THE GRADUAL EMANCIPATION PROGRAM, 1799 TO 1848
Sojourner Truth complained to her former mistress about the illegal sale of her bound‑to‑service son out of New York State. Her mistress heard her through, and then replied--'Ugh! a fine fuss to make about a little nigger! Why, haven't you as many of 'em left as you can see to and take care of? A pity 'tis, the niggers are not all in Guinea!! Making such a halloo‑balloo about the neighborhood; and all for a paltry nigger!!!' Isabella [Sojourner] heard her through, and after a moment's hesitation, answered, in tones of deep determination--'I'll have my child again.'
Sojourner Truth (1827)
The last generation of children born to slave women in New York State between 1799 and 1827 were largely freed by the gradual emancipation program rather than by voluntary manumission. They experienced a substantially different type of enslavement than all previous black children. A series of new laws governed their legal and personal lives until adulthood, leaving them as little autonomy and control over their circumstances as earlier generations of slaves had endured. Adulthood, however, brought assured liberation from the subordinate statuses of both childhood and enslavement.
New York State's legislature debated the gradual abolition of slavery in its 1785, 1796, 1797, and 1798 sessions before finally passing a bill in 1799.1 Between 1785 and 1799 Dutch New Yorkers maintained a vigorous campaign against the passage of any gradual emancipation law; slaveholding was most deeply entrenched and widespread among the Dutch sector of the white population. In the unsuccessful 1785 attempt to pass a bill in New York State, "the opponents of abolition were clearly identified; representatives of Kings, Richmond, and Ulster Counties, where there were many slaves and where Dutch slaveowners were zealous of their property."2 At a January 27, 1785, debate on a gradual abolition bill, Ulster County representative John Nicholson made a motion to postpone the bill to the next session; his measure was defeated. Those voting for postponement were the pro‑slavery forces from the Dutch counties--two representatives from Richmond, three from Ulster, one from Westchester, one from Dutchess, one from Orange, one from New York City, and one from Kings County.3
John Jay, who had served as president of the New York Manumission Society, was accused in the 1792 gubernatorial campaign by his political opponents of wanting to "rob every Dutchman of the property he possesses most dear to his heart, his slaves."4 Erastus Root, a New York State senator, recalled the struggles over the abolition bill: "the slaveholders at that time were chiefly Dutch. They raved and swore 'by dunder and blixen' that we were robbing them of their property. We told them that they had none and could hold none in human flesh, while yet alive, and we passed the law."5
A number of concessions were made to Dutch and other slaveholding interests in order to secure passage of the bill in the state legislature in 1799. Slavery was to be phased out in a way that would preserve the rights of property owners; current slaves would remain enslaved for life so that no slaveholder would lose his investment. Slaveowners also received a temporary one‑year benefit in the form of permission to immediately free any of their slaves without having to adhere to the normal overseer of the poor certificate or bond requirements of the manumission laws. Marginal, dependent, or aging slave labor could be abandoned with no future financial obligation on the part of the owner.
Children became the cutting edge of the movement toward freedom for black New Yorkers. The children born to slave women between July 4, 1799 and July 4, 1827 were the vehicle for the gradual abolition of slavery. The gradual emancipation bill passed on March 29, 1799 contained the following provisions:6
That any child born of a Slave within this State after the Fourth day of July next, shall be deemed and adjudged to to be born free: Provided nevertheless, that such child shall be the servant of the legal proprietor of his or her mother, until such servant if a male shall arrive at the age of twenty‑eight years, and if a female at the age of twenty‑five years . . . in the same manner as if such child had been bound to service by the Overseers of the Poor. And be it further enacted, That the person entitled to such service, may nevertheless, within one year after the birth of such child, elect to abandon his or her right to such service by a notification . . . lodged with the Clerk of the Town or City. . . . Every child abandoned as aforesaid shall be considered as paupers of the respective Town or City where the proprietor or owner of the mother of such child may reside at the time of its birth, and liable to be bound out by the Overseers of the Poor, on the same terms and conditions that the children of paupers were subject to, before the passing of this Act.
And be it further enacted, That every child abandoned as aforesaid shall be supported and maintained till bound out by the Overseers of the Poor aforesaid, at the expense of the State--Provided, however, that the said support does not exceed three dollars and fifty cents per month for each child. . . . And provided also, that the person so abandoning as aforesaid shall at his own expense, support and maintain every such child till it arrives at the age of one year. . . .
No more slaves could be born in New York after July 4, 1799. All children born of slave women after this date were legally born free but owed twenty‑five (females) or twenty‑eight (males) years of service to their mothers' masters before attainment of full personal liberty. Owners of such newborn infants could legally abandon them at age one to local overseers of the poor if they felt that the cost of rearing them would not be compensated by the limited twenty‑five or twenty‑eight years of service. The abandonment program had been inserted into the 1799 act to gain the cooperation of pro‑slavery forces in passage of the bill. This disguised compensated abolition scheme permitted slaveholders to abandon children and then receive them back into their homes as boarders until (and if) they were bound out to service--for which they would receive monthly payments from local poor authorities.
The emancipation process begun in 1799 was later modified; the provisions which had been inserted into the program in order to mollify slaveowners were slowly removed. The first dilution of the abandonment program came on March 26, 1802; both the amount and duration of monthly compensation for boarded abandoned children were reduced.7 The abandonment program ended completely on March 31, 1804; no more infant children could be given up by their owners.8 After losing their five‑year abandonment program, slaveholders had to accept the somewhat more bitter prospect of either manumitting young children to their free parents' care or bearing the costs of raising them during childhood in return for guaranteed service only through age twenty‑five or twenty‑eight. They received only small consolation from the new provision which permitted owners to manumit any child born after July 4, 1799 early at age eighteen (females) or twenty‑one (males) with a certificate from local overseers of the poor that the child was capable of self‑support. On March 31, 1817, the allowable age of early manumission from service obligations was changed to a standard twenty‑one years for children of both sexes who had been born between 1799 and 1817.
The gradual emancipation program continued to be periodically revised by new legislation; the rights of slaveholders and serviceholders were progressively restricted. In 1810 owners were required to teach their children to read well enough to be able to read the Holy Scriptures before age twenty‑one, perhaps in preparation for their inevitable freedom. Failure to do this entitled the servant to freedom at age twenty‑one; the owner would forfeit four or seven years of service.9 As of 1817 masters had to teach their children who owed service to read by age eighteen or give them four quarters of schooling between the ages of ten and eighteen. Failure to comply meant forfeiture of the child's service at age eighteen. Local overseers of the poor had the option of either freeing the child at eighteen or binding him out to service until age twenty‑one. Failure to register the birth of such children by age one now entailed a similar forfeiture of service at age eighteen with the servant freed from service and liable to be bound out to service by overseers of the poor until age twenty‑one.
A major revision of the original 1799 gradual emancipation act was passed on March 31, 1817.10 Children born to slave women between July 4, 1799 and March 31, 1817 were still to be retained as servants until age twenty‑five or twenty‑eight. Children of either sex born after the passage of this act through July 4, 1827, however, owed service for only twenty‑one years and were then to be freed. Slaveowners were given notice that their permanent slaves would be taken away in ten years' time. All slaves born before July 4, 1799 were to be freed on July 4, 1827, putting a final end to slavery in New York State.
* * * * *
The infant abandonment program was very popular in New York State; large numbers of children were given up to local overseers of the poor under its provisions. The eagerness with which owners participated in the program was reflected in the universally high rate of compliance with the statute which required owners to register their intention to abandon an infant within one year after its birth. In a sample of 148 abandonments in thirteen towns,11 only four known instances occurred where an owner registered his abandonment after the one year limit. A spurt of filings were made at the twelfth month before the expiration of the legal deadline:
Time Elapsed Between Birth and
Legal Abandonment, in Months Number of Cases
2 (weeks) 1
Under one year, but unknown 16
Over one year 4
Throughout New York State as a whole at least 1,24312 (and probably far more) black children were abandoned between 1799 and 1804. In the southern six counties of the state overseer of the poor rolls and notices of abandonment which were listed on slave child birth registration documents were available for sixteen towns, providing a sample of 262 abandoned children.13 In another twelve towns, state comptroller's records of payments to the overseers of the poor of these towns reveal that an estimated additional 195 children were abandoned,14 totalling a sample of 457 children abandoned in twenty‑eight towns. According to the 1800 federal census, there were fifty towns in these six counties; this sample includes abandoned children from over half of the towns in the area.
As table 1 shows, in the sample of sixteen towns in the southern six counties, 201 owners abandoned 262 children, averaging 1.3 children per owner. Most slaveholders abandoned only one child reflecting the small number of blacks held per household in New York. A large 152 out of 201 owners (75.1 percent) abandoned only one child each, thirty‑eight owners abandoned two children, ten owners abandoned three children, and only one owner abandoned as many as four black infants. Male and female children had an equal chance of abandonment.
In ten towns full data was available both on the number of children registered as born of slave women between July 4, 1799 and March 31, 1804 (the period of the abandonment program) and on the number of such children abandoned.15 Slaveholders who registered the birth of slave children during the years of the abandonment program abandoned 37.2 percent of infants born to their slave women. More than a third of black infants born during these years were given up to overseers of the poor, with greatly enhanced chances of early separation from their mothers:
TABLE 1 goes here—see p. 828
Percent of All
Children Born of
Number of Children Number of Children Slaves Who WereTown Born 1799‑1804 Abandoned 1799‑1804 Abandoned
Flatlands 24 12 50.0
Bushwick 49 24 49.0
New Utrecht 57 14 24.6
Manhattan 133 36 27.1
Huntington 22 7 31.8
Oysterbay 23 4 17.4
Eastchester 15 10 66.7
New Rochelle 14 8 57.1
Westchester 31 13 41.9
Castleton 16 15 93.8
Total 384 143 37.2
The same data for these ten towns arranged by year of birth and abandonment indicates the net effect of abandonment on each year's birth group.16 It underscores the popularity of the program, especially in the first three years before the 1802 law reduced the amount and duration of payment:
Percent of Born
Number of Number of Children Abandoned
Year Children Born Children Abandoned That Year
1799 26 11 42.3
1800 61 28 45.9
1801 76 35 46.1
1802 69 22 31.9
1803 67 19 28.4
1804 76 8 10.5
1805a 4 4 ...
1806 5 4 ...
unknown ... 12 ...
Total 384 143 37.2
aCastleton continued to abandon children, contrary to law, in 1805 and 1806. The sample size for this town is too small for percentages to be meaningful.
The sample was then restricted from all slaveholders who registered the births of slave children to only those owners who actually abandoned any children. Data was available for 103 owners in ten towns;17 figures include the total number of children born per abandoning owner between 1799 and 1827, the number of children eligible for abandonment (born 1799 to 1804), and the final number of abandonments the owner made between 1799 and 1804. These 103 owners had 250 children born to their slave women between July 4, 1799, and July 4, 1827. Out of these 250 children, 155 were eligible for abandonment under the program (born July 4, 1799 to March 31, 1804).18 These owners abandoned 121 (78.1 percent) of their eligible 155 infants. They thereby shed 48.4 percent of the 250 children born to them owing service between 1799 and 1827.
This group of slaveowners divested themselves of such a large proportion of their abandonable infants because most had only one or two eligible children in their possession. Out of 103 owners, 62 had only one eligible child--the one they abandoned. Thirty‑two owners had two eligible children--fifteen abandoned both and seventeen let go of only one child. Only seven owners had as many as three children born during these years: three of these owners abandoned two, and four owners abandoned one of the three children. One owner had four children and one owner had five children--both abandoned only one of their children. In sum, masters with several children abandoned only one or two of them, retaining most of their holding--these were probably larger slaveholders able to support more slaves. Men with smaller holdings preferred to get rid of their single unwanted child.
The infant abandonment provision of the gradual emancipation program was widely used for a number of reasons. The abandonment of black infants born to slave women was an attractive alternative to owners who perceived twenty‑five or twenty‑eight years of service to be an inadequate return for the costs of childrearing. Masters who needed only one or two slaves used the program to get rid of the unwanted extra children born to their slave women. Since these infants were too young to be profitably sold, the abandonment program provided a way for owners to remove them from the household. Masters also took advantage of the opportunity to dispose of sick or infirm infants in the newborn population. On April 29, 1800, William Kouwenhoven of Flatlands registered that a son John had been born on January 9th to his slave Hannah. He abandoned his right to the child's service on January 2, 1801; ten months later the overseers of the poor certified that John was infirm. On March 2, 1807, Kouwenhoven again registered a birth to his slave woman Hannah--another son named John, born February 6, 1807.19 This naming pattern suggested the death of the abandoned son John and the naming of a son for his dead sibling seven years later.
The main reason that so many slaveowners favored the abandonment program was that it provided them with compensation for the loss of their black children as permanent slaves. Abandoned children were turned over to the care of local overseers of the poor at age one20 and were legally considered paupers to be bound out to service. The law did not prohibit overseers of the poor from housing abandoned black children with the same masters who had just abandoned them until they were bound out to service. Former owners were paid $3.50 per month (reduced to $2 per month after March 26, 1802) by the poor officials for boarding the children they had just abandoned. Since overseers of the poor would be inclined to farm out such children back to the owner of the child's mother for care, the abandonment program commonly functioned as a compensated abolition scheme. Masters received both monthly payments and the daily services of the children.
Between July 4, 1799 and March 26, 1802 slaveholders could abandon financially burdensome infants and subsequently be paid to board them until they were bound out to service by overseers of the poor--however long it took. Local overseers of the poor had little incentive to bind the children out quickly since the state reimbursed them for the expense of boarding the children out for care. These children could therefore remain on overseer of the poor rolls, with their former masters being paid to house them, until adulthood. In order to prevent such abuse of the program a new law passed on March 26, 1802 stipulated that children abandoned after that date would only be supported at state expense until age four. Only infirm children would continue to be boarded out as paupers beyond age four at state expense.21 This change in the law encouraged overseers of the poor to try to bind abandoned children out to service by age four in order to avoid the cost of maintaining them at town expense.
According to overseer of the poor rolls which listed 153 black infants abandoned in nine towns, children remained on the poor rolls for an average of two years and four months each.22 The most common (mode) duration of support for this group was three years per child. Abandoned children entered poor rolls on their first birthdays, and remained until as long as their fourth birthdays, at which time both state reimbursements to local overseers of the poor, and overseer of the poor payments to town residents boarding such children ceased. Many of the overseer of the poor rolls and accounts give no indication of whether the abandoned children were being boarded by their former owners or with townspeople at large. As an example, on March 25, 1806, the overseers of the poor of the town of Eastchester received 40.16.6 from the state treasurer for black pauper children supported through December 31, 1805. They distributed 31.3.11 of this reimbursement the same day to "several persons for [support of] pauper children."23
In other towns, however, evidence reveals that abandoned black infants were placed back with their former owners. William Denyse's slave woman Mary gave birth to Adam on July 12, 1800. Denyse abandoned Adam on July 1, 1801, and wished "the overseers of the poor to provide for it agreeable to an Act entitled an Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery passed March 29, 1799." William Denyse was paid a total of $80.96 1/2 by the overseers of the poor of New Utrecht to house Adam from July 12, 1801 through July 12, 1804, from ages one to four years old.24 Adam was able to remain in the household with his mother Mary for these three years; his later disposition is unknown.
All of New Utrecht's overseer of the poor accounts which were presented for reimbursement to the state treasurer listed the specific men or women who boarded the abandoned children.25 Entries were phrased as such: "to Thomas Hageman for supporting a female child named Eve from February 1, 1803 to August 23, 1803 at $2.00 per month—total--$13.53." Fourteen persons in New Utrecht housed abandoned slave infants for the overseers of the poor during the years 1800 to 1805; ten were the former owners who had originally abandoned the children.26
The March 13, 1802 account of the overseers of the poor of North Hempstead for the support of a free‑born child Betty abandoned by Daniel Whitehead Kissam clearly shows that she was being sheltered by Kissam from March 13, 1801 to March 13, 1802, at the rate of $3.50 per month (totalling $42.00). The town clerk, Jn. Schenck, certified on August 12, 1802 that "Betty was abandoned by Kissam and he hath maintained and supported her the time in the within amount mentioned as a pauper of New York State." Overseer of the poor accounts for North Hempstead dated May 3, 1803, and November 7, 1804, indicate that Betty continued to be supported on the poor rolls through March 13, 1804, until her fourth birthday. Kissam had also abandoned two other children: Betty's brother Jeffery (born May 3, 1801 and supported from May 3, 1802 to May 3, 1804) and Tamar (born July 27, 1801 and supported from July 27, 1802 to July 27, 1804).27 These accounts did not include information on whether Kissam continued to board Betty after March 13, 1802, or whether he also received the payments made for housing Jeffery and Tamar. Betty and Jeffery may or may not have continued to live with their mother Suke in Kissam's household, and Tamar with her mother Sarah.
Peter Shute, David Guion, and Theodosius Bartow all received payments directly from the overseers of the poor of the town of New Rochelle for maintaining the black children born to their slave women that they had abandoned. The overseers then submitted bills to Albany to be reimbursed for these sums. Peter Shute abandoned Tempe, born September 18, 1801, and on March 23, 1804, "received $24.00 from overseers of the poor of New Rochelle in full for maintaining a female child Tempe born of [his] slave woman from September 18, 1802 to September 18, 1803." Shute abandoned another child Harriet, born January 6, 1804--her disposition and placement is unknown28. On March 23, 1804, David Guion received $30.00 from the overseers of the poor of New Rochelle for maintaining his abandoned infant Charles from August 20, 1802 to November 20, 1803.29. Theodosius Bartow, another New Rochelle slaveowner, signed a receipt on March 23, 1804: "Received of Justus Reynolds and Andrew Dean, overseers of the poor of New Rochelle, $46.00 in full for the support and maintenance of a negro male child born of my woman slave from April 7, 1802, to March 11, 1804." Bartow was paid for keeping George, who had been born on April 7, 1801, and later abandoned by him. The overseers of the poor later submitted bills to the state for George's support from March 23, 1804 to March 1, 1805 ($22.50), and from March 1, 1805 to April 17, 1805 ($2.50), at which time George reached his fourth birthday and the age of indenture. New Rochelle overseers also had to support Jane, born to Bartow's slave Scib on October 15, 1802 and abandoned--records do not indicate whether or not she was also maintained at Bartow's residence.30
Abandonment to the town overseers of the poor at age one meant immediate change of residence and separation from mothers for many black infants, but not for those who were placed by overseers of the poor back with their mothers' masters who had abandoned them.31 Abandonment, however, could mean eventual separation of infants from their mothers even when such infants continued to live in their former masters' homes; their enslaved mothers would not necessarily also remain in the household. Dian, a slave of John Baxter of Flatlands, Kings County, gave birth to a daughter Dianna on March 9, 1801; on November 17, 1801, Baxter filed his intention to abandon her at age one. Dianna seems to have remained with her mother in Baxter's home, as an April 12, 1803 entry in Baxter's diary noted that he had received $23.66 from the overseers of the poor for boarding an abandoned child. On January 31, 1804, however, Dian was sold, along with her two other children (never abandoned) to a new owner, Rem Hegeman.32 Having abandoned Dianna, now almost age three, Baxter had no legal right also to ensure her transfer to Hegeman's household. Dianne's subsequent fate is unknown--she may have remained boarded with Baxter, or been transferred by overseers of the poor to Hegeman's or someone else's household until old enough at age four to be bound out to service.
For abandoned children who were more fortunate, alternatives were possible to the routine process of abandonment and then either subsequent return to the master's household or placement in a new household as a sponsored boarder. The executors of the estate of Dr. James Townsend in Oysterbay freed two adult female siblings on September 3, 1803--Hannah and Elizabeth, both the daughters of Pender. On the same day, they abandoned Hannah's child John, born February 16, 1803.33 With his former master's household dissolved and with his mother legally freed, seven‑month‑old John may have faced separation from his mother and aunt and placement in another home in Oysterbay by overseers of the poor. However, abandoned infants were released from all service obligations to their mothers' masters; as a free pauper of the town, John could have been placed with his free mother if she were able and willing to support him. The overseers of the poor of the town of Eastchester relinquished an abandoned black child to the custody of his mother in 1802. On March 20, 1804 they received 2.13.0 from the state treasury for the support of a black child. One week later they gave this sum to Albert Brown"for keeping a black child a pauper previous to the 11th of January 1802 at which time said child was given up to its mother who is not to charge the Town anything while keeping the same."34
Abandoned children were freed from their service obligation to their mothers' masters; they were to be bound out to service by poor authorities as early as practicable until age eighteen or twenty‑one, at which time they received their freedom.35 Except for children who were too infirm to be bound out or for whom no employers could be found, the age of indenture often meant both legal change and personal disruption. Many original owners used the abandonment program payments to subsidize the care of their dependent black infants until they were old enough to be of useful service at age four when they were legally bound out to them as servants until age eighteen or twenty‑one. Four‑year‑old children who had been boarded elsewhere in town were sometimes received back as indentured servants by the masters who had abandoned them, and had not wanted to rear them during infancy even with monthly compensation. Other children were kept by their mothers' masters only while the years of payment lasted; they were then bound out to new masters and taken away from their mothers. Some of the abandoned children who had been separated from their original master (and mother) at age one and were boarded in a succession of white households, would be moved to the residence of their new employer at age four.
Nicholas Schenck, a farmer in Flatlands, was one of the many owners of children born to slave women between 1799 and 1804 who abandoned them and then accepted them back as indentured servants. Schenck was a large slaveholder; he registered the births of twelve slave children from 1801 to 1823. He abandoned the two that were born during the years of the abandonment program and bound out a third child Albert, born on August 23, 1808, at age ten years to serve until age twenty‑one. One of the children that he had abandoned was Peter, born to his slave Margaret on January 27, 1801. On May 15, 1811, an indenture was made between the overseers of the poor of Flatlands and Nicholas Schenck. They placed a poor black child named Peter, born January 27, 1801, with Schenck as a servant until age twenty‑one. Schenck had abandoned Peter at age one, but accepted him back at age ten, when he considered his labor to have value. Peter's living circumstances between age one and ten are unknown.36
Thirty‑three children are known to have been abandoned in the town of Southfield by January 1, 1804.37 Twenty‑five black children were indentured out to service by Southfield overseers of the poor from 1802 to 1814; fifteen of the twenty‑five were the same children who had been abandoned in infancy.38 Fifteen of the thirty‑three children on the 1804 overseer of the poor roll are therefore known to have been later bound out to service, between the ages of four and seven years. As table 2 shows, eight were abandoned by and then later indentured out to different owners, while seven were bound to service with the same owner who had originally abandoned them.39 There was a time lag of sometimes several years between the ending of state subsidized overseer of the poor payments to boarders of these children at age four and their being bound out to service sometimes as late as age seven. The residence and support of such children between age four and the age of indenture is unknown. Overseers of the poor may have continued to board the children out at their own town expense until either their original owners or new masters could be found to accept them as indentured servants.
In the town of Flushing in Queens County indentures were located for nine black children. Based on their dates of birth, 1800 to 1804, six had been abandoned under the abandonment program.40 They were indentured out between the ages of four and seven until age eighteen (females) or twenty‑one (males) during the years 1806 to 1809. Two of these children, legally classified as paupers chargeable to the town and liable to be bound out to service by overseers of the poor, were bound out to black men, probably their fathers or other relatives. On December 26, 1807, the overseers of the poor bound out William, age six years eleven months, as an apprenticed servant to William Hottentot, a black man of Flushing, until age twenty‑one. Four‑year‑old Nancy was bound out on August 23, 1808 to Michael Moses, a black man of New York City, to serve until age eighteen.41 Abandoned children had, in addition to the possibilities of placement with original or new masters, the option of being bound out to any existing free black relatives.
* * * * *
Because it considerably benefited slaveowners, the infant abandonment program became popular enough to constitute a major burden to the state treasury. The provisions of the 1799 act required New York State to reimburse local town overseers of the poor for monies expended to support the abandoned children at the rate of $3.50 per month from July 4, 1799 until March 26, 1802, and at $2.00 per month from March 26, 1802, until years after the program ended on March 31, 1804. No town would actually incur any costs until July 4, 1800 (payable by the state in fiscal year 1801), since children only entered the poor rolls upon their first birthdays. The abandonment of 37.2 percent of children born to slave women between 1799 and 1804 meant that this program would translate into a massive financial liability for the state.
Bills submitted to the state by town overseers of the poor42 and books kept by the state comptroller of payments made to local poor officials43 for twenty‑six towns in the southern six counties reveal the large sums disbursed under the five‑year program. As table 3 shows, bills submitted to and payments made by New York State between 1801 and 1807 for these twenty‑six towns totalled $17,576.31. During this same 1801 to 1807 period, according to comptroller's reports in the state budgets, New York spent $80,157.68 statewide on the support of abandoned children. Even with records available for only twenty‑six of the fifty towns in the southern six counties (and with only partial records available for most of these towns), this area accounted for 21.9 percent of New York State's total expenditures between 1801 and 1807.44
INSERt TABLE 3 here—see p. 845
State budget reports from 1802 to 1825 provide full data on the financial costs of the abandonment program to the state, including all counties within New York;45 the figures are displayed in table 4. In the initial January 28, 1802 New York State Comptroller's Report, covering bills submitted January 8, 1801 to January 8, 1802, charges for the support of abandoned children born to slaves totalled $1,359.06. Comptroller Elisha Jenkins added "an estimate of the sums necessary to defray the expenses of government for the year 1802 for the support of slaves and the children of slaves abandoned of $2,500.00," predicting that the state obligation would almost double.46 Two days earlier, Gov. George Clinton delivered a message in Albany to the state legislature on the subject. He stated that "the provision in the act concerning Slaves and Servants, authorizing the owners of Slaves, under certain circumstances, to abandon them to the State, will prove a source of growing expense, and will require particular interference. . . . The reasonable claims of individuals may be fully attended to, in this case, without invading the rights of humanity or the pecuniary interests of the State."47
INSERT TABLE 4 here—see p. 846
Both Governor Clinton and State Comptroller Elisha Jenkins voiced concern over the potential financial costs of this program. The legislature expressed its own reservations on March 26, 1802 by passing an amendment to the original 1799 act: "Whenever any child born of a slave since July 4, 1799 has been abandoned by the owner, and thereby becomes a pauper of any city or town, the overseers of the poor shall, instead of the sum of $3.50, be hereafter entitled to receive from the state treasurer a sum not exceeding $2.00 per month. Provided that no contract already made by the overseers of the poor shall be affected by this act. . . . No payments shall be made to the overseers of the poor of any town for the maintenance of such pauper after he or she arrives at the age of four years unless the pauper is so decrepid or infirm that it will be impracticable to bind out such pauper."48 The 1799 act had authorized payment until the child was bound out to service by local poor authorities, which could last until adulthood. Now, town overseers of the poor were given a time limit and incentive to bind children out by age four. The state, however, agreed to continue to be responsible for the support of older children who were abandoned before the March 26, 1802 change in the law, for years to come. New York State acted to reduce its financial liabilities, the extent of which it had only dimly begun to perceive.
Comptroller Jenkins had estimated costs of $2,500 for calendar year 1802. The bills for the support of abandoned children of slaves submitted from January 8, 1802 to January 8, 1803 totalled $10,552.76 (plus $257.25 for infirm slaves). In the Comptroller's Report of January 26, 1803, Jenkins explained the extraordinary discrepancy between his estimation and the staggering reality:49
The amount paid for the support and maintenance of the children of slaves born since July 4, 1799, exceeds very much the sum at which it was estimated for the last year. The most accurate rule which could then be taken for the basis of an estimate appeared to be the numbers of those who were abandoned and registered in a book kept for that purpose in this office: this, however, proved fallacious; for it was found that the overseers of the poor, in a variety of instances, suffered the expenses to accumulate for two years before they presented their accounts for payment. The number at present registered is 322, which at $2.00 per month will amount to $7,728 per annum. There is probably a balance of about $3,000 due on accounts not yet presented; and the abandonments continue to be regularly made in several counties. It is probable, therefore, that a sum of 10 or 12,000 dollars will be required for this object during the succeeding year.
Jenkins's estimate for 1803 proved to be much more accurate--bills for the year totalled $12,808.18, close to his prediction of "10 or 12,000 dollars." With this January 31, 1804 Comptroller's Report, Jenkins added another note on the escalating costs: "The progressive increase of the expense of maintenance and support of children born of slaves since July 4, 1799, will be observed by a comparative view of the amount paid during the last and preceding years. The payments of the treasury have been as follows:
During the year 1801 ‑ 1,359.06
1802 ‑ 10,552.76
1803 ‑ 12,808.18
A further increase of expense may be calculated on, if the existing laws remain in force."50
Alarmed by such a prospect, the legislature repealed the abandonment program on March 31, 1804. It provided that all children already abandoned would be paid for in accordance with the laws in effect at the time of abandonment. The costs of the abandonment program continued to rise beyond the January 31, 1804 bill of $12,808.18 (for calendar year 1803) which had prompted the legislature to cancel the five‑year program. The January 22, 1805 Comptroller's Report listed bills totalling $20,865.81 for calendar year 1804 (January 8, 1804 to January 9, 1805).51 During these peak years of the program, the sums listed in the fiscal reports for calendar years 1803, 1804, 1805, and 1806 indicate that New York State was expending 5, 6.1, 5.6, and 3.5 percent of its state budgets on the support of abandoned black children (see table 4). Expenses declined slowly in 1805, more sharply in 1806, and then dropped precipitously in 1807 and thereafter as children born between March 26, 1802 and March 31, 1804 attained the payment cutoff age of four years between March 1806 and March 1808.
On March 31, 1817 New York State reaffirmed its committment to continue to support the abandoned children of slaves: "the children of slaves born between July 4, 1799 and March 31, 1804, and who shall have been duly abandoned by March 31, 1804, shall continue to be provided for at the expense of the State according to the existing laws thereof--and no contract by any overseers of the poor for the support of any person so abandoned made before March 26, 1802, shall be affected by this act, but shall be governed by the Statutes then in force."52 Children abandoned between July 4, 1799 and March 26, 1802 who had never been bound out to service would continue to be supported until adulthood, along with children abandoned between March 26, 1802 and March 31, 1804 who were infirm and had to be supported beyond the age four limit as regular paupers. New York State still incurred expenses under its abandonment program through the year 1824, when the last of the children born by March 1804 reached adulthood at age twenty‑one. From the 1802 through 1825 budgets, New York spent a total of $92,055.02 on payments to overseers of the poor for boarding out and maintaining these children.
New Jersey passed an abolition law containing an infant abandonment clause in February 1804, just as New York was ending its cost‑heavy program. In December 1805 a New Jersey newspaper reported that a petition for the repeal of the abandonment clause was circulating in several counties. The petitioners complained that "it is becoming a common and increasing practice in this county for Slave‑holders to abandon the children of their slaves . . . and then to receive from the Treasury for supporting these children three dollars per month or thirty‑six dollars per year."53 New Jersey's slaveowners behaved in like manner to their New York counterparts.
In 1806, due to public pressure and mounting costs, New Jersey repealed the abandonment clause passed only two years earlier. In fiscal year November 1807 to November 1808, New Jersey paid over $12,000 for the support of abandoned children, representing a full 30 percent of the state budget (excluding separate prison and militia budgets). In the next fiscal year, expenses for abandoned children consumed over 40 percent of the budget. In response, the New Jersey legislature in 1808 passed a law requiring overseers of the poor to advertise the availability of such children in public newspapers (one in the eastern and one in the western part of the state) and bind them out to service wherever possible, thus removing them from New Jersey treasury responsibility.54 In 1811, New Jersey terminated all payments for previously abandoned children, whereas New York continued payments through 1824 for infants abandoned between 1799 and 1804. In both New York and New Jersey, the inherent financial rewards of these programs encouraged abandonments and resulted in exorbitant costs to the state, subsequent tightening of the laws, and eventual total repeal of the programs.
* * * * *
Part of the generation of black children born between 1799 and 1827 were totally free from birth or were subsequently freed and therefore avoided the trauma that gradual emancipation meant for many children. It is unknown what proportion of the black children born between 1799 and 1827 were initially born to free mothers or were born to slave women and therefore also into service. Due to widespread voluntary manumission of adult slaves after 1785 (43.9 percent of blacks were already free by 1800, rising to 85 percent by 1820) many of the black children born between 1799 and 1827 were born to and lived with free parents and never owed service. Progressively fewer children were born to slave women (and therefore born also with a service obligation) over the 1799 to 1827 period. By 1820 89.1 percent of black women of childbearing age (fourteen to forty‑five years) were free in the southern six counties of New York;55 few children were therefore born between 1820 and 1827 who would owe service to their mothers' masters. By 1827 all younger women in their prime childbearing years (fourteen to twenty‑eight) had been born free since 1799 and therefore bore completely free children. In addition to children who were born initially to free parents, some of the children who were born to slave women between 1799 and 1827 were freed by masters to their parents' care and grew up in free black‑headed households with family members.
Many of the black children born between 1799 and 1827, however, were born to slave women and came under the provisions of the gradual emancipation program; they owed service to their mothers' masters until age twenty‑one, twenty‑five or twenty‑eight. They were the first children of slaves to grow up with the knowledge of certain future freedom. The maze of changing gradual emancipation legislation, however, provided for unstable childhoods. A child could be abandoned at age one. Children who were not abandoned in infancy were also at high risk of separation from parents. Children born with a service obligation could be freed during the 1799 moratorium on manumission laws, given up to the custody of free parents, kept in service, or sold repeatedly until the expiration of their terms of service. Owners like Robert Givan of Westchester placed little value on child laborers; he sold one child, abandoned another, and kept only one of the three known black children born in his house between 1798 and 1802. Tamer, born in 1798, was sold to and brought up by Isaac Blauvelt of New Rochelle, who manumitted her in 1820.56 Givan's slave woman Suckie gave birth to Phillis on January 23, 1800; Givan abandoned her on January 23, 1801. Suckie gave birth again, on December 1, 1802, to Rose, whom Givan retained.57
Black families were severely disrupted by the gradual emancipation process. Voluntary manumission freed 85 percent of slaves in the southern six counties of New York between 1785 and 1820 and slavery was abolished in 1827, but the service obligations imposed on children born between 1799 and 1827 to slave women extended virtual slavery to 1848 in the state. Masters who were willing to free their adult slaves often held on to their potentially valuable children thereby extending the manumission process and rendering it more traumatic and chaotic for the slave family. Children whose families were manumitted often had to wait until age twenty‑five or twenty‑eight to achieve freedom themselves. Peter Schenck of Bushwick purchased Peter and his wife Nelly from Teunis Schenck of Newtown on May 1, 1802. He promised to free them both upon good service in five years' time. Nelly, however, gave birth to children in 1804 and 1806 before being freed.58 While their parents would be freed in 1807, Dina and Ben would probably remain as bound servants to Schenck until adulthood.
Hannah, a slave woman owned by New York City merchant David Lydig, gave birth to a son John on August 26, 1802. Nine months later, Lydig sold Hannah and her child to a New York City widow, Hannah Lewis. Hannah was sold with a stipulation that she was to be freed in five years, while John was to serve until age twenty‑eight. Hannah subsequently gave birth to Brunette on March 10, 1806‑‑this child would also presumably remain as Lewis's servant until age twenty‑five. Hannah would be manumitted in 1808, son John in 1830, and daughter Brunette in 1831, many years apart.59
Although many masters did not want the children born to their slave women and either abandoned them as infants or gave them up to their parents, a large proportion of slaveholders valued both their prospective labor and resale value and kept them as bound servants. When Judge Abraham Woodhull of Brookhaven registered the birth of David to his slave woman on August 8, 1805, he certified that he "shall Not abandon said Child But shall Keep him as his Property until he Shall Arrive to the age of 28 years."60 After July 4, 1799 New York slaveholders knew that their naturally reproducing supply of slaves would dry up; in 1817 they were warned that all of their slaves born before July 4, 1799 would be freed in 1827. The children born owing service between 1799 and 1827 would soon be the only slaves available, particularly after 1827--as such, they were jealously held in bondage by many masters.
The high proportion of black children that lived in white rather than black households in 1820 reveals that large numbers of black children born between 1799 and 1827 were in fact kept in service rather than abandoned or freed. There were 6,525 black children under the age of fourteen listed in the 1820 census for the southern six counties of New York. As table 5 shows, the 6,525 children lived in either white households (2,933 children or 44.9 percent of the group), free black‑headed households (3,546 children, or 54.3 percent of the group), or institutions (46 children, or 0.7 percent of the total). Owners disproportionately held on to children who owed service in the two counties where slavery as an institution had been most entrenched and voluntary manumission had been the slowest process. In Kings and Richmond counties 70.1 and 90.5 percent respectively of black children under the age of fourteen lived in white households. In New York and Suffolk counties, where masters had been the most eager to manumit their slaves, only 32.4 and 26.6 percent of black children resided in white domiciles.
RESIDENCE OF BLACK CHILDREN UNDER THE AGE
OF FOURTEEN, SOUTHERN SIX COUNTIES OF NEW YORK, 1820
Number of Proportion of
Children Who All Children
Lived in Who Lived in
County Slave Free Households Households
Kings 682 278 18 39 83 201 3b 478 70.1
New York 2,955 124 57 31 745 1,955a 43c 957 32.4
Queens 1,406 147 82 120 425 632 ... 774 55.0
Richmond 232 187 10 6 7 22 ... 210 90.5
Suffolk 553 104 11 2 30 406 ... 147 26.6
Westchester 697 ... ... 123 244 330 ... 367 52.7
Total 6,525 840 238 321 1,534 3,546 46 2,933 44.9
SOURCE: Each black child under the age of fourteen who appeared in the 1820 census was classified according to type of residence. 1820 Census, Manuscript Population Schedules.
aThis figure includes two slave children who lived in free black‑headed households.
bOne free child was attached to the navy and two were in the poorhouse.
cFourteen free children were in Belview Hospital and twenty‑nine free children were in the Almshouse.
Almost half of black children under the age of fourteen in 1820 lived in white households as servants. The vast majority were children who had been born with a service obligation and had not been either voluntarily freed or given up to their parents' custody. Since they had been born between 1806 and 1820, none were formerly abandoned infants bound out to service in these white households by poor authorities until age eighteen or twenty‑one. Since they were all under the age of fourteen, none had been freed at age eighteen due to owner forfeiture of part of their services and then bound out until age twenty‑one by poor officials. Some were totally free but were placed in white households by indigent free parents as apprentices for specifically contracted periods of time or were put there as homeless free paupers by their towns.
Recent research on Rockland County, New York61 found that a high 67 percent of the 212 black children under the age of fourteen in 1820 lived in white rather than black households. Only 70 of the children (33 percent) lived in free black‑headed households where black adults could play a predominant role. These children had either been born initially to free parents or given up by owners to free parents. The rest of the 142 children lived in white households: 16 lived in white households which contained free black adults, 27 lived in units which contained both slave and free black adults, 57 lived in white households where all black adults on the premises were slaves, and 42 lived in white households which contained no black adults. Either born, sold, or indentured to their masters, these forty‑two children were totally isolated from parents and relatives and from black guidance and acculturation. A full 67 percent of black youths in Rockland and 44.9 percent of black children in the southern six counties of New York grew up in an environment where available adult role models were either slaves or dependent free black laborers in white households62--or were absent.
Black children who fulfilled their service obligations in white households between 1799 and 1848 show up in church records as well as in census enumerations. Due to high childhood mortality rates, some of them never lived long enough to see freedom. On February 22, 1808, a black boy aged between five and six years died at the house of J. Van Brunt in Setauket, Long Island, as did a black child at the residence of W. Smith on June 6, 1809, and another at the home of Widow Mount on September 8, 1815. On July 29, 1827 "Seaman Burtis's black child" died, followed by "Mathias Valentine's black boy" on May 7, 1832, both in the town of Eastchester. In December 1834 a "colored child at Mr. Van Scoy's" died in the town of Easthampton.63
* * * * *
The large proportion of children who were voluntarily freed and had to fulfill their service obligations endured a form of slavery similar to that experienced by previous generations of young blacks in New York. Although free by birth, the generation of children born to slave women between 1799 and 1827 were widely conceived of as slaves by their masters and white society at large. They owed service until ages twenty‑one, twenty‑five, or twenty‑eight under conditions which approximated the traditional status of black people as slaves. That owners often considered children born free but owing service to be slaves is indicated by the wording used at the registration of their births. In 1821 the town clerk of Brookhaven recorded a statement made by Thomas S. Strong concerning four children born to his slave Unice. Being duly sworn in, Strong "saith that he owns and possesses four female Children who are slaves. . . ."64 On April 5, 1831, the executor of the estate of Timothy Miller manumitted "a certain slave" Jeremiah. Jeremiah had been born in Timothy Miller's house to a slave woman on December 1, 1809, and therefore owed service until 1837 when he would reach age twenty‑eight. Instead of selling the seven remaining years of his service, the executor chose to free him from all obligations early at age twenty‑one.65
These children, who were all legally free‑born servants (as if bound to service by overseers of the poor) were often categorized as slaves by census takers. The 1820 census classified 1,080 (16.6 percent) of the 6,525 black children under the age of fourteen in the southern six counties of New York as slaves66 although no slaves had been born in the state since 1799. Among children who were described as slaves there was a greater incidence of residence in white rather than black households. All but two of the children listed as slaves lived in white households but only 34.1 percent of those categorized as free. The proportion of black adults and children that were free was similar in each of the counties except for Westchester. Officials in Westchester County considered all children born after 1799 as free, with 100 percent of black children listed as free in the census.67 Slavery legally ended in New York State on July 4, 1827; only with the 1830 census were the free‑born black children of slaves counted universally as free. As long as slavery existed in the state free‑born children who owed service remained closely identified with the slave population.
As quasi‑slaves, born‑to‑service children had to endure the trauma of sale. Their unexpired years of bound labor were subject to repeated sale--with the attendant disruption and separation from families and friends that accompanied traditional slave sales. The 1809 sale of nine‑year‑old Jane White was typical: Thomas Demarrest sold Jane for $57 to Richard Jacques for a term of sixteen years, after which she was to be free.68 Twenty‑four such sales were located in which children were disposed of for a term of years. Children between ages five and fifteen (median age ten years) were sold for their remaining years of servitude until mandatory emancipation at age twenty‑five or twenty‑eight (twenty‑one for those born after 1817).69 William Spader, a Kings County yeoman, sold his slave Betty with her small female child to Daniel Spader, a New York City butcher, for $150. Betty was sold for life but the child only until age twenty‑five.70
In 1825 John Dumont of Ulster County sold the five‑year‑old son of his slave woman Sojourner Truth to the nearby household of Solomon Gedney. Peter was subsequently taken to Alabama with Gedney's sister where he would be denied emancipation at age twenty‑one as provided for by New York State law. Once Sojourner was free in 1827 she doggedly fought for his return. With Quaker help she obtained a court order that he be brought back to New York by Gedney; his illegal removal from the state entitled him to immediate complete freedom from his remaining service obligation to his master.71 The free‑born children who owed service were also bequeathed as short‑term property in wills. Abraham Prall of Northfield gave the service of a negro boy Jack as a legacy to his son Ichabod in 1812 until March 17, 1826, "at which time his freedom commences by law."72
* * * * *
Slavery ended in New York State on July 4, 1827, but the children of slave women who were born free between 1799 and 1827 but owed service to their mothers' masters continued to serve in a manner similar to slavery. Both virtual slavery and the manumission process were extended beyond 1827 in the state.73 This last generation of the children of slaves in New York were totally freed upon completion of their terms of service beginning on July 4, 1824 (when the first females reached age twenty‑five) through July 4, 1848 (when the last children born in 1827 reached age twenty‑one).
It is unknown what proportion of these children actually served beyond 1827 in a form of bound service which survived the institution of slavery that it was designed to eliminate. Some were freed early during childhood to their parents' custody.74 Others were freed prior to 1827 before the expiration of their terms of service at age eighteen or twenty‑one by deeds of manumission.75 Major William Jones freed twenty‑one‑year‑old Emily Robison in 1824; he was entitled to her services until age twenty‑five but "now declare[d] his intention to abandon and set her at full liberty." John B. Gillespie of Westchester also freed his servant girl Lydia before the expiration of her term. He freed Lydia, about age twenty, on July 2, 1827, evidently motivated by the general emancipation which was to take place on the fourth of July. He could have retained her services until age twenty‑five, but chose to commemorate the end of slavery in New York State by entirely manumitting his bound servant.76
Many bound children who were freed early from their service obligations were only manumitted between 1827 and 1848.77 In an April 5, 1828 codicil to his will, Charles Storer of Westfield ordered that his negro boy Harry be freed "when my wife can spare him [and] also to give him my oyster rake and skiff."78 Another servant, Eliza Ann Robinson, was freed five years early at age sixteen in 1834. Eliza Ann was one of four children born to Nell, a slave woman in the house of Samuel Briggs in Eastchester; born on August 18, 1818, she owed service to Briggs until age twenty‑one. On July 21, 1834 Briggs complained before the Justices of the Peace of Westchester that Eliza Ann had been guilty of bad behavior. Briggs asserted that she was pregnant by a white Englishman Joseph Lees, pilfered money and articles from his house, absented herself whenever she pleased, and that he was in danger of having his house burned down. The justices discharged Eliza from Briggs's service.79 Children who were not manumitted early by masters were required to complete their full terms of service before emancipation. On June 9, 1814, Mary Ann Alstyne sold Robert Ross of Westchester a seven‑year‑old boy for $25 named France. Ross was to have the boy until his twenty‑eighth birthday in 1835.80 In 1816 the executors of the estate of Benjamin B. Blydenburgh sold the unexpired service time of five‑year‑old Lucy for $40 to Abraham Smith. Born on February 28, 1811, Lucy owed service until February 28, 1836.81
The final generation of offspring born to New York slave women were caught in the freedom process--a process which uniquely affected children. Child members of free black families would continue to live apart from parents and siblings in white households as late as 1848. Whether or not they were freed ahead of schedule, the fact that black children were widely held in service between 1799 and 1848 meant continued severe familial disruption for the black community as a legacy of New York's gradual emancipation program. New York's method of abolishing slavery guaranteed both freedom and long‑term instability for the black family during the first half of the nineteenth century.
The black children born free under a service obligation between 1799 and 1827 later matured and entered marriages as bound servants. The children born in 1799 first began to reach marriage age in 1815 many of the marriages which occurred between 1815 and 1848 were between two such bound servants or between a bound spouse and a fully free mate. They experienced a temporary form of slave marriage which entailed separate ownership and residence of spouses, the danger of repeated sale, and strict owner control over their personal lives and freedom of movement. These couples also entered parenthood under conditions similar to slavery, with one important exception; since the children of bound‑to‑service women were born fully free, they at least could not be sold away from their mothers.
Born between 1815 and 1848, the children of bound‑to‑service women spent their early childhoods with mothers who were involuntarily held in slave‑like service; their fathers generally lived elsewhere as similarly bound servants, slaves (before 1827), or as free persons. Not until 1848 were all black children in New York born to parents who were completely free at the time of their births. However, it was not until the mid‑1870s (when bound women born shortly before July 4, 1827 ended their childbearing years) that an entire generation began to be born none of whose parents had ever been slaves or bound servants in youth.
1For a full discussion of the legislative debates and processes which finally resulted in the passage of a bill in 1799, see Zilversmit, The First Emancipation, pp. 147‑49, 176‑84.
2Zilversmit, The First Emancipation, p. 148.
3Journal of the Assembly of New York State, 8th Session, 2nd Meeting, January 27, 1785, p. 53, NYHS. Representatives who opposed abolition were Cornelius Corsen and Joshua Mercereau from Richmond, John Nicholson, Nathan Smith, and Cornelius Schoonmaker from Ulster, Thomas Thomas from Westchester, Abraham (or Dirck) Brinckeroff from Dutchess, William Sickles from Orange, Thomas Randall of New York City, and John Vanderbilt from Kings County. Charles Doughty, the other representative from Kings County, did not vote on this measure, but he joined the pro‑slavery side on other votes (p. 64).
4Henry P. Johnson, ed., The Correspondance and Public Papers of John Jay (New York: 1890‑1893), 3:413n., 413‑15, quoted in Zilversmit, The First Emancipation, p. 165.
5Jabez D. Hammond, The History of Political Parties in the State of New York, 4th edit., 2 vols. (Buffalo, N.Y.: Phinney and Co., 1850), 1: General Erastus Root, "Notes," note P, pp. 580‑81.
6"An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery," March 29, 1799, Laws of New York State, 22nd Session Chap. 62, vol. 4, pp. 388‑89. It also provided for monetary penalties against owners who failed to register the birth of children to their slave women with the local town clerk within the first nine months of life. Owners who failed to legally notify local officials of their intention to abandon an infant within one year after the birth were responsible for maintaining the child until the end of its period of legal servitude.
7"An Act Amending the act, entitled 'An Act Concerning Slaves and Servants,'" March 26, 1802, Laws of New York State, 25th Session Chap. 52 (1802), p. 82.
8"An Act to repeal the 10th Section of the act, entitled 'An Act concerning slaves and servants,' passed April 8, 1801," March 31, 1804, Laws of New York State, 27th Session Chap. 40 (1804), p. 145.
9"An Act in addition to the act concerning slaves and servants," March 30, 1810, Laws of New York State, 33rd Session, Chap. 115, p. 45.
10"An Act Relative to Slaves and Servants," March 31, 1817, Laws of New York State, 40th Session, Chap. 137, pp. 136‑44.
11This sample consists of cases where data was available for both the birth date of the child and the exact date the notification of abandonment was made by the owner. The thirteen towns include Flatlands, Bushwick, New Utrecht, New York City, Huntington, Oysterbay, Eastchester, New Rochelle, Westchester, Castleton, Southampton, Northfield, and North Salem.
12The total number of black infants ever abandoned in New York State can be approximated based on the amounts of money spent annually on their support in the state budget reports, 1802 to 1825 (see table 4). The January 28, 1802 budget report listed funds spent during calendar year January 8, 1801 to January 8, 1802 (also including bills for the last five months of 1800). At a compensation rate of $3.50 per month per child ($42.00 per year), the sum of $1,359.06 indicated support payments for thirty‑two children. From the January 25, 1803 to the January 26, 1808 budget reports, $86,448.81 were spent on the support of abandoned children. To this sum must be added $737.29 from the February 1809 budget report representing the first three months of 1808 (33.3 percent of $2,214.80), to include the last payments possible until age four for children born and abandoned as late as March 30, 1804 (when the abandonment program ended). Adding the sums for calendar years 1802 to 1807 (1803 to 1808 budget reports), and the first three months of 1808, a total of $87,186.10 was spent on support of abandoned children. Each child, at the rate of $2.00 per month ($24.00 per year) for three years cost $72.00 in support, regardless of when the individual bills were presented. This eliminates the problems encountered in trying to estimate the number of children supported annually based on sums spent during a single year: overseers of the poor often accumulated expenses for several years before presenting their bills. Dividing $87,186.10 by $72.00 indicates the support of 1,211 children plus the 32 children supported during the second half of 1800 and 1801, totaling 1,243 black children abandoned in New York State. Children born and abandoned before March 26, 1802 legally could have remained on overseer of the poor rolls past the age of four, along with infirm children born and abandoned July 4, 1799 to March 31, 1804. Some overcounting of the number of children may therefore have occurred if children were supported by the state and accumulated expenses for more than the three years. From April through December (the last nine months) of 1808, and from January 1, 1809 to November 30, 1824 state budget reports (dated February 1809 to January 25, 1825) recorded sums still being spent on the support of abandoned children. These children were all being supported beyond March 31, 1808, when the last children legally abandoned reached age four. Based on the rate of $2.00 per month ($24.00 per year), 61 children were supported for nine months of 1808, 19 (1809), 8 (1810), 2 (1811), 11 (1812), 2 (1813), 4 (1814), 6 (1815), 4 (1816), 3(1817), 4 (1818), 3 (1819), 5 (1820), 2 (1821), 2 (1822), 2 (1823), and eight in fiscal year 1824, totaling 146 children. (If individual children were supported over successive years, 1808 to 1824, the estimate of 146 children would have to be revised downward.) These 146 children had all been abandoned before March 31, 1804, and were being supported beyond age four and for longer than three years: all were necessarily included previously in the group of 1,243 children abandoned statewide. During the 1808 to 1824 period, the number of abandoned children still supported may also have been undercounted due to their appearance on poor rolls for only short periods of time--until they were indentured, between indentures, or during periods of temporary dependency. Several such children would appear collectively to cost as much as a smaller number of children supported for the entire year. New York State Comptroller's Reports 1802‑1825, Journals of the Assembly and the Senate of New York State, Sessions 25‑48 (1802‑1825), NYHS.
13For a list of the sources of the overseer of the poor rolls and notices of abandonment for the towns of New York City, Southfield, Castleton, Northfield, Newtown, North Hempstead, Oysterbay, Huntington, Southampton, New Rochelle, Westchester, Eastchester, North Salem, Flatlands, Bushwick, and New Utrecht, see the bibliographical essay. See app. 16 for a listing of the 262 children abandoned and the names of their former owners.
14See app. 17 for an explanation of this methodology and sources used.
15The sources of the birth registrations and abandonment documents for these ten towns are listed in the bibliographical essay. The figures for the town of Castleton include the years 1805 and 1806. Castleton failed to comply with the legal deadline of March 31, 1804, and continued to abandon children illegally through 1806.
16There is not a complete match between year of birth and year of abandonment--some of the 26 children born in 1799 were recorded as abandoned in 1800 rather than 1799. The law stipulated that an owner had to declare his intention to abandon a child within one year after its birth. Therefore, children born during the latter months of each year would often be officially abandoned on a date in the next year, depending on the alacrity with which the owner filed his abandonment certificate.
17These ten towns were Flatlands, Bushwick, New Utrecht, New York City, Huntington, Oysterbay, Eastchester, New Rochelle, Westchester, and Southampton. In an eleventh town, Castleton, thirty‑three children were born to abandoning owners between 1799 and 1827. Although only eight were legally candidates for abandonment, fifteen were in fact abandoned. Castleton did not comply with the March 31, 1804 statute which ended the abandonment option, and continued to abandon children born after that date.
18Two children (in the towns of Eastchester and Westchester), were born after the March 31, 1804 deadline, but were still abandoned. They were therefore counted as eligible for abandonment. Of these 250 children born 1799 to 1827, 155 (62 percent) were born in the 1799 to 1804 period of the abandonment clause. This imbalance may reflect several factors such as a partial failure to register births in compliance with the law and the progressive decline in the numbers of slave women available to give birth to such children as the black population was voluntarily freed between 1785 and 1827. Owners may have been more careful to register the births of children between 1799 and 1804 due to the lucrative incentives of abandonment of unwanted labor and possible payments for their board during childhood.
19Flatlands Slave Records 1799‑1838, Register of the Children born of slaves . . . , pp.1,11; Flatlands Town Records and Miscellaneous Deeds 1661‑1831, p. 318, St. Francis.
20Owners could legally notify local poor officials of their intention to abandon their children at any date within the first year of life. The children, regardless of the date of abandonment notification, had to be supported by their masters until age one.
21"An Act Amending the act, entitled 'An Act Concerning Slaves and Servants,'" March 26, 1802, Laws of New York State, 25th Session Chap. 52 (1802), p. 82.
22The nine towns were Southfield, New York City, North Hempstead, New Rochelle, Oysterbay, New Utrecht, Bushwick, Newtown, and North Salem. For North Hempstead, Newtown, and New Utrecht, data in the form of successive years of overseer of the poor rolls was very complete. The eighty‑seven children on these rolls remained under overseer of the poor care for an average of two years and nine months each.
23Eastchester Historical Society, Records of the Town of Eastchester, 1665‑1835, vol. 6: Overseers of the Poor 1778‑1824, pp. 89‑90.
24New Utrecht Births and Manumissions of Slaves 1800‑1822, pp. 4, 72, St. Francis; "Overseers of the Poor of New Utrecht, Accounts of Abandoned Children, February 1, 1802, February 1, 1803, February 1, 1804, March 9, 1805," Care of Children of Slaves, Accession no. 267, Box 1, New York State Library, Albany, N.Y. William Denyse appeared on each of these four consecutive overseer of the poor rolls, along with the sums due him for supporting Adam.
25Overseer of the poor rolls for other towns provided less specific information on who was sheltering the abandoned children. Rolls mentioned the original abandoning owner, but did not identify him as the current recipient of payments for the child's support.
26These ten men--Peter Cortelyou, Denyse Denyse, William Denyse, Abraham Duryea, Thomas Hageman, Teunis Suydam, Albert Van Brunt, Rutgert Van Brunt (two children), and William W. Van Nuys, had registered the births of children to their slave women in New Utrecht Births and Manumissions of Slaves 1800‑1822, St. Francis. They later appeared on overseer of the poor rolls--being paid to house these same children whom they had previously abandoned. The other four persons listed on the poor rolls--Jacques Cortelyou, Abraham Denyse, Peter Stellenwerf, and Catherine Van Dycke, had never registered the births of the children they now housed, and were presumably not their original owners.
27"Overseers of the poor of North Hempstead, Accounts, March 13 1802, May 3 1803, November 7, 1804," Care of Children of Slaves, Accession no. 267, Box 1, New York State Library, Albany, N.Y. Accounts were unavailable after 1804--both Jeffery and Tamar were probably supported on poor rolls until their fourth birthdays in May and July 1805.
28Peter Shute, Certificate of Abandonment of Tempe, March 19, 1802, Ms., Tom Paine Memorial House, New Rochelle, N.Y.; "Overseers of the Poor of New Rochelle, Account, March 23, 1804," Care of Children of Slaves, Accession no. 267, Box 1, New York State Library, Albany, N.Y.; Peter Shute, Registration of Slave Child Harriet, b. January 6, 1804, Abandoned August 31, 1804, Ms., Tom Paine Memorial House, New Rochelle, N.Y.
29"Overseers of the Poor of New Rochelle, Account, March 23, 1804," Care of Children of Slaves, Accession no. 267, Box 1, New York State Library, Albany, N.Y. Guion also abandoned another infant William, born to his slave woman Sybble on April 25, 1804. No overseer of the poor accounts have been located for William's maintenance at Guion's home or elsewhere. David Guion, Registration of Slave Child William, b. April 25, 1804, Abandoned August 18, 1804, Ms., Tom Paine Memorial House, New Rochelle, N.Y.
30"Overseers of the Poor of New Rochelle, Accounts, March 23, 1804, March 1, 1805, January 17, 1806," Care of Children of Slaves, Accession no. 267, Box 1, New York State Library, Albany, N.Y.; Theodosius Bartow, Registration of Slave Child Jane, b. October 15, 1802, Abandoned June 8, 1803, Ms., Tom Paine Memorial House, New Rochelle, N.Y.
31In a sample of twelve towns where abandonments took place (Oysterbay, Brookhaven, Huntington, Southampton, Eastchester, New Rochelle, Westchester, Castleton, Flatlands, Bushwick, New York City, New Utrecht) 101 slave mothers had 113 out of their 149 known children abandoned. Collectively, these mothers "lost" 75.8 percent of their children born between 1799 and 1804. This proportion would undoubtedly be lower if full data were available on the real total number of children ever born to these women during these years, rather than on only the number of births known to have occurred based on owner registrations of child births. Where shifts in ownership occurred, long‑term birth patterns for individual women were untraceable. The fact that their children were abandoned did not necessarily mean that these slave mothers were torn apart from their infants at this time. It meant that they were separated by different statuses, and that a variety of new legal options defined their chances for remaining under one roof.
32Flatlands Town Records and Miscellaneous Deeds 1661‑1831, pp. 5, 317, St. Francis; Journal of John Baxter of Flatlands, Long Island, 1790‑1826, vol. 1, LIHS.
33Oyster Bay Town Records, 7:361; 8:330.
34Eastchester Historical Society, Records of the Town of Eastchester, 1665‑1835, vol. 6: Overseers of the Poor 1778‑1824, pp. 79‑80.
35"An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery," March 29, 1799, Laws of New York State, 22nd Session Chap. 62, vol. 4:388‑89; "An Act Amending the act, entitled 'An Act Concerning Slaves and Servants,'" March 26, 1802, Laws of New York State, 25th Session Chap. 52 (1802), p. 82; "An Act to repeal the 10th Section of the act, entitled 'An Act concerning slaves and servants,' passed April 8, 1801," March 31, 1804, Laws of New York State, 27th Session Chap. 40 (1804), p. 145.
36Flatlands Town Records and Miscellaneous Deeds 1661‑1831, pp. 3, 7, 11, 15, 18, 19, 23, 26, 29, St. Francis. Nicholas Schenck and Benjamin Bennit, Flatlands, Indenture Agreement, January 1, 1819, Nicholas Schenck Papers, Schenck Family Papers, NYHS; Nicholas Schenck and Overseers of the Poor of Flatlands, Indenture Agreement, May 15, 1811, Nicholas Schenck Papers, Schenck Family Papers, NYHS. Schenck and his neighbors considered child labor to be valuable by age ten, at which point Schenck took back one of his abandoned children and was able to bind out another of his children to a Flatlands employer. Since no overseer of the poor rolls are available for the town of Flatlands, it is unknown whether Peter remained in Schenck's household after age one, with Schenck being reimbursed by overseers of the poor for his maintenance until he was bound out at age ten. Peter may also have been bound out to service elsewhere from age four to ten and only returned to Schenck after cancellation of his previous indentures.
37"Overseer of the Poor for Town of Southfield--To Boarding and clothing the undermentioned Negro children which are now living and were born of slaves and abandoned agreeable to law of said state for the abolition of slavery passed the 29th day of March, 1799, dated January 1, 1804," Official Document Book of the New York State Freedom Train, p. 40. This is the only surviving overseer of the poor roll for the town of Southfield. Other original rolls would undoubtedly add to the number of black children ever abandoned in the town.
38Morris, History of Staten Island, 2:42‑45. Based on the dates of birth (1799 to 1804), another four of the twenty‑five indentured children were probably also children abandoned at age one; they may have appeared on other now unavailable overseer of the poor rolls.
39Some owners abandoned children born to their slave women but later accepted different abandoned children as indentured servants. James Guyon abandoned Man and Sarah, but took Daniel Lake's original child Bet as an indentured servant in 1806. Abraham Van Duzer abandoned Jane and Tine, but accepted Joseph Perine's abandoned child Dinah as a servant in 1806. Other owners, like James Egbert and Stephen Kettletas, abandoned two children each, but only accepted one of them back later as indentured servants. See app. 16 on these abandonments.
40Work Projects Administration, Records of Flushing, 1:25‑92. No records of slave child births and abandonments or overseer of the poor rolls were located for Flushing, making it impossible to establish that these children were in fact abandoned, or to crosscheck their original and new owners The other three children were either born before 1799 or after 1804 and had become chargeable to the town under a variety of possible circumstances.
41Work Projects Administration, Records of Flushing, 1:51‑52, 56‑57.
42Bills and overseer of the poor rolls presenting demands for payment to New York State were located for the towns of New Utrecht, Bushwick, Southfield, North Salem, Oysterbay, New Rochelle, New York City, North Hempstead, Newtown, and Eastchester. For a full listing of these sources, see the bibliographical essay.
43Records of payments made by the state to individual towns were available for the towns of New Utrecht, Bushwick, Southfield, North Salem, Oysterbay, New Rochelle, New York City, North Hempstead, Hempstead, Harrison, Yonkers, White Plains, Pelham, Castleton, Northfield, Westfield, Rye, Huntington, and Flushing. Office of the State Comptroller, Albany, Day Book No. 2, August 13, 1801 to January 8, 1803; Day Book No. 3, January 11, 1803 to November 9, 1803; Day Book No. 4, November 10, 1803 to January 9, 1805. Manuscript no. 310. Payment records were also located in Office of the State Comptroller, Albany, Ledger A, 1797‑1806; Accountant Ledger, 1797‑1837, Accession no. 233. Both day books and ledgers are located at the New York State Library, Albany, N.Y.
44If records were available for all fifty towns, and if records were complete and covered all seven years for each town, this proportion would more than double and approach 50 percent; 50.3 percent of the state's black population lived in the southern six counties in 1800.
45New York State Comptroller's Reports, January 28, 1802 to January 25, 1825, Journals of the Assembly and the Senate of New York State, Sessions 25‑48 (1802‑1825), NYHS. These two sets of journals contain annual budget reports and itemizations by the state comptroller.
46New York State Comptroller's Report, January 28, 1802, Journal of the Assembly of New York State, Session 25 (1802), p. 21, NYHS. In addition to the $1,359.06 spent on abandoned children, $214.00 had been paid out to support superannuated slaves who formerly belonged to loyalist owners. Jenkins's estimate for the year 1802 included both the support of such elderly or infirm slaves and the group of abandoned children.
47"Message from Governor George Clinton, Albany, January 26, 1802," Journal of the Assembly of New York State, 25th Session (1802), p. 6, NYHS.
48"An Act Amending the act, entitled 'An Act Concerning Slaves and Servants,'" March 26, 1802, Laws of New York State, 25th Session, Chap. 52 (1802), p. 82.
49Comptroller's Report, January 26, 1803, Journal of the Assembly of New York State, 26th Session (1803), p. 25, NYHS. Jenkins referred to a book in his possession listing the 322 children abandoned statewide. This book has not been located; it may still exist (as yet uncatalogued) in the New York State Library, Albany, N.Y., which housed other types of records kept by the state comptroller.
50Comptroller's Report, January 31, 1804, Journal of the Assembly of New York State, 27th Session (1804), p. 29, NYHS.
51Comptroller's Report, January 22, 1805, Journal of the Assembly of New York State, 28th Session (1805), p. 39‑45, NYHS.
52"An Act Relative to Slaves and Servants," March 31, 1817, Laws of New York State, 40th Session Chap. 137, pp. 136‑44.
53Zilversmit, The First Emancipation, pp. 196‑97.
54Ibid., pp. 198‑99; Marion Wright, "New Jersey Laws and the Negro," Journal of Negro History 28 (April 1943): 252‑53.
55Out of 5,979 black women aged fourteen to forty‑five years, 5,328 (89.1 percent) were free. See app. 15 on these figures.
56Isaac Blauvelt, Manumission of Tamer, July 28, 1820, Tom Paine Memorial House, New Rochelle, N.Y.
57Town Records of Westchester, Book 46: Schools and Slave Births 1799‑1822, microfilm reel TWC1, pp. 1, 11, HDC.
58Peter Schenck, Manumission of Peter and Nelly, May 1, 1802, Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , p. 186, MCNY; Peter Schenck, Registration of Slave Children Ben and Dina, b. February 6, 1804, March 3, 1806, Bushwick Town Records--History, Deeds, Births of Slaves 1660‑1825, pp. 447, 455, St. Francis.
59David Lydig, Registration of Slave Child John, b. August 26, 1802, New York City Birth Certificates of Slaves, microfilm reel 49, p. 3, NYHS; Bill of Sale, David Lydig to Hannah Lewis, May 5, 1803, Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , p. 225, MCNY; Hannah Lewis, Registration of Slave Child Brunette, b. March 10, 1806, New York City Birth Certificates of Slaves, microfilm reel 49, p. 36, NYHS.
60Judge Abraham Woodhull, Registration of Slave Child David, b. January 17, 1805, Records of the Town of Brookhaven, 1798‑1856, 2:93.
61Nordstrom, "Slavery in Rockland, 1686‑1827," pp. 153‑54.
62The presence of mature blacks in the same white household as children who owed service until adulthood did not translate into parents and children living together. These children stood the same or reduced chances of living with parents as did previous generations of slave children. The increase in freedom among their parents and the variety of legal circumstances available to them often increased instability and worked to separate family members physically as well as by legal status.
63Records of Setauket Presbyterian Church, Deaths 1797‑1815, LIHS; Eastchester Historical Society, transcriber, Deacon's Book [of St. Paul's Church] 1826‑1841; "Records of the Church of East Hampton, Deaths 1696‑1881," in Osborne, comp., Records of Easthampton, 5.
64Records of the Town of Brookhaven, 1798‑1856, = 2:83. (same problem error in the thesis)
65Nethaniel Miller (executor of Timothy Miller), Manumission of Jeremiah, April 5, 1831; Timothy Miller, Registration of Slave Child Jeremiah, b. December 1, 1809, Records of the Town of Brookhaven, 1798‑1856, 2:307, 90.
661820 Census, "Aggregate Amount of Persons . . . "; 1820 Census, Manuscript Population Schedules. The black population was not classified into age categories in the 1800 and 1810 federal censuses. It is likely that even larger proportions of black free‑born children would have been counted as slaves in these two earlier censuses.
67See app. 15 on the proportion of blacks that were free by age and sex group in 1820.
68Yoshpe, "Record of Slave Manumissions," p. 96.
69In the sample of 312 bills of sale discussed in chap. 5 the unexpired labor time of twenty‑four children born between 1799 and 1827 was sold. Ages were available for thirteen of the twenty‑four children.
70Bill of Sale, William Spader to Daniel Spader, December 12, 1804, Slaves--Miscellaneous Manuscripts, Folder 1, Manuscript Room, New York Public Library.
71Bernard, Journey Toward Freedom, pp. 53, 70‑71; Gilbert, narrator, Narrative of Sojourner Truth, pp. 44‑45.
72Will of Abraham Prall, Northfield, December 8, 1812, proved May 25, 1820, Wills of Richmond County, 1787‑1863, on file at the Surrogate's Office [Liber B, p. 733], St. George, Staten Island, SIIAS.
73An article in the June 22, 1827 issue of Freedom's Journal entitled "Abolition of Slavery" speculated that few black children would owe service beyond 1827 "on account of the slavery of their parents." It postulated inaccurately that since owners had generally neglected to register the births of children born to their slaves by age one with town clerks as required by law, few children would even owe such service. The 1817 act specified that owners who failed to comply with the registration regulation would forfeit the child's service early at age eighteen--not that the child would be absolved of all service obligations. "An Act Relative to Slaves and Servants," March 31, 1817, Laws of New York State, 40th Session, Chap. 137, pp. 136‑44.
74By 1820 85 percent of blacks in the southern six counties of New York were free, and all adult blacks were completely free as of July 4, 1827. Therefore, free parents would have been widely available to assume responsibility for these children from owners willing to manumit them early.
75The statute of 1804 permitted owners of children born to slave women after July 4, 1799 to free such children early at age eighteen (females) or twenty‑one (males) with an overseer of the poor certificate stating that the child was capable of self‑support. The statute of 1817 changed the allowable age of early manumission from service obligations to twenty‑one for children of both sexes born between 1799 and 1817. "An Act to repeal the 10th Section of the act, entitled 'An Act concerning slaves and servants,' passed April 8, 1801," March 31, 1804, Laws of New York State, 27th Session Chap. 40 (1804), p. 145; "An Act Relative to Slaves and Servants," March 31, 1817, Laws of New York State, 40th Session, Chap. 137, pp. 136‑44.
76Major William Jones, Manumission of Emily Robison, December 27, 1824, Oyster Bay Town Records, 7:455; John B. Gillespie, Manumission of Lydia, July 2, 1827, "Manumition of Slaves" May 8, 1787‑April 11, 1816, Liber A, p. 223, Town Records of Westchester, Book 58, microfilm reel TWC2, roll 5, HDC. Also see Leonard Bleecker, Manumission of Ruth, October 19, 1812 [effective 1818], Yoshpe, "Record of Slave Manumissions," p. 94; Arnold Fleet, Manumission of Nancy Sebury [born in his house in 1804], June 15, 1822, Oyster Bay Town Records, 7:451; 8:331.
77See James Chrystie, Manumission of Agnes, July 4, 1815 [effective 1828], Yoshpe, "Record of Slave Manumissions," p. 80. On July 4, 1815, James Chrystie promised freedom to his eight‑year‑old bound servant Agnes to take effect in 1828 at age twenty‑one. Since she had been born in 1807, she had owed service to Chrystie until her twenty‑fifth birthday in 1832.
78Will of Charles Storer, Westfield, May 11, 1827, proved October 30, 1828, Wills of Richmond County, 1787‑1863, on file at the Surrogate's Office [Liber C, p. 1110], St. George, Staten Island, SIIAS.
79Eastchester Historical Society, Records of the Town of Eastchester, 1665‑1835, 10:28, 29, 31, 36; Westchester Town Records, 1724‑1839, vol. 27, p. 293, HDC.
80Ross Manuscripts, Miscellaneous, NYHS.
81Bill of Sale, Administrators of Benjamin Blydenburgh to Abraham Smith, November 27, 1816, New York City Birth Certificates of Slaves, microfilm reel no. 49, p. 5, NYHS.