TRANSITION TO FREEDOM: PRIVATE VOLUNTARY MANUMISSION, 1785 TO 1827
Now I acknowledge that liberty is a great thing, and worth seeking for, if we can get it honestly; and by our good conduct prevail on our masters to set us free. . . . That liberty is a great thing we may know from our own feelings, and we may likewise judge so from the conduct of the white people in the late war. How much money has been spent, and how many lives have been lost to defend their liberty! I must say that I have hoped that God would open their eyes, when they were so much engaged for liberty, to think of the state of the poor blacks, and to pity us.
Jupiter Hammon (1787)
Between 1712 and 1785 the thrust of manumission law had been to prevent the spread of freedom for blacks and to ensure that any blacks who were freed would not be supported by society. The difficulty of manumission before 1785 meant that almost all slaves spent their entire lives in servitude. The liberation of Quaker slaves in the 1770s and the achievement of freedom by many categories of slaves during the Revolution and its aftermath were the preludes and prerequisites for the floodtide of manumissions opened when New York revised its manumission laws in 1785. The white post‑war political and social conscience acquiesced to the inevitable modification or abolition of slavery and laid the legal groundwork for the progressive liberation of all of the state's slaves over a forty‑two‑year period. The post‑Revolution termination of slavery in New York was accomplished as owners privately freed almost all of their slaves between 1785 and 1827 and their bound servants between 1799 and 1848. The spirit of freedom engendered by the Revolution doomed slavery in the North long before the Civil War spelled its end in the South.
Almost all of the northern states outlawed slavery in the years during and immediately after the Revolution. Vermont abolished slavery outright in its 1777 constitution. Massachusetts (1780) and New Hampshire (1783) included bills of rights in their constitutions which declared all men to be free and equal by birth; judicial interpretation of the equality clauses in test cases made slavery illegal. Pennsylvania (1780), Rhode Island (1784), and Connecticut (1784) passed gradual abolition bills which preserved existing slave property but provided for the eventual freedom of all children born to slave women after the passage of the acts. In 1804 New Jersey was the last northern state to pass a gradual abolition bill.1
Although the New York Provincial Congress refused to incorporate a promise of eventual abolition of slavery into the new state constitution adopted in 1777,2 the breakdown of the slave system during the war, the ideological fallout of the Revolution, and the fruits of long‑term Quaker agitation against slavery set the stage for New York to move against slavery a year after the withdrawal of the British forces. Public sentiment had begun to perceive that freedom and liberty--although not equality--should be extended to black Americans3. The New York Manumission Society, founded by a group of influential Quakers in 1785, lobbied incessantly against slavery. It placed pressure on public officials, sponsored lectures and orations, printed antislavery literature, and spread attitudes favorable to emancipation through the newspapers and by individual persuasion.4 It was in this context of antislavery legislation in neighboring states and political and philosophical pressures within its borders that New York first dealt with the issue of slavery shortly after the end of the Revolution.
On April 12, 1785, New York revised its inherited set of colonial manumission laws and passed as a new state the first legislation on slavery.5 This 1785 act established a manumission policy which remained in effect until the state abolished slavery in 1827. Masters were permitted to free any slave over the age of twenty‑one and under the age of fifty (reduced to age forty‑five in 1817) without posting a 200 bond as security if they first obtained an overseer of the poor certificate stating that the slave was under age fifty and able to provide for himself. Once local poor officials certified a slave and consented to his manumission, owners were exonerated from any future responsibility for his maintenance. Two groups of slaves were ineligible for overseer of the poor certification--the young and the old. From 1785 until 1801 the manumission of a slave over age fifty still required the posting of a 200 bond to insure that the slave would not become a public charge. From 1801 to 1827, owners were allowed to free slaves over fifty without the bond but were liable for any future charges should the slave become a town dependent.6 As discussed later, children under the age of twenty‑one were too young to be certified by overseers of the poor as able to maintain themselves.
Before 1785 a resolute slaveholding mentality had produced stiff laws which prevented manumissions. Once ideology changed, the overseer of the poor certificate was created as the vehicle for reform; it replaced the 200 bond and support requirements which had made manumission so difficult. Overseer of the poor certification was the spigot though which freedom flowed; it was crucial to an owner's decision and ability to free his slave. Once obtained, it carried considerable financial benefits--a slave could be freed with no future expense to the owner. A slave freed without certification could become a large financial liability to the estate of his former master. One owner, Roderic Townsend of Eastchester, freed his slave Peter Prince without an overseer of the poor certificate but willingly acknowledged his future responsibility toward the freedman: "I pronounce you free from me till such time as you become chargeable and then you may come to me again and there have maintainment so long as you shall live."7
Two legal cases illustrate the significance attached to overseer of the poor certification in determining responsibility for the support of freed slaves. In an action brought by the overseers of the poor of Oysterbay against the executors of Thomas Hopkins over liability for the support of Jordan (Hopkins's former slave), the existence of a fully executed and signed overseer of the poor certificate was sufficient to charge the town with all future maintenance.8 In another case, Isaac Denniston manumitted his slave, Christian, on December 16, 1820. Two and a half years later, since Christian was in poor health and unable to support himself, the overseers of the poor of Bethlehem were ordered by the town to spend $160 for his maintenance. Denniston, having failed to obtain an overseer of the poor certificate when he freed Christian, was now judged by the court to be liable for his support rather than the town.9
In order to certify a slave as capable of self‑support town overseers of the poor and justices of the peace personally interviewed prospective freedmen in their owners' homes. William Griffith planned to free his slaves Quamino and Sarah; Quamino recollected how Griffith had instructed him to behave during the upcoming overseer of the poor examination:10
"And then, says he, on such a day, when I call you, you must take your wife by the hand, and come into my office. I never told my woman--no, Sir, I kept it still,--till one day he called me to bring my wife. I went in the kitchen, and said, 'Mother, Mr. Griffith says you must come along with me into the office.' She stroked her apron, and we went, and found the office full of gentlemen, and I made my bow to the gentlemen; and there we stood as if we were just married. Squire Adams asked me how I felt--and I told him 'I feel very well. I tank you, Sir: I feel very well in my limbs.'"
The major alteration of the law in 1785 set in motion a widespread voluntary manumission movement which freed over 85 percent of the slaves in the southern six counties of New York between 1785 and 1827. Masters privately freed almost all of their adult slaves over this forty‑two‑year period. Voluntary manumission was complemented by a gradual emancipation process; a bill passed in 1799 provided for the eventual freedom of all children born between 1799 and 1827 to slave women in the state. Children born between July 4, 1799 and March 30, 1817 were born free but owed twenty‑five (females) or twenty‑eight (males) years of service to their mothers' masters, after which time they were fully free. Children of either sex born to slave women between the amended act of March 31, 1817 and July 4, 1827 owed twenty‑one years of service. The 1817 act also put a final end to slavery in the state, by declaring that all slaves born before July 4, 1799 were to be freed on July 4, 1827.11
Other new routes to freedom were available to slaves and to children required to serve until adulthood between 1799 and 1827. The 1799 gradual emancipation act permitted masters to free any of their slaves within one year regardless of age or health. In 1814 the governor of New York was authorized to raise two black army regiments for a period of three years. Slaves were allowed to enlist with the written consent of their masters. The owners were entitled to their pay and the bounty for entering the service, but at discharge the slaves would be freed.12
* * * * *
Even though manumission laws had been eased and a gradual emancipation bill had been passed, the New York Manumission Society continued its work in support of the cause of voluntary manumission. It tried to gain freedom for as many slaves as possible between 1785 and 1827. Often working with Quaker allies, the New York Manumission Society negotiated with owners for the manumission of their slaves. Two Quakers, Elias Hicks of Jericho and Joseph Lawrence of Flushing, contacted Adam Mott of Rockaway in South Hempstead regarding his slave couple. They proposed an arrangement whereby Pompey Tussel and his wife would participate in the achievement of their own freedom. Pompey, worth 20, would be freed if he could raise the purchase price; Hicks was willing to hire Pompey and his wife for one year for 20 in pay. The problem was resolved by the death of Adam Mott, from whose administrators Isaac Robertson of Oysterbay purchased Pompey on February 26, 1790, and freed him two days later. Adam Mott had planned to manumit Pompey's daughter Rose, but he died before executing a will. Mott's administrators refused to support eight‑year‑old Rose, whereupon Pompey Tussel took her home as a free person. At age sixteen Pompey bound Rose out as a servant with James Loines, from whose house she was stolen and sold as a slave by Hewlett Mott of Brooklyn, one of the heirs of the Mott estate. She subsequently ran away back to Loines's house and was re‑seized by Mott. The Manumission Society pressed her case for freedom.13
The New York Manumission Society played a crucial role in securing the freedom of blacks by enforcing promises of future manumission. It appointed third parties to monitor the completion of future manumission agreements and arranged for the posting of forfeitable bonds as guarantees that manumissions would be performed as stated. Edmund Griswold bound himself for $200 to Robert Bowne of New York City as insurance that he would free his recently purchased slave Frank in five years. Two men were appointed to write out the freedom certificate at the end of the five years.14 Nicholas Luquer promised William W. Woolsey that on four years from December 1, 1796, he would free his slave John Richard upon good behavior. However, if the slave absented himself without leave, he would serve two extra days for each such day beginning at the end of the four years.15
Such agreements and bonds were also arranged privately outside the auspices of the Society to enforce the large number of future manumissions which were executed after 1785. Benjamin Hays of Bedford sold a negro boy Johno to Jonathan and James Varian on the condition that the boy was to be freed after ten years of service. If they sold him, it was to be on the same condition. The Varians posted themselves $200 in debt to Hays as security that they would free the boy--at which time the debt would be declared void.16 The Society initiated suits on the behalf of slaves who were sold for a specific period of service after which they were to be freed--but were instead resold or retained as slaves for life. For example, the New York Manumission Society tried to win freedom for Hannah, who was sold on May 1, 1782, by Rebecca Hewlett to Joseph Hewlett for seven years of service, after which she was to be free. Her new owner sold her after nine months; she was later sold again for life instead of for a limited time.17
The New York Manumission Society worked to ensure that the laws against the importation or exportation of slaves into or out of New York State were enforced. As of 1788, the importation of slaves into New York was prohibited, as was the purchase of slaves within the state for removal to another state. Slaves illegally sold or imported into New York (or exported from the state) were entitled to their freedom.18 Phillis Mires claimed to have been brought from Connecticut in 1795 by her master and subsequently sold to a man in New York; she was then resold another five times before bringing her case to the attention of the Society.19 Many New York slaves were sold out of the state by owners eager to profit from the high prices obtainable for their human property in the South. Henry Mortisen of Flatbush in Kings County sold a black man Cato, his wife, and four children to John McCullin of Georgia. McCullin concealed them for a time in New York City and then tried to get them out aboard a schooner bound for Georgia; the family was freed by the intervention of the Society in 1802.20 Philip Mark of New York City sold his thirteen‑year‑old slave boy Tom on May 1, 1793, to John Glover of New York City on the condition that Tom would be free after sixteen more years of service. Concerned about the possibility that Tom would later be sold South and denied his freedom, Philip Mark required Glover to sign an agreement which specified that Tom would not be sold out of New York State and that any future buyers would have to agree to the same terms.21
The Society also tested the legal system to establish interpretations that would guarantee entitlement to freedom to a broad category of slaves--among them were slaves of Indian ancestry and slaves who had been abandoned by their owners. Many slaves applied to the organization for help in securing their liberty on the grounds that they were descended from free Indians.22 On February 13, 1798, Richard Hallett, a free black man who lived in Jamaica, Long Island, informed the New York Manumission Society that his wife, Catherine Hallett, the granddaughter of an Indian woman named Sabina, was presently being held as a slave by Robert Furman in the neighboring town of Newtown, along with her four children.23 In support of this claim, Susanna Cornell testified to the Society at Flushing on August 15, 1798, that she had known Sabina to be an Indian woman who had been brought when young from Carolina to Long Island. Cornell certified that Sabina "had no appearance of having any African blood intermixed with the Indian . . . and always by others was considered to be a full‑blooded Squa." Sabina was described as having the features of an Indian with long straight black hair. This testimony established Catherine's claim to freedom by virtue of having an Indian grandmother.24
On October 1, 1798, under pressure from the Manumission Society, Furman covenanted with Samuel Bowne and James Byrd (probably Society officials or Quakers) that he would, within one year, free Catherine Hallett and that in the meantime she would be free to leave his service and work for her own benefit. He also agreed to free Catherine's children--Mercy at age eighteen, James at age twenty‑one, and Cuffee when he reached sixteen. That same day, Richard Hallett bought the youngest child Mary (age ten months) from Furman for one dollar, "he the said Richard being father to the child."25 With the help of the New York Manumission Society, this free black father was able to achieve eventual freedom and reunion for his family. By 1799 both Richard and Catherine would be free and able to live together, along with their purchased infant Mary. The other three children, however, would still live apart from their parents as slaves to Furman until their manumissions.
The Manumission Society also sought to establish the freedom of slaves who had been abandoned and then reclaimed by masters. Molly had been turned out of the house of her Great Neck, Long Island, master at age fourteen. She then married a black freeholder named Cuff in Westchester County by whom she had several children. After Cuff's death, the executors of the estate of Molly's former owner seized the widow along with all of her children and Cuff's property. The Society sought to locate the family in order to secure its freedom.26
The New York Manumission Society struggled to preserve the liberty of free‑born or manumitted blacks. Freedom, once promised or attained, was often illegally revoked between 1785 and 1827 as the black population of New York fitfully moved from slavery to freedom. Uriah Hubbs bound out a child born to a free woman at two years of age and later sold him as a slave to Phineas Carl. The black man, now thirty years old, appealed to the Society to establish his right to emancipation.27 Many slaves who had been legally freed were recaptured and held again as slaves. Susanna, originally a New Jersey slave, had been sold to Abraham Perine of New York; he soon gave her her freedom upon receiving $5 from her son. She lived as a free woman in New York City until Perine took her up and sold her for 17 to Garret Fountaine. The Society sued Fountaine and happily noted in 1797 that "Susanna has been liberated by due course of law."28
That blacks realized the fragility of their liberty is indicated by their eagerness to register their freedom with the New York manumission Society. On July 12, 1794, Titus Grey, a fifty‑year‑old black man, requested Thomas Mumford, Secretary of the Manumission Society, to register the fact of his recent manumission. Francis Jacobs, freed on November 29, 1791, asked three years later that the Society permanently record his freedom. Third parties sometimes arranged for the Society to enter manumissions into their records as irrefutable proof that the slaves in question were free. Edward Dunscomb certified on June 29, 1807, that Tibo Connor, age twenty‑one, had been the property of his late brother Samuel and that Tibo had been freed by Samuel's widow on May 19, 1804. Julian Verplank certified that John Johnson was one of the slaves freed in the will of Robert Crommelin of Flushing, thereby substantiating his claim to freedom. Nehemiah Allen registered Catreen with the New York Manumission Society in 1802 as a free‑born worker. He included a reference stating that she had lived with him a long time, had behaved well, and was "a complete house maid and a fine washer."29
Blacks wanted a legal record of their freedom not only as a safeguard against reenslavement, but in order to satisfy a law passed in 1811 which required black men to submit a certificate of freedom as proof of their entitlement to vote.30 Fifty‑three freedom vouchers were located for black men who resided within New York City, all but two dated between 1811 and 1814.31 The men ranged in age from twenty‑one to fifty, with one older exception. Twenty‑two of the men had been born free, the circumstances of one was unknown, and thirty had been freed by owners, all since 1785. The documents routinely certified that the black had produced proof of his freedom and contained statements by a witness declaring the number of years he had known the registrant, his age, circumstances and place of birth, the fact and date of his manumission, and his height.
In addition to the New York Manumission Society, the courts were left to untangle the disrupted human and property relations caused by ambiguities in black legal and family status during the period of voluntary manumission and gradual emancipation. The condition of the black family was transitory between 1785 and 1827 (and as late as 1848 for bound children). Individuals could pass from slavery to freedom to indentured service with or without other family members. The fact that some blacks were free and others were in varying degrees of servitude placed great strains on the slave, family, and judicial systems. Free ancestry (manumitted parents or grandparents) did not prevent children from being claimed as slaves or from being bound out to service. In Concklin v. Havens and in Oatfield v. Waring, the law subordinated family relations to property rights. Both cases involved free grandparents whose grandchildren were legally slaves.
In Oatfield v. Waring, decided in October 1816,32 a prolonged series of suits and countersuits between a free grandfather and his former mistress concerned disputes over his manumission, his legal ability to sue her, and charges that he was unlawfully harboring her slave (his grandson). Upon his manumission in 1810, the grandfather moved out of his former owner's house and took his slave grandson with him. The whereabouts of the child's parents are unknown, but he had lived in a white household where both his grandfather and grandmother were slaves.33 Although the grandchild was still a slave he lived with his free grandfather and was supported by him from 1810 until October 31, 1815; the boy was then demanded by and sent back to his mistress. She seems to have permitted the child's grandfather to keep him and raise him until he was old enough to have labor value by 1815 (assuming that he was an infant in 1810) or until she needed his services.
In 1816 the grandfather sued his ex‑mistress for five years' maintenance of her slave, his grandson. This grandparent was willing to take care of his grandson out of familial affection and obligation for five years. Once the child was forcibly removed from his custody, however, he used the boy's slave status to demand compensation for this care. This grandfather saw his grandson clearly in terms of his dual status--both as his progeny and separately as a slave. The jury recognized his role as caretaker of another person's slave and awarded him $143 in compensation.
The case of Concklin v. Havens, decided in August 1815, concerned an interpretation of Joseph Concklin's September 30, 1780 will. He made the following provision for his two slaves: "Item--I give my negro wench Maria, her time; and I also give to Maria her daughter Cloe, during her natural life." During Maria's life, Cloe had several children, one of whom Concklin's descendant tried to claim as a slave. The problem resided in the interpretation of Concklin's wording--whether "during her natural life" meant Maria or Cloe's life. The court ruled that although Cloe was probably only meant to be Maria's property during Maria's life, since Cloe's children were born during Maria's lifetime she was entitled to their services also. Since Maria had appointed no legal estate representative, the children gained their freedom. The court based its decision on a general principle of law that a person hiring an animal in entitled to the increase because, by hiring for a time, he becomes temporary proprietor of the animal. Maria's grandchildren, offspring of a slave owned temporarily by her own freed black mother, were adjudged free based on property precedent for hired livestock. As in Oatfield v. Waring, black family relations and white property relations were intertwined, with conventional legal definitions of property used to adjudicate the conflict.34
* * * * *
Even with the combined factors of seventeenth‑century Dutch slave emancipations, the trickle of private manumissions from 1664 through April 1785, Quaker divestiture of slaveholdings beginning in the 1770s, freedom won through military service in revolutionary armies, the manumission of slaves on confiscated loyalist estates, and the relaxation of manumission laws in 1785, 72.6 percent of blacks were still slaves in 1790 in the southern six counties of New York. Based on an average price of $150 per slave, the 9,447 slaves in the southern six counties of New York in 1790 represented an investment of $1,417,050. New York State, with 21,193 slaves in 1790, had $3,178,950 worth of slave property.35 New York slaveowners gave up all of this wealth over the next thirty‑seven years. Private voluntary manumission mushroomed after 1785; 43.9 percent of blacks in the southern six counties of New York were freed by 1800, 71.8 percent by 1810, and 85 percent by 1820 (seven years before slavery was abolished in the state).
Voluntary manumission proceeded at varying rates within New York State. The southern six counties manumitted their slaves at a faster rate than the northern counties of New York; from 1790 through 1820 their proportion of blacks that were free was approximately 10 percent higher than the statewide proportion.36 Within the southern six counties of New York the rate of manumission differed greatly from town to town37 and between counties. Kings and Richmond counties, dominated by pro‑slavery Dutch owners, lagged behind the other areas in voluntarily freeing their slaves. A sharp dichotomy had developed by the end of the eighteenth century in the patterns and attitudes of Dutch and English slaveowners in New York.
The Dutch inhabitants in 1790 were the descendants of the seventeenth century founders of New Netherland--no significant immigration had occurred in the eighteenth century.38 As table 1 shows, although the Dutch population became engulfed by the English and other ethnic groups between 1698 and 1790 in the southern six counties of New York, in 1790 they still formed a large proportion of the
PROPORTION OF DUTCH IN THE WHITE POPULATION,
SOUTHERN SIX COUNTIES OF NEW YORK
1698 AND 1790
Kings 1,500 1,721 87.2 1,380 3,021 45.7
Richmond 300 654 45.9 582 2,945 19.8
Queens 250 3,366 7.4 1,562 12,886 12.1
New York 2,000 4,237 47.2 2,846 29,619 9.6
Westchester 300 917 32.7 1,769 22,204 8.0
Suffolk .... 2,121 .... 844 14,310 5.9
SOURCE: For 1698, Marcus L. Hansen, "The Minor Stocks in the American Population of 1790," Annual Report of the American HistoricalAssociation 1 (1931):364‑65. For 1790, Bureau of Census, Century ofPopulation Growth, table 112, p. 272.
NOTE: For the 1790 numbers, I relied on Century of PopulationGrowth rather than Hansen's (p. 396) figures‑‑his use of rounded off figures indicates estimation rather than real totals.
white population in Kings and Richmond counties. The Queens County towns of Newtown and Jamaica were contiguous to Kings County and therefore also had a high proportion of migrated Dutch residents. The Harlem Division of New York City had been a Dutch farming village in the late seventeenth century and remained heavily Dutch in 1790.39
Kings County remained more Dutch than any other area. Five out of the six towns in Kings County had been founded by Dutch settlers; the English town of Gravesend was also heavily populated by the neighboring Dutch. A traveller who visited the area during the Revolution noted that the residents seemed to be "almost entirely Dutch" and continued "to make use of their customs and language in preference to English, which however they also understand."40 The white population in Kings County grew very slowly between 1790 and 1820; the slave economy kept immigrant white laborers away and thereby helped to preserve the county as a Dutch enclave. The Dutch also refused to sell their valuable holdings to newcomers; land in Kings County was both highly priced and desirable due to the proximity of the New York City market.41 The Dutch remained culturally isolated and geographically apart from the English society that formed around them; they clannishly maintained their Dutch speech, folkways, and religion.42 They preserved an agricultural way of life and generally had more extensive landholdings than their English neighbors; their large farms could utilize greater numbers of slaves than could the smaller properties of the English.
Slaveholding was much more common among Dutch than English households between 1790 and 1820. In New York State in 1790 while only 11.5 percent of English families statewide held slaves, 29.9 percent of Dutch households were slaveholders.43 Far higher proportions of white households in heavily Dutch Kings and Richmond counties held slaves than in largely English Queens, Suffolk, New York and Westchester counties.44 While 19.1 percent of white households held slaves in New York City in 1790, 47.2 percent of households owned slaves in the largely Dutch Harlem Division. In Queens County 34.6 percent of white households owned slaves in 1790; a much higher 52.6 percent of white households possessed slaves in the partly Dutch town of Newtown.
Not only was slaveholding more common among the Dutch, but Dutch slaveholdings between 1790 and 1820 were larger than those of non‑Dutch owners.45 In New York State in 1790 the average number of slaves per white Dutch family was 3.3 slaves, with only 2.4 slaves per English household.46 Ten Dutch households would control thirty‑three slaves, while ten English households would control only twenty‑four. Because such a large proportion of Dutch households contained slaves and the number per household was larger, the Dutch were overrepresented among the slaveholding sector of the white population. While Richmond County's white population was 19.8 percent Dutch in 1790, 38.7 percent of the county's slaveholders were Dutch.47 In Kings County, where 45.7 percent of the white population in 1790 was Dutch, the vast majority of slaveholders were Dutch; they owned all but a fraction of the county's slaves.
Because the Dutch in New York were so widely involved in slave ownership and because they depended so heavily on slave labor to work their farms, they steadfastly resisted the post‑1785 trend toward voluntary manumission. The descendants of the original Dutch settlers had evolved into the conservative, pro‑slavery sector of the white population; they were determined to maintain their slave property as long as possible. In Kings County, Richmond County, and in the towns of Harlem (New York County), Newtown and Jamaica (Queens County) where the Dutch population was concentrated the reluctance to manumit slave property was reflected in lower proportions of freed blacks in the black population compared to the more liberal areas in New York, Queens, Westchester and Suffolk counties.
The sharp difference between areas of progressive manumission and areas where slavery still held sway is illustrated by a comparison of the five rural towns of Kings County with the more cosmopolitan town of Brooklyn in Kings County in 1820. Slavery resulted in a high proportion of blacks in the population of the five Kings County towns (a combined five‑town figure of 22.8 percent); only 11.8 percent of Brooklyn was black. A majority of blacks were free in Brooklyn (77.6 percent) while only 24.6 percent were free in the combined other five towns. Slaveholding had largely been eliminated in Brooklyn's white community; only 6.4 percent of white households owned slaves compared to a much higher 36.5 percent of white households in the five‑town area. Slaveholders in Brooklyn held an average of 2.6 slaves each while masters in the rural five towns owned a larger average of 3.2 slaves per household.48
The institution of slavery remained largely intact for slaves held in the Dutch parts of New York between 1785 and 1827. They remained more isolated from free blacks and had fewer immediate examples of friends and relatives who had achieved freedom than did slaves in areas of rapid manumission. Slaves still formed the bulk of the local black population as late as 1820 in Kings and Richmond counties, where only 50.1 percent and 12.8 percent of blacks were free. While black families in Dutch areas were often spared the disorganizing effects of piecemeal emancipation which freed relatives at different times, they could nourish only small hope for family reunion through voluntary manumission before 1827. Their chances for sustained family life were still determined by the conditions of their enslavement, in contrast to blacks in Queens, New York, and Suffolk counties, where the majority of blacks were free as early as 1810.
As table 2 shows, while private manumission took place only slowly in the Dutch towns and counties in the years after 1785, it rapidly and steadily freed large proportions
TABLE 2 goes here—see p. 747
of the slaves in the English‑populated counties. New York and Suffolk counties initially outpaced the other areas (1790 to 1810) in relinquishing slave property. By 1820, Westchester and Queens counties had superceded Suffolk in the proportion of free persons in the black population. A full 95.2 percent of the black population of New York County was free by 1820. It may have owed some of this high percentage to an influx of freed blacks from other areas rather than to the liberality of manumissions among resident New York City slaveowners.49
Regardless of their comparative rates of manumission, Richmond, Kings, Suffolk, and Queens counties showed the most precipitous individual declines in their slave populations between 1800 and 1810, and from 1810 to 1820 in New York and Westchester. Suffolk County relinquished half of its slave population in the years between the 1800 and 1810 censuses; the number of slaves declined by 53.9 percent. In Richmond County, the slave population fell by 35.3 percent50 from 1800 to 1810 but grew again by 21.7 percent between 1810 and 1820. Richmond's slave population increased by another 31.2 percent from 1820 to 1825; slavery flourished there until its legal end in 1827.
As table 3 shows, analysis of the southern six county free black population in 1820 reveals sex and age differences in the pattern of voluntary manumission.
TABLE 3 goes here—see p. 749
Slaveowners were more disposed toward manumitting their female slaves. More females were free than males in all age groups:
Age Group Percent more females free than males
under 14 3.7
14 ‑ 26 9.9
26 ‑ 45 3.5
over 45 0.6
The discrepancy was greatest in the fourteen to twenty‑six age bracket, where young, prime, male hands were disproportionately retained in slavery. The spread between the sexes in this age group was largest in Kings and Suffolk counties, where 21.2 and 18.7 percent more females were free than males. In Kings County, in particular, male labor in all age groups was kept enslaved to a far greater extent than was female labor.51 Heavily Dutch slaveowners in agricultural Kings County valued their male farm workers and kept them as slaves until old age, when the freedom gap between the sexes narrowed as male labor value declined. Only in New York City were slightly more males than females free in all age groups except in the fourteen to twenty‑six group. This reflected the high demand for female domestic slaves in the city's labor market. There was a 13.5 percent difference between the most free group (91 percent of females age twenty‑six to forty‑five) and the least free group (77.4 percent of males age fourteen to twenty‑six) in the combined southern six counties of New York.
With both sexes combined for each age group, 83.4 percent of blacks under age fourteen were free, 83.3 percent of blacks age fourteen to twenty‑six, 89.4 percent of blacks aged twenty‑six to forty‑five years, and 81.8 percent of blacks over the age of forty‑five in the southern six counties of New York. Adults aged twenty‑six to forty‑five were the most free group while those over forty‑five were the least free by a small margin. Voluntary manumission was based on natural selection--those most fit for slave labor (young male adults under age twenty‑six) were retained in the system the longest. The active intervention of New York law interfered with the process to prevent the discarding of those least useful and fit to survive in a slave system--the elderly.
Effective manumission laws prevented widespread abandonment of older slaves; the proportion of elderly blacks over the age of forty‑five that was free, although high, was similar to or slightly lower than that of younger groups. In Kings and Queens counties, smaller proportions of elderly blacks were free than younger blacks. The large proportion of elderly blacks who were listed as free in the census had mostly been freed shortly before the age of forty‑five or fifty, when they could still be certified by overseers of the poor. The willingness of owners to free such aging male slaves (while retaining young male slaves disproportionately to young female slaves) is indicated by the relative proportion of males and females over the age of forty‑five that was free being closer together than for younger age groups.
All black children under the age of fourteen in New York in 1820 had been legally born free (between 1806 and 1820) but owed service until adulthood to their mothers' masters. Although technically free, these children lived in virtual slavery as salable servants until adulthood; they were therefore frequently categorized as slaves in 1820 by census takers. The proportion of children under fourteen listed as free in the 1820 census was similar to the proportion of adults described as free in five of the six southern counties. Only in Westchester County did census officials classify all children under fourteen as free regardless of their service obligations.52
Additional information on the age distribution of slaves who were manumitted comes from the known ages of 497 out of 1,837 slaves freed by deeds of manumission, 1785 to 1831. These data indicate that children under age fifteen and blacks over age forty‑five were underrepresented in the sample in terms of their true proportion in the general population. The 497 slaves consisted of 172 male adults, 190 female adults, 68 male children, 48 female children, and nineteen children of unknown sex and are distributed into age groups as follows:
Proportion of the Sample
Age Category Number of Slaves in Each Age Group
1‑14a 135 27.2
15‑19 30 6.0
20‑24 81 16.3
25‑29 86 17.3
30‑34 70 14.1
35‑39 50 10.1
40‑44 35 7.0
45 and up 10 2.0
Total 497 100.0
aBlacks were placed in this age category based on either their stated age or a description as "children." Blacks who were referred to as "boys," "girls," or "wenches" could have been either children or adults and were included in the group of 1,340 blacks of unknown age in the sample.
* * * * *
A sample of 2,045 manumissions were located for the period April 12, 1785 to 1831 for slaves in the southern six counties of New York.53 Of this group, 208 were freed by their masters' wills and 1,837 were emancipated by deeds of manumission.54 The easing of the manumission procedure in 1785 increased the proportion of testators who freed slaves in their wills. A total of 3,612 slaves were listed in a sample of wills written between 1669 and 1829. Of this group, 2,949 were bequeathed between 1669 and 1790; 238 or 8.1 percent of them were freed. The 663 slaves bequeathed between 1790 and 1829 were emancipated by their owners far more commonly; 199 or 30 percent were freed. Although a larger proportion of slaves listed in wills were freed rather than passed on as property after 1785, the overall volume of testamentary manumissions remained stable in spite of the major change in manumission law. Between the beginning of 1771 and April 11, 1785, 106 slaves were freed in wills over a fourteen‑year period, averaging 7.6 slaves annually. Between April 12, 1785 and the end of 1800, 116 slaves were freed during a sixteen‑year period, averaging a similar 7.3 slaves per year.55
The relative numerical lull in testamentary manumissions after 1785 contrasted sharply with the surge in manumissions by deed after 1785. The passage of the revised manumission law of April 12, 1785, affected not only the volume of manumission but the method by which slaves were freed. While most slaves freed before 1785 were manumitted in wills upon their owners' deaths, after 1785 masters generally freed slaves while still alive through deeds of manumission.56 Since manumission was expensive before 1785, owners may have preferred to encumber their estates only after their deaths or to use expected funds from the sale and disposition of their properties rather than post a 200 bond out of current income or savings in order to free a slave. Public opinion after 1785 also encouraged masters to free their current slaves, whereas the rarity of manumission before 1785 allowed masters to wait until death to reward faithful slaves with freedom.
Out of 1,837 slaves freed by deeds of manumission between April 12, 1785, and 1831, 41.5 percent were freed between 1810 and 1819--the heaviest years of voluntary emancipation.57 The number of manumissions declined by the 1820 to 1827 period, since 85 percent of blacks were already free by 1820:58
Date of Manumissiona Numbers Freed During These Years
April 12, 1785‑1789 78 4.2
1790 ‑ 1794 74 4.0
1795 ‑ 1799 161 8.8
1800 ‑ 1804 258 14.1
1805 ‑ 1809 323 17.6
1810 ‑ 1814 382 20.8
1815 ‑ 1819 380 20.7
1820 ‑ 1827 179 9.7
1828 and 1831 2 0.1
Total 1,837 100.0
aIn 62 of the 1,837 cases, a manumission document conferred freedom at a specific future date. The future effective date of freedom was counted as the date of manumission rather than the date of execution of the document.
The 1,837 manumissions were the result of a combination of independent owner decisions, negotiations between masters and slaves, and persistent slave efforts to obtain freedom. Between 1785 and 1827 the end of slavery as an institution was in sight; this climate prompted whites to offers slaves freedom under a variety of conditions and methods. Slaves began to be commonly sold only for a term of years rather than for life, after which time they were to be freed. The approaching end of slavery enabled some blacks to bargain successfully with their masters on a contractual basis concerning the terms and duration of their services.
Whites sometimes purchased slaves with the express purpose of giving them their freedom. Joseph James bought a black woman Phillis from Isaac Litford and thereupon liberated her according to the principle of "do unto others." James testified that after her freedom she remained in his family for nearly two years during which time she served well.59 When Silas Powel of Huntington bought a black man James from Samuel Lewis for 8 he determined to keep him in service for five months and then let him go free.60 Blacks sometimes worked with cooperative whites (often New York Manumission Society officials) to arrange such sales as preludes to manumission. Samuel Bowne purchased William Johnson from Lawrence Voorhees of Flatbush on April 12, 1800, and "immediately after emancipated the poor man--having received the purchase money from the wife of William, for the aforesaid purpose."61
The inducement of freedom was offered to slaves to encourage them to continue to serve their masters well in the face of the breakdown of the slave system. Sixty‑two of the 1,837 slaves are known to have obtained manumission documents from their owners which promised freedom at a future date in exchange for a specified numbers of years of good service. Epaphras Jones, a New York City merchant, wrote on November 23, 1795, that "in order to induce my Negro woman slave Rose, age 34, to behave with fidelity and zeal for my interest, as well as to serve the cause of humanity," she would be freed in five years upon good service.62 John Henry of New York promised to free his three slaves Tom, Alexander, and Kent for the sum of five shillings each and in exchange for faithful service for the next fourteen years.63 Elizabeth Fine certified on January 24, 1805, that if her slave Margaret remained with her for eight years and behaved "as she always has done in an orderly manner as a servant ought to do," she would then be freed. If Margaret behaved "contrary to the above agreement," the obligation to free her would be "void and of no effect."64 In some cases, free blacks were able to bargain with owners on behalf of their enslaved relatives to exact guarantees of future freedom. Y. Hamilton promised James Hazzard, "a molatto man," to free his seven‑year‑old child Patience at age thirty or be bound to pay Hazzard or his assigns a penalty of 100.65
Sale was normally a traumatic event for slaves, but a change in ownership sometimes provided an opportunity to achieve freedom. Fifteen documents executed between 1794 and 1812 gave future manumission to eighteen just‑acquired slaves who had reached a compromise with their new owners to exchange good service for freedom. As slavery crumbled, masters increasingly had to give concessions to induce both their longtime and their new slaves to serve well in bondage. Samuel Ward paid Peter Bogert 60 for Jane, age thirty‑four, and her four‑year‑old son Daniel on March 15, 1796. Ward made an agreement with Jane before he purchased her that she should serve him for a term of six years and then be made free. On March 15, 1802, Ward manumitted Jane as stipulated and promised that her son Daniel would be freed after another fourteen years of service (at age twenty‑four).66
On January 22, 1795, Brockholst Livingston purchased twenty‑nine‑year‑old John Lott from James Desbrosses. The sale document included a promise to free him after either seven years or after six years if he behaved well.67 Fitch Hall bought Mary and her female child for 60 from Thomas Hazard on November 7, 1794. Five weeks later he wrote out a future manumission document which promised that "if Mary serves as a slave for ten years from the date of the bill of sale with honesty and industry" he would free her. He added that "she is now at liberty to dispose of her child above named as she pleases."68 In one case, parents intervened to arrange the sale of their slave child with the awareness that the new owner would be willing to agree to the eventual manumission of their son. Edward D. Griffin of Manhattan paid Mr. Clark $275 on April 1, 1807, for a black boy Samuel Scudder. Pompey and Rosanna, Samuel's parents, had promised to repay Griffin $25 of this sum to induce Griffin to buy the child from Clark. Three weeks later Griffin officially registered a promise with the New York Manumission Society that if Samuel behaved well for ten years he would free him. Griffin also agreed that if Samuel had to be sold for no fault of his own, he would not be sold for life, but only until April 1, 1817.69
Although slaves were still widely bought and sold during the years of voluntary manumission, they were increasingly disposed of for terms of limited rather than lifetime slavery. Joseph Hallett's 1797 will ordered that his slave Nan be freed immediately after his death and that four other slaves were to be sold for a specific number of years after which they were to be freed.70 Tobiah was to be sold for a period of time expiring on May 1, 1804, Harry until May 1, 1808, Jane until May 1, 1810, and Charles until May 1, 1815. Joseph Hallett shared the willingness of most slaveowners during this period to eventually manumit their slaves although often only after a profitable sale or after long years of good service.
In addition to the 1,837 slaves freed through deeds of manumission between 1785 and 1831, a sample of thirty‑three adult slaves were sold during these years with a future manumission proviso included in the bill of sale. They ranged in age from seventeen to forty years at the time of the sale.71 Owner demand for youthful slave labor and the easiness of manumission for slaves under the age of forty‑five or fifty with overseer of the poor certification meant that none of the adults would be over age forty‑five at the date of effective manumission. Children born to slave women between 1799 and 1827 owed service to their mothers' masters until age twenty‑one, twenty‑five, or twenty‑eight; their unexpired years of labor were also subject to sale. Twenty‑four sales of such service time were located. Although slavery was dying out, both mature slaves and bound children could be profitably sold on a short‑term basis until manumission. Owners who intended eventually to free their slaves but found it necessary to sell them in the interim sold their time rather than their labor for life to new owners for a specified number of years. The guarantee of certain future freedom may also have been a necessary inducement to gain the slave's cooperation with the intended sale and to prevent his running away at the prospect of a change in ownership and residence.
These fifty‑seven sales72 were concluded between 1787 and 1819; over half of the transactions occurred between 1797 and 1801 (twenty‑nine cases) during the period of debate and implementation of the gradual emancipation program which portended the end of slavery in the state. The lengths of the terms of service stipulated in the sale contracts ranged from two months to twenty‑four years. The slaves and bound children received their freedom between 1796 (when a 1787 manumission contract fell due) and 1836 (when the 1816 sale of the time of a child expired).
Slaves who were sold to new owners with manumission provisos included in the terms of the sale were sometimes sold repeatedly, each time with a guarantee of freedom. When Gilbert Colden Willett sold thirty‑three‑year‑old William Rock to George Turnbull for $150 he noted that he intended to free him in two years and nine months, to which terms Turnbull consented. Eighteen days later Turnbull turned over his right to the remainder of William's service to William Betts for $30. Three months later Betts sold William to Isaac Ackerman for $9; William was to serve only two months and then be freed. William Rock had been sold three times in the space of four months for decreasing periods of time, and his price had declined from $150 to $9.73
In another case, a family was repeatedly sold with changing conditions for their freedom. On October 22, 1797, William Henry Pyke wrote a future manumission document for Thomas, his wife Mary, and their daughter Betty (all purchased from Peter Schenk) to take effect in eight years' time. He agreed to free their daughter Rachel after fourteen years. Pyke later sold the family in partial accordance with his documented promise to free them after a stated number of years. He sold Rachel the next August for 20 for a term of thirteen years beginning on October 1, 1798, after which time her new owner, John B. Anderson, agreed to free her, along with any children born to her in the interim. Anderson however, sold her in 1802 for $45 to Willett Hicks with no manumission clause contained in the sale contract. Pyke next sold Thomas, Mary and Betty together to A.D. Mount in 1799. Thomas and Mary were sold for the remainder of their eight years of service (six years and seven months), but Betty was only to be freed in fourteen years from December 1798 instead of at the same time as her parents.74
The slaveholding career of John Peter De Lancey of Mamaroneck from 1793 to 1809 illustrates on an individual level the actions of owners who collectively formed the voluntary manumission movement. Between 1793 and 1809, De Lancey purchased fourteen slaves, manumitted two, and sold one slave. The eight slaves purchased between 1793 and 1798 were to be held for life.75 But the next six slaves he bought after 1803 were sold to him for a definite term of years only and then were to be freed or (in two cases) possibly returned to their owners. This shift from permanent servitude to finite slavery with eventual guaranteed liberation reflected the growing manumission sentiment in society.
When Hakaliah Purdy sold Jack Purdy to De Lancey on March 30, 1803, the articles of agreement in the purchase document specified that Jack was to be free after five years. If De Lancey found it necessary to sell him in the interim, Jack had to be given one month's notice and the right to choose his new master for the remaining period of service. Bartholemew Ward of Mamaroneck sold De Lancey a negro girl Nan, age twenty‑three, and her infant for $80 on April 22, 1805. Nan was to serve for five years and then be free. Her child and all subsequent children born to her were to serve until the gradual emancipation law set them free at ages twenty‑five or twenty‑eight. De Lancey's next slave purchase was of sixteen‑year‑old Betty Halley for $125 on April 14, 1806. She was to be freed after eight years but would have to serve an additional year for every child born to her during that period. In May 1806 De Lancey bought a boy Lewis for $250 for a period of twelve years of service. In 1809 he purchased another boy named Mike (or Michael) for $100 who was to serve for a period of five years and eight months.76 De Lancey's slave buying and selling activities reflected the general divestiture of slave property which took place between 1785 and 1827. Nine slaves had been listed in De Lancey's household in the 1800 census; in 1810 he had eleven free blacks and no slaves and in 1820 only four free blacks.77 No slaves were listed in his 1823 will.
Many slaves were permitted to buy their own time; 71 of the 1,837 slaves either purchased their own freedom or had their liberty bought by relatives or unknown third parties:
Method of Manumission Male Female Child
Self‑purchase 19a 10 ...
Third party purchases slave's
freedom 1 2 1
Black man frees unrelated
blacks (one case) 1 1 3
Husband buys wife's freedom ... 4 ...
Wife buys husband's freedom 1 ... ...
Free husband buys wife and
children (five cases)b ... 6 6
Slave buys wife, children, and then
buys self (one case) 1 1 2
Third party buys husband, he then buys
wife and children (one case) 1 1 2
Mother buys self and daughter ... 1 1
Mother buys daughter ... ... 1
Father frees son (two cases) ... ... 2
Father frees daughter (three cases) ... ... 3
aIn one of the nineteen cases a male slave raised half the money to buy his freedom‑‑the other half was advanced by a third party who would be repaid by the freedman's labor. Absalom Crawford, Manumission of Joseph Everitt, April 10, 1810, Yoshpe, "Record of Slave Manumissions," p. 96.
bFive men bought their wives and children. One free man bought an adult woman and a child of unknown relationship in addition to his wife and son. Benjamin Stevens, Manumission of Ginney, Dinah, Jack and Eliza, July 18, 1805, Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , pp. 194, 195, MCNY.
In this group of seventy‑one manumissions brought about by black initiative, fifty‑two adults secured freedom either for themselves or others. There was a great sexual disparity in the number of men and women slaves who took action to accomplish the goal of freedom. Thirty‑seven men and only fifteen women bought either themselves or their families, indicating (along with the statistics on the great preponderance of males among runaways) that black women played traditional, passive roles. Nineteen men and ten women purchased their own freedom. Although the proportion of adult females who were free was as high or higher than that of black males during this period, free black women worked to purchase the freedom of their families far less commonly than did free black men. One slave and sixteen free men and only three free women bought the liberty of enslaved spouses, children, or other blacks.78
Self‑purchase was a long and expensive route to freedom79 which required not only perseverance, hard work, and determination on the part of the slave but also master cooperation. Agreements were reached which permitted slaves to work towards freedom over a period of years or to repay owners (or others) for advancing their purchase prices. Slaveholder Daniel Hawxhurst loaned Thomas Wilson 20 in cash to buy his freedom, in return for which Wilson would serve Hawxhurst for 1 1/2 years. At the completion of this obligation, Hawxhurst certified that "Thomas Wilson, a black man, has served me faithfully his time out, is honest and faithful" and recommended him to any future employers.80 Between 1800 and 1803 another slave, Benjamin Spencer, made five separate payments totalling $158.86 to two white men (who were responsible to the estate of his late master) as payments toward his freedom.81
Some free black men worked equally hard to free their enslaved families. Francis Drake paid Phebe Davis $100 for the freedom of his wife Dinah.82 Joseph Benson, a black man freed by the Widow Nancy Van Cleack, paid Lewis Guion of Eastchester 16 for a two‑year‑old girl Maria.83 On August 18, 1797, Derick Lefferts of Manhattan freed his slave Joseph DeCoster. One day later, "for 5 pounds paid by Joseph DeCoster, [Lefferts] releases unto the said Joseph DeCoster his negro boy Joseph DeCoster Junior."84 Alexander Alexander was one of the seven free black men who bought and freed not only their wives but their children as well.85 James Laidler noted that Alexander Alexander "[was] very desirous that his wife Phillis Alexander and her son Alexander Alexander should be free." Having received an accumulated 20 from Alexander on May 29, 1792, Laidler agreed to free Phillis and her son after payment of another 20 by April 6, 1793. If Alexander failed to raise the money by then, he would be charged interest after the sixth month of delay. At the end of the eleven months, Phillis would nevertheless be permitted to work for herself, the wages arising therefrom to be appropriated to Laidler. If Phillis or her son died in the interim, Alexander was still obligated to pay Laidler the 20. Alexander made payments to Laidler between November 1792 and October 7, 1793 on which date Phillis and Alexander were freed; the bargain was completed precisely in time to avoid the penalty for a payment extension of six or more months.86
* * * * *
The gradual implementation of freedom for New York's black population was more disruptive to family relations than would have been a sudden total emancipation. The small size of New York slaveholdings and the random distribution of non‑related blacks into white households meant that most slaves lived apart from all or some of their family members. Separate ownership almost guaranteed that spouses, parents, siblings, and children would be freed at different times. Even when held together, slave relatives were often manumitted at separate intervals spanning a number of years. Most New York slaves were freed alone and individually by their masters.87 The 1,292 owners88 who freed the sample of 1,837 slaves emancipated an average of only 1.4 slaves each. The 1.4 slaves freed per owner represented from half to all of their slave property. Approximately half of New York slaveholders held only one slave; 73.4 percent of the 1,292 masters freed only a single slave. Only a very small proportion of New York owners held more than two or three slaves--only 47 of the 1,292 owners freed four or more slaves.89
Staggered manumission meant familial instability for slaves who were separated by both slavery and freedom from their spouses and children. The separations and legal chaos experienced by black families lasted for a sixty‑three‑year period, from the beginning of widespread voluntary manumission in 1785 until the last children who owed slave‑like (and salable) service until adulthood were finally all freed under the gradual emancipation program in 1848. The slave (or partially enslaved) family was in a state of statutory and personal upheaval after 1785, since a change in status, ownership, residence, and employment for one or all individuals in a family was a real possibility. Both private manumission policies and gradual emancipation laws were geared toward preserving white property rights and safeguarding community poor rates from indigent freed blacks. The integrity of the black family during the extended freedom process was not considered--it had to survive as best it could.
Family information is available for only 301 (including 165 children) of the 1,837 blacks freed by deeds of manumission in the southern six counties of New York from 1785 to 1831.90 Thirty‑three mothers were freed alone with none of their offspring, leaving fifty‑three known children behind in slavery or bound service. These children ranged in age from six weeks to eighteen years--none had any promise recorded for their future manumission.91 The whereabouts and status of the fathers is unknown. Lype (Lizze), a slave belonging to Samuel Jones of Oysterbay, gave birth to Charles in 1801, Emilly in 1803, Robert in 1804, and Rosanna in 1806. On May 21, 1813, Jones freed Lype; her four children, who ranged in age from seven to twelve years, would remain as bound servants to Jones until age twenty‑five (females) or twenty‑eight (males).92 Thomas S. Strong of Brookhaven freed Unice on April 1, 1823, but her four daughters Rachel, Tamar, Cealia, and Ellen (Nell), born between 1805 and 1815, still owed service to Strong. Ellen (Nell), born on October 23, 1815, could have been retained by Strong until as late as 1840.93 Another slave mother, Sue, freed in 1820, had given birth to Harry in 1817 and Sam in 1819; her owner Garret Stryker of Gravesend was entitled to twenty‑eight and twenty‑one years of their services. Sue had gained freedom apart from her infant sons who (barring manumission) would spend their childhoods apart from their mother.94
Forty‑nine mothers were freed with all of their known children in the slaveholding (eighty).95 If other children were held in slavery by different owners they would have continued to remain apart from their mother and siblings. The fathers were not freed with these wives and children--their circumstances are unknown. On September 24, 1816, merchant Simon Schermerhorn freed twenty‑four‑year‑old Phillis and her children Mary (age five), James (age three), and twins John and Jacob (age one year three months).96 Elizabeth Hammond, a New York City spinster, freed Phebe with her children Margaret, William, Ann Johnson, and Robert on June 20, 1800, as a reward "for services rendered me by my slave Phebe."97
Twenty‑five black families included seventy‑nine slaves who were freed separately over a period of years. These slaves suffered breaks from family members who achieved freedom either earlier or later than themselves. Ann Seaberry was freed on April 7, 1807, by Arnold Fleet of Oysterbay. Her two children, Jack (born 1801) and Nancy (born 1804) remained as bound servants in Fleet's household until he manumitted Nancy in 1822 (seven years before the expiration of her service period) and until Jack (assuming he had not died or been sold) had served out his obligation by 1829. The location of the father, from whom possibly all family members were parted, is unknown.98 In another case, widow Mary Bassett freed thirty‑seven‑year‑old Belinda together with her twelve‑year‑old daughter Dinah and nine‑month‑old son William. Belinda's other daughter Lydia, however, would only be freed at Bassett's death.99 In 1796 Aquila Giles in order "to serve the cause of humanity . . . and to induce my Negro woman slave to behave with fidelity and zeal in my service . . . ," promised to free thirty‑year‑old Hannah in 1802 and to free her four‑year‑old child Abigail in 1820--eighteen years later.100
In most of the cases the slave families were already partially separated--with fathers owned apart from their wives and children. When any of the members were freed without the others, it served to further uproot the connections maintained between the slaves. Except when freedom enabled a slave spouse or child to rejoin an already freed mate or parent, manumission often meant that the freed party would live in yet another household apart from some or any member of the family. In 1802 Andrew Dean of New Rochelle freed "a negro woman named Hannah, the wife of Plato, and two of her children named Elizabeth and Samuel," indicating that other children were retained as slaves.101 If Plato was also a slave, piecemeal freedom for this family meant that Plato would live with his owner, some of his children would live with Dean, and his wife and two children would either attempt to maintain their own domicile or live as free servants in one or more white households. When freedom came relatively close together and included all family members, manumission then served to reunite rather than scatter slave families. The Merritt family was split between two New York City slaveowners: Israel Merritt was held by Samuel Hitchcock while his thirty‑year‑old wife Nassa and two children Charles and Nancy were kept by Hoysted Hacker. Israel Merritt purchased his own freedom for 70 on March 17, 1787; his wife and children were freed by their owner only three years later--a short time when compared to potential lifetime slavery and separation.102
A group of sixty slaves (twenty‑one cases) were freed together with other family members. Nine pairs of adult slaves with the same last name were freed together by their owner, indicating that they were linked by either blood or marriage. On March 27, 1787, Henry Whitson of Oysterbay freed two men, Stephen Squire and Thomas Squire who were probably adult siblings.103 Michael M. Titus manumitted Israel Loines and Catharine Loines together on May 28, 1811; they could have been spouses, adult siblings, or otherwise related.104 Myna, age five months, was manumitted and given to her only known relative, her grandmother Cloe Frankford, on January 30, 1792. Four months later Cloe Frankford was herself freed "for long and faithful services" by the same owner.105 Three married couples were freed together on the same day by their owner.106 The related pairs, married couples, and grandmother and grandchild may have all had relatives within these or other slaveholdings who were still held in slavery.
This group also included eight nuclear families who were owned together and freed on the same date. Other children kept in servitude or held by different owners, however, could have rendered these freed nuclear families incomplete. Richard Ward of Eastchester freed John, his wife Jane, and their one‑year‑old daughter Charlotte on April 12, 1806.107 Henry Bartow, his wife Jane, and their children Jack, Charles, and Sarah were manumitted on January 13, 1821, by owner William Goslin.108 Samuel B. Nicoll of Shelter Island manumitted Cade along with his wife and child in 1799.109
The sample of 1,837 manumitted slaves included 165 known children. Children proportionately benefited less from the relaxation of the voluntary manumission laws in 1785 than did enslaved adults in New York. Whereas children under age fifteen formed from 33 to 42.6 percent of the black population,110 they constituted only 27.2 percent of manumissions where the age of the slave is known. The small absolute and relative number of child manumissions in the sample reflected the fact that children born as slaves were rarely freed before 1809 because of prohibitive manumission statutes and that their manumission, both before and after 1809, was often contingent upon the availability of care and financial support by freed parents. Also, all children born to slave mothers after 1799 were born free and did not need to be legally manumitted unless they were released from their service obligations early. Since children under the age of twenty‑one were ineligible to be certified by overseers of the poor, between 1785 and 1809, masters who wanted to manumit slave or bound‑to‑service children had to either post a 200 bond or transfer their right to the child in a deed of gift to the child's free parents. Black parents could also purchase the freedom of their slave children from owners. When bond requirements could not be met and free black parents were not available, owners wrote manumission documents for their slave children effective only upon maturity.111
Some children were able to achieve freedom in 1799; the March 29, 1799 gradual emancipation law permitted masters to "immediately" manumit any slave, regardless of age or ability, within one year of the bill's enactment.112 Owners could divest themselves of unwanted or burdensome slave children with no future liability for their support. George Townsend, Jr. of Oysterbay freed Ceasar and Ame, a married couple, in November 1796. On March 11, 1800, "agreeable to a law passed March 29, 1799," Townsend agreed to "make over the following children to their Father and Mother--Philis, Judith, Fanny, Jacob, Benjamin, Hannah, Elle, and Rachel, as their parents were set free some years ago. Their mother was manumitted in November 1796 by the Overseers of the Poor."113 Townsend took advantage of the 1799 blanket permission on all manumissions to free and give these eight children up to their parents.
The manumission of children was made easier by a February 17, 1809, law which enabled owners to manumit children born to slaves with no future financial liability if they first obtained an overseer of the poor certificate stating that the "parent or parents of such child is or are able and willing to maintain and provide therefore."114 In some towns overseers of the poor issued such certificates years before the passage of the act. John Peter De Lancey of Mamaroneck manumitted a woman and her three‑year‑old‑child; the child was given up to its mother and her free husband. A certificate signed by the overseers of the poor of Mamaroneck on July 5, 1803, stated that:115
These are to certify that Phoebe, the wife of Ceasar Mott, a free black man, is of such health and under the age of fifty years as not to be bothersome to the town of Mamaroneck, and that she and her husband are fully adequate to the maintenance of their son Daniel about three years of age. This certificate is given to exonerate John Peter De Lancey and his heirs and executors from becoming liable to their maintenance at any future period. The former having been manumitted and the latter having been given up to his parents.
Owners widely used the 1809 law, which was reiterated in an 1817 statute116 to manumit slave or free‑born children to their parents' care in order to relieve themselves of unproductive or unneeded child labor.117 Andrew Morris, on May 13, 1817, freed five children--William, Jerry, Ellen, Andrew, and Stephen, with a certificate that their mother Violet Mitchell appeared to be under age forty‑five and of sufficient ability to provide for them. Violet Mitchell was manumitted by Morris on the same day.118 Peter V. Ledyard, on June 19, 1817, freed Betty and her children George, age three, and Louisa, age four months, with a certificate stating that Betty was able to provide for herself and the two children.119 On August 21, 1818, Daniel Kissam presented three children, Henry, Ame, and Benjamin, to the overseers of the poor for manumission. The overseers of the poor examined their parents and found that they were able and willing to provide for them. Kissam had freed the probable parents Sarah on January 5, 1818, and George on the same date as the children.120 Even after 1809 owners still continued to give children up to their parents through a legal transfer of property. On March 10, 1815, James Barrow quit‑claimed the son of his female servant Fan to Abram Cummins, a free black man of New York City,121 presumably the father.
Family dislocation and separation were part of both slavery and of the manumission process for most of the 165 sampled children. Parental information is available for 132 of the 135 children aged one to fourteen years but for only 6 of the 30 children aged fifteen to nineteen years. Because of manumission law requirements, 132 of the 135 young children were freed along with or after one or both of their parents were freed and could assume responsibility for their care. The majority of older teenage children (24 out of 30), however, were freed alone. Children between the ages of ten and fourteen were commonly sold apart from parents; it is probable that many of the masters who freed children over the age of fourteen did not also own their parents. These parents, for whom no information is available, may have already been freed by other owners. Since children between age fifteen and nineteen were largely capable of self‑support, owners may have been willing to free them regardless of the status of their parents; they were not expected to become public charges.
Only the eighteen children who were freed in nuclear families suffered no family disruption during manumission. Of the other children, twenty‑seven were freed alone under unknown circumstances. The eighty children freed only with their mothers were parted from their fathers and possibly from other siblings. One child was freed with her grandmother; the whereabouts of parents and of any siblings are unknown. The twenty‑one children whose freedom was purchased by relatives had been living apart from one or both separately held parents (and siblings) until part or all of the family was reunited through the efforts of at least one freed parent. Eighteen other children were freed after and apart from some or all of their immediate family members--all had suffered long‑term familial disruption. Large numbers of children who also belonged to the above families did not appear in the manumission sample because they were not voluntarily freed as were their parents, brothers, and sisters. These children had to await legal freedom at age twenty‑one, twenty‑five or twenty‑eight through the gradual emancipation program or by the termination of slavery in New York in 1827.
* * * * *
In his January 1817 message to the state legislature, Gov. Daniel D. Tompkins requested that they establish July 4, 1827 as the date on which all slaves who remained in the state (those born before July 4, 1799) would be freed. Tompkins reminded slaveholders that by 1827 "most colored persons born previous to the 4th of July 1799 . . . will have become of very little value to their owners, indeed many of them will, by that time, have become an expensive burden."122 Moreover, owners who lost slaves in 1827 had already potentially profited by their labor for at least twenty‑eight years ‑‑ the same period of service deemed adequate to compensate owners of the service time of free‑born children for the expense of raising them through childhood. The only slaveowners who stood to lose most of their investment by the 1817 promulgation were those who had recently purchased prime slaves in their teens or twenties at high prices with the expectation of long years of lifetime servitude ahead from their new bondsmen. The ten‑year delay in implementation of freedom protected both old and new slaveholders from a sudden, total loss of their property.
The act was adopted in March 1817 and served notice that slavery would legally end in New York on July 4, 1827.123 It is unknown what proportion of New York's slaves knew of the 1817 act and its promise of freedom in ten years' time. Sojourner Truth and the other slaves held by Charles Dumont in Ulster County were keenly aware that state law had provided for an end to their bondage in 1827. Dumont's old slave Cato feared that the freedom promise was "jus' another white folks' trick," while Nero insisted that freedom would come:124
This white folks' promise gotta be different. It been made to every slave over twenty‑eight in this state. Even master Dumont talk about freedom now, right out in front of us all. Master Dumont can't go back on that kind of talk. Too late. If he try--there be terrible trouble. Terrible trouble. . . . Besides, . . .no one's talkin' about any master's promise. This here's a law they made up in Albany. Even a master's got to obey a law. . . . Law says we go free. Next year, when time comes, no master stop me takin' my freedom.
This measure resulted in only minor losses for slave propertyholders as a group; relatively few slaves remained in 1827 to be removed from their owners. Because of Quaker antislavery agitation, wartime disruptions, and thirty‑five years of voluntary manumission, 85 percent of blacks in the southern six counties of New York overall were already free by 1820, but with marked variations between counties:
Percent of Percent of
All Blacks All Blacks Total
Freed, Enslaved, Number of Number of Black
1820 1820 Free Blacks Slaves Population
Richmond 12.8 87.2 78 532 610
Kings 50.1 49.9 882 879 1,761
Queens 82.6 17.4 2,648 559 3,207
Suffolk 82.4 17.6 1,508 323 1,831
New York 95.2 4.8 10,368 518 10,886
Westchester 88.9 11.1 1,638 205 1,843
Total 85.0 15.0 17,122 3,016 20,138
SOURCE: 1820 Census, "Aggregate Amount of Persons . . . ."
July 4, 1827 meant freedom for small percentages of the black population in New York and Westchester counties, almost one‑fifth of blacks in Queens and Suffolk, and for the bulk of the black population in Kings and especially in Richmond counties, where most slaves had to await 1827 for freedom. Voluntary manumission was a reluctant process in Kings and Richmond; slavery was retained until its legal compulsory end. Richmond County actually added to its slave population from 1820 to 1825; it gained 166 new slaves in its four towns:125
Town 1820 1825
Castleton 110 132
Westfield 153 230
Northfield 75 182
Southfield 194 154
In Kings County, 49.9 percent of the area's 1,761 blacks were still enslaved in 1820. There were 1,542 blacks in Kings County in 1825;126 if as many as half were still enslaved, then approximately 750 were left to be liberated by legal statute in 1827.
Out of 3,016 slaves left in the southern six counties in 1820, a maximum of approximately 2,866 remained as slaves until 1827.127 Owners like Denyse D. Denyse of Castleton, Richmond County, kept their slaves until July 4, 1827. In his June 20, 1825 will he ordered that his "negro boy Jack and negro man Bob shall serve their mistress until freed by the laws of the state."128 Many masters, however, continued to free slaves in the 1820s: 179 slaves were voluntarily freed in deeds of manumission between 1820 and 1827, with another 8 freed in wills executed between 1820 and 1827.129 Based on the numbers of slaves in four counties in 1820 and in two counties in 1825, and on the known minimum number freed during these years, the following maximum numbers of slaves benefited from wholesale emancipation on July 4, 1827:
Suffolk 323 slaves in 1820
New York 518 slaves in 1820
Westchester 205 slaves in 1820
Queens 559 slaves in 1820
Richmond 698 slaves in 1825
Kings 750 slaves in 1825 3,053
‑ 187 known manumissions
The black community commemorated the legal end of slavery in New York and the simultaneous liberation of these last 2,866 slaves with religious and public celebrations which became mired in controversy. The black community was divided over whether to celebrate its freedom on the same day that whites were remembering their own struggle for freedom and whether or not to participate in public displays.130 Blacks met at the African meeting house in Albany on March 27, 1827, to discuss plans for a public celebration of the abolition of slavery in the state. They resolved that "whereas the 4th day of July is the day that the National Independence of this country is recognized by the white citizens, we deem it proper to celebrate the 5th."131 Another faction of organized freedmen were concerned about negative white public opinion and possible mob violence in reaction to a black procession and planned a celebration for July 4th without a parade.132
Two celebrations took place in New York City--one on July 4th without any public festivities and the other on July 5th with a "grand procession, oration and public dinner."133 Some of the black societies which refused to join in the July 5th procession met in New York City at the Mutual Relief Hall on April 23, 1827, and resolved that "the object of our celebrating the Fourth Day of July, being to express our gratitude for the benefits conferred on us by the honorable Legislature of the state of New‑York, we will do no act that may have the least tendency to disorder; we shall therefore abstain from all processions in the public streets on that day."134 They organized a private "jubilee from domestic slavery": individual black churches were scheduled to have prayers and an oration and address was to be delivered at African Zion Church at the corner of Church and Leonard streets at 1:00 P.M. on the fourth of July.135 Processions, public exercises, and religious ceremonies took place on either the 4th or 5th of July in towns across New York State as blacks expressed gladness at liberation.136
The celebration on Staten Island (Richmond County) took place on the "North Shore bend." An eyewitness to the events commented that almost every black person on the island participated, joined by crowds of emancipated slaves from Long Island and New Jersey. They sang old songs, "praised the Lord," and set off firecrackers. Speeches were made by Democrat and Whig politicians, with prominent county officials in attendance. The celebration lasted two days--many blacks had walked from as far away as Billopp's Point at the southwestern point of the island to demonstrate joy at the end of 201 years of slavery in New York.137
* * * * *
Black jubilation over the end of slavery was warranted but was still premature. Voluntary manumission and the abolition of slavery had freed the majority but not all of the black population; children born to slave women after July 4, 1799 were mostly freed instead by the gradual emancipation program. Many of them, although born free, served in quasi‑slavery until as late as 1848. The full fruits of the abolition of slavery would not be realized until the last of these children was released from involuntary service.
1Zilversmit, The First Emancipation, pp. 109‑38, 192‑93; McManus, Negro Slavery, pp. 118, 182; Greene, Negro in Colonial New England, pp. 97, 297‑98.
2Zilversmit, The First Emancipation, pp. 139‑40.
3McManus, Negro Slavery, pp. 172‑73, argues that slavery was phased out in New York not only because of post‑revolutionary ideology but because of economic factors. Rapid post‑war expansion of the white population satisfied the local demand for cheap free workers, making slavery an expensive, uneconomic system of labor. Slavery ended because it had become unprofitable. I find no evidence that slavery had ceased to be profitable. The vehement opposition of Dutch slaveholders to the abolition of slavery indicates that they still valued slave labor as a system.
4Ibid., pp. 170‑72.
5"An Act granting a bounty on hemp to be raised within this state. . . ," April 12, 1785, Laws of New York State, 8th Session, Chap. 68, 2:121.
6The 1785 act did not specifically set policy for the manumission of slaves over the age of fifty. This was clarified in 1788, which act required masters of slaves over fifty to continue to post the 200 bond. "An Act Concerning Slaves," February 22, 1788, Laws of New York State, 11th Session, Chap. 40, 2:675‑79; "An Act Concerning Slaves and Servants," April 8, 1801, Laws of New York State, 24th Session, Chap. 188, 5:547‑52.
7Roderic Townsend, Manumission of Peter Prince, February 28, 1818, Huntington Town Records, 3:290‑91. Overseers of the poor certified in writing their approval of the manumission applications of owners. The certificates were filed together in a bound volume entitled "Manumission of Slaves" for the town of Huntington. Townsend's document was not listed in the abstracts of this volume, but was entered separately and directly into the town record. It therefore probably did not bear a certification by overseers of the poor. See Huntington Town Records, 3:291‑92.
8Controversy arose over whether Jordan had actually been freed since the estate executors had failed to sign the manumission certification document prepared by the overseers of the poor. The overseer of the poor certificate was deemed to be sufficient evidence of the manumission and of the town's assumption of any future responsibility for the slave. Hopkins and Mudge, Executors of Hopkins, against Fleet and Young, Overseers of the Poor, August 1812, in Johnson, ed., Reports of Cases in Supreme Court of Judicature, 9:225‑27. See William Hopkins and Co., Manumission of Jordan, August 10, 1807, Oyster Bay Town Records, 7:365.
9Warren et al v. Brooks, May 1827, in Catterall, ed., Judicial Cases Concerning Slavery, 4:385.
10Allinson, Memoir of Quamino Buccau, pp. 13‑15. See pp. , above on Quamino.
11"An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery," March 29, 1799, Laws of New York State, 22nd Session, Chap. 62, 4:388‑89; "An Act Relative to Slaves and Servants," March 31, 1817, Laws of New York State, 40th Session, Chap. 137, pp. 136‑44.
12"An Act to Authorize the Raising of two Regiments of Men of Color," October 24, 1814, Laws of New York State, 38th Session, Chap. 18, p. 22.
13Elias Hicks to Joseph Lawrence, 1790, Pennypacker Long Island Collection, Ms. Book no. 3, p. 31, Easthampton Free Library cited in Helen Z. Wortis Collection, LIHS; Oyster Bay Town Records, 7:225‑26. The disposition of Pompey's wife, also a Mott slave, is unknown. Case of Rose and Pompey Tussel, March 3, 1800, p. 155, New York Manumission Society--Reports of the Standing Committee, January 26, 1797‑March 11, 1807, two microfilm reels, NYHS.
14Edmund Griswold, Manumission of Frank, December 1801, Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , p. 147, MCNY.
15Nicholas Luquer, Manumission of John Richard, December 28, 1796, Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , p. 33, MCNY.
16Benjamin Hays, Manumission of Johno, October 17, 1803, Town of Bedford, Westchester County--Historical Records, 9 vols. (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Edwards Bros. for the Town of Bedford, 1966‑1972), 4:135.
17Case of Hannah, May 6, 1806, p. 312, New York Manumission Society--Reports of the Standing Committee, January 26, 1797‑March 11, 1807, two microfilm reels, NYHS.
18"An Act Concerning Slaves," February 22, 1788, Laws of New York State, 11th Session, Chap. 40, 2:675‑79. These provisions were reiterated in "An Act Concerning Slaves and Servants," April 8, 1801, Laws of New York State, 24th Session, Chap. 188, 5:547‑52.
19Case of Phillis Mires, February 13, 1798, p. 106, New York Manumission Society--Reports of the Standing Committee, January 26, 1797‑March 11, 1807, two microfilm reels, NYHS.
20Case of Cato and family, November 9, 1802, p. 236, New York Manumission Society--Reports of the Standing Committee, January 26, 1797‑March 11, 1807, two microfilm reels, NYHS.
21Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , p. 22, MCNY.
22Case of Timothy Speedwill, February 13, 1800, p. 136; Case of Mingo Roe and his wife Betsey, February 13, 1800, p. 136; Case of Lisette and daughter Elizabeth, September 28, 1797, p. 101, December 28, 1797, p. 105; Case of Benjamin, March 9, 1797, p. 89, August 9, 1797, p. 98. Benjamin and Lisette were married and both claimed to have been of Indian ancestry. They were held in slavery together illegally (along with their daughter Elizabeth) by Alexander McComb and his widow. New York Manumission Society--Reports of the Standing Committee, January 26, 1797‑March 11, 1807, two microfilm reels, NYHS.
23Case of Richard and Catherine Hallett, February 13, 1798, p. 107, New York Manumission Society--Reports of the Standing Committee, January 26, 1797‑March 11, 1807, two microfilm reels, NYHS.
24Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , p. 87, MCNY.
25Ibid., pp. 85, 86.
26Case of Molly, February 13, 1800, p. 137, New York Manumission Society--Reports of the Standing Committee, January 26, 1797‑March 11, 1807, two microfilm reels, NYHS.
27Case of black man held by Phineas Carl, April 20, 1797, p. 92, New York Manumission Society--Reports of the Standing Committee, January 26, 1797‑March 11, 1807, two microfilm reels, NYHS.
28Case of Susanna, March 9, 1797, p. 89, March 23, 1797, p. 90, April 20, 1797, p. 92, New York Manumission Society--Reports of the Standing Committee, January 26, 1797‑March 11, 1807, two microfilm reels, NYHS.
29Walter L. Cochran, Manumission of Titus Grey, July 5, 1794; Abraham L. Smith, Manumission of Francis Jacobs, November 29, 1791; Samuel Dunscomb, Manumission of Tibo Connor, May 19, 1804; Robert Crommelin, Manumission of John Johnson; Nehemiah Allen, Registration of Catreen, June 28, 1802, Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , pp. 29, 30, 167, 176, 232, MCNY.
30Nordstrom, "New York Slave Code," p. 20.
31Three black men (Peter, Reuben, and Gad) from Southampton appeared separately before Abraham Miller, a judge of the Court of Common Pleas for Suffolk County, on April 25, 1814, to obtain certificates stating that they had exhibited satisfactory evidence of their earlier manumissions. Pelletreau, comp., Records of Southampton, 3:375; 4:2, 6, 13, 17. Isaac Plato of Easthampton came before the same judge one day later and proved that he had been born a free man. Osborne, comp., Records of Easthampton, 4:385. Three freedom vouchers for Richard Doughty, Thomas Miller (1821), and George White are located in Plimpton Collection, Manuscript Room, Columbia University. Three additional freedom vouchers were found for William B. Kendall (1825), Richard Turner, and William Williams in Slaves--Miscellaneous Manuscripts, Folder 2, Manuscript Room, New York Public Library. The other forty‑three documents, which were originally filed in the New York City clerk's office, are located in a collection of Indentures of Apprenticeship, NYHS. Except for Peter, Reuben, and Gad, the manumissions of the twenty‑seven other freed blacks were not included in the sample of 1,837 manumissions, 1785 to 1831, analyzed below.
32Johnson, ed., Reports of Cases in Supreme Court of Judicature, 14:188‑93.
33The grandfather had belonged to this white family since at least as far back as 1794.
34Johnson, ed., Reports of Cases in Supreme Court of Judicature, 12:314‑15. Will of Joseph Concklin, Shelter Island, September 30, 1780, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 10:8. This court case was initiated by a black Concklin (one of Cloe's children) against Havens, a descendant of the testator Joseph Concklin. Havens had attempted to claim Concklin as his slave; Concklin responded with this suit of false imprisonment and succeeded in establishing his right to freedom. Note that "Concklin" had become a black family name.
Another testator, Christopher Fell of New York City, also bequeathed slave children to their mother: "My negro woman Deppy is to be declared free, as if she had been born free, and I bequeath to her her two children." Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 6:417. Fell's will left less room for controversy--the children were given permanently to the freed mother, who would presumably manumit them.
35Bureau of Census, Century of Population Growth, p. 141.
36See table 1, introduction.
37In New York County 31.6 percent of blacks were free in 1790, but only 17.7 percent of blacks in the Dutch‑dominated area of Harlem. In Suffolk County, the towns of Huntington, Brookhaven, Smithtown, and Southold manumitted their slaves most slowly, while Islip, Shelter Island, Easthampton, and Southampton moved most rapidly to free their black populations between 1790 and 1820. In Queens County, residents of Oysterbay began early widely to manumit their slaves, perhaps reflecting the heavy Quaker population in the town. With their large segment of Dutch slaveholders, Newtown and Jamaica consistently lagged behind the rest of Queens County in freeing slave property, as did their Dutch neighbors in Kings County. While 26 percent of blacks were free in Queens County in 1790, only 9.2 percent of blacks were free in Newtown.
38Marcus L. Hansen, "The Minor Stocks in the American Population of 1790," Annual Report of the American Historical Association 1 (1931), p. 363.
39Ritchie, The Duke's Province, p.28.
40Connolly, Ghetto Grows in Brooklyn, p. 6.
41Rosenwaike, Population History of N.Y.C., p. 29.
42Hansen, "The Minor Stocks," p. 370.
43Bureau of Census, Century of Population Growth, table 113, p. 275. The Dutch white family was also slightly larger than the English household at 6 rather than 5.8 persons.
44See table 2, p. above.
45See table 3, p. above on the consistently larger average size of slaveholdings in Kings County between 1790 and 1820 compared to other counties.
46Bureau of Census, Century of Population Growth, table 113, p. 275.
47For the proportion of Dutch in the white population of Richmond County in 1790, see Bureau of Census, Century of Population Growth, table 112, p. 272. This estimate of the proportion of white slaveholders that were Dutch is based on an ethnic analysis of all slaveholders' last names listed in the 1790 federal census schedules. An owner was counted as Dutch only if the name was of obvious Dutch derivation--names like Cornelius Van Debelt and Samuel Van Pelt in Castletown, or Barnet Sleght and John Van Schyck in Westfield. By this method the 238 slaveholders in Richmond County were composed of 92 Dutch and 146 non‑Dutch owners.
48Also see p. below on manumission in Brooklyn. Although not as clearly defined as in 1820, these trends were discernible as early as 1800. Based on 1800 Census, Printed Population Schedules, NYGBR, the following chart compares Brooklyn's slaveholding pattern in 1800 to the other five towns in Kings County:
Percent of Percent Percent of
Households Average of Blacks the Black
Number That Number of in the Population
of Held Slaves per the Total That
Slaves Slaves Household Population Was Free
Brooklyn 445 41.8 3.3 26.8 30.5
Gravesend 162 71.9 4.0 35.4 15.1
Flatbush 341 70.8 4.5 39.8 10.3
Flatlands 127 63.8 3.4 28.5 9.3
Bushwick 198 67.5 3.7 34.8 14.7
New Utrecht 246 67.5 4.4 35.1 13.7
49The black population grew dramatically in New York City after 1790; it tripled between 1790 and 1820, from 3,484 persons to 10,886 persons. See pp. ‑ below on the movement of free blacks from other counties into New York City between 1790 and 1830.
50These percentages of increase or decrease in the slave population were calculated as follows: Richmond County in 1800 had 675 slaves, and 437 in 1810. Using the formula 675 minus 437 = 238 difference, then 238/675 = ‑35.3 percent, representing a decrease in the slave population of 35.3 percent.
51In the under‑fourteen age group 9.3 percent more black females were free than males, in the fourteen‑to‑twenty‑six age group 21.2 percent more females were free, 14.8 percent more females were free in the twenty‑six‑to‑forty‑five age group, and 3.8 percent more females were free in the over‑forty‑five bracket in Kings County.
52Westchester County slaveholders had not released all of the 697 black children under fourteen listed in the census from their service obligations and manumitted them to their parents' care--52.7 percent of these children still lived in white households in 1820. See pp. ‑ below.
53See p. and table 1 p. above. The collection of 2,045 manumissions represents at least one‑fifth to one‑quarter of the real number of manumissions which took place in the southern six counties of New York during these years. Out of the sample of 2,045 slaves freed between April 12, 1785 and 1831, 1,616 were freed between 1800 and 1831 (92 in wills and 1,524 in deeds of manumission). See table 1, p. and chart, p. above. According to the 1800 federal census, there were 8,743 slaves in the southern six counties of New York; only seventeen remained by the year 1830. The 8,743 slaves in 1800 were the finite maximum number of slaves available for manumission between 1800 and 1831. No more slaves were born in the state after 1799 and slave importations had been illegal since 1788. Except for those who died in the interim or were illegally sold out of the state, all of these 8,726 (8,743 minus 17) slaves were freed between 1800 and 1831. The potential number of slaves for whom there should have been manumission documents (whether by will or deed) was 8,726 minus those who died, those who were sold out of New York, and those who were freed by public law without documentation on July 4, 1827 (a maximum of 2,866 slaves, some of whom were really free‑born children under fourteen counted incorrectly as slaves in the 1820 census). Therefore, the sample of 1,616 manumissions represents a sizeable proportion of the real number of manumissions which took place during these years (18.5 percent based on all 8,726 slaves). Subtracting the maximum of 2,866 slaves freed by law in 1827 from the 8,726 slaves freed between 1800 and 1831--and still excluding reductions due to deaths and out‑of‑state sales--27.6 percent of real manumissions were covered by the sample (1,616/5,860). It is probable that free‑born children under fourteen were widely counted in the 1800 and 1810 censuses as slaves, which means that the true number of slaves for whom manumission was possible between 1800 and 1831 was even lower (16.6 percent of such children were still counted as slaves in the 1820 census). Some of these children however, were eligible for manumission--either given up to parents or freed from service early at age eighteen or twenty‑one.
Additional known manumissions were also located for these years which are not included in this sample. The New York Manumission Society secured freedom for a large number of slaves whose cases are listed in New York Manumission Society--Reports of the Standing Committee, January 26, 1797‑March 11, 1807, two microfilm reels, NYHS. Out of fifty‑three black men who obtained freedom certificates in order to vote, thirty had been freed after 1785: twenty‑seven of the thirty do not appear in the manumission sample (no deeds of manumission were located for them). In 1786 New York State freed an unknown number of slaves who had belonged to loyalist owners whose estates were confiscated during the Revolution; no record of these manumissions has been found. A group of thirty‑three adults were sold between 1785 and 1831 with future manumission provisos in their sale contracts--they were also excluded from the sample of 2,045 manumissions.
54See the bibliographical essay below for the sources used to compile the sample of wills and the sample of manumission documents.
55See pp. ‑ above. The data base for the 1801 to 1831 sample of wills was much smaller than for earlier years due to the termination of the Collections of the New‑York Historical Society, Abstracts of Wills series with wills written before January 14, 1801. For this reason, the number of sampled wills written 1801 to 1831 cannot be compared in volume to the wills written between April 12, 1785 and 1800.
56Seventy‑nine of the 1,837 slaves freed by deed, however, were freed after the deaths of their owners through instruments of manumission written by the executors of their sixty‑five masters' estates.
57Census figures (discussed above), however, indicate that the years 1800 to 1810 saw the greatest advance of freedom. The proportion of blacks who were free rose from 43.9 to 71.8 percent of the black population during this decade.
58Children born to slave women between July 4, 1799 and July 4, 1827 were freed from their service obligations to their mothers' masters between July 4, 1824 (when the first females reached age twenty‑five) and July 4, 1848, when the last children born on July 4, 1827 reached age twenty‑one. They do not generally appear in the manumission sample since manumission documents were not normally executed at the termination of their required periods of service. Since they had been born free, the birth certificates filed by their owners served as proof of their right to freedom. Masters wrote manumission certificates for such children (or freed them in their wills) only when they voluntarily freed such servants before the expiration of their full terms of service. Only children for whom such documents exist were included in the manumission sample; the two manumissions which occurred in 1828 and 1831 were of bound‑to‑service children who were released early from their obligations. See James Chrystie, Manumission of Agnes, July 4, 1815, Yoshpe, "Record of Slave Manumissions," p. 80 for the 1828 manumission. See Nethaniel Miller (executor of Timothy Miller), Manumission of Jeremiah, April 5, 1831, Records of the Town of Brookhaven, 1798‑1856, 2:307. See pp. , ‑ below on the early manumissions of such children.
59Joseph James, Manumission of Phillis, November 15, 1795, Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , p. 88, MCNY.
60Silas Powel, Manumission of James, April 13, 1789, Huntington Town Records, 3:142.
61Samuel Bowne, Manumission of William Johnson, August 12, 1800, Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , p. 115, MCNY.
62Epaphras Jones, Manumission of Rose, November 23, 1795, Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , p. 84 MCNY. Jones added that "any expenses created on her account during the five years are to be repaid by Rose, in her services, at the rate of 20 shillings per month after the expiration of said term of five years."
63John Henry, Manumissions of Tom, Alexander, and Kent, August 2, 1788, Manuscript Room, Butler Library, Columbia University, N. Y..
64Elizabeth Fine, Manumission of Margaret, January 24, 1805, Yoshpe, "Record of Slave Manumissions," p. 96.
65Y. Hamilton, Manumission of Patience, September 25, 1794, Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , p. 118, MCNY.
66Bill of Sale, Peter Bogert [Administrator of estate of Thomas Lawrence] to Samuel Ward, March 15, 1796; Samuel Ward, Manumission of Jane and Daniel, March 15, 1802, Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , pp. 159, 160, MCNY.
67Bill of Sale, James Desbrosses to Brockholst Livingston, January 22, 1795, Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , p. 31, MCNY.
68Fitch Hall, Manumission of Mary and child, December 16, 1794, Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , p. 45, MCNY.
69Edward D. Griffin, Manumission of Samuel Scudder, April 22, 1807, Yoshpe, "Record of Slave Manumissions," p. 97. The original document provided additional information on this manumission. Manumission Society, New York City Indentures 1809‑1829, and Manumission Society, New York City Register of Manumissions of Slaves in New York City 1816‑1818, microfilm reel no. 1, Manuscript Room, NYHS.
70Will of Joseph Hallett, New York City, December 25, 1797, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 15:173‑74.
71Ages were available for eighteen of the thirty‑three adults who were sold.
72These fifty‑seven sales with manumission clauses appear in a sample of 312 bills of sale. See pp. ‑ above.
73Bill of Sale, Gilbert Colden Willett to George Turnbull, May 19, 1801; Bill of Sale, George Turnbull to William Betts, June 6, 1801; Bill of Sale, William Betts to Isaac Ackerman, September 7, 1801, Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , pp. 137, 184, 185, MCNY.
74William Henry Pyke, Manumission of Thomas, Mary, Betty, Rachel, October 22, 1797; Bill of Sale, William Henry Pyke to John B. Anderson, August 21, 1798; Bill of Sale, John B. Anderson to Willett Hicks, June 15, 1802; Bill of Sale, William Henry Pyke to A.D. Mount, February 25, 1799, Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , pp. 158, 159, 163, 171, MCNY.
75Joseph Purdy's estate in White Plains sold Margaret (or Peg), age ten, for 30 to De Lancey on March 29, 1793. Benjamin Decker of Northfield, Richmond County, sold fifteen‑year‑old Tom to De Lancey for 85 on June 30, 1795. De Lancey bought twenty‑five‑year‑old Simon (or Sime) from Abraham Van Alen of Kinderhook, Columbia County for 100 on September 7, 1795. Simon ran away less than a year later. Valentine Nutter of New York City sold De Lancey a family for 180 consisting of Peter (age forty‑five), his wife (age thirty‑five), Abraham (age five), and Sam (age nine months) on March 24, 1797. De Lancey purchased Phebe (age sixteen) from H.G. Livingston of New York City for 60 on August 10, 1798. All of these slaves, gathered on his estate from various counties, were to serve for life. These bills of sale are located in the De Lancey Family Papers, MCNY.
76All bills of sale are located in De Lancey Family Papers, MCNY. De Lancey sold Betty Halley thirteen months later.
771800 Census, Printed Population Schedules, NYGBR 57(1926):112; 1810 Census, Manuscript Population Schedules, Mamaroneck, p. 1086; 1820 Census, Manuscript Population Schedules, Mamaroneck, p. 363. See p. above on the manumission of two De Lancey slaves in 1803.
78Although the comparative wage‑earning abilities of free black men and women in New York is unknown, it is possible that free women earned less money than did free men in an economy and society which generally denied women access to skilled and professional labor. Black women were in high demand as domestic servants and may have been more fully employed than free black men, but more poorly paid. Those men who were able to work in the skilled trades or even as mariners or farm laborers may have been paid at a higher rate which enabled them (more so than women) to save money to free their families.
79The difficulty of self‑purchase is suggested by provisions made in a 1798 will (not included in this sample of seventy‑one manumissions). William Shedden ordered that at his death his slave Anny was to be sold "for not less than 60, provided that she shall be made entirely free when she and her husband can raise the 60." Anny and her husband did not have enough time between the date the will was written (November 7) and Shedden's death (the will was proved on November 16) to accumulate funds to prevent the sale, but were granted a permanent option to buy her freedom later. Will of William Shedden, New York City, November 7, 1798, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 15:114‑16.
80Daniel Hawxhurst, Manumission of Thomas Wilson, May 20, 1793, Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , p. 43, MCNY.
81Samuel Wilson and James Shaw received periodic payments of $18.50, 22 (equal to $55), $40, $15, and $30.36 from Spencer between October 1800 and September 29, 1803. Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , pp. 173, 180, MCNY.
82Phebe Davis, Manumission of Dinah, February 8, 1805, Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , p. 193, MCNY. Dinah's two‑year‑old child Charlotte must have remained behind as a bound servant to Davis until age twenty‑five. Phebe Davis, Registration of Slave Child Charlotte, b. January 20, 1803, New York City Birth Certificates of Slaves, p. 37, microfilm reel 49, NYHS.
83Lewis Guion, Manumission of Maria, January 28, 1795, Eastchester Historical Society, Records of the Town of Eastchester, 1665‑1835, 10:9.
84Derick Lefferts, Manumission of Joseph DeCoster Sr. and Jr., August 18‑19, 1797, Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , p. 61, MCNY. Lefferts left Joseph [de Castes] a legacy of $25 annual support for life in his will written a year later. Will of D[irck] Lefferts, New York City, October 23, 1798, Coll. NYHS, Abstracts of Wills, 15:143‑46.
85Also see Robert Gilchrist, Manumission of Mary Ann and child, April 21, 1796, Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , p. 63, MCNY. Gilchrist covenanted with Abraham Richardson, a free black, that he would free his wife and infant daughter in three years' time. Richardson used persuasion rather than money to induce Gilchrist to free his family. See pp. ‑ , ‑ above on free blacks Joseph Way, David Byass, Peter Sebally, and John Moranda, all of whom struggled to buy the freedom of their wives and children.
86James Laidler, Manumission of Phillis and Alexander Alexander, October 7, 1793, Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , pp. 26‑28, MCNY.
87Slaves were counted as being freed alone if no other blacks were manumitted by their owners on the same date.
88In 39 of the 1,292 slaveholdings more than one master owned the slave (or at least a proportion of his labor time). An additional seventy‑two persons were listed as part owners (from two to seven masters each) of the manumitted slaves. Where several masters were listed on a manumission document, it was counted as only one owner in order not to inflate the number of slaveholding units/masters.
89See table , p. and table , p. above on the average size of slaveholdings and on the proportion of owners who held only one slave in the southern six counties of New York.
90Some slaves were freed on the same date as other blacks, but where family relationships were not specifically listed they are assumed to be non‑related co‑workers in the same slaveholding. Forty‑four masters freed an adult man and woman on the same date (eighty‑eight slaves). It is possible that some of these couples were married partners freed together, but due to lack of evidence they are counted as unrelated slaves. As an example, William Bowron of New Castle freed a "negro man and negro woman" (Jack and Hannah) on February 23, 1799--their relationship is unknown. Historical Records of New Castle 1791‑1850, 2:89‑90.
91The ages of the 53 children were as follows: 6 weeks, 8 months, 9 months, 1, 1, 1, 1 1/2, 1 1/2, 1 2/3, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2 1/2, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 5, 5, 5, 6, 6, 6, 7, 7, 7, 8, 8, 8, 8, 9, 9, 9, 10, 10, 12, 13, 16, 16, 18, and 3 unknown. Of the fifty‑three children, three had already been legally abandoned to overseers of the poor before their mothers' manumissions. All of these children, however, would eventually be freed--either in 1827 if they were slaves born prior to 1799, or at the expiration of their terms of service.
92Samuel Jones, Registration of Slave Children Charles, Emilly, Robert, Rosanna, b. May 23, 1801, February 25, 1803, August 17, 1804, July 2, 1806; Samuel Jones, Manumission of Lype (Lizze), May 21, 1813, Oyster Bay Town Records, 7:390; 8:329, 330, 331, 332.
93Thomas S. Strong, Registration of Slave Children Rachel, Tamar, Cealia, Ellen (Nell), b. August 22, 1805, September 25, 1807, January 15, 1810, October 23, 1815; Thomas S. Strong, Manumission of Unice, April 1, 1823, Records of the Town of Brookhaven, 1798‑1856, 2:83, 248. Also see p. x below on this case.
94Garret Stryker, Registration of Slave Children Harry and Sam, b. March 27, 1817, October 26, 1819, Gravesend--Births of Slaves, 1799‑1819, pp. 27, 28; Garret Stryker, Manumission of Sue, October 17, 1820, Gravesend Town Records, Book 7, Town Meetings, p. 101, St. Francis.
95The ages of 34 of the 80 children are known: 2 months, 4 months, 10 months, 11 months, 11 months, 1, 1, 1 1/2, 2, 2, 2 2, 2, 2 1/2, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4, 4, 4, 5, 5, 6, 6, 6 3/4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 14, and 19.
96Simon Schermerhorn, Manumission of Phillis, Mary, James, John, Jacob, in Yoshpe, "Record of Slave Manumissions," p. 89.
97Elizabeth Hammond, Manumission of Phebe, Margaret, William, Ann Johnson, Robert, June 20, 1800, Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , pp. 107, 114, MCNY. Hammond executed a second separate manumission document on August 12, 1800, for Ann Johnson.
98Both Ann Seaberry and her daughter Nancy experienced stable ownership in the Fleet household. Ann had belonged to Fleet at least six years before her 1807 manumission since Fleet had registered the birth of her child Jack with the town clerk in 1801. Nancy was born in Fleet's household in 1804, where she remained until her manumission in 1822. Arnold Fleet, Registration of Slave Children Jack and Nancy, b. March 21, 1801, March 11, 1804, Oyster Bay Town Records, 8:329, 331. Arnold Fleet, Manumission of Ann Seaberry, April 7, 1807; Arnold Fleet, Manumission of Nancy Sebury, June 15, 1822, Oyster Bay Town Records, 7:365, 451.
99Bassett made generous will provisions for Belinda and her children in the form of an annual lifetime legacy of 14 to Belinda and after her decease to be divided among the children. Mary Bassett, Manumission of Belinda, Dinah, William, and Lydia, July 26, 1800, Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , p. 113, MCNY.
100Aquila Giles, Manumission of Hannah and Abigail, May 23, 1796, Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , p. 73, MCNY.
101Andrew Dean, Manumission of Hannah, Elizabeth, and Samuel, March 24, 1802, "Early Records Found on Freeing of Slaves," County Times, 21 January 1938, Westchester County Historical Society. This manumission originally appeared in New Rochelle town records referred to in the 1938 newspaper article.
102Samuel Hitchcock, Manumission of Israel Merritt, March 17, 1787; Hoysted Hacker, Manumission of Nassa Merritt, Charles, and Nancey, January 14, 1790, Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , pp. 3, 6, MCNY.
103Henry Whitson, Manumissions of Stephen Squire and Thomas Squire, March 27, 1787, Oyster Bay Town Records, 7:92, 93.
104Michael M. Titus, Manumission of Israel Loines and Catharine Loines, May 28, 1811, Yoshpe, "Record of Slave Manumissions," p. 90. Israel Loin[s] later appeared as the head of a black household which contained fourteen members in 1820 in Queens County. 1820 Census, Manuscript Population Schedules, Queens County, p. 280.
105The legality of this manumission and property transfer from Mary Jauncey to the still‑enslaved grandmother is debatable. Mary Jauncey may have been liable for Myna's future support should she become dependent, as the infant could not qualify for an overseer of the poor certificate, and the law at this point did not permit slave children to be given up to parents (or grandparents). Presumably, it would have been legal for Jauncey to give Myna to her grandmother as a property gift once Cloe Frankford was freed, but not before. Mary Jauncey, Manumission of Myna, January 30, 1792; Manumission by William, M., and John Jauncey of Chloe Frankford, May 30, 1792, Register of manumissions of slaves . . . , pp. 108, 109, MCNY.
106Thomas Farmar, Manumission of Lewis Dusenbury and Mary, November 29, 1804; James Seton, Manumission of William Daley and Hagar, December 28, 1804; William Wilcocks, Manumission of John Brown and Jane, August 29, 1812, Yoshpe, "Record of Slave Manumissions," pp. 82, 89, 91.
107Richard Ward, Registration of Slave Child Sharlote, b. December 5, 1804; Richard Ward, Manumission of John, Jane, and Charlotte, April 12, 1806, Eastchester Historical Society, Records of the Town of Eastchester, 1665‑1835, 10:20.
108William Goslin, Manumission of Henry Bartow, Jane, Jack, Charles, and Sarah, January 13, 1821, Yoshpe, "Record of Slave Manumissions," p. 97.
109Samuel B. Nicoll, Manumission of Cade, Elizabeth, and Armenie, Shelter Island Town Records, in Helen Z. Wortis Collection, LIHS; Rev. Jacob E. Mallmann, Historical Papers on Shelter Island and Its Presbyterian Church (New York: The A.M. Bustard Co., 1899), p. 76.
110See table 2, p. , above on the proportion of children in the black population.
111McManus, Negro Slavery, pp. 144‑45.
112"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.
113Oyster Bay Town Records, 7:272, 323.
114"An Act to enable certain persons to take and hold estates within this state," February 17, 1809, Laws of New York State, 32nd Session, Chap. 44 (November 1808‑1809), pp. 29‑30. Although not specified in the act, parents presumably had to be free in order to take custody of their children and be certified as able to support them by overseers of the poor.
115This woman may be the same Phebe that De Lancey purchased at age sixteen for 60 from H.G. Livingston on August 10, 1798. Both the deed of manumission and bill of purchase are located in De Lancey Family Papers, MCNY.
116"An Act Relative to Slaves and Servants," March 31, 1817, Laws of New York State, 40th Session, Chap. 137, pp. 136‑44.
117For examples of seven other children who were freed to their parents' care with overseer of the poor certificates, see Frederick Depeyster, Jacob Levy, Jr., Zachariah Lewis, Albert Ogden, and Sarah Taber, in Yoshpe, "Record of Slave Manumissions," pp. 96, 98, 99, 100, 102. Additional details on the manumission by Frederick Depeyster are in Manumission Society, New York City Register of Manumissions of Slaves in New York City 1816‑1818, microfilm reel no. 1, NYHS.
118Andrew Morris, Manumissions of Violet Mitchell, William, Jerry, Ellen, Andrew, and Stephen, May 13, 1817, Yoshpe, "Record of Slave Manumissions," p. 100.
119Peter V. Ledyard, Manumission of Betty, George, and Louisa, June 19, 1817, Yoshpe, "Record of Slave Manumissions," P. 98. Additional information on this manumission is in Manumission Society, New York City Register of Manumissions of Slaves in New York City 1816‑1818, microfilm reel no. 1, NYHS.
120Work Projects Administration, Records of the Town of Flushing, 1790‑1885, 3 vols., Long Island Collection, Queensboro Public Library (n.p., 1939), on microfilm at NYGBS, 1:77‑78, 80‑81.
121James Barrow, Manumission of son of his female servant Fan, March 10, 1815, Yoshpe, "Record of Slave Manumissions," p. 93.
122"Gov. Tompkin[s'] Letter to the Legislature of New York," New York Freedom's Journal, 13 July 1827, p. 70.
123"An Act Relative to Slaves and Servants," March 31, 1817, Laws of New York State, 40th Session, Chap. 137, pp. 136‑44.
124Bernard, Journey Toward Freedom, pp. 55‑56. See Gilbert, narrator, Narrative of Sojourner Truth, p. 23 and p. above on the speech made by Sojourner to her father in 1817.
125Since slave importations were illegal and no New York blacks had been born into slavery since July 4, 1799, Richmond County residents must have added to their slaveholdings through purchases from other counties. Richmond's slave population had been increasing since 1810 from 437 slaves to 532 in 1820, up to 698 by 1825. Some of this increase could have been due to the mislabelling of children born free but with a service obligation as slaves in the 1810, 1820, and 1825 censuses of this county. 1820 Census, "Aggregate Amount of Persons . . . ," and "1825 Census, Staten Island," Board of Education, "The Black Man on Staten Island," pp. 81‑84.
126Rosenwaike, Population History of N.Y.C., pp. 32, 50.
127Some of the slaves who appeared in the 1820 and 1825 censuses would have died before 1827, further reducing the number of slaves eligible for manumission on July 4, 1827. Reductions due to probable deaths are not accounted for in the estimate of 2,866 slaves who remained to be freed in 1827. Also, some of the blacks counted as slaves in the 1820 and 1825 censuses could have been free‑born children owing service who were erroneously classified as slaves. These children would have been freed at the end of their service obligations and not on July 4, 1827. A combination of unaccounted for deaths, inflation of the true number of slaves by the inclusion of free‑born black children in the total, and unlocated manumission documents could have meant that considerably less than 2,866 slaves were left to be freed in 1827 in the southern six counties of New York.
128Will of Denyse D. Denyse, Castleton, June 20, 1825, Wills of Richmond County, 1787‑1863, on file at the Surrogate's Office (original file Liber G, p. 163), St. George, Staten Island, abstracted at SIIAS. If the boy Jack was one of the children born between 1799 and 1827, his legal manumission from service would have occurred on his twenty‑first (if he was born after 1817) or twenty‑eight birthday rather than on July 4, 1827, according to New York State law.
129It is unknown what proportion of slaves held in 1820 remained enslaved by 1827. These manumission figures provide a minimum estimate of the number of slaves voluntarily freed through manumission instruments or in wills between 1820 and 1827. The real number is higher due to the likely exclusion of some pertinent wills and missing manumission records from this study. The following six masters freed a total of eight slaves in wills written between 1820 and 1827: Peter Androvette, Westfield, February 5, 1820; Abraham Prall, Northfield, December 8, 1812, proved May 25, 1820; Peter Prall, Castleton, October 25, 1820, Wills of Richmond County, 1787‑1863, on file at the Surrogate's Office, St. George, Staten Island, located at SIIAS. Phebe Fox, Brooklyn, March 28, 1820; Rutgert Stillwell, Gravesend, June 18, 1816, De Witt Van Buren, comp., Abstracts of Wills of Kings County Recorded at Brooklyn, New York, Libers 1‑6, 1787‑1843 (Typewritten, 1934), Liber 2:40; Liber 3:6. Paul Parcot, New Rochelle, May 26, 1820, Daughters of the American Revolution, New Rochelle Chapter, Old Wills of New Rochelle: Copies of Wills by Citizens of New Rochelle, New York 1784‑1830 (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Genealogical Committee of Daughters of the American Revolution, New Rochelle, 1951), pp. 129‑30. Five of the six owners who freed slaves by will in the 1820s lived in either Kings or Richmond counties where a disproportionate number of the slaves still remaining in the southern six counties of New York were held.
Additional sampled slaves may have been freed between 1820 and 1827 but because their dates of manumission were uncertain, they were classified as freed on the date of execution of their masters' wills or manumission documents. These slaves were often promised freedom at future dates upon the attainment of a certain age, completion of service obligations, or at the death of the owner's widow. In 1804 Nathan Woodhull willed his granddaughter a slave, Unice, who was to be freed at age thirty; the effective date of this manumission could have fallen in the years between 1820 and 1827. Will of Nathan Woodhull, Brookhaven, August 4, 1804, George Easter, comp., The Wills of Suffolk County on Long Island in the State of New York Libers A and B, 1787‑1809: Abstracts, 2 vols. (Riverhead, N.Y.: n.p., 1937), New York Public Library, Liber B, p. 28. In 1810 Elias Guion ordered that his negro boy George be manumitted after the death of both himself and his wife. Guion died in 1812, but the date of his wife's death (and therefore George's freedom) is unknown--it could have occurred in the 1820s. Will of Elias Guion, New Rochelle, March 21, 1810, Daughters of the American Revolution, Old Wills of New Rochelle, p. 82.
130Pierre Toussaint had been manumitted by his owner in 1807. As a free man he enjoyed renown and success as a fashionable hairdresser to the white French community and as a charitable benefactor to his own black community. His biographer noted that "when the colored people in New York celebrated their release from bondage, on [July 4, 1827], they came to Toussaint to offer him a prominent part in the procession. He thanked them with his customary politeness, congratulated them on the great event of emancipation, but declined the honor they assigned him, saying 'I do not owe my freedom to the State, but to my mistress.'" Hannah F. Lee, Memoir of Pierre Toussaint, Born a Slave in St. Domingo (Boston: Crosby, Nichols and Co., 1854), pp. 85‑86.
131"Abolition of Slavery," New York Freedom's Journal, 20 April 1827, p. 22.
132See "Emancipation of Slaves," New York Freedom's Journal, 29 June 1827, p. 63. Quaker groups which had been instrumental in achieving the passage of abolition laws in the state through the work of the New York Manumission Society were also opposed to a street parade to commemorate the event. "For the Freedom's Journal," New York Freedom's Journal, 29 June 1827, p. 63.
133"Abolition of Slavery," New York Freedom's Journal, 6 July 1827, p. 67; New York Freedom's Journal, 22 June 1827, p. 58.
134"Extract from the Minutes of a large and respectable Meeting of the People of Colour, held in the Mutual Relief Hall, April 23rd, 1827," New York Freedom's Journal, 29 June 1827, p. 63.
135New York Evening Post, 3 July 1827 p. 3; "Meeting of the People of Colour," New York Freedom's Journal, 27 April 1827, pp. 25‑26.
136New York Freedom's Journal, 13 July 1827, p. 71. Belated reports of the July 4‑5 public festivities and addresses continued to appear in issues of Freedom's Journal throughout July and August 1827. Also see Nathaniel Paul, Pastor of the First African Baptist Society in the City of Albany, "An Address, Delivered on the Celebration of the Abolition of Slavery, in the State of New‑York, July 5, 1827," in Negro Protest Pamphlets: A Compendium, The American Negro: His History and Literature (New York: Arno Press and the New York Times, 1969).
137Morris, History of Staten Island, 2:45‑47.