alexander McLeod, pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Congregation in New York City, continued the observations made by earlier ministers that slavery destroyed the stability of marriages and families for their separated members. Alexander McLeod, Negro Slavery Unjustifiable (New York: n.p., 1802).
69Only a very small sample of twelve cases could be located where information was available on both the date of marriage and the date of birth or baptism of the couple's children in the 1641 to 1832 period. Out of the twelve cases, eight indicate either bridal pregnancy or marriage after the birth of children. In four cases, less than nine months elapsed between marriage and the birth or baptism of a child: intervals of three weeks, six months, eight months, and eight months. In four cases, occurring in the Dutch Reformed Church at New Amsterdam, baptisms of black children preceded the marriages of their parents by seven months, sixteen months, seventeen months, and by twenty‑two years. Francisco Bastiaenszen and Barbara Manuels had six children baptized between July 28, 1669, and 1677, but a marriage was not recorded until November 27, 1691. In the four cases where marriage preceded birth by nine or more months, one couple married eleven months before the birth of their child, but the wife had given birth to two children prior to this settled marriage, perhaps by another father. In two of the four cases, marriages preceded birth or baptism by 31 and 62 month intervals, indicating that real first births following marriage may have been omitted from the record. Gaps in church records and the availability of often only one of the two required sources (marriage and baptismal registers) reduced the sample to a statistically unusable size of only twelve cases, but it did indicate sexual and marital patterns which departed from accepted white norms.
70Slaves and free blacks in New England were charged with fornication and bastardy in court along with whites; both races were "subject to the general laws governing sex relationships." Greene, Negro in Colonial New England, pp. 202‑3. In New York, societal requirements of sexual orthodoxy were less severe, with infractions subject to more random punishment by owners and churches with slave members.
71Van Buren, comp., Records of the First Church in Southold.
73Jefferson, "Records of the First Church of Southold," NYGBR 64(1933):227.
74Joseph Baker, a New York City mariner, took pains to ensure the future freedom and well‑being of what was probably his mulatto daughter. He provided for her education, bequeathed her a house and lifetime annuity, and ordered that she live "as a white Christian in that my little house where she was born." Will of Joseph Baker, New York City, June 25, 1711, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 2:75‑76; Estate Inventory of Joseph Baker, New York City, September 24, 1711, Scott and Owre, Genealogical Data from Inventories. Laurence Reade, a New York City merchant, left generous legacies to a free mulatto woman on the island of Jamaica and her three children, "called after [him] by the surname Reade." Will of Laurence Reade, New York City, November 6, 1773, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 8:243. Louis Start promised the New York Manumission Society on September 10, 1800, that he would take under his protection and care his reputed slave daughter by a colored woman slave in Connecticut, and would see to her education until she became free at age twenty‑five. Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , p. 118, MCNY.
75Will of Leonard Brown, Yonkers, October 6, 1752, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 4:414; William Pelletreau, ed., Early Wills of Westchester County, New York, 1664‑1784: Abstracts of Wills Recorded in the New York Surrogate's Office and at White Plains, New York (New York: Francis P. Harper, 1898), p. 124.
76Will of Thomas Hadden, Manor of Scarsdale, February 19, 1761, New York County microfilm reel, 1758‑1764, p. 441, NYGBS; Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 6:53. Hadden ordered his executors to bind the children out to trades. The apprenticeship of Frank (Francis) to Ezekiel Griffin ended in cancellation a year later at the Court of Sessions at White Plains. O'Callaghan, ed., Calendar of Historical Manuscripts: English, p. 732.
77"Manumition of Slaves" May 8, 1787‑April 11, 1816, Liber A, p. 222, Town Records of Westchester, Book 58, microfilm reel TWC2, roll 5, HDC. Tompkins had been asked to corroborate Dennis's claim to freedom on April 11, 1816. Dennis Hadden (Heddy) was listed as a free black head of household in the town of Westchester in the 1790, 1800, 1810, and 1820 censuses. In 1820 Dennis Heddy's free black household contained four members. 1820 Census, Manuscript Population Schedules, Westchester County, p. 148.
78Grant, Memoirs of An American Lady, 1:59.
79"Baptisms in the Lutheran Church, New York City, From 1725," NYGBR 97‑103 (April 1966‑1972). Most of the baptisms were from a travelling circuit covering New Jersey and upper New York State: Albany, Loonenberg, Hackinsack, and Rariton.
80Arthur S. Wardwell, copier, Records of St. George's Episcopal Church, Hempstead, File 271, LIHS.
81Records of Christ Lutheran (the Swamp) Church, NYGBS.
82New York Gazette (Bradford's), 25 July‑1 August 1737.
83The Overseers of the Poor of the City of Hudson v. the Overseers of the Poor of the Town of Taghkanac, May 1816, in Catterall, ed., Judicial Cases Concerning Slavery, 4:370.
84Scott v. Shufeldt, January 1835, in Catterall, ed., Judicial Cases Concerning Slavery, 4:389‑90.
85Records of the First Church in Huntington, Rev. Ebenezer Prime.
86Van Buren, comp., Records of the First Church in Southold. For another example of interracial union, see the January 10, 1746 baptism of James, a mulatto, born of an Indian and a slave of Nicolaus Emig. "Baptisms in the Lutheran Church, N.Y.C.," NYGBR 100 (1969):47.
87Elizabeth Legatt, West Farms, Westchester County, Deed, April 2, 1705. Westchester Records Liber 3 p. 165, in A. Hatfield, Jr., "Early Settlers of West Farms, Westchester County, New York," NYGBR 45 (January 1914):76.
88"Records of the Church of East Hampton," in Osborne, comp., Records of Easthampton, 5:419‑647.
89Harriet Stryker-Rodda, copier, Records of the Protestant Dutch Reformed Church of Flatlands, 1747-1914, 3 vols. (Brooklyn, N.Y.: privately typed, 1954), NYGBS. See p. n. below on William Pa[w]paw and p. below on the possibly also related Michael Pappan.
90”An Act to enable certain persons to take and hold estates within this state,” February 17, 1809, in New York State, Statutes, Laws of the State of New York Passed at the [Year] Session of the Legislature, 43 vols. (Albany: Printers to the State, 1785-1827), New York Public Library, 32ndSession, Chap. 44 (November 1808-1809), pp. 29-30 (hereafter cited as Laws of New York State).
91Jackson, ex dem. The People v. Lervey, February 1826, in Catterall, ed., Judicial Cases Concerning Slavery, 4:382.
92Francisca was born free to a slave mother in 1800, but owed twenty-five years of service to her mother’s master. Her owner abandoned her to the overseers of the poor, under which terms she would be bound out to service until age eighteen. Her grandmother, however, purchased her time, leaving her a free woman at the time of her marriage.
93The Overseers of the Poor of the Town of Marbletown against the Overseers of the Poor of the Town of Kingston, May 1822, in William Johnson, ed., Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Judicature in the State of New York, 20 vols. (New York: New York State Courts, Supreme Court, Law Reports, 1807-1822), 20:1-3.
94Children born between 1799 and 1804 who were legally abandoned would be bound out to service by overseers of the poor as free paupers of the town until age eighteen or twenty-one. They enjoyed a different legal status to those children born between 1799 and 1827 who were never released from their service obligations and may have been accorded some of the rights available to apprentices. In the case of The Overseers of the Poor of the Town of Guilderland v. the Overseers of the Poor of the Town of Knox, February 1826, in Catterall, ed., Judicial Cases Concerning Slavery, 4:381-82, a free black woman married and lived with a free black man, Ichabod, who had been bound out by his parents as an indentured servant until age twenty-one. As a free black, even while bound out as an apprentice, Ichabod was able to give legal settlement to his wife and children—rights denied to both slave and the 1799 to1827 group of husbands and fathers.
95Stephen Hubbard, Registration of Slave Child Benn, b. March 2, 1800, Gravesend—Births of Slaves 1799-1819, p.4, St. Francis.
96Since his wife was also bound to service (until age twenty-five) they were probably unable to live together while in the service of their respective masters. Both presumably left with the permission of their employers.
97The Overseers of the Poor of the Town of Gravesend v. the Overseers of the Poor of the Town of Brooklyn, [no date], Gravesend Paper No. 128 from Comptroller’s Office, Gravesend Town Records 1664-1837, Miscellaneous, pp. 201-3, St. Francis.
98Will of Martha Oakes, Huntington, July 23, 1811, Elizabeth Van Buren, comp., Abstracts of Wills Recorded at Riverhead, Suffolk County, N.Y. Libers A-H, 1779-1842, 2vols. (Typewritten), NYGBS, Liber C, p.10.
99These twelve churches had complete records of marriages covering the 1800 to1820 period: Grace Episcopal Church, Jamaica; St. George’s Episcopal Church, Flushing; First Church of Southold; Presbyterian Church, Sag Harbor; United Brethren Congregation, Moravian, Staten Island; Presbyterian Church of Smithtown; St. Andrew’s Protestant Episcopal, Richmond; St. Ann’s Protestant Episcopal of Brooklyn; Dutch Reformed Church of New Amsterdam; Methodist Episcopal Church of New York City; Baptist Church Circuit—Rev. John Stanford; Trinity Church Parish, Protestant Episcopal of New York City.
100Eighteen black couples in 1819 and twenty in 1820 were married in the twelve churches; this increases the sample of marriages from 203 to241.
101Census records for the southern six counties of New York for 1810 and1820 indicate almost no growth at all in the black population over this ten year period. The black population in 1810 was 19,191 persons, rising only to 20,138 by 1820. 1810 Census, “Aggregate Amount of Persons . . .”; 1820 Census, “Aggregate Amount of Persons. . . .”
102Additional indications support the conclusion that free black marriages were hidden in the unknown status category. Marriages of unknown status performed statistically in a manner similar to the group of known free black marriages. There was a clear (but somewhat lower for the status unknown group) tendency for partners in both free black and unknown status marriages to have last names recorded in the church register. None of the 581 unknown status marriages had either masters’ names listed or owner permissions for the marriages—patterns also typical of known free black marriages. Only a very small proportion of the status unknown marriages could have been slave marriages where the masters’ names were simply omitted from the record—the listing of owners was a routine procedure.
103Marriages would normally take place among young people between sixteen and twenty-five years of age. From 1815 to 1827, this age group would be mostly composed of the free-born servants and secondarily of blacks born free but abandoned as infants and bound out to service until adulthood. A small proportion of young blacks would also have been totally free—either born to free parents or manumitted after 1809 to their parents’ care by owners. Had the free-born but owing service young adults been treated as slaves by the churches, the proportion of slave marriages would have been much higher in the 1810 to 1827 period. The proportion of slave out of all marriages (6.8 percent) was actually low in terms of the proportion of the black population still enslaved during these years—15 percent of blacks were still slaves in 1820.
104These fifteen churches included the Dutch Reformed Church of New Amsterdam, Christ (the Swamp) Lutheran Church, the United Brethren (Moravian) Congregation on Staten Island, St. Ann’s Protestant Episcopal Church of Brooklyn, First Methodist Episcopal or Sands Street Church, First and Second Presbyterian Church of New York City, Reformed Dutch Church at Port Richmond (Northfield), Presbyterian Church of Sag Harbor, Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, Presbyterian Church of Huntington, Presbyterian Church of Newtown, Christ’s First Presbyterian Church at South Hempstead, St. George’s Episcopal Church at Flushing, Christ’s Dutch Reformed Church at Rye, and the Methodist Episcopal Church of New York City.
105In some cases, an idiosyncrasy in the church’s history (the arrival of a new minister) may have been responsible for changed recordkeeping practices.
106These five churches were St. Ann’s Protestant Episcopal Church of Brooklyn, First Methodist Episcopal or Sands Street Church, Christ’s Dutch Reformed Church at Rye, the Presbyterian Church of Huntington, and the Methodist Episcopal Church of New York City. This seeming reduction after 1808 in the occurrence of slave marriage reflected a change in church perception of slave marriage after legalization. In St. Ann’s Protestant Episcopal Church of Brooklyn there were forty black marriages between 1808 and 1827—only one involved slaves. In the town of Brooklyn in 1810, 58.1 percent of the black population were still slaves, and 22.4 percent in 1820. More than only one out of the forty black marriages should have involved slaves, indicating that slave marriages after 1808 may have been hidden in the group of black marriages where status was no longer listed. Once slave marriage had legal standing in 1809, churches either stopped marrying slaves or saw no further need to separate out this category of marriage from that of all free persons, black or white.
107The other seven churches did not show this change—in four of them, most marriages were of unknown status and had generally listed black names all along.