SEEKING SHELTER FROM THE STORM: SLAVE CHILDHOOD
The parting the Husband from the Wife, and the Wife from the Husband, and their Children from them both, to make up their Masters Gains, they force them thus to break the Seventh Command, and commit Adultery with other Strangers, or other mens Wives or Husbands. . . . And their Children being sold from their Parents, they unavoidably cannot honour them; and here is the breach of the fifth.
John Hepburn (1715)
From the early eighteenth century through the end of slavery in 1827, almost 40 percent of the enslaved blacks in New York were children.1 The dual enslavement of children--in their traditional role as the subordinate property of parents and as the specific property of white owners--resulted in an early‑life experience substantially different from that of free black or white children. In return for dependence and obedience, children traditionally expect financial support, stability, love, and parental protection from responsibility and the world at large. Enslaved children could not count on their parents and the traditional family system to direct them through childhood. As white property, slave children could be removed from their mothers as infants and sold repeatedly thoroughout childhood, far from blood relatives. They could also be freed and then bound out to service while other family members remained as slaves. With each passing year slave children gained in labor and market value, increasing the likelihood of sale away from their families of origin. Although they would then be freed from parental supervision and given the independence and responsibility that come from chores and work, these children only exchanged the temporary subjugation of all children to related adults for lifelong servitude to owners.
The small size of New York slaveholdings, averaging only two or three slaves per household, meant that most slave children grew up separated from one or both parents and from some or all of their siblings. Born as the property of his mother's master, a slave child lived with his mother until either he or she was sold away. The widespread separate ownership of slave spouses meant that his father very often lived some distance away in another household. The child lived with his siblings until either he or they were sold or bequeathed to other owners. Although new‑born children were commonly separated from their fathers and from some other siblings, the fact that they were owned by their mothers' masters kept them with their mothers at least temporarily. Infants and young children were therefore the most "family‑connected" group of slaves; their need for care and their inability to perform useful labor prevented their independent sale away from their mothers.
While small children below the age of six were occasionally bound out to service or sold, they were generally dependents to be cared for and supported by their mothers' owners. Masters regarded slave infants as unprofitable burdens with no immediate value and of little potential use in small households able to absorb only limited numbers of slave laborers.2 Slave offspring who were unwanted as future labor eventually had to be distributed as gifts or legacies to other households or sold.
New York slaveholders therefore took a dim view of frequent pregnancies by their slave women and of the liabilities of supporting and raising young slave children to productive or salable age. Not only did such pregnancies produce unwanted slaves, but the ability of slave women to work was diminished during the late months of pregnancy, the period of post‑delivery recuperation, and nursing. Several owners during the eighteenth century placed "for sale" advertisements in newspapers offering fecund slave women to potential buyers. A notice in the May 17, 1756, issue of the New York Gazette or Weekly Post Boy advertised an eighteen‑year‑old woman who "is sold for no other reason than that she breeds too fast for her owner to put up with such inconveniences." The child or children in question were not offered for sale with the mother.
The low labor utility of children before age six became a crucial issue in New York's gradual emancipation program, leading to a complex system of abolition based in part on estimations of the productivity of child and youth labor. New York debated a method for gradual abolition of slavery during the 1790s, focusing on proposals whereby the children of slaves were considered to be born free but owing service to their mothers' masters until age twenty‑five or twenty‑eight. This would prevent future generations of slaves from being born in the state, while preserving intact the existing adult slave property. The controversy heated over compensated or uncompensated abolition. Slaveowners argued that the limited period of service required of such children would not pay for the cost of raising them and pressed for a provision whereby they could abandon the children to avoid the expense of rearing them. Owners were adamant that they were being robbed of property rights if forced to support useless children for only a limited number of years of valuable labor. They were temporarily rewarded with a five‑year abandonment program (1799‑1804) whereby they could divest themselves of these unwanted slave infants.
A commentary by a pro‑abolition citizen signed "W" in a New York newspaper in 1796 is indicative of slaveowner and societal attitudes toward the labor value of young black children:3
It is objected that the emancipation will have a partial operation, as being a loss only to those masters who may be bound to give freedom to the children of their slaves. To this I would observe, that very few people would receive a negro infant as a gift--the risk, expense, and trouble of raising them to a state of profitable service, overbalancing their probable future value--And even when nurtured by their mothers, the same considerations with her loss of time, fully warrant the same conclusion. It is plain, therefore, if they are of any value at all, it is too inconsiderable to be worthy of serious estimation by the proprietor. . . . Until children arrive to the age of about six years, they may be considered as a charge, and no longer, because any person would then receive them for their services until they should arrive at the age of twenty‑one. . . . The expense of those six years should be sustained by the state at large.
Catharine Sharpe, a New York City widow, considered service until age twenty‑four to be of adequate value to compensate for the non‑productive years of early childhood. She bequeathed to her neice Mary Jenet a negro girl Parthenia, age two years and five months, until she reached twenty‑four years of age, at which time Parthenia was to be transferred to the testator's daughter. The widow Sharpe obviously deemed this period of service to be an acceptable legacy.4
More usual was owner awareness and recognition of the liability presented by young children. When William Walton, a New York City merchant, wrote his will in 1768,5 he left his servant Mando and her eight children to his wife Cornelia, along with all other children that Mando would have in the future. At his wife's death or remarriage, they were all to be freed. Walton provided that "for the support of my slaves during their minority I bequeath to my servant girls the sum of 14 per annum to be paid by my executors yearly to my wife to be applied to their use until they arrive at age eighteen." Mando's two sons were to be given 10 per annum for their respective support and education until age twenty‑one, at which time they were to receive 25 each to purchase tools for "enabling them to carry on the trades they may be bred to." Walton left funds specifically for the support of these eight children until they reached adulthood. They were expected to cost his wife and estate money rather than produce goods or deliver service of real value during their long childhoods.
Another owner, Nathan Cooper of Southampton, reached an agreement in 1803 with his slave couple that relieved him of the burden of raising their slave infants, but that maintained his entitlement to their services until age twenty‑eight as provided in the 1799 gradual emancipation law. On August 15, 1803, Nathan Cooper certified that "if Gad goes the voyage with Capt. William Fowler and continues the voyage to the end, the said Gad and wife Esther shall be free, only I reserve to myself the right of the male children of the said Esther to serve as the law directs at the age of seven years." These terms were satisfied; Cooper freed Gad (at age forty‑three) and Esther on April 22, 1811, eight years later. Cooper's plan enabled him to board the sons out with their parents until age seven, at which time he considered their labor to be of value and they would be returned to him.6
* * * * *
In addition to their role as prospective laborers, slave children were seen by parents, church bodies, and a minority of masters as beings capable of religious training and conversion. The protection that many young slave children enjoyed against sale away from family members was reflected in the common listing of a family identity for black children who appeared in baptismal records. Slave children were generally baptized either shortly after birth or within the first few years of life. Since most such infants were still with their mothers, whites saw them in a familial context more than any other group of slaves.
Church officials who registered black baptisms, marriages, and deaths, had the choice of labelling a slave as the property of his owner or as a black family member. Children were far more likely to be labelled as family members than were adults, probably because their connection to parent(s) was still immediate and apparent and perhaps currently more important than their future usefulness as property. Most baptized children were listed as the children of their parents rather than as simple property, although sometimes both connections were recorded. It is also possible that so many black parents were listed because parents who were either baptized themselves or who were church members had arranged the child baptisms rather than either parents who were unaffiliated with the church or masters. The only children who were baptized at all may have been the offspring of the minority of religious Christian slave parents (or the property of zealous owners).
The black religious events of baptism, marriage, and burial were recorded by white church personnel. They reflected a combination of black and white religious and familial practices. To churches, most of white society, and universally in law, the black family was an ignored inconvenience. Once past baptism during infancy, as slaves matured the owner‑slave property relationship was all that existed. Among slave couples who married in church, over 90 percent had one or both owners listed in the church register rather than a parent or black relative's name. In church records the black family was omitted as a significant institution at death; almost all slaves were identified in terms of their slavery, and freed blacks generally had no affiliation listed at all.
Approximately 178 churches were founded in the southern six counties of New York prior to 1827 by fourteen denominations. The records of 81 of the 178 churches were located; 55 were used in this baptism sample (30.9 percent of the 178 churches), in addition to six sets of vital records. The other twenty‑six church records either contained no blacks, or their extant records covered a later, post‑slavery time period. Of the fifty‑five churches, forty baptized blacks of free or unknown status; twenty‑seven of the forty also baptized slaves.7
A sample of 807 black baptisms, 1639 to 1827, were culled from the available church records.8 They include 295 adult baptisms and 512 child ceremonies.9 A slight excess of male children (53 percent of the child sample) over female children were baptized, partially reflecting high sex ratios brought about by importation of young males and the tendency for more males absolutely to be born in a population.10 The baptismal records reveal the extent to which black parents and other family members participated in the baptisms of their slave and free children.
In all time periods, a majority of baptized black children, whether slave or free, had their parents' names preserved in the baptismal register rather than either no one or the names of owners. As table 1 shows, a parent or parents were listed in the baptismal register for 68 out of 69 children in the 1639 to 1684 period (98.6 percent), for 154 out of 207 children in the 1706 to 1790 period (74.4 percent), and 190 out of 236 children during the years between 1791 and 1827 (80.5 percent). Overall, 80.5 percent of baptized black children (412 out of 512) had a parent or parent's name included in the church register in spite of the common multiple ownership and separate residence of New York slave family members. In only 15 percent of cases was the child's relation to its owner as property the primary badge at baptism.11 Another 4.5 percent of children had no relationship to either parent or owner recorded and were simply described as black children.
The proportion of children who had parents listed was very high in all time periods but was largest in the two time periods (1639 to 1684 and 1791 to 1827) where the greatest proportion of parents were of free or unknown status. The freed black family was more likely to be acknowledged by white church officials who offered baptism to their children. Personal freedom also meant that free parents could participate in the baptisms of their children.
INSERT TABLE 1 HERE
1639‑1684 1706‑1790 1791‑1827 Total 1639‑1827
Parental status No. % No. % No. % No. %
slave ... ... 17 11.0 32 16.8 49 11.9
slaves ... ... 81 52.6 38 20.0 119 28.9
One parent slave,
one free ... ... 12 7.8 8 4.2 20 4.8
free ... ... 10 6.5 11 5.8 21 5.1
free ... ... 13 8.4 10 5.3 23 5.6
one parent 50 100.0 4 13.6 7 47.9 61 43.7
both parents 18 17 84 119
Total Baptisms 68 100.0 154 99.9 190 100.0 412 100.0
In the 1639 to 1684 period, parents were listed for sixty‑eight out of sixty‑nine children; the parents were all of unknown legal status (probably free). In all time periods, the group of blacks with no status recorded are assumed to be largely composed of freed blacks.12 During the years 1706 to 1790, 74.4 percent of baptized children were labelled as the child of their parent even though virtually all blacks were still slaves during this period. In the 154 baptisms where parents were listed, 71.4 percent involved a child with one or more enslaved parents. Only 25.1 percent of children were identified as the servants of their owner and 0.5 percent simply as black children, with no parent included. By 1791 to 1827, most parents were either free or of unknown status (presumably free). Of 190 baptisms where parents were listed, only 41 percent now involved a child with one or more enslaved parents, down from 71.4 percent in the 1706 to 1790 period. The proportion of children described only as the servants of their owners declined to 10.2 percent, while the category of "black child" rose to include 9.3 percent of children.
Fathers alone were included in 67.6 percent of child baptisms where parents were listed between 1639 and 1684, perhaps because most or all of these black fathers were free or half‑free or because slave fathers were accorded the predominant parental and religious role by the Dutch Church. Reflecting solely the baptismal practices of the Dutch Reformed Church, baptisms for this period showed different characteristics from those in later periods where baptisms were compiled from several denominations.13 Almost all early Dutch black baptisms had witnesses present, and fathers rather than mothers or both parents were the most common parental listing.
Slavery was deeply entrenched between 1706 and 1790; almost all blacks were slaves. The most common type of parental listing during these years changed from fathers only to mothers only, representing 42.9 percent of listings. The black family was compartmentalized and often enslaved in separate households; owners and church officials could most easily pinpoint and bring along to the baptism the slave mothers. In spite of these familial disabilities, the listing of both parents was almost as common, appearing in 36.4 percent of cases. Fathers alone were the least common form of baptismal family listing, accounting for 20.1 percent of entries. Even during this period of almost universal black enslavement, fathers were included in 56.5 percent of child baptisms where any parents were listed at all.14
By 1791 to 1827, the clear majority of listings were of "both parents," in 71.1 percent of baptisms where any parents were listed. This reflected the increasing percentage of the black population that was free. The shift that occurred in church record listings between 1639 and 1827 from fathers only, to mothers only, to the listing of both parents for child baptisms, paralleled the evolution of black statuses from half‑free or free status under the Dutch, to widespread enslavement during the first three‑quarters of the eighteenth century, to widespread freedom after 1790.
While 80.5 percent of black children baptized between 1639 and 1827 had a connection to a family member included in the church record, almost no black adults had the names of relatives recorded at their baptism. Out of 295 adult baptisms, 22 blacks were of unknown sex, 130 were male and 143 were female (52.4 percent), in spite of generally high sex ratios (an excess of males over females). The tendency for adult women to be baptized more commonly than men suggests that owners feared religious female servants less than similarly educated males and permitted them more frequently to attend classes. In only two of the 295 adult baptisms were any family members mentioned; these two adults were listed as the children of their parents. Adult slaves were identified solely as their masters' property, and both those freed or presumably freed (black adults, status unknown) had no familial orientation included:
1639‑1684 1706‑1790 1791‑1827 Total 1639‑1827
Servant of owner ... ... 125 71.8 49 41.2 174 59.0
Black adult 2 100 42 24.1 59 49.6 103 34.9
Free black adult ... ... 7 4.0 9 7.6 16 5.4
Child of parents ... ... ... ... 2 1.7 2 0.7
Total 2 100 174 99.9 119 100.1 295 100.0
In the 1706 to 1790 period, 71.8 percent of baptized black adults were described as the servants of their owners, reflecting the usual status of blacks as slaves in this period before massive voluntary manumission. In the 1791 to 1827 period, 41.2 percent were still labelled as slaves; this overrepresentation of slaves among baptized black adults suggests that many may have been taken to church by their owners. It also suggests decreased participation in white churches among freedmen, many of whom preferred to join the newly emerging black congregations after 1800. In the 1706 to 1790 period, only 4 percent of blacks were listed as free, with an only slightly higher 7.6 percent in the 1791 to 1827 period. Free blacks were hidden in the category of "black adult"; their numbers doubled from 24.1 percent of black adults who were baptized from 1706 to 1790 to 49.6 percent from 1791 to 1827 as freedom became common for New York blacks. Whether slave or free, black adults at baptism did not have their family relationships to spouses, parents, or children acknowledged.15
As table 2 shows, most black baptisms had no recorded witnesses16 except for seventeenth‑century baptisms in Dutch Reformed churches.17 For 81.8 percent of the 807 sampled black baptisms which occurred between 1639 and 1827, no recorded witnesses were present at the ceremony. Where witnesses were listed, the overwhelming majority were black. Blacks were present as witnesses in 119 (81 percent) of the 147 baptisms where any witnesses were recorded.18 Blacks alone were witnesses in 91 of the baptisms (61.9 percent), both blacks and whites appeared in 28 baptisms (19.1 percent), and owners or whites alone stood as witnesses in 28 (19.1 percent) of baptisms. The black witness's relationship to the child, child's parents, or adult being baptized was usually not specified. When "Jacob, son of
INSERT TABLE 2 HERE
Helena, the property of Mr. Wicoff, New Lots," was baptized on September 26, 1790, the sponsors were Peter belonging to Christopher Smith and Sarah belonging to Nicholas Jones.19 In this case the witnesses were slaves--friends or relatives of Helena or the unknown father. Blacks of unknown relationship were generally parents, grandparents, and relatives-- friends who performed traditional familial roles for each other.
* * * *
The initial dependency of slave infants superceded the otherwise paramount demands of the marketplace and kept them near their mothers at least until age five. Children aged from six to twelve years first began to be of economic benefit to their owners, evidenced by the brisk buying and selling of children in this age group apart from their parents.20 Children between the ages of six and twelve were desirable for purchase--their sale price was relatively low although only a few years remained before they would be prime teenaged labor. In fifteen advertisements for the disposal of African slave cargoes between 1749 and 1765, half stressed the youth of the blacks as a selling point. One vessel, noted a New York Mercury ad on June 16, 1760, carried "a parcel of likely negro boys and girls from nine to twelve years of age."21
When New York State amended its infant abandonment program in 1802 it stipulated that it would not reimburse local overseers of the poor for the support of slave children legally abandoned by their owners once they reached the age of four years. The state assumed that such children could be bound out to service at this age and would be acceptable as labor to potential employers.22 In the town of Southfield, twenty‑five children were indentured out between ages four and seven, fifteen of whom had been given up under the abandonment program. In New York City indenture agreements written between 1818 and 1831 for black children the average age at indenture was ten years (median age 9.5 years). This was more reflective of the real age at which child labor began to be economically productive than the abandonment program's provisions.
Domestic sales of slave children reflected the value placed on children over the age of six and sometimes even younger. The estate inventory of Solomon Hains listed four children, all of whom were sold by his executors. Three were sold to the same owner, Peter Gutrich, and the fourth was sold separately to John Wilkins. Their potential future labor value was enough so that buyers could be found even for children as young as three and four years of age:23
Dean age 3 sold for 20, but valued at 39
Gin age 4 sold for 40
Arre age 8 sold for 62
Suse age 9 sold for 40
Frederick Veghte of Brooklyn made the following provision in his 1716 will: "If I shall not have bought a negro boy for my son Regnier, then his brother Nicholas and his sisters shall buy a negro boy between the ages of six and thirteen years for him."24 Veghte intended to provide his son with a slave old enough to be useful, with a lifetime of service ahead. Henry Lloyd, second Lord of the Manor of Queens Village, purchased a negro girl, aged eight years, from the executors of Simon Cooper of Oysterbay for 40 in 1760. In 1773, John Lloyd II and Joseph Lloyd II jointly bought a negro girl Phebe, age six, from Joseph Conkling of Queens Village for 25.25 The Lloyd family, keenly interested in both the productivity and welfare of their slaves, considered these children prudent additions for the future to their slave labor force.
Newspapers occasionally contained advertisements from men who desired to purchase rather than sell slaves. An August 11, 1785, notice in Loudon's New York Packet offered a twenty‑year‑old boy for sale but also wanted "to purchase a negro girl between nine and twelve years of age, not exceeding the latter." Another advertisement, placed on September 1, 1792, in the Daily Advertiser indicated that the sponsor wanted to purchase "one, two, or three negro boys from seven to twelve years of age. . . . They will be sent into the country, be taught to read, and when able will work on a farm--it is the intention of the buyer to set them free at twenty‑eight years of age. . . ."
Children were considered valuable slave property from puberty upwards. Childhood for a slave was considered to end anywhere from age ten to sixteen, indicating the attainment of full labor value to the white community. In an 1801 "Act for the Assessment and Collection of Taxes," every able‑bodied slave held for life between the ages of twelve and fifty years was to be considered worth $100 as taxable property.26 Twelve‑year‑old slaves were accounted as valuable as fully matured adults. The slave census of 1755 counted only slaves over age fourteen. New York censuses variously used the ages of ten, fourteen, or sixteen to separate black children from adults.27 While puberty brought about increased work abilities and value to whites, the inclusion of adolescents in pass laws indicated that maturity also meant intractable behavior and an increased likelihood of running away. Concern about public order in New York City in 1702 caused slaves over the age of fourteen to be ordered off the streets by sunset unless accompanied by a member of the master's family.28
The attractiveness of teenage labor to buyers was reflected in a sliding scale of value assigned to freshly imported black children when marketed.29 In 1659, " . . . negroes had been sold to Stephan Van Bol [at New Amsterdam] at 180 dollars each, viz. those of 16 to 40 years old; those of the age from 12 to 16 were rated at 3 to 2 of the others, and those under 12 years at two for one."30 Cadwallader Colden, in 1721, wanted to purchase three slaves from a newly arrived cargo. He wanted two males about age eighteen and a girl of about thirteen years.31 In 1762 John Watts commented that "for this market they must be young the younger the better if not quite Children."32
The pattern of slave child sales illustrates the rise in labor value and consequent likelihood of sale away from parents as slaves passed from infancy to childhood and then to puberty and early adolescence. Child slaves were included in a sample of newspaper advertisements for the sale of 125 slaves between 1701 and 1827 and in 312 completed bills of sale written between 1660 and 1817. Children were as frequently sold as adults; children constituted almost 40 percent of the black population and formed 38.7 percent (29/75) of the advertisement sample and 40.6 percent (41/101) of all completed sales where the age of the slave is known.33
Slaves under age fourteen had a much greater chance of being sold with a family member than did adults. In newspaper advertisements offering slaves for sale, 68.4 percent of the children were put up for sale with family members contrasted with only 28.7 percent of the adults.34 In completed bills of sale, 64.2 percent of the children were sold with family members compared to 16.3 percent of the adults.35 Overall, approximately two‑thirds of slave children were sold with a parent because of the limited labor value of young children and their need for supervision and care.
Age Parental Status For Sale Ads Bills of Sale
0‑4 with parent 14 14
0‑4 with or without parenta 1 ...
0‑4 without parent ... 1
5‑9 with parent 4 3
5‑9 without parent 4 9
10‑14 with parent 1 ...
10‑14 without parent 5 14
unknown with parent 6 26
unknown without parent 3 ...
Total 38 67
aThis case was counted as a child offered with a parent.
Enslaved children, while still young, stood the greatest chance among the bond population of maintaining relationships with blood relatives. Need for parental care and their inability to perform useful labor afforded very young children some protection against sale away from parents. Infants under the age of four were almost always sold with a parent (fourteen of the fifteen infants in the completed bills of sale). All fifteen infants were offered with a parent in the sale advertisements (one of whom, however, was to be sold either with or without the mother). The June 17, 1805, issue of the Suffolk Gazette carried an ad for a twenty‑five‑year‑old negro woman who would be sold with or without a four‑year‑old girl. From age five to nine sales away from parents became common. Almost all children aged ten to fourteen years were both advertised and sold apart from parents; young teenage slaves began to have great labor and market value for both sellers and buyers.
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Death in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries was not largely restricted to those at the end of the natural life cycle. Morbidity and mortality affected most severely the very young and the very old; New York slave infants probably experienced a 25 percent mortality rate, with an equal mortality rate of 25 percent for children.36 The Reverend Robert Jenney at Rye, New York, wrote in 1725 that his slave woman had given birth to four children--the first, second, and fourth children were already dead. The first‑born died seven months after baptism, and the other two died suddenly, before baptism. The surviving child was also young, "her tender age" preventing her attendance at church in bad weather. Out of four children born to this woman, only one survived past infancy.37
York and Jenne, both slaves of Ebenezer Prime, were the parents of six children born to them between 1746 and 1753. The first three children, Jupiter (December 11, 1746), Judith (December 6, 1747), and Peter (August 11, 1749), all survived to at least the age of four years; the next three children did not. Mortuus (January 4, 1750/51) and Mortuus Secundus (January 17, 1751/52) died at or shortly after birth, and Priscilla (September 8, 1753) died at one month of age.38
The deaths of the children born to the post‑slavery New York black family of James and Maria Lyon also reflect the high mortality rates for infants and children. Maria gave birth six known times during a sixteen year period, between December 1828 and November 1844. Only one child remained alive by 1845, surviving at least to age seven years and four months. The other five children were from age ten months to age five years at the time of death. The first‑born son, James Jackson, was named for his father; he died at age four. The third‑born son was named James for his dead sibling, surviving in turn only until age two years and six months.39
In a sample of 369 black deaths in the southern six counties of New York between 1697 and 1827, children formed the majority of mortality cases in the group where an age was listed:40
Age Group 1697‑1790 1791‑1827
Number Percent Number Percent
Infancy (under 4) 8 9.2 11 15.3
Childhood (4‑15) 72 82.8 32 44.4
Prime adulthood (16‑49) 6 6.9 14 19.4
Early old age (50‑69) 0 ... 4 5.5
Advanced old age (over 70) 1 1.1 11 15.3
An age was available for 87 out of 194 deaths in the 1697 to 1790 period and for 72 out of 175 deaths in the 1791 to 1827 period. Children, as well as the elderly, were overrepresented in the age distribution of deaths due to their greater susceptibility to illness and fatality. While children under fifteen were approximately 40 percent of the black population, they accounted for 92 percent (1697 to 1790) and 59.7 percent (1791 to 1827) of all deaths. The extremely high proportion of infants and children among deaths where an age was included may also have reflected a tendency by church officials to categorize and identify children as a specific group apart from variously aged adults. The advanced old aged may also have been particularly singled out at death; their longevity deserved notice.41
Male infants and children experienced higher mortality rates than females. The sexual distribution of deaths in 274 cases where ages and sexes were known42 reveals a pattern of more common male death, particularly in the early age groups. This descrepancy cannot be totally accounted for either by the normal excess of males in a population at birth or the heavy slave importations of male teens and young adults, which would not affect the sexual distribution of infants and young children:
infancy ‑ 22 male 12 female ‑ males account for 64.7 percent of deaths
childhood ‑ 42 male 28 female ‑ males account for 60.0 percent of deaths
prime adulthood ‑ 41 male 32 female ‑ males account for 56.2 percent of deaths
early old age ‑ 22 male 20 female ‑ males account for 52.4 percent of deaths
advanced old age ‑ 25 male 30 female ‑ males account for 45.4 percent of deaths
Death rates evened out in the early old age group until women formed a greater proportion of mortalities in the over‑seventy advanced old age category.
While 80.5 percent of black children baptized between 1639 and 1827 had a parent or family member listed in the record, at death only from 6.2 to 25.6 percent of such children during these same years had a relative included in the church registers. Since blacks were usually baptized within the first year of life they often still remained connected to their parents and were seen in a family context by whites; by the time that they died, many children had already been severed from their parents through sale.
The proportion of infants and children labelled as "child of parent" (a familial identification) at death rose as the black population was freed from 6.2 percent in the 1697 to 1790 period (5 out of 80) to 25.6 percent in the 1791 to 1827 period (11 out of 43) and up to 51.6 percent (48 out of 93) in the post‑1828 freedom period. Children were increasingly linked with parents rather than considered as the property of owners or having no affiliation at all. Even in the 1828 to 1911 period, however, when all blacks were free, almost half of deceased children did not have a parent's name listed in the record. The freed black family was seen as less connected to its members in church records than the white family.43
Affiliated as a
Family Member 1697‑1790 (%) 1791‑1827 (%) 1828‑1911 (%)
Children labelled as child of parent 6.2 25.6 51.6a
Adults (including age unknown category) labelled as family members 1.8 5.3 12.6
All blacks labelledas family members 3.6 11.4 22.6
aOne child who was listed as a grandchild was included in the parental/relative listing category.
At death black children were far more likely than adults to be labelled as a family member. Removing known children from the sample, only very small proportions of the black population were referred to in church burial records as family members at death.44
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Most New York slave children grew up apart from their fathers; the majority probably lived with their mothers no longer than until age six, when they were often sold away. Brothers and sisters were scattered among various white households; many may not have even known the whereabouts of their siblings, especially if they no longer lived with their mother. The normal psychological growth stages of childhood, including initial deep dependency on mothers, sibling rivalry, prolonged attachment to parents, and eventual rebellion and assertion of independence through peer bonding were sidetracked by the overwhelming fact that these blacks were slaves first and children only second.
Children who had been separated from their families of origin had to accept as parental replacements the adult slaves in their master's holding, or the master and mistress themselves. Whether raised by a biological slave parent, a surrogate black parent, or the master, very little investment was made in the personal development, future, or education of the child. Slave children were not nurtured with the expectation of adult success or private fulfillment; if they were trained in a craft or nourished into good health or counseled by adults to accept their situation in life it was so that they could be skilled, strong, and cooperative workers for their owners rather than productive, sturdy, or happy individuals for their own sake. Slave children grew up with meager personal expectations and family separation as a way of life; as they began to form families of their own in late adolescence they must have approached marriage and parenthood with ingrained expectations of continued emotional and physical isolation from loved ones.
1Black children (based on a variable cutoff age for childhood at age ten, fourteen or sixteen) constituted 38.8 percent (median proportion) of the black population in the southern six counties of New York, 1703 to 1830. This figure is based on sixty‑three proportions of children in the black population, by counties, in app. 9.
2For a similar situation in New England, see Greene, Negro in Colonial New England, p. 216.
3"For the Argus--By an invariable Friend to the equal Rights of Man, from the year 1786 to the year 1796," The Argus, or Greanleaf's New Daily Advertiser, 3 February 1796, no. 231.
4Will of Catharine Sharpe, New York City, August 31, 1730, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 3:9.
5Will of William Walton, New York City, June 8, 1768, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 15:33‑34.
6William Pelletreau, comp., Records of the Town of Southampton, Long Island, New York, 1639‑1870, 6 vols. (Sag Harbor, N.Y.: John H. Hunt, Printer for the town, 1874‑1910), 4:6, 17. Gad's freedom was later certified in 1814 by a judge of the Court of Common Pleas (see p. , n. below). Nathan Cooper also owned a slave Violet who gave birth to a son Pyrus on March 17, 1814 (Records of Southampton, 4:25). It is likely that Pyrus later wed a daughter of Esther and Gad, thereby uniting by marriage these two separate slave families who had been held by Cooper. On August 20, 1847 the births of two female children were recorded to parents Pyrhus and Esther Gad. (Records of Southampton, 4:127). Gad had become a black family surname for Pyrhus.
7For a full discussion of church records and methodology, see the bibliographical essay. A listing of the fifty‑five church records and six vital records used in this study and the denominations involved appears in app. 7 and in the bibliography. Quaker and Jewish congregations were not included in the sample as neither group admitted blacks as members.
8These 807 baptisms took place in the southern six counties of New York as follows: Suffolk (286), New York (262), Queens (129), Kings (63), Richmond (40), and Westchester (27). The total number of black baptisms which took place in the southern six counties of New York, 1639 to 1827, is unknown. In the 1706 to 1790 period, the sampled church records contained 381 black baptisms. During these approximately same years, 1705 to 1780, the SPGFP baptized 1,407 blacks, only 41 of whom could have appeared in the baptism sample. Therefore, an additional 1,366 black baptisms took place during these years according to missionary reports to the SPGFP. These baptisms failed to appear in the ten Protestant Episcopal church records which were located for this period; eight had no records of black baptisms in the 1705 to 1780 period. St. Andrew's Church at Richmond, formerly Northfield, contained seven baptisms, Trinity Church in New York City had twenty, and the Register Book for the Parish of Jamaica kept by the Reverend Thomas Poyer included fourteen black baptisms; these were the forty‑one baptisms which were probably also listed in the missionary reports. St. Peter's Church in Westchester was one of the eight churches whose sampled records showed no black baptisms, but which was founded in 1693 and served as a missionary station for the SPGFP from 1702 to 1726.
9There were 69 children and 2 adults baptized in the 1639 to 1684 period, 207 children and 174 adults in the 1706 to 1790 period, and 236 children and 119 adults in the 1791 to 1827 period:
Number of Baptisms 1639‑1684 1706‑1790 1791‑1827 Total
Male adults 1 77 52 130
Female adults 1 78 64 143
Male children 38 100 118 256
Female children 31 89 107 227
Children ‑ sex unknown 18 11 29
Adults ‑ sex unknown 19 3 22
Total 71 381 355 807
Where the age of the black being baptized was not indicated, as in "slave of" or "negress of," it was counted as an adult baptism.
10George Barclay, Techniques of Population Analysis, 5th ed. (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1958), p. 64. At birth, boys are more numerous than girls. Higher male mortality during adulthood results in balanced adult sex ratios.
11Black children were often listed dually, as "Mingo, son of Maltby, servant of Thomas Dering." Where children were listed as both the child of a parent and the servant of an owner, it was counted as a listing as the child of a parent. The primary identification was as the parent's child--that either or both were owned by the master was secondary. Baptism was a familial event--the inclusion and recognition of black family members takes precedence over the routine acknowledgement of ownership.
12Since a slave's primary status was as property, most blacks who were slaves were likely to be listed as such in church records. Churches may have neglected to list the status of free persons. The proportion of listed parents who were free did not rise between 1706 and 1827 even though by the 1820 census 85 percent of blacks in the southern six counties were free. The free parents were most likely hidden in the vastly expanded group of parents of unknown status. In the 1791 to 1827 period, out of 91 parents listed who were of unknown status, 84 were sets of both parents, further indicating a "free" pattern of behavior; free parents were more likely to both be present at the ceremony. The legal status of the children of slave parents is usually not known. Those with slave mothers can be presumed to be slaves if born before 1799 (and born free but owing service until adulthood if born from 1799 to 1827), but children of parents of free or unknown status may be either slave or free. With the rise in voluntary manumission after 1785, parents and children often had different legal statuses.
13See pp. ‑ above for a discussion of black baptisms, 1639 to 1655. Out of seventy‑one black baptisms located during this period, sixty‑nine were at the Dutch Reformed Church at New Amsterdam, and two were from the Dutch Reformed Church at Flatbush.
14A substantial proportion of these eighty‑seven fathers may have been free black men rather than slaves. Ten of these eighty‑seven fathers were definitely free (the both parents free group). In the group of twelve slave/free parents, seven involved interracial unions between white women and black men (4 cases) or white men and black women (3 cases), and an eighth case involved an Indian man with a slave woman. None of these eight men were listed by name or status, and were probably slaves. At the most, four of the twelve slave/free unions involved free black men. Additionally, both the thirteen free single parents and the twenty‑one parent(s) of unknown status groups included many free fathers.
15This failure on the part of church officials to record the names of immediate black relatives in the baptismal record may reflect several circumstances. White society may have routinely discarded the black family as a nonexistent, transitory institution for enslaved blacks, and an irrelevant one for freed blacks. Alternately, this pattern may have reflected widespread dislocation and family separation within the black community during enslavement and for the initial generation of freed former slaves.
16The absence of witnesses at black baptisms may have been due to refusal by whites to serve as sponsors and reluctance on the part of church officials to accept slaves in this role. The absence of black witnesses in the record may also partially be a result of church indifference to the listing of persons connected with black religious events. The Reverend Robert Jenney wrote to the SPGFP on November 19, 1725, that "there are scarce any masters or mistresses, if they are willing that their slaves be baptized, that will be prevailed with to engage for them as their sureties, much less will Christian freemen engage for slaves. . . ." He added that some ministers in the area, although thinking it improper, let other slaves stand as sureties for slave baptisms. Klingberg, Anglican Humanitarianism, p. 157.
17The procedures and record keeping practices of the Dutch Reformed Church at New Amsterdam dictated that the names of witnesses be written down; in later time periods, where records of black baptisms were mainly located in other denominations, almost 90 percent had no recorded witnesses. For later years only a very small proportion of the baptismal sample was from Dutch Reformed churches; 5 out of 381 (1706‑1790), and 37 out of 355 (1791‑1827). The Dutch Reformed Church itself later changed its witness recording practices, as most of its post‑1684 black baptismal entries also failed to include witnesses.
18The proportion of witnesses that were black remained high in all time periods: 89.9 percent (1639‑1684), 65.7 percent (1706‑1790), and 79.1 percent (1791‑1827). The drop in the 1706 to 1790 period is because five baptisms were of half‑white children (with white witnesses).
19One of the sponsors, Peter, and his wife Elizabeth (both owned by Chistopher Smith) had a son of their own baptized the same day. Ladd, Origin of Grace (Episcopal) Church, Jamaica, p. 329.
20Kulikoff, "Beginnings of the Afro‑American Family in Maryland," pp. 185‑86, found that "black children began to work in the tobacco fields between seven and ten years of age. . . . Beginning to work coincided with the departure of many children from parents, siblings, and friends. The ages of slaves in single‑slave households in Prince George's in 1776 suggest that children were typically forced to leave home between seven and fifteen years of age, and this included many between seven and ten."
21Lydon, "New York Slave Trade," p. 393.
22See chap. 13 on the abandonment program. The use of age four as a cutoff point may have reflected the state's desire to stop payments as early as possible rather than the real age at which black children could be productive.
23Estate Inventory of Solomon Hains, Westchester County, September 25, 1781, Scott and Owre, Genealogical Data from Inventories.
24Will of Frederick Veghte, Brookland, July 31, 1716, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 11:19‑20.
25Coll. NYHS, Papers of the Lloyd Family, 2:584‑85, 743.
26Journal of the Assembly of New York State, 24th Session (1801), p. 261, NYHS.
27A listing of the ages used in each census year to separate child and adult blacks, 1703 to 1830, is contained in the notes to app. 8.
28McManus, Negro Slavery, p. 81.
29The New England slave trade was also age conscious in regard to the importation and vendability of young slaves. For overseas contracts to supply slaves to Spanish America from 1713 to 1743, it was agreed that "none of the said 4,800 Negroes shall be under the age of ten years, nine parts in ten of the . . . Negroes so to be furnished shall be of the age of sixteen years at least, and none of them shall exceed the age of 40 years." Greene, Negro in Colonial New England, p. 23.
30"M. Beck, Vice Director at Curacao to Gov. Stuyvesant," May 16, 1659, in David Valentine, comp., Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York, 28 vols. (New York: William C. Bryant, Printer, 1841‑1870), 22:593‑94.
31Donnan, ed., Documents Illustrative of Slave Trade, 3:444.
32Coll. NYHS, Letter Book of John Watts, p. 31.
33See pp. ‑ above on the sale samples.
34Thirty‑eight children were advertised for sale: 17 were advertised with mothers, 9 were offered with both parents, 8 were offered with coresident blacks from the holding, and 4 were offered alone.
35Sixty‑seven children were sold in completed bills of sale: 29 were sold with mothers, 14 were sold with both parents (in nuclear families), 2 were sold as part of a large group of slaves from the holding, 2 were sold together, and 20 were sold alone.
36Kulikoff, "Tobacco and Slaves," found a black infant mortality rate of 25 percent and a childhood mortality rate of 42 percent. Reynolds Farley, Growth of the Black Population--A Study of Demographic Trends (Chicago: Markham Publishing Co., 1970), p.7 proposed an infant mortality rate of 25 to 30 percent for all United States blacks, 1830‑1865. Kulikoff's 42 percent childhood mortality rate is probably too high to apply to New York, which enjoyed a more favorable epidemiological environment in the eighteenth century than Maryland. Farley's estimate of 25 percent may more accurately project the New York pattern; his figures cover all slave states in the years just after the abolition of slavery in New York.
37Klingberg, Anglican Humanitarianism, p.156. See p. above on this case.
38Ebenezer Prime, "A Record of the Birth of the Negro Children of my servants, York and Jenne," in Records of the First Church in Huntington, L.I. 1723‑1779 from Records kept by Rev. Ebenezer Prime (Huntington, N.Y.: Printed for Moses Scudder, 1899), New York Public Library, last page of record. See p. ‑ below on York and Jenne's reproductive patterns.
39The James and Maria Lyon family baptismal and death records are located in Thomas T. Sherman, "Vital Records of Christ's Church at Rye, Westchester County, New York," NYGBR 46(1915):238‑42; 48(1917):128‑29, 229‑30.
40These 369 black deaths appeared in six sets of vital records and in burial or church membership lists from thirty churches. See app. 7 and the bibliography for a listing of these sources. An additional 363 black deaths were located for the years 1828 to 1911 and were excluded from this one section of the mortality study. The sample of 732 deaths includes the southern six counties of New York: Richmond (7), New York (30), Kings (33), Queens (82), Westchester (111), and Suffolk (469).
41Improved record keeping and age specification resulted in a broader proportional age distribution of deaths from 1697 to 1790 to 1791 to 1827 among children, prime adults, and the advanced aged.
42This analysis includes a broader sample of 732 deaths spanning the years 1697‑1911.
43In the list of deaths at the Presbyterian Church of Easthampton, 1696 to 1802, white children were always listed as the child of their father. White adults were generally listed by name only or as a spouse. Out of 112 blacks who died 1719 to 1802, 102 were labelled solely as their owners' servants. In white deaths, 1802 to 1881, white married women were usually listed as the wife of their husband. After a gap in the records from 1803 to 1819, blacks were simply listed as man, woman, or child; as of 1820 black listings came closer in form to those of whites, although with fewer familial references. "Records of the Church of East Hampton," in Osborne, comp., Records of Easthampton, 5:419‑647. In the Salmon Records of deaths in Southold, Long Island, 1697 to 1811, most blacks who died between 1697 and 1805 were referred to as their owners' negroes (76 out of 108). Of the other thirty‑two, only two were referred to as family members. After 1806, twelve out of the fourteen negro deaths had no owner mentioned, replaced by usually the name of the black or in two cases by a listing as "a negro's spouse." Robbins, "The Salmon Records," NYGBR 47‑49(1916‑1918), passim. Prior to freedom most blacks at death were recorded as a "servant of" their owner, and after freedom as simply a man, woman, or child. Familial references did not replace the category of ownership.
44See pp. ‑ below for additional analysis of family identification at death and on the deaths sample.