Saturday, August 18, 2007

Chapter One

BORN TO RUN: The Slave Family in Early New York, 1626 to 1827

Dr. Vivienne L. Kruger. MA., M. Phil., Ph.D.

The following text is an exact transcription of a Ph.D. thesis completed at Columbia University, History Department, New York, New York in 1985 by Dr. Vivienne Kruger, Ph. D. My dissertation sponsor was Professor Alden Vaughan, and the chairman of my dissertation committee was Professor Eric Foner, both of the History Department. This thesis was given the highest possible grade of pass on the day of the dissertation defense and was accepted as is for immediate deposit in the Dean’s Office. It was originally typed in Wordstar program , and subsequently changed into a Microsoft Word format. As a result, many of the tables and appendices are out of proper column alignment and many are missing. All chapters, text, and footnotes are in their original condition. The bibliographical essay and bibliography are completely intact. Only the secondary sources section is incomplete: it stops at the alphabetical letter “h” and entries from h to z are missing. Interested scholars and readers can order a copy of the full complete, original doctoral dissertation (Publication number 8523186) from Proquest (formerly University Microfilms) at Telephone: 1800-521-0600. The original Ph.D. thesis is also available for reading in a hard copy paper format permanently on file in Butler Library, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA. telephone: 212-854-2271.
This Ph.D. thesis has not yet been published as a book, and inquiries from mainstream or academic university publishers are welcome.
The author, Dr. Vivienne Kruger, can be contacted at

BORN TO RUN: the slave family in early new york, 1626 to 1827
Dr. Vivienne L. kruger. Ma. M. Phil., Ph.D.
C 1985




























Dr. Vivienne L. Kruger, Ph.D.
This study of slave families in the southern six counties of New York covers an early era in which many blacks were African immigrants or first or second generation Afro‑Americans. The central feature of New York and northern slavery was that most slaveholdings were small and contained only from one to five slaves. Because of the small size of the holdings, slave family members were usually owned by separate masters and forced to live apart. Slavery created artificial black demographic conditions in New York: a small overall black population, low black population density, unbalanced adult sex ratios, and a random rather than familial distribution of slaves into white households. A distinctive Afro‑American life cycle developed under these circumstances of enslavement. New York slaves experienced childhood, marriage, parenthood, and old age in ways that were radically different from free blacks or whites. In contrast to sudden, total emancipation in the South, New York slaves were freed voluntarily and gradually between 1785 and 1848. Separate ownership guaranteed separate manumission of relatives and severe family disruption as husbands, wives, and children were freed individually, often many years apart.
This study breaks new ground in the location and use of manuscript and primary sources appropriate to the study of slavery and the slave family in small northern holdings. Hard, mass quantitative data on thousands of slaves was compiled from censuses, church records, wills, estate inventories, bills of sale, runaway slave advertisements, laws, town records, manumission documents, registers of the births of slave children, overseer of the poor rolls and state comptroller's records for the support of abandoned slave infants, and ship registers of blacks evacuated with the British in 1783. As a social historian, I utilized and unearthed new manuscript, archival, printed primary, and secondary sources to reconstitute and explore a previously unstudied population group. To complete this original, large-scale, demographic research project, I collected, interpreted, arranged, catalogued, and ranked thousands of pieces of information. This study developed groundbreaking methodologies never before used to study the slave family in a small Northern slaveholding setting: it traced the slave life cycle and family phases and explored the impact of revolution, manumission, and gradual emancipation on family cohesion. This dissertation has a wide focus by virtue of its topic: it necessarily encompasses the multi-faceted social, familial, cultural, economic, demographic, and legislative aspects of slavery in New York from 1626 to 1827.

Scholarly research on slavery has traditionally focused on the profitability of the institution, master treatment of bondsmen, such forms of slave resistance as running away and large‑scale rebellion, and the legal framework of the slave system. The slave was a passive object in this historical inquiry; he was described as either a fortunate student in a beneficent white acculturation university1 or an infantilized inmate in a closed institution.2 Slaves were fed, clothed, cured, worked, punished, whipped, sold, and Christianized at the discretion of a host of master types and in a plethora of plantation settings. Most historians saw the slave as an independent actor only when he ran away or resisted in a mass uprising. The "social history" of the slave population consisted of sentimental anecdotes about favored house slaves, tales of exploitive miscegenation, or heartrending descriptions of families sundered at the auction block.
The slave family was studied in 1939 by E. Franklin Frazier, whose interpretation remained the standard until the revisionist works of the 1970s. Frazier insisted that the African's societal patterns had been totally destroyed in his transition to American slavery. Culturally set adrift, the slave family on plantations was a temporary phenomenon characterized by loose sexual mating illegitimacy, parental indifference, absent fathers, and disruption by sale. Only the large group of partially white mulattoes and the small group of favored slaves who lived in close contact with, and under the supervision of white masters on small farms adhered to and emerged from slavery with stable white‑imposed family patterns and values. Another small group of hardworking antebellum freed blacks also was able to maintain familial integrity. For the vast majority, however, slavery had meant plantation life in quarters far removed from the elevating moral influence of constant owner supervision. At emancipation blacks had an anarchic matriarchal family system; fathers were without a role or authority, and affectional bonds between spouses and between parent and child were weak. Frazier asked: "What authority was there to take the place of the master's in regulating sex relations and maintaining the permanency of marital ties?"3 Once again, the slave was seen as a victim of his circumstances‑‑either fortunate enough to absorb white values or left to flounder in a morass of irregular black behaviors.
Kenneth Stampp devoted nine pages to the slave family, carrying forward some of Frazier's interpretations. Stampp continued the master‑dominated perspective on slave family relations. Marital and familial patterns were either scrupulously set and enforced on some plantations or slaves were left to their own questionable practices on others. The slave family was neither protected in law nor was it a functioning economic unit under the head of a male. Fathers were unable to provide for or protect their charges, and parental authority was subjugated to the ultimate power of the master. The family was unstable due to the constant threat of separation by sale. This all resulted in casual attitudes toward marriage, lack of deep affection between spouses, parental indifference toward children, promiscuity, and a matriarchal organization of black society. Stampp admitted that some slaves did manage to develop familial attachments: witness grief at forced separations. But in general Stampp's family was a frail entity, determined by the actions and attitudes of individual masters and by the phenomenon of enslavement itself.4
The new social history of the late 1960s reflected the political and social values of historians and the deeply changing society around them. Historical concerns shifted away from political institutions, military events, and elite classes toward the study of broad, hitherto ignored population groups. Fresh techniques in demographic research, computer technology, and newly rediscovered source materials encouraged historians of slavery literally to stampede into the virgin territory of the black family in the 1970s. With history being rewritten from the bottom up, the slave was no longer a mere reactor to stimuli from above; black familial patterns and an autonomous slave culture were "discovered" for the first time. The resulting reinterpretations of the slave experience stressed the black side of slavery, with a diminution of the master's input. The new research revealed the retention of African customs among slaves. It was seen that black religion and music nourished a separate slave culture and that black community and family life seemingly survived without the direction or even knowledge of white masters.
Several important articles appeared. Russell Menard assessed the possibilities of family life in terms of sex ratios, dispersed ownership patterns, and the relative abilities of fresh African and acculturated creole women to reproduce naturally the black population. Allan Kulikoff analyzed African importations, slave household formation, size, and composition, black population density, and kinship ties and structures in the eighteenth century Chesapeake. Herbert Klein and Stanley Engerman examined the rates of natural increase of slaves on mainland North America and in the West Indies. Lower slave fertility in the islands was explained in terms of malnutrition, overwork, owner behavior, epidemiology, or retention of the African custom of prolonged breastfeeding of infants which delays conception.5
Three major works dominated the debate on the slave family. Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman advanced a model of the plantation as a rational business enterprise based on the assembly line, complete with efficient workers ad enlightened managers. The interests of master and slave often converged. Slaves accepted the capitalist work ethic, spurred on by such incentives as job mobility from field hand to artisan to slave driver and material rewards equivalent to wages. The family was the basic unit of social organization under slavery. The economic interests of planters encouraged them to feed, clothe, and house slaves well, and to preserve the stability of their "workers'" families. In Fogel and Engerman's version of the slave family, males played the dominant role, with the division of labor within the family based on gender. Slaves abandoned the African family form as dysfunctional in the new setting and adopted a nuclear structure. Not only did slaves adopt their masters' family forms, but they incorporated their prudish Victorian sexual morals as well. Childspacing patterns, breastfeeding schedules, and the average age at birth of the first surviving child all suggested white rather than black patterns of sexual behavior.6
Fogel and Engerman's findings on the slave family ran counter to the research conclusions of the main body of slave historians. Eugene Genovese provided a more convincing interpretation of slave society. Instead of a capitalist collaboration, Genovese presented a precapitalist seigneurial society based on a mutual recognition of customary rights and privileges between master and slave. This paternalistic compromise entailed concessions on both sides and gave the slave quarters enough breathing space to form its own thriving cultural and familial system. A strong, cohesive slave community existed; slaves asserted their rights within the system and enjoyed folk culture, religion, and mores. Genovese described a black culture with strong African carryovers. Family ties and values were paramount, with distinct black sexual practices regarding premarital sex, marital fidelity, and divorce. Slaves valued two‑parent, male‑centered households, even if this was often difficult to realize.7
Herbert Gutman's work provided a fresh and compelling model of the process of slave family formation. Blacks adapted to slavery by developing distinctive domestic arrangements and complex kin networks which coalesced into a new Afro‑American culture during early contact between Africans and Anglo‑Americans in the period 1725 to 1775. This uniform Afro‑American culture was spread over the entire South by the migration of upper South slaves to the lower South. Based on African patterns of kin obligation, slave familial customs included exogamy, intensive naming for blood kin, and fictive kin relationships when real kin were missing. Slave children were socialized by the black slave community, passing on preferences for two‑parent households, a low voluntary divorce rate, and a toleration of premarital sex and pregnancy but not of adultery.8
Fogel and Engerman, Genovese, and Gutman all use plantation slavery as the focus of their studies. Large plantations may have been either capitalist factories, seigneurial manors, or the setting of complex kin networks and communities, but the experience of slaves who lived on small units was ignored in these models. The 1790 census indicates that four out of five United States slaves lived in Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina, where "one in three was owned in units of less than ten and another three in ten in units ranging in size from ten to nineteen."9 In South Carolina one out of three slaves lived in units of fewer than twenty blacks. Overall, 63.3 percent of the slaves in Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina, and 33.3 percent of the slaves in South Carolina lived in units containing less than twenty slaves. The proportion of slaves who lived in very small units was even larger in the earlier years of the eighteenth century. The familial organization of the slaves who lived in units of less than ten slaves is particularly intriguing. They were a minority of southern slaves, albeit a weighty one‑‑a third or more of the black population in the colonial period. Gutman contended that although the familial arrangements of slaves who lived in small holdings on farms and in towns and cities is largely unknown they also enjoyed opportunities for long marriages and expanded kin networks. His only evidence was that "the percentage of North Carolina ex‑slaves reporting long slave marriages in 1866 was the same in farm and urban settings as in plantation settings."10
Historians of slavery in general and of the slave family in particular have concentrated on the large southern plantation environment in the nineteenth century. While some recent studies help correct the gap in colonial slave history,11 the experience of the urban or small farm slave remains largely uninvestigated. Two works deal with the urban slave in the South but only marginally with the slave family. Thad W. Tate's study of eighteenth‑century Williamsburg found that in the 1780s the average slaveholding per white family was five or six blacks. They were housed in small outbuildings, second‑floor rooms above the kitchen, or on the floor somewhere in the master's house, affording less familial privacy than on larger plantations with specific slave quarters. While plantation owners preferred and could enforce their wish that slaves marry other slaves on the plantation, in cities large numbers of slaves who belonged to different owners lived in close proximity to each other, facilitating black social life, meetings, and marriages. The small size of the average urban holding almost insured that most marriages would involve separately owned spouses, increasing the chance of marital rupture through sale or a master's relocation and also the incidence of runaways.12
Richard Wade concluded that southern urban slave attachments were impermanent, that promiscuity was rampant, and that miscegenation was common. Marriages often involved separately owned partners, leading to difficulties in visitation and separately domiciled family units. Local ordinances tried to accommodate visiting spouses: Louisville's watch was ordered to "arrest all slaves found away from home without a pass or a good excuse (except a slave found at his wife's home)."13 Individual masters, though, could prevent their married slaves from seeing their spouses and children, as in the case of one slave who was "never allowed to see them; he would be beaten within an ace of his life if he ventured to go to the corner of the street."14 Urban slaves enjoyed less privacy than plantation slaves because of the constant presence of and observation by the master's household.
Wade and Tate described the probable effect of urban slavery on the slave family; small holdings meant separately owned families, weak family ties, and increased risks of permanent separation and alienation. Fathers could neither provide nor protect, and mothers invested little emotion in their children‑‑the institution of the family was swallowed up by the institution of slavery. Urban slaves were denied the social and physical breathing space which enabled black culture to flourish in the slave quarters of large plantations as well as the opportunity to live on a big plantation over long enough periods of time to develop either nuclear or complex kin networks. To be sure, slave social life, contacts, and entertainments abounded illegally in cities for slaves who were able to slip away from their masters' premises. Men and women loved each other, marriages took place, and children were born, but no study to date has adequately investigated the chances for sustained family and community life for slaves in small holdings, both urban and rural.
As a slavery laboratory, the northern version of the institution illuminates the experience of the small holding; most northern slaveowners possessed fewer than five slaves. Slavery in the northern colonies and states has received sparse historical attention compared to the massive research efforts expended on the South. Part of the reason is numerical: out of 694,207 slaves listed in the 1790 federal census, 40,086, or only 5.8 percent, lived in the nine northern states.15 Slavery was either abolished or gradually phased out in the North by 1827; it was thereafter a uniquely southern institution except for New Jersey. But if the number of slaves in the North was relatively small, and the institution ended earlier, slavery did exist in the North for approximately 230 years, from the 1620s through 1860.
The black slave and free population of the northern states has never been fully studied. The best work on New England slavery remains the 1942 study by Lorenzo Greene. Greene's chapter on the slave family emphasized the influence of Puritan thought on slave marriage in Massachusetts. The Puritan concept of the well‑ordered family under a patriarchal head insured that owners would enforce a uniform morality upon their wives, children, servants, and slaves. Wedding banns had to be published for slaves as well as for freemen. Owners enforced proscriptions against non-marital sex and adultery. Slave marriages were lawful as early as the 1650s.16 As of May 30, 1705, masters were legally prohibited from denying their slaves the right to marriage with another negro.17 While Greene's study stressed Puritan control over slave marriage and morality, he also conceded that slave marriages were disrupted severely by sale and noted the undermining of parental rights, separate ownership of families, and the giving away of unwanted slave children who were considered burdensome to small slaveholders.18 In another northern study, Gary Nash found that slave reproductive rates in pre‑revolutionary colonial Philadelphia were suppressed by unbalanced sex ratios and by the small size of slaveholdings. About twenty percent of Philadelphians held slaves in 1767 and 1775 enumerations; most owned only one or two adult slaves. "Sexually mature male and female slaves infrequently lived together under the same roof," inhibiting regular contact and negating the possibility of sustained family life for slaves.19
New York was the largest slaveholding colony and state in the North; it provides a fresh demographic context within which the slave family's existence can be analyzed. Both as the Dutch colony of New Netherland and later as an English colony and a new state, New York was heavily involved in slaveholding. In 1640 and 1650, New York had the largest number of blacks of any colony, but by 1660 it was surpassed in numbers by Maryland and Virginia. Between 1700 and 1730 New York had the fourth largest number of blacks among the mainland American colonies, after Virginia, South Carolina, and Maryland. New York remained the fifth largest slaveholding colony from 1740 through 1780, behind Virginia, South Carolina, Maryland, and North Carolina.20 By the first federal census in 1790, New York State's black population was the sixth largest in the United States in both the number of blacks and the number of slaves‑‑exceeded by Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia.
In terms of the proportion of the total population that was black, Maryland in 1704 (12.8 percent) and Virginia in 1699 to 1703 (13 percent) were comparable to the figure for New York in 1698 (12 percent). New York was soon eclipsed; by 1710, Maryland's population was 18.6 percent black, with New York at 13 percent in 1712 to 1714. All of the other southern colonies had much higher proportions of blacks. By 1750, from 33.3 to 60 percent of the populations of the southern colonies were black.21 In 1790 New York had the ninth largest proportion of blacks in its total population‑‑exceeded by South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, Delaware, Kentucky, and slightly by New Jersey.22 Although New York generally had fewer blacks and a smaller proportion of blacks in its population than the southern states, it had the largest number of both blacks and slaves of any northern colony or state from 1630 through 1790. It was the main repository of the institution of slavery outside the South.23 In 1790 New York alone had 25,875 blacks while the New England states combined had 16,822 blacks: Rhode Island (4,442), Connecticut (5,419), Massachusetts (5,369),New Hampshire (787), Vermont (269), and Maine, which was part of the state of Massachusetts (536). New York still had 21,193 slaves compared to New England's 3,763 slaves. New Jersey (14,185 blacks, 11,423 slaves) and Pennsylvania (10,238 blacks, 3,707 slaves) had the next largest numbers of both blacks and slaves in the North after New York.
The black family was either ignored or interpreted as non‑existent in New York slavery scholarship; the available primary source materials were hardly used. Edwin Olson's traditional institutional study regarded slavery as a patriarchal system in which negroes were seen as inferior members of the white owner's family. He devoted two pages to the slave family: "Among themselves, slaves had 'heathen marriages' which were loosely regarded, because when a 'married couple' were separated‑‑geographically speaking‑‑by sale, both parties often 'married' again. . . ."24 Samuel McKee's 1935 study, Labor in Colonial New York,1664‑1776, concerned New York's varied labor force and only incidentally mentioned the slave family. He asserted that "it may seem like an extreme analogy, and yet it is probably true, that the owners viewed the unions and subsequent reproduction of slaves as they did similar activities among livestock. The idea of family life among the slaves rarely appears. . . . It is difficult to conceive of the casual mating which resulted from their being together in a household as marriage. . . ."25
Edgar McManus's work is the only major published body of research on New York slavery. In his thesis, McManus argued that urban slave marriages lacked permanence. Artisans and tradesmen needed skilled slave labor, not the service of entire families. Blacks had difficulty maintaining marriages; most marital relations were "necessarily transient and polygamous."26 His published study primarily dealt with the economic profitability of slavery, the slave trade, slave controls, revolts, runaways, and the antislavery and gradual emancipation movements. He spent four pages on the slave family, relying on the interpretations of Frazier and Stampp and on a small body of evidence‑‑newspaper runaway slave ads, a missionary tract by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, a town record, and a small number of abstracted wills. He argued the following:27
For most of the slaves family attachments were casual and impermanent. The slave system was simply not structured to support slave families and no amount of good will could surmount this fact or mitigate its effects. Slave families that were somehow kept together inevitably burdened slaveholders with costly and unmanageable numbers of slave children. Another difficulty was that the typical slave family was divided among several owners. . . . Since it was economically unfeasible for slaveholders as a class to subordinate their buying and selling to the stability of the slave family, it was inevitable that families should disintegrate. . . . Such conditions created a bad climate of sexual morality. Most slaves regarded monogamy as an aberration when they regarded it at all, for spouses who might be separated at any time by sale were not likely to develop deep emotional loyalties to one another.
Later research by McManus continued to stress that "slaveholding was so widely diffused on a petty scale that most bondsmen had to form their friendships and family attachments outside the premises of their masters."28 The most recent lengthy work on New York slavery is Thomas Davis's 1974 Columbia University dissertation on "Slavery in Colonial New York City," which focused on the problems of maintaining order and social control over the slave population. Davis's brief treatment of the family concluded that even though members lived apart and marriages were unstable, the slave family definitely existed as a system of meaningful relationships between people. Arthur Zilversmit's excellent and important study of the abolition process in the northern states covered the philosophical, political, and legislative maneuvers in each state which resulted in freedom for the enslaved population. He incidentally mentioned that the slave family "was a precarious institution subject to the needs and wishes of the master. .. Although [some] individual masters tried to preserve family ties, the slave family was unprotected by law, weakened by insecurity, and easily destroyed. The weakness of the family encouraged casual sexual relationships rather than permanent bonds."29
This study explores the difficulties the slave family faced in the small holdings of urban and rural New York. The persuasive models of black community and family life advanced by historians of southern plantation slavery do not fully work when transplanted to New York. The separate black culture, religion, and social life enjoyed in the slave quarters of large plantations was denied to New York slaves who were segregated from other blacks in small households in close daily proximity to their masters. Slaves in the big plantation counties of the South lived in areas of dense black population; they could often live with or near immediate and extended kin for long periods of time. Where real relatives had been sold away, members of the large resident black community could serve as surrogate family. In contrast, New York blacks ordinarily lived apart from both close family members and distant kin and with from only none to one or two other blacks; the thin concentration of the black population further increased the isolation experienced by slaves in their individual households.
* * * * *
This study analyzes the slave and free black population of the southern six counties of New York: Kings, Queens, Richmond, Suffolk, New York, and Westchester.30 As table 1 shows, the black population in the southern six counties of the state represents a large proportion of all blacks in New York‑‑from 90.9 percent of them in 1698 down to 52.9 percent by 1830. The slow relative loss of black population in the southern six counties to the northern counties was caused by white population movement in the eighteenth century up the Hudson and away from the early centers of population in New York City and Long Island.31 This original area of white and black settlement, however, continued to include a high proportion of the state's blacks, enabling this study to cover comprehensively both enslavement and freedom in New York. During the important 1785 to 1827 transitional period of widespread voluntary manumission, gradual emancipation, and the end of legal slavery in New York State, the six‑county sample illustrates the freedom process for a weighty 50 percent of the state's blacks. INSERT TABLE ONE HERE.
This study of the New York slave family breaks new ground in the field of slave scholarship in several ways. Slavery in New York was unique in that it was the only mainland American slave system that evolved out of two colonial powers‑‑Dutch and English. The short tenure of the Dutch left little imprint on the legal structure of slavery instituted by the British, but the Dutch left behind a small free black community which stood in contrast to almost universal black slavery under the new, rigid, British slave system; almost no manumissions took place for the next hundred years. The multicultural origins of New York were also reflected in the sharply different slaveholding patterns and attitudes toward slavery of Dutch and English whites for over 150 years after New Netherland became New York. Much as the Dutch‑descended Afrikaners in South Africa became diehard proponents of racial oppression and apartheid, so the Dutch in New York became vehement supporters of slavery to the very end.
Unlike most southern plantation studies, this work concerns an earlier time period during which slave importations were legal and much of the population under investigation were immigrants or first or second generation Afro‑Americans. New York's slaves came either directly from Africa or indirectly via the Caribbean from points along the 4,000 mile‑long African coastline from the Senegal River in the north to the southern limit of Angola as well as the island of Madagascar. Traces of recently‑arrived African culture can be seen in slaves' names, tribal body marks, African language, black religious rites and beliefs, songs, the forms followed at public festivities, and in customs surrounding childbirth.
This study provides a rare look at urban slavery in both New York City and in the nearby rural counties which existed in the city's urban orbit. It can serve as a new model for American slavery in both the urban and the small slaveholding setting. The main feature that differentiates slavery in the North from the South is the preponderance of small slaveholdings. Except for some modestly sized (by southern standards) plantations in the Narragansett region of Rhode Island, most northern slaveowners possessed only between one and five slaves. Whereas historians of southern slavery rely on the records kept by large plantation owners and Union Army data on ex‑slaves as source material for the study of the slave family, historians of northern slavery must mine different manuscript and primary sources left behind by small households. Sources for the study of slaves in small holdings in New York are abundant and voluminous and have never before been used to study this particular historical population: censuses, church records, wills, estate inventories, bills of sale, runaway slave advertisements, laws, town records, manumission documents, registers of the births of slave children, overseer of the poor rolls for the support of abandoned slave infants, state comptroller's records for the support of abandoned slave infants and superannuated freedmen, and ship registers of blacks evacuated with the British in 1783.
Historians of southern urban and northern slavery have previously noted the destructive effect of small holdings on the slave family based only on small numbers of examples, court cases, legal statutes and pass laws, and runaway slave advertisements. This study, for the first time, uses large data bases32 to prove conclusively that most slave families were unable to live together in the small slaveholdings of New York. Slaves were randomly distributed rather than familially grouped into white households. Historians are not mathematicians; while the use of sophisticated statistical techniques must not be allowed to overshadow the human quality of our past, judiciously used hard, mass, quantitative data‑‑the analysis of thousands of slaves bequeathed in wills or thousands of slaves manumitted by their owners rather than only a few cases‑‑enables historians to make more soundly based arguments about the past than ever before. These large data bases provide concrete information on such widely diverse questions as the size, age, and sex composition of slaveholdings, what happened to individual slaves and the slave family at the death of owners, the care afforded to elderly slaves, whether slaves were freed singly or at different times from other family members, how far away in miles slaves were sold, how often slave women gave birth to children, and whether ex‑New York slaves were evacuated alone or in family groups by the British at the end of the Revolution.
The slave family in New York existed within a cohesive slave system whose laws, controls, and labor distribution methods were designed to fulfill local white need for bound black workers. The New York institution of slavery functioned profitably for whites while dealing as well as it could with the dependent and deviant groups of slaves present in all slave systems: young children, pregnant women, the elderly, runaways, arsonists, thieves, and insurrectionists. Aside from occasional private violence by slaves against masters, New York experienced relatively few mass uprisings: a 1712 conspiracy and a 1741 alleged plot in New York City, a 1753 plot by twelve blacks in Dutchess County, a 1761 plan by thirteen slaves to fire the town of Schenectady, and a 1775 escape attempt in Ulster County.
The black family and its needs were not taken into consideration in the planning of the slave system. Slaves in the urban households of New York City and the small family farms of the rural counties lived under artificial demographic conditions created as a by‑product of slavery: small overall black population, low black population density, unbalanced adult sex ratios, and the random rather than familial distribution of slaves through sale and purchase into white households. A distinctive New York Afro‑American life cycle developed under these circumstances of enslavement. New York slaves experienced childhood, marriage, parenthood, and old age radically differently than did freed blacks or whites.
The Afro‑American life cycle of New York slaves included a childhood during which a premium was placed on labor value rather than on personal development. Children grew up apart from their fathers and older siblings. They often only remained with their mothers until the age of six when their growing labor value increased the likelihood of separation by sale. Courtship and marriage were subordinated to the private and public control requirements of a slave system which restricted slave travel and communication with other blacks. White labor needs dictated that spouses could be sold at will and domiciled separately from each other with the ever‑present danger that one partner would be removed beyond visiting distance by sale. Parenthood, instead of completing the nuclear family unit, meant piecemeal separation from children and inability to direct their well‑being. Fathers rarely lived with their children, and mothers functioned as short‑term single parents until children were sold away; neither parent could expect to raise personally their offspring to adulthood or invest in their futures. The slave family could not support its elderly; once past useful labor to whites, slaves relied on their owners' good will for care in old age. Elderly slaves were burdensome to their owners; some received decent food, clothing, shelter, and medical care while others were abused or abandoned. In the lifelong absence of real parents, grandparents, spouses, siblings, and children, slaves in the same household must have often served as de facto kin, providing whatever love, comfort, companionship, friendship, and support they could for each other.
The slave family was unable to live together, jointly plan a future for all of is members, act as an economic unit, share each other's daily lives, or provide love, care, protection, and help on a continual basis. Traditional family roles and legal privileges between spouses and between parents and children were undermined by the slave's primary status as property. Property relations were protected in law at the expense of black family relations. In spite of all of these obstacles, the ideals of family love and obligation often survived within the black community.
Historians of New York slavery‑‑Olson, McKee, McManus, Davis, and Zilversmit‑‑all noted that small holdings meant that slave family members were divided among several owners. They incorrectly assumed, however, that this separation led blacks to value their families less deeply. To be sure, separate ownership, distance, and sales sundered ties that were already transitory or weak; serial relationships and marriages were undoubtedly common. Polygamy, adultery, and divorce must also have been more prevalent in the slave than in the free black or white population as a result of the involuntary physical separation of men and women. Relationships with siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and relatives through marriage, except where maintained through spontaneous affection or proximity, may have also been weakened by lack of contact. Such relatives were involuntarily kept apart for years or even for entire lifetimes.
For many slaves, however, separation over both distance and time did not end the love they felt for remembered parents, spouses, and children. We have forgotten that slaves were human beings with the same emotional and psychological characteristics that cause free men and women to love each other and their children. We ought not to assume that victims of tragic historical circumstances‑‑enslavement, war, internment in concentration camps, famine‑‑lose either their humanity or their connection to loved ones; difficult circumstances may in fact inflate love and longing to heroic proportions. It can be argued that victims of war or persecution may suffer only temporary forced isolation from family but that their socialization from childhood led them to expect family cohabitation and continuity as norms for childhood, marriage, and parenthood. Although slaves learned as children to expect that separation from family would be a way of life, separation may indeed have made the heart grow fonder.
Hard numerical data prove that the black family was physically separated by slavery but the black family was not demolished by the daunting New York slave system. Love and the frequency of family survival cannot be quantified but evidence of the persistent strong bonds between husbands and wives and between parents and children abounds in massive anecdotal case histories of thousands of slaves. It can be seen in the efforts of some owners to keep slave families together or permit visitations‑‑or sometimes to keep them apart‑‑because they knew of the deep attachments their bondsmen felt for each other. Slave autobiographies reveal the pain suffered at separation from loved ones and the endurance of such memories. Parents were frequently present at the baptisms of their children; they also passed on family given names and surnames to their children which would stay with them for life, wherever they went. Husbands and wives risked capture and severe punishment when they ran away to be together or slipped out of their masters' premises at night for covert reunions. Free husbands sought to purchase the freedom of their enslaved wives and children. Parents desperately tried to arrange for the liberty of their children; some hoped that baptism would entitle their offspring to freedom, while others tried to bargain with masters for their future manumission. After the American Revolution former slave women who were evacuated with the British widely claimed that they had been born free or had been freed prior to the war in an attempt to guarantee this status for their children.
The staggered period of voluntary manumission and gradual emancipation, 1785 to 1848, placed the slave family under great stress as its members were freed individually, often many years apart. As opposed to the South, where the slave population was suddenly freed en masse by the Emancipation Proclamation, the advancing union armies, and the thirteenth amendment, freedom for slaves in most of the northern states came gradually in the years after the Revolution. Separate ownership guaranteed separate manumission and family disruption as the black population slowly emerged from slavery. Much comparative research needs to be done on the effects of sudden versus gradual emancipation on the black family and on the black population in the immediate post‑slavery periods.
Many newly freed New York blacks continued to live as dependent workers in white households after manumission‑‑still separated from their families. The expectation born under slavery that black families would live apart survived among the first generation of freedmen. While many freedmen found it difficult to support themselves and either lived with whites, relied on their old owners for help, or became paupers, others successfully established their own households and reunited their families. As slaves blacks had been able to perform every kind of skilled and unskilled labor in agriculture, artisanry, commerce, and household service. A population that had functioned well throughout society found sudden unemployment and job discrimination once free. It would take 150 years after slavery ended in New York for blacks to begin to regain entry into a broad spectrum of trades and professions, a participation they had ironically once enjoyed as slaves. The freedom process still continues.
1Ulrich B. Phillips, Life_and_Labor_in_the_Old_South (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1929; reprint ed. 1951), pp. 198‑201.
2Stanley M. Elkins, Slavery: A_Problem_in_AmericanInstitutional_and_Intellectual_Life, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968).
3E. Franklin Frazier, The_Negro_Family_in_the_United States, rev. abridged ed., with a Foreword by Nathan Glazer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), pp. viii, 73, 360.
4Kenneth M. Stampp, The_Peculiar_Institution:_Slavery_in the_Ante‑Bellum_South (New York: Random House, Vintage Books, 1956), pp.340‑49.
5Russell Menard, "The Maryland Slave Population, 1658 to 1730: A Demographic Profile of Blacks in Four Counties," William_and_Mary_Quarterly 32 (January 1975): 29‑54; Allan Kulikoff, "The Beginnings of the Afro‑American Family in Maryland," in Aubrey Land, Lois Carr, and Edward Papenfuse, eds. Law,_Society_and_Politics_in_Early_Maryland, Studies in Maryland History and Culture (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977), pp. 171‑96; Allan Kulikoff, "Tobacco and Slaves: Population, Economy, and Society in Eighteenth Century Prince George's County, Maryland," (Ph.D. dissertation, Brandeis University, 1976); Herbert S. Klein and Stanley L. Engerman, "Fertility Differentials between Slaves in the United States and the British West Indies: A Note on Lactation Practices and Their Possible Implications," William_and_Mary_Quarterly, 35, no. 2 (April 1978): 357‑74.
6Robert William Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman, Time_on_the Cross:_the_Economics_of_American_Negro_Slavery (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1974).
7Eugene D. Genovese, Roll,_Jordan,_Roll:_The_World_The Slaves_Made (New York: Pantheon Books, 1972).
8Herbert G. Gutman, The_Black_Family_in_Slavery_and_Freedom, 1750‑1925 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1976).
9Ibid., p. 338.
10Ibid., p. 102.
11Gerald W. Mullin, Flight_and_Rebellion:__Slave_Resistance in_Eighteenth‑Century_Virginia (New York: Oxford University Press, 1972; reprint ed., New York: Oxford University Press, paperback, 1975); Peter H. Wood, Black_Majority: Negroes_in_Colonial_South_Carolina_from_1670_through_the Stono_Rebellion (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1974).
12Thad W. Tate, The_Negro_in_Eighteenth‑Century_Williamsburg (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1965; reprint ed., 1972), pp. 29, 60‑62.
13Richard C. Wade, Slavery_in_the_Cities:__The_South_1820‑1860 (New York: Oxford University Press paperback, 1972), p. 118. Also see pp. 114, 117‑24.
14Ibid., p. 118.
15Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census, A Century of Population Growth: From the First Census of the United States to the Twelfth 1790‑1900, History of American Economy: Studies and Materials for Study (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1909; reprint ed., New York: Johnson Reprint Corp., 1966), table 105, pp. 201‑7.
16Lorenzo Johnston Greene, The_Negro_in_Colonial_New England, with a Preface by Benjamin Quarles, Studies in American Negro Life, August Meier, ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1942; reprint ed., New York: Atheneum, 1974), pp. 191‑93, 195.
17Ibid., p. 209. This was to prevent the occurrence of racially mixed marriages. Greene incorrectly gives the date of this law as December 1705/1706.
18Ibid., pp. 213, 216‑17.
19Gary B. Nash, "Slaves and Slaveowners in Colonial Philadelphia," William_and_Mary_Quarterly 30 (1973): 239.
20These figures, 1640 to 1780, are in U.S. Bureau of the Census, Social Science Research Council, Historical Statistics of the United States‑ Colonial Times to 1957: A Statistical Abstract Supplement (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1960), Series Z 1‑19, p. 756. These figures are based on projected population estimates for each year; they are useful in comparing the black populations generally of each colony over time.
21Robert V. Wells, The_Population_of_the_British_Colonies_in America_before_1776:__A_Survey_of_Census_Data (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1975), p. 266. Wells's figures for South Carolina were incorrect; it was 60 percent black by 1750.
22In 1790 New Jersey's population was 7.7 percent black while New York's was 7.6 percent black. The two states had equal proportions of slaves in the population‑‑6.2 percent. In terms of sheer numbers, however, New York had almost double the number of either blacks or slaves as New Jersey.
23Tables comparing the numbers of blacks and slaves in each colony and the proportions of blacks and slaves in their total populations are in app. 2.
24Edwin Olson, "Negro Slavery in New York, 1626‑1827" (Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1938), pp. 135, 176.
25Samuel McKee, Labor_in_Colonial_New_York,_1664‑1776, Studies in History, Economics, and Public Law No. 410 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1935; reprint ed., Port Washington, N.Y.: Ira J. Friedman, Inc., 1963), p. 125.
26Edgar McManus, "Negro Slavery in New York" (Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1959), pp. 118‑19.
27Edgar McManus, A_History_of_Negro_Slavery_in_New_York (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1966), pp. 65‑66.
28Edgar McManus, Black_Bondage_in_the_North (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1973), p. 87.
29Arthur Zilversmit, The_First_Emancipation:__The_Abolition of_Slavery_in_the_North (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969), pp. 10‑11.
30Between 1698 and 1771, there were ten counties in New York, of which my sample covers six. Between 1784 and 1789, five new counties emerged from lands ceded by Albany‑‑Montgomery, Washington, Columbia, Clinton and Ontario counties.
31Wells, Population_in_America_Before_1776, p. 114.
32See app. 19 on the size of data bases used in this study.