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A STUDY OF SLAVERY IN NEW JERSEY
JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY STUDIES
HlSTOKICAL AND POLITICAL SCIENCE
HERBERT B. ADAMS, Editor
History is past Politics and Politics are present History Freeman
A STUDY OF SLAVERY IN NEW JERSEY
BY HENKY SCOF1ELD COOLEY
THE JOHNS HOPKINS PRESS
September and October, 1896
COPYRIGHT, 1896, BY THE JOHNS HOPKINS PRESS.
JOHN MURPHY & CO., PRINTERS,
.7 1 ;
THE INCREASE AND DECLINE OF SLAVERY.
The Proprietary Colony 9
Indian Slavery 11
The Royal Governors 13
The Slave Trade 14
The Anti-Slavery Movement , 20
The Extent of Slavery 30
THE GOVERNMENT OF SLAVES.
Regulations Concerning Truant or Fugitive Slaves 32
Other Police Regulations 35
The Criminal Law for Slaves 37
Negro Plots 42
THE LEGAL AND SOCIAL POSITION OF THE NEGRO.
Rights and Privileges of Slaves and Free Negroes 50
Social Condition of Slaves 55
BIBLIOGRAPHY ... 59
An accurate and thorough knowledge of slavery as it developed
in the United States can best be gained by a comparative study of
the institution as it has existed in the various States. Preparatory
to such a study, the experience of each of these commonwealths
needs to be investigated separately. This has been done in several
instances very satisfactorily. The writer has aimed to follow lines
of investigation already opened, and has pursued the history of
slavery in New Jersey, his native State.
New Jersey history is conveniently studied in three periods : the
period of the Proprietary Colony, 1664-1702 ; the period of the
Province of the Crown, 1702-1776 ; and the period of the State.
These divisions have not been adopted in the plan of this mono
graph, an arrangement by subject appearing more desirable ; but
it is hoped that they have been sufficiently recognized throughout
the paper. In general, in the Proprietary Colony we find the early
beginnings of slavery ; in the royal Colony, a steady increase in the
number of slaves, and special forms of trial and punishment for
slaves prescribed in the criminal law. This was also the period of
a strong abolition movement among the Friends, ending in 1776
with the denial by Friends of the right of membership in their
Society to slaveholders. In the State the anti-slavery movement,
largely under the leadership of the abolition societies, grew to
greater and greater strength. Its influence showed itself in practi
cal ways in the support given to negroes before the courts, in the
extinction of the slave trade, and in the passage of the gradual
abolition law of 1804.
The writer takes this opportunity to express his thanks for many
courtesies received in the use of the New Jersey State Library at
8 Introduction. [41 8
Trenton, the New York Historical Society Library and the Lenox
Library at New York, the Bergen County Records at Hackensack,
and particularly to F. W. Ricord, Esq., Librarian of the New Jersey
Historical Society, for full and free access to its collections. The
writer wishes also to recognize most gratefully his obligation, to
Dr. Bernard C. Steiner for many valuable suggestions as to the
method of investigation, and to Dr. Jeffrey R. Brackett for very
helpful criticism of the manuscript.
u xi Ji v fa *. -
A STUDY OF SLAVERY IN NEW JERSEY.
THE INCREASE AND DECLINE OF SLAVERY.
In nearly all of the English Colonies in America the insti
tution of slavery was recognized and accepted by both gov
ernment and colonists from the earliest period of settlement.
In New Jersey the relation of master and slave had legal
recognition at the very beginning of the Colony s political
existence. The earliest constitution, the " Concessions " l from
Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret in 1664, specifies slaves
as possible members of the settler s family.
By the " Concessions " the Lords Proprietors granted to
every colonist that should go out with the first governor
seventy-five acres of land for every slave, to every settler
before January 1, 1665, sixty acres for every slave, to every
settler in the year following forty-five acres for every slave,
and to every settler in the third year thirty acres for every
slave. For the colonist s own person and for every able-
bodied servant other portions of land were given, and all,
according to the text of the instrument, " that the planting of
lu The concessions and agreement of the Lords Proprietors of the pro
vince of New-Caesarea or New Jersey, to and with all and every of the
adventurers, and all such as shall plant there." Learning and Spicer,
Grants, Concessions, etc., pp. 20-23.
10 A Study of Slavery in New Jersey. [420
the said province may be more speedily promoted." Some
have thought to see in these grants an unworthy readiness to
serve the interest of the Duke of York, President of the Royal
African Company. 1 That the desire of the Lords Proprietors
was anything different from that stated, namely, the rapid
development of the Province, I have found no evidence to
prove. To what extent slaves were actually imported even is
The earliest legislation in New Jersey bearing on the
subject of slavery is a provision in 1668 that, if "any man
shall wilfully or forcibly steal away any mankind, he shall be
put to death." 2 This provision constituted the sixth of the
" Capital Laws " passed by the General Assembly at Eliza
beth-Town. 3 It, therefore, merely formed a part of the gen
eral criminal code and was intended for the protection of
persons of white race only. Another reference to slavery of
a similar character is found in the "Fundamental Laws"
agreed upon by the Proprietors and settlers of West Jersey in
1676. A chapter designed to secure publicity in judicial pro
ceedings concludes with the declaration " that all and every
person and persons inhabiting the said Province, shall, as far
as in us lies, be free from oppression and slavery." 4
Bancroft, History of U. S. t 9th ed., Vol. II, p. 316, refers to the Pro
prietors as, in this action "more true to the prince than to humanity."
Whitehead, East Jersey Under the Proprietary Governments, maintains
strongly that Bancroft s expression is not warranted by the evidence.
* Learning and Spicer, p. 79.
3 The provision when reenacted seven years later has the same position,
L. and S., p. 105.
* Learning and Spicer, p. 398.
That slavery was an institution which the dwellers about the Hudson
and Delaware recognized and had some acquaintance with, is shown by the
action of a Council at New York in 1669. A certain Coningsmarke, a
Swede, popularly known as "the long Finne," having been convicted of
stirring up an insurrection in Delaware, as part of his punishment was
sentenced to be sent to " Barbadoes or some other remote plantation to be
sold." After having been kept prisoner in the " Stadt-house at York"
for a year, the long Finne was duly transported for sale to Barbadoes.
Smith, S., History of New Jersey, pp. 53, 54.
421] The Increase and Decline of Slavery. 11
The earliest legislation implying the actual presence of
slaves in the Province is an enactment in 1675 against trans
porting, harboring, or entertaining apprentices, servants or
slaves. 1 From that time on laws having reference to slavery
become more and more frequent.
In general, in the Proprietary Colony (1664-1702) slaves
were regarded by the law very much as were apprentices and
servants. In the " Concessions " and in the earlier legisla
tion either slaves are treated in the same way as "weaker
servants," 2 or slaves, apprentices and servants are treated as
forming one class. 3 Gradually there were established special
regulations for the government of slaves, until toward the end
of this period we find special punishments and a special form
To what extent slave labor was employed at this time it is
difficult to estimate. That slaves were an important element
in the economic life of the Colony seems probable in view of
the amount of legislation relating to slavery. Mr. Snell says
that the earliest recorded instance of the holding of negro
slaves in New Jersey is that of "Col. Richard Morris of
Shrewsbury, who as early as 1680 had sixty or more slaves
about his mill and plantation." Mr. Snell thinks that by
1690 nearly all the inhabitants of northern New Jersey had
In New Jersey, as in many of the other Colonies, Indians
were held as slaves from a very early period. I have found
no evidence from which to determine in what year Indian
slavery first existed, or what proportions it ever actually at
tained. That there were Indian slaves in the Province as
1 Learning and Spicer, p. 109.
2 L. and S., pp. 20-23, Concessions of the Lords Proprietors.
3 Laws of 1675 and 1682. L. and S., pp. 105 and 238.
4 Snell, J. P., History of Sussex and Warren Counties, N. J., p. 76.
12 A Study of Slavery in New Jersey. [422
early as 1682 there is sufficient proof. The preamble to an
"Act against trading with negro slaves " passed at Elizabeth-
Town in that year reads : "Whereas, it is found by daily
experience that negro and Indian slaves, or servants under
pretence of trade, or liberty to traffic, do frequently steal from
their masters," etc. 1 Throughout the Act in the several places
where slaves are spoken of, the designation is " negro or Indian
slave" or a similar term. In many of the Colonial laws
Indian slavery is recognized by the use of the enumerating
phrase " negro, Indian and mulatto slaves " where slaves are
referred to. 2 The advertisements for fugitives, found in the
newspapers of the early part of the eighteenth century,
show pretty clearly the actual presence of Indian slaves. 3
Slaves of mixed race, half negro and half Indian, are also
That Indians might be slaves under the laws of New Jersey
was established judicially by a decision of the State Supreme
Court in 1797. 5 The case was one of habeas corpus to bring
up the body of Rose, an Indian woman, claimed by the de
fendant as a slave. It was proved that Rose s mother, an
Indian woman, had been purchased as a slave and had always
been considered as such. The Chief Justice, delivering the
1 L. and S., p. 254.
9 Allinson, pp. 5, 31, 307, 315 ; Nevill, I, pp. 18, 242 ; N. J. Archives, III,
473 ; XII, 516-520 ; XV, 30, 351. Also in the State Laws of 1798 and 1820.
Paterson, p. 307, and JV. J". Statutes, 44 ses., Statutes, 74. The expressions
" negro slaves or others," " negroes or other slaves " are found in Acts of
1682, 1695 and 1710. L. and S., pp. 237, 257 ; JV. J. Archives, XIII, p. 439.
3 Fugitive Indian men, apparently slaves, are advertised 1716 and 1720.
Boston News-Letter, July 23, 1716; American Weekly Mercury, Sept. 28,
1721 ; in JV. J. A., XI, pp. 41 and 58.
4 In 1734, 1741 and 1747. Am. Wk. Mer., Oct. 31, 1734 ; N. Y. Wk.
Journal, May 11, 1741; Penn. Oax. t Oct. 1, 1747; in JV. J. A., XI, 393;
XII, 91, 403. One of these half-breed slaves is mentioned as the child of
an Indian woman. N. J. A., XII, 403.
5 JV. .7. Law Reports, VI, 455-459 (1st. Halsted). The State vs. Van-
423] The Increase and Decline of Slavery. 13
opinion of the court, said: "They [the Indians] have been so
long recognized as slaves in our law, that it would be as great
a violation of the rights of property to establish a contrary
doctrine at the present day, as it would be in the case of
Africans; and as useless to investigate the manner in which
they originally lost their freedom." 1
The Royal Governors.
The plan for the administration of New Jersey outlined in
the instructions from Queen Anne to the first royal governor,
Lord Cornbury, included the regulation of slavery as existing
in the Province and the development of an import trade in
slaves from Africa. Lord Cornbury was directed to encourage
particularly the Royal African Company of England, along
with other enterprisers that might bring trade, or otherwise
"contribute to the advantage" of the Colony. The Queen
was " willing to recommend " to the Royal African Company
that the Province " may have a constant and sufficient supply
of merchantable negroes, at moderate rates," and the Governor,
on his part, was instructed to " take especial care " to secure
prompt payment for the same. He was to guard against en
croachments on the trading privileges of the Royal African
Company by inhabitants of New Jersey. He was to report
annually to the Commissioners for Trade and Plantations the
number of negroes imported, and the prices that they brought.
The "conversion of negroes and Indians to the Christian
religion " was even treated of. The consideration of the best
means to encourage this pious movement was commended to
the attention of the Governor, assisted by his Council and the
1 It was decided that the slavery of this Indian woman had been suffi
ciently proved, and she was remanded to the custody of her master.
8 L. and S., pp. 640, 642. Instructions from Queen Anne to Lord Corn-
14 A Study of Slavery in New Jersey. [424
The Slave Trade.
In the action of the Colony on the subject of the expediency
of restricting the importation of slaves, we find some indica
tion of the position which slavery attained among the institu
tions of the Province, and of the popular feeling as to the
desirability of the use of slave labor. The question of an
import duty was one upon which at times the views of Assem
bly, Council, and the Lords of Trade did not agree. Queen
Anne s instructions to Lord Cornbury show clearly a desire
to encourage the importation of slaves. The Governor was
specifically directed to report annually to the home government
the number and value of the slaves that the Province " was
yearly supplied with." The earliest statute on the subject was
in 1714, when a duty of ten pounds was laid on every slave
imported for sale. 1 The legislation was called forth by the
desire to stimulate the introduction of white servants that the
Colony might become better populated. 2
To what extent slaves were actually imported at this period
is largely a matter of conjecture. A report from the custom
house at Perth Amboy in 1726 gives "an account of what
negroes appears by the custom house books to be imported
into the eastern division of this Province" since 1698. 3 The
report states that, from 1698 to 1717 none were imported, and
from 1718 to 1726 only 115. It is hardly probably that this
testimony gives an accurate indication of the real amount of
slave importation. Many negroes must have been brought
into the Province in such a manner as not to appear on the
books of the custom house at Perth Amboy. It certainly
would seem strange that it should be thought desirable in
1 Allinson, S., Ads of Gen. Assembly (1702-1776), p. 31 ; N. J. A,, XIII,
pp. 516-520 ; Journal of Gov. and Council.
This law remained in force for seven years from June 1, 1714.
2 A similar law in Pennsylvania had been observed to have the desired
*N. J. A., V, p. 152.
425] The Increase and Decline of Slavery, 15
1714 to pass an act laying a duty upon slaves imported, if
actually, there had been little or no importation for fifteen
years previously. 1
The law of 1714 was permitted to expire in 1721, and for
nearly fifty years there was no duty upon the importation of
negroes, although during that period bills to establish such a
duty were at several times before the governing houses. 2 In
1744, a bill plainly intending an entire prohibition of the
importation of slaves from abroad was rejected by the Provin
cial Council. 3 That body declared that even the mere dis
couragement of importation was undesirable. The Council
maintained that the Colony at that time had great need of
laborers. An expedition to the West Indies had drawn off
from the Province many inhabitants. The privateering pro
fession had attracted many others. For these causes, wages
had risen so high that " farmers, trading-men, and tradesmen "
only with great difficulty were able to carry on their business.
The Council expected little relief from Ireland ; for, since the
establishment of the linen manufacture on that island, there
had been little emigration. The Silesian war in Europe allowed
slender hope of help from Germany or England. Under the
existing conditions, encouragement of slave importation rather
1 A similar inference may be drawn from information afforded by an
extract from the minutes of the Friends Yearly Meeting held at Burling
ton in 1716, given by Mr. J. W. Dally. From this extract we learn that
certain Friends at a Quarterly Meeting at Shrewsbury had shown great
solicitude for the discouragement of the importation of slaves, although
the question had received consideration at the previous Yearly Meeting.
Dally, Woodbridge and Vicinity, p. 73.
*In 1739, a bill was passed by the Assembly, but rejected by the Coun
cil. The Assembly and Council were just then at odds on the subject of
governmental appropriations. Possibly the strained relations may have
influenced the action on this bill. See Assem. Jour., Dec. 5, 1738, Feb. 16,
1739, and N. J. A., XV, 30, 31, 45, 50 (Jour, of Gov. and Council).
3 The bill imposed a duty of ten pounds upon all slaves imported from
the West Indies, and five pounds upon all from Africa. N. J. A., VI, 219,
232, and XV, 351, 384, 385 ( Jour, of Provin. Council) ; Assem. Jour., Oct. 9 to
Nov. 7, 1744.
16 A Study of Slavery in New Jersey. [426
than prohibition of it, was needed, in the opinion of the
Council. Again, in 1761, the question of a duty was under
discussion. The free importation of negroes had then become
a source of inconvenience. A large number of slaves were
" landed in this Province every year in order to be run into
New York and Pennsylvania" where duties had been estab
lished. Furthermore, New Jersey had become overstocked
with negroes. In response to two petitions from a large num
ber of the inhabitants of the Colony, praying for a duty on
all negro slaves imported, a bill for that purpose was introduced
into the Assembly. 1 Governor Hardy, however, informed the
House that his instructions would not permit him to assent to
the bill, 2 and it was abandoned. At the request of the Assem
bly, the Governor laid the matter before the Lords of Trade,
and besought them for some relief. 3 Less than a year later
Governor Hardy assented to a bill 4 imposing import duties ;
but insisted upon a suspending clause that the act should not
not take effect until approved by the King. The Lords of
Trade, because of technical faults in the bill, did not lay it
before the King ; but, at the same time, they disclaimed any
opposition to the policy of an import duty. 5
Assembly voted that the duties to be provided for in this bill
should not be so high as to amount to a prohibition (Assent. Jour., Dec. 3,
8 He was forbidden to give his "assent to any act imposing duties upon
negroes imported into this Province, payable by the importer ; or upon any
slaves exported, that have not been sold in the Province, and continued
there for the space of twelve months" (Assem. Jour., Dec. 4, 1761).
3 N. J. A., IX, 345. Letter from Gov. Hardy to the Lords of Trade.
Assem. Jour., Nov. 30 to Dec. 8, 1761.
4 Sept. 25, 1762. The act laid a duty of forty shillings in the Eastern
and six pounds in the Western division of the Province. The reason for
the discrimination was that Pennsylvania had a duty of ten pounds, while
New York charged only two pounds. Allinson, p. 253 ; N. J. A., IX, 383
(Letter from Gov. Hardy to the Lords of Trade). XVII, 333, 338-385,
(Jour, of Council) ; Assem. Jour., Sept. 23-25, 1762.
5 JV. J. A., IX, 447 (Letter from Lords of Trade to Gov. Franklin).
XVII, 385; see also IX, 444.
427 J The Increase and Decline of Slavery. 17
Finally, in 1767, an act limited to two years was passed; 1
and at its expiration a more comprehensive law followed which
was in force during the remainder of the Colonial period. 2
The preamble to the law of 1769 states that the act was
passed because several of the neighboring Colonies had found
duties upon the importation of negroes to be beneficial in the
introduction of sober, industrious foreigners as settlers and
in promoting a spirit of industry among the inhabitants in
general, and in order that those persons who chose to purchase
slaves might "contribute some equitable proportion of the
public burdens." It was enacted that the purchaser of a slave
which had not been in the Colony a year, or for which the
duty had not yet been paid, should pay to the county collector
the sum of fifteen pounds. 3
In 1773, several petitions were presented to the Assembly
praying that the further importation of slaves might be pro
hibited and that manumission might be made more easy. In
response, two bills were introduced for the above purposes,
respectively. The bill regarding manumission, however, seems
to have aroused such interest as to have overshadowed entirely
the bill for laying a further duty on the purchasers of slaves ;
for nothing is heard of the latter beyond its second reading
and recommitment. 4
In the early years of the royal Colony, the home govern
ment is inclined to encourage the importation of slaves. The
Assembly favors restriction of importation, apparently on
purely economic grounds, and succeeds in passing a law to
that end. For nearly fifty years the attempts of the Assembly
to carry out its policy are defeated, at first by the Council,
1( This law abandoned the awkward discrimination between East and
West Jersey of the bill of 1762, and imposed a uniform duty for the whole
Colony. Allinson, pp. 300 and 353. Whitehead, Perth Amboy, p. 320.
2 This act was to be in force for ten years.
3 Any purchase made upon the waters surrounding the Province was con
sidered a purchase within the Province (Allinson, p. 315).
Assam. Jour., Nov. 30 to Dec. 13, 1773.
18 A Study of Slavery in New Jersey. [428
then by the opposition of the Governor in accordance with his
official instructions, then by legal technicality. Finally, the
resistance is overcome, and a law laying a duty is passed.
Economic motives are again given as the cause of the legisla
tion ; but it is probable that the persistence of the Assembly
was due to the influence of the Friends, 1 among whom a strong
abolition movement had been going on.
Late in the year 1785, a petition from a great number of
the inhabitants of the State was presented to the Assembly,
praying for legislation to secure the gradual abolition of
slavery and to prevent the importation of slaves. In response
to this petition, an act was passed early in 1786 2 inflicting a
penalty of fifty pounds for bringing slaves into New Jersey
that had been imported from Africa since 1776, and a penalty
of twenty pounds for all others imported. 3 Foreigners, and
others having only a temporary residence, might bring in their
slaves without duty ; but might not dispose of them in the
State. The legislation against the slave trade met with in
the Colonial period was entered upon from considerations of
economic expediency, if we are to judge from the explana
tions of the legislators. In the act of 1786 we find legal
recognition of the ethical side of the question. The pream
ble declares that the " principles of justice and humanity re
quire that the barbarous custom of bringing the unoffending
Africans from their native country and connections into a
state of slavery" be discountenanced. 4 Further petitions 5 for
the suppression of the negro trade and the gradual abolition of
1 See N. J. A., IX, 346. Note by W. Nelson (editor).
Mr. Nelson thinks that the law of 1769 was caused by the anti-slavery
movement among the Friends.
2 Assem. Jour., Nov. 1, 1785, to March 2, 1786. Acts of Assem.
3 Persons coming to settle in New Jersey must pay duty on such of their
slaves as had been imported from Africa since 1776 ; but were not charged
for the others.
4 Even this act continues, " and sound policy also requires," that importa
tion be prohibited, in order that white labor may be protected.
5 Assem. Jour., Nov. 6-10, 1788.
429] The Increase and Decline of Slavery. 19
slavery, one from the Society of Friends and another from
certain inhabitants of the town of Princeton, led the legisla
ture in 1788 to pass a supplement to the law of 1786. This
supplement 1 carried the non-importation principle still farther
and inflicted a forfeiture of vessels, appurtenances and cargo
upon those who fitted out ships for the slave trade. Masters
of vessels who resisted the persons attempting to seize were
fined fifty pounds. Not only was the import trade in slaves
forbidden, but the export trade also. No slave that had
resided within the State for the year past could be removed
out of the State with the intention of changing his legal resi
dence, without his consent, or that of his parents. The pro
hibition did not apply to persons emigrating to settle in a
neighboring State and taking their slaves with them. 2
The abolition law of 1804 and the increasing strength of
the public sentiment against slavery inclined masters to send
their negroes out of the State, and a further law forbidding
exportation was passed in 18 12. 3 Again, in 1818, 4 in answer
to a memorial from a number of the inhabitants of Middlesex
County, praying for a more efficient law to prevent the kid
napping of blacks and carrying them out of the State, an act
was passed inflicting heavy penalties, both of fine and imprison
ment for exporting, contrary to law, slaves or servants of
Acts of 13th Gen. Assem., Assem. Jour., Nov. 6-25, 1788.
2 These several provisions were virtually re-enacted ten years later in the
comprehensive slave law of 1798, excepting that the money penalties in
flicted were, on the whole, made lighter. Paterson, W., Laws of N. J.,
revised 1800, p. 307.
The law was not so construed by the courts as to prevent an immigrant,
bringing in slaves among his dependents, from ever and under all circum
stances disposing of such slaves. An instance in 1807 is recorded, when a
slave imported conformably to law was sold from prison after two years
residence within the State. The State vs. Quick, 1st Pennington, p. 393.
3 36 Ses., 2 sit, Statutes, 15. Assem. Jour., Jan. 10-29, 1812 ; also Nov. 8,
4 Assem. Jour., Oct. 28 to Nov. 4, 1818. 43 Ses., Statutes, 3; also Assem.
Jour., Jan. 19-30, 1818.
20 A Study of Slavery in New Jersey. [430
color for life or years. 1 Any person who had resided within
the State for five years, desiring to remove from it perma
nently might take with him any slave that had been his prop
erty for the five years preceding the time of removal, pro
viding that the slave was of full age and had consented to the
removal. These facts must be proven before the Court of
Common Pleas, and a license to carry the slave out of the
State be given by the court. Any master of a vessel receiving
and carrying out of the State any slave for whose exportation
a license had not been obtained was liable to a heavy fine
and imprisonment. An inhabitant of New Jersey going on
a journey to any part of the United States might take his
slave with him ; but if the slave was not brought back the
master became liable to a heavy penalty unless he could prove
that it had been impossible for the slave to return. These
provisions mark the final suppression of the slave trade in
The Anti-Slavery Movement.
We find during the latter part of the Colonial period grow
ing recognition of the iniquity of human slavery. It is among
the Quaker inhabitants that this moral development is observed.
As early as 1696, 2 the Quakers of New Jersey and Pennsyl
vania voted in their Yearly Meeting to recommend to Friends
to cease from further importation of slaves. A cautious dis
approval of slavery is again seen in the action of the Yearly
Meeting in 1716. Out of consideration for those Friends
whose consciences made them opposed to slavery, "it is de
sired," the minutes read, " that Friends generally do as much
as may be to avoid buying such negroes as shall be hereafter
brought in, rather than offend any Friends who are against
1 All the legislation on this subject reached its final and permanent form
in the compiled Statute of 1820 (44 Ses., Statutes, 74).
2 Gordon, History of N. J., p. 57.
431] The Increase and Decline of Slavery. 21
it," ..." yet, this is only caution, not censure." l These sug
gestions seem to have been received favorably and to have
been put into practice. At a monthly meeting held at Wood-
bridge in 1738, it was stated that, not for several years had
any slaves been imported by a Friend, or had any Friend
bought negroes that had been imported. 2
This is the period of the life and work of John Woolman
(1720-1772), one of the earliest and noblest of those who
in this country labored for the abolition of human slavery.
But a poor, unlearned tailor of West-Jersey, his simplicity
and pure, universal charity gave him far-reaching influence
among the Friends. These qualities, as shown in his " Jour
nal/ together with the exquisite style of his writing, have
called forth the admiration of literary circles. He travelled
about as a minister among the Friends North and South,
preaching and urging his associates to do away with slavery.
In 1754, he published "Some Considerations on the Keep
ing of Negroes," in which he contends that slaveholding is
contrary to Scripture. 3
In 1758, the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, largely as the
result of a moving appeal by Woolman, voted that the Chris
tian injunction to do to others as we would that others should
do to us, " should induce Friends who held slaves to set
them at liberty, making a Christian provision for them. 7 " 4 In
succeeding years this Meeting expressed itself more and more
resolutely as opposed to slavery. At one stage in the move
ment, New Jersey Friends who inclined to free their slaves,
were deterred from so doing because of the law requiring
masters manumitting slaves to enter into security to maintain
the negroes in case they have need of relief. These masters
compromised the matter by retaining in their possession young
1 Extract given by Mr. J. W. Dally in his Woodbridge and Vicinity, p. 73.
3 Whittier, J. G., John Woolman s Journal, Introduction; also N. J. Ar.,
IX, 346. Note by W. Nelson (ed.).
4 Whittier s Introduction to Woolman s Journal, p. 19.
22 , A Study of Slavery in New Jersey. [432
negroes and forcing them to work without wages until they
reached the age of thirty, while at the same time declining to
hold any slaves for life. 1 The movement proceeded by moder
ate advances. Mr. Dally states that a report was made to
the Monthly Meeting at Plainfield in August, 1774, showing
" that at this time only one negro, fit for freedom within the
jurisdiction of the Society, remained a slave." 2 Finally, in
1776, the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting directed the subordi
nate meetings to " deny the right of membership to such as
persisted in holding their fellowrnen as property." 3
The persistent effort for the restriction of slave importation
culminating in the law of 1769 was, no doubt, largely due
to the growing anti-slavery sentiment among the Friends. 4
Again, in the fall of 1773, no less than eight petitions were
presented to the Assembly from inhabitants of six different
counties, 5 all setting forth the evils arising from human slavery,
and praying for an alteration of the laws on the subject. The
reforms desired were chiefly the prohibition of importation
and increased freedom of manumission. Of the two bills
introduced for these purposes, the one regulating manumission
alone excited much interest ; the other was soon dropped. A
counter-petition against the manumission bill was presented,
and, in view of the attention called forth, it was decided to
have the bill printed for the information of the public and
defer action until the next session ; after which nothing fur
ther was done. 6
A petition of strong anti-slavery character, praying the
Legislature to " pass an act to set free all the slaves now in
the Colony," was presented to the House in 1775 by fifty-two
1 Woolman s Journal, p. 224. 2 Dally, Woodbridge, p. 218.
3 Whittier s Introduction, p. 23. 4 Supra, p. 20.
5 The counties were Burlington, Monmouth, Cumberland, Essex, Mid
dlesex and Hunterdon.
Mssero. Jour., Nov. 19, 1773, to Feb. 16, 1774; also Jan. 28 to Feb. 7,
433] The Increase and Decline of Slavery. 23
inhabitants of Chesterfield in Burlington County. 1 In 1778,
Governor Livingston asked the Assembly to make provision
for the manumision of the slaves. The House thought that
the times were too critical for the discussion of such a measure,
and requested that the message be withdrawn. The Governor
reluctantly consented, yet at the same time stating that he was
determined, as far as his influence extended, "to push the
matter till it is effected, being convinced that the practice is
utterly inconsistent with the principles of Christianity and
humanity ; and in Americans who have almost idolized liberty,
peculiarly odious and disgraceful."
The New Jersey State Constitution, adopted in 1776, 3 con
tained no Bill of Rights. There was no provision ascribing
natural rights to all persons. Although there is little doubt
that the New Jersey courts would have been wholly opposed
to construing such a provision as abolishing slavery ; yet even
if the courts had been so inclined, as happened in Massachu
setts, 4 there was no opportunity for such a decision. The
common law of England and the former statute law of the
Colony were declared in force.
A society for promoting the abolition of slavery was formed
in New Jersey as early as 1786. 5 A constitution adopted at
Burlington in 1793 6 provides for an annual meeting of mem
bers from the whole State and for county meetings half-yearly.
The preamble, after mentioning " life, liberty and the pursuit
of happiness" as "universal rights of men," concludes with
the statement, " we abhor that inconsiderate, illiberal, and
1 Assem. Jour., Nov. 20, 1775.
2 Bancroft, Hist, of U. &, Vol. V., p. 411.
s Wilson, Acts of Slate of N. J. (1776-1783) ; also Poore s Collection.
4 Winchendon vs. Hatfield, 4th Mass. Eep., 123.
" Williams, Hist, of Negro Mace in America, p. 20.
6 N. J. Hist. Soc. Pamphlets, Vol. VI.
The constitution adopted at Trenton in 1786 was frequently amended in
succeeding years. The one agreed upon at Burlington in 1793 must have
had some permanence, as it was printed and is now accessible.
24 A Study of Slavery in New Jersey. [434
interested policy which withholds those rights from an unfor
tunate and degraded class of our fellow creatures." The
society was active and contained many able men. It was
influential in obtaining the passage of laws for the gradual
abolition of slavery, 1 and in securing before the courts the
protection to slaves provided for in the statutes. 2 Its mem
bership, however, in the early part of the present century, was
not large. The president stated in 1804 that probably not
more than 150 persons throughout the State were in active
association with the society. The aims of the society at this
period were moderate. The president, in an address in 1804,
declared that it was not " to be wished, much less expected,
that sudden and general emancipation should take place." He
thought that the true policy was to " steadily pursue the best
means of lessening, and by temperate steps, of finally extin
guishing the evil." 3
l Assem. Jour., Jan. 28, 1794, records a "Petition from Joseph Bloornfield,
styling himself President of a Society for promoting the Abolition of
Slavery," praying that some measures may be established by law to pro
mote the abolition of slavery." See also Nov. 22, 1802.
2 The supreme court would not require persons acting with this end, to
pay costs. In The State vs. Frees, the court refused to compel the Salem
Abolition Society, the prosecutor of the writ of habeas corpus for the negroes
in the case, to pay costs. The Chief Justice said that in no case would
such prosecutors be compelled to pay costs ; that " it was a laudable and
humane thing in any man or set of men to bring up the claims of those
unfortunate people before the court f or consideration." N. J. Law Rep., I,
3 There were local societies also. In 1802 the "Trenton Association for
promoting the Abolition of Slavery " published its constitution, in order to
evince to the public "that no improper or impertinent motives produced
our association; and that no illegal, unjust or dishonorable means will be
employed to accomplish our objects."
The members, convinced of the iniquity of personal slavery, had asso
ciated themselves together to endeavor by all constitutional and lawful
means to ameliorate, as far as lay within their power, the situation of slaves,
" to encourage and promote the gradual abolition of slavery," " and to im
prove the condition of and afford all reasonable protection and assistance
to the blacks, and other people of color, who may be among us."
435] The Increase and Decline of Slavery. 25
A petition in 1785, praying for the gradual abolition of
slavery and the suppression of further importation of slaves,
from a great number of the inhabitants of the State, resulted
in the law of 1786 against importation and providing for manu
mission without security. This law is the first that recog
nizes that any question of ethics is involved in the holding of
slaves. 1 Similar petitions to the above, from the Society of
Friends and from citizens of Princeton, led two years later to
the supplementary law of 1788 enacting very stringent meas
ures for the overthrow of the slave trade. 2 A petition praying
for the abolition of slavery, from certain inhabitants of Essex
and Morris counties, was received in the Assembly in 1790,
and referred to a committee. The committee reported to the
effect that the position of the slaves under the existing laws
was very satisfactory ; that, although it might be thought de
sirable to pass a law making slaves born in the future free at
a certain age, for example, twenty-eight years, yet that, " from
the state of society among us, the prevalence and progress of
the principles of universal liberty, there is little reason to
think there will be any slaves at all among us twenty-eight
years hence, and that experience seems to show that precipita
tion in the matter may do more hurt than good, not only to
the citizens of the State in general, but the slaves themselves." 3
It was the " duty of the Acting Committee to carry into effect the resolves
of the Association," " to give attention to all objects entitled to relief by the
laws of the land," " to state their cases, by themselves or counsel, before the
proper judicatures," etc.
Further, a Standing Committee of the Association had the following duties:
1. To superintend the morals and general conduct of the free blacks, and
to give advice, instruction, protection and other friendly offices.
2. To superintend the instruction of children, and encourage them to
good morals and habits of temperance and industry.
3. To place out children as apprentices.
4. To procure employment for men and women who are able to work,
and to encourage them to bind themselves out to a trade. ("True American,"
March 2, 1802.)
1 Supra, p. 18. * Supra, pp. 18 and 19.
3 Assem. Jour., May 24 and 26, 1790.
26 A Study of Slavery in New Jersey. [436
Notwithstanding the alluring optimism of the Assembly s
committee anti-slavery petitions * continued to be presented to
the House, and provisions to establish a system of gradual
abolition were frequently before that body in the following
years. 2 In the passage of the general slave law of 1798, a
provision ordaining that all children born to slaves in the
future should be free on attaining the age of twenty-eight
years failed only by a very narrow majority.
In the year 1804, an act for the gradual abolition of slavery
within the State was passed after the bill had run through two
sessions of the legislature. 3 Every child born of a slave after
the fourth of July of that year was to be free, but should
remain the servant of the owner of the mother, as if bound
out by the overseers of the poor, until the age of twenty-five
years, if a male, and twenty-one years, if a female. The right
to the services of such negro child was perfectly clear and free.
It was assignable or transferable. 4 One person might be the
owner of the mother and another have gained the right to the
services of the child. Masters were compelled to file with the
county clerk a certificate of the birth of every child of a slave. 5
This certificate was kept for future evidence of the age of the
child. The owner of the mother must maintain the child for
one year; after that period he might, by giving due notice,
l Assem. Jour., Oct. 24, Nov. 21, 1792; Jan. 28, Nov. 10, 1794.
*Assem. Jour., Oct. 25, 1792 ; May 21, 1793; Feb. 4, 1794; Feb. 14, 1797 ;
Jan. 19, March 8, 1798.
3 28 Ses., 2 sit., Statutes 251. Here, again, the bill was introduced in an
swer to a memorial from the New Jersey Abolition Society. The bill was
published for the general information of the people before it was finally
acted upon. Assem. Jour., Nov. 22, 1802 to Feb. 15, 1804.
4 This point was established by the Supreme Court in 1827. The Chief
Justice declared that services of this character were a " species of property,"
and were "transferred from one citizen to another like other personal
property." Ogden vs. Price, N. J. Law Rep., IX, 211-217 (4th Halsted).
6 The book Black Births of Bergen County, contains the certificates for
that county. The descriptions are generally very brief, frequently giving
nothing more than the name of the child. It seems remarkable that such
records should have been sufficient to prove a man s freedom.
437] The Increase and Decline of Slavery. 27
abandon it. Every negro child thus abandoned, like other
poor children, was to be regarded as a pauper of the township
or county, and be bound out to service by the overseers of the
poor. This provision, allowing masters to refuse to maintain
children born to their slaves, was the source of considerable
fraud upon the treasury, and was the cause of many supple
ments and amendments l to the law of 1804 in succeeding
years. Finally, seven years later the provision was repealed, 2
the reason given being " it appears that large sums of money
have been drawn from the treasury by citizens of the State for
maintaining abandoned black children, and that in some in
stances the money drawn for their maintenance amounts to
more than they would have brought if sold for life." 3
In 1844, a new constitution was adopted in New Jersey. 4
The first article was in the nature of a Bill of Rights, and the
first section read as follows : " All men are by nature free and
independent, and have certain natural and inalienable rights,
among which are those of enjoying and defending life and
liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and of
pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness." Some believed
that this section abolished both slavery and that form of invol
untary servitude in which children of slaves were held by the
G, 1808, 1809. 30 Ses., 2 sit., Statutes, 668; 33 Ses., 1 sit, Statutes,
112 ; 34 Ses., 1 sit., Statutes, 200.
1811. 35 Ses., 2 sit., Statutes, 313. This legislation also reaches its final
form in the compiled law of 1820. 44 Ses., Statutes, 74.
3 In 1806, the State Treasurer requested the "orders of the legislature
with respect to payments demanded of him for supporting black children."
His report the next year shows disbursements "for abandoned blacks"
amounting to half as much as all other disbursements whatever. In 1809,
the expenditure for abandoned blacks amounted to two-thirds of all other
expenditure ; the drafts upon the treasury for the support of blacks from
the County of Bergeu alone amounting to $7,033, out of a total State ex
penditure for blacks of $12,570. The Treasurer called the attention of the
Assembly to these latter facts, and the House directed him " to suspend all
further payments in all doubtful cases for the support of abandoned blacks."
Asaem. Jour., Nov. 5, 1806 ; Nov. 2-21, 1809 ; also Treas. Rep., Assem. Jour.,
Nov. 13, 1807 ; Nov. 14, 1808 ; Nov. 8, 1809.
"Poore s Collection, p. 1314.
28 A Study of Slavery in New Jersey. [438
law of 1820. The ground for this belief was, doubtless, that
remarkably liberal interpretation of a similar provision in the
Massachusetts constitution of 1780, by which the Massachu
setts courts decided slavery to have been abolished by that
constitution. 1 The matter came up for adjudication before the
New Jersey supreme court in 1845; 2 but that court did not
follow the Massachusetts precedent. The court declared the
section in question was a " general proposition, that men in
their social state are free to adopt their own form of govern
ment and enact their own laws," " that in framing their laws,
they have a right to consult their safety and happiness, whether
in the protection of life and liberty, or the acquisition of
property. The provision was not designed, the Justice said,
to apply to " man in his private, individual or domestic capac
ity; or to define his individual rights or interfere with his
domestic relations, or his individual condition." The court then
held that the constitution of 1 844 had not abolished slavery
or affected the slave laws existing at the time of its adoption. 3
Slavery was abolished by statute in New Jersey in the year
1846. 4 This action did not result in complete emancipation of
the slaves. The abolition law simply substituted apprentice
ship in place of slavery. By virtue of the act, and without
the execution of any instrument of manumission, every slave
became an apprentice, bound to service to his present owner,
executors, or administrators, until discharged therefrom. How
similar were the two conditions 5 is shown when we find many
1 Mr. Moore says that this provision of the constitution of 1780 was " only
a new edition of the glittering and sounding generalities which prefaced
the Body of Liberties in 1641 ; " yet the earlier instrument was never held
to have abolished slavery. Moore, G. H., Notes on the History and Slavery
in Massachusetts, p. 12.
2 The State vs. Post. The State vs. Van Buren. N. J. Law Rep., XX.
3 The case was carried up into the Court of Errors and Appeals, and the
decision of the Supreme Court was confirmed. N. J. Law Rep., XXI, 699.
4 Revised Statutes, 382.
5 TheU. S. Census of 1850 reports 236 slaves in New Jersey, and the
Census of 1860 reports 18 slaves. Evidently these must have been legally
apprentices for life.
439] The Increase and Decline of Slavery. 29
old provisions regarding slaves reproduced and reenacted for
the government of the new apprentices created by the statute.
Forms are established according to which apprentices may be
legally discharged. 1 Penalties for enticing apprentices away
or harboring them, or for misusing them, are provided. Ap
prentices are not to be carried out of the State, or sold to a
non-resident. Yet this change of status represented a real
improvement in the condition of the negro servant for life or
years. The sale of an apprentice must be in writing and with
the consent of the apprentice, expressed by his signature. An
apprentice having a complaint against his master was granted
the same remedy as that previously provided by law for
apprentices and servants. Children born to negro apprentices
were to be absolutely free from birth, and not subject to any
manner of service whatsoever. They must be supported by the
master until they attained the age of six years, after which they
were to be bound out to service by the overseers of the poor.
New Jersey, as a State, showed also at times considerable
interest in slavery in its larger aspect, as it affected general
conditions in the United States. In January, 1820, the legis
lature passed resolutions against the admission of Missouri as
a slave state. 2 Four years later resolutions were passed affirm
ing, first, that in the opinion of the legislature, " a system of
foreign colonization" represented a feasible plan by which
might be effected " the entire emancipation of the slaves in
our country ; " second, that such an arrangement made con
venient provision for the free blacks ; third, that the evil of
slavery being a national one a the duties and burdens of
removing it " ought to be borne by the people and States of
the Union. Copies of these resolutions were forwarded to
the Governors of the several States, with the request that
they lay the same before their respective legislatures, and to
the New Jersey Senators and Representatives in Congress
*A new and interesting provision is that the apprentice shall not be
discharged unless he desires to be.
*Assem. Jour., Jan. 13 to 19, 1820.
30 A Study of Slavery in New Jersey. [440
asking their cooperation. 1 In 1847, the legislature resolved 2
that the Senators and Representatives in Congress from New
Jersey be requested to use their best efforts to secure the exclu
sion forever of slavery or involuntary servitude from any
territory thereafter to be annexed to the United States, except
as a punishment for crime. Two years later similar resolu
tions 3 were passed condemning the further extension of slavery,
and urging the speedy abolition of the slave trade within the
District of Columbia.
The Extent of Slavery.
The use of slave labor was quite general in New Jersey
during the period of the royal governors. From quotations
from the census reports, given by Mr. Gordon, 4 we learn that
there were 3,981 slaves in the Province in 1737, 4,606 slaves
in 1745, and 11,423 in 1790. 5 Though the number of slaves
was increasing constantly during this period, that increase did
not keep pace with the growth of population. Slaves con
stituted 8.4 per cent, of the population in 1737, 7.5 per cent,
in 1745, and 6.2 per cent, in 1790. In Perth Amboy, the
port of entry for the eastern division of the Province, slaves
were especially numerous. According to Mr. Whitehead, it
l Assem. Jour., Nov. 23 to Dec. 29, 1824, and 49 Ses., Statutes, 191.
2 71 Leg., 3 Ses., Statutes, 188. 3 73 Leg., 5 Ses., Statutes, 334.
4 Gordon, T. F., Gazetteer of N. J., p. 29.
* Blake, Ancient and Modern Slavery, p. 388, says that in 1776 New Jersey
contained 7,600 slaves. No authority for the statement is given. As the
U. S. Census of 1790 reports 11,423 slaves in New Jersey, if Mr. Blake s
figures are correct, there must have been an increase of 3,823 slaves between
1776 and 1790. That there was such a large increase seems to me very
improbable, when we consider, first, that such an increase would be at a
rate double that observed in the next decade; second, that the years of
the war presumably were not yars when the number of slaves increased
rapidly. If the slave population increased at a uniform rate from 1745 to
1790 there would have been more than nine thousand slaves in the Colony
441] The Increase and Decline of Slavery. 31
was reported that in 1776 there was in the town only one
house whose inmates were " served by hired free white domes
tics." * In other places the labor of families was also very com
monly performed by slaves.
The maximum slave population in New Jersey given by
the U S. Census Reports is 12,422 in the year 1800. The
next census shows a decrease to 10,851, in consequence of the
abolition law of 1804. The number of slaves reported rapidly
diminishes with each succeeding census until the last record in
1860 shows but eighteen slaves 2 in the State. At the begin-
ing of the present century New Jersey had a larger slave
population than any other State north of Maryland, except
New York. 3 The coast counties from Sandy Hook to the
northern boundary, and the Raritan Valley, were the regions
containing the great majority of the slaves. The three great
Quaker counties of Burlington, Gloucester, and Salem, con
taining 23 per cent, of the total State population, contained
less than 3 per cent, of the slave population. The effect of
the eighteenth century abolition agitation among the Friends
is here clearly shown. 4
1 Whitehead, Perth Amboy, p. 318.
2 These must have been legally " apprentices."
3 U. S. Census, 1800. Mr. Mellick notices this fact, and thinks that it
was due to the large Dutch and German population. He says that the
greatest number of slaves were to be found in the counties where the Dutch
and Germans predominated. Story of an Old Farm, pp. 220-228.
4 Population of New Jersey :
Vanv Total e; Per Cent.
^ eai Population. Slaves ofSlaves.
1737 47,402 3,981 8.4 (Gordon.)
1745 61,383 4,606 7.5 "
1790 184,139 11,423 6.2 (U. S. Census.)
1800 211,949 12,422 5.8
1810 245,555 * 10,851 4.4 "
1820 277,575 7,557 2.7
1830 320,823 2,254 .7 "
1840 373,306 674 .18 "
1850 489,555 236* .048
1860 672,035 18* .0026
* Legally " apprentices " for life.
THE GOVERNMENT OF SLAVES.
Regulations bearing upon the faults and misdemeanors to
which slaves are peculiarly liable first appear in New Jersey
legislation in laws for the correction of truancy on the part of
slaves and servants. As early as 1675, 1 under the Proprietary
government, it was enacted that persons who assist in the
transportation of a slave shall be liable to a penalty of five
pounds and must make good to the owner any costs that he
may have sustained. Those who entertain or harbor any slave
known to be absent from his master without permission must
pay to the owner " ten shillings for every day s entertainment
and concealment." 2 The Indians by their reception of negroes
appear to have caused the settlers some annoyance. We read
in the Journal of the Governor and Council that, in 1682, it
was " agreed and ordered that a message be sent to the Indian
sachems to confer with them about their entertainment of
negro servants." 3 Again, in 1694, the "countenance, harbor
ing and entertaining of slaves by many of the inhabitants "
1 Learning and Spicer, p. 109.
2 These provisions were virtually reenacted in a law for East Jersey,
"against fugitive servants and entertainers of them," in 1682, just after
that Province came under the government of the twenty-four Proprietors.
L. and S., p. 238 ; N. J. Ar., XIII, 31, 33 and 157. In 1683, in West Jersey,
in order to prevent servants from running away from their masters, magis
trates and other inhabitants were directed to require from all suspicious
travellers, a certificate showing that they were not fugitives, L. and S., p.
3 JV. J. Ar., XIII, 22.
443] The Government of Slaves. 33
calls for heavier penalties. By a law of that year such enter
tainment, if it extends to as much as two hours, renders the
offender liable to a penalty of twenty shillings, and a propor
tional sum for a longer time. 1 Furthermore, any person may
apprehend as a runaway any slave found " five miles from his
owner s habitation " without a certificate of his owner s per
mission ; and for this service the master must give recompense
in money at a prescribed rate. 2
During the period of the royal governors there were two
new regulations bearing on the recovery of fugitives. Any
slave from another Province travelling without a license, or
not known to be on his master s business, was to be taken up
and whipped ; and should remain in prison until the costs of
apprehending him had been paid by his owner. 3 Persons from
a neighboring Colony suspected of being fugitives must produce
a pass from a justice, " signifying that they are free persons,"
otherwise to be imprisoned until demanded. 4
Under the State laws more stringent regulations referring
to fugitives are found. By the law of 1786 the freedom of
movement of negroes was very closely restricted. Negroes
manumitted in other States were not allowed to travel in
New Jersey. Any person who employed them, concealed
them, or suffered them to reside or land within the State was
liable to a penalty of five pounds per week. Free negroes of
New Jersey were not to travel beyond their township or county
without an official certificate of their freedom. 5 This severity
was modified somewhat by the law of 1798. A free negro
from another State might now travel in New Jersey provided
that he produced a certificate signed by two Justices of the
1 That this entertainment of negroes was a real evil in the later Colonial
period is shown by an advertisement for a fugitive slave in 1750, which
reads : " and whereas he has been harboured once before, whoever informs
who harbours him shall have ten pounds reward." N. J. Ar., XII, 644.
2 L. and S., p. 340; N. J. Ar., XIII, 205.
3 Act for regulating of slaves, 1714; Nevill, I, 18.
4 1714. Nevill, I, 24. 6 Acts of General Assembly.
34 A Study of Slavery in New Jersey. [444
Peace of his State showing his freedom. 1 That all black men
should be regarded as slaves until evidence appeared to the
contrary, was held by the Supreme Court even as late as 1826. 2
Yet by the U. S. Census of 1820, New Jersey contained nearly
twice as many free negroes as slaves. The court receded from
this position ten years later, the injustice of the ruling having
become very obvious owing to the small proportion which
slaves bore to the colored population. 3
The ferries from New Jersey to New York constituted
routes by which fugitive slaves occasionally escaped. On July
4, 1818, a slave mingling in the holiday crowd gained a pas
sage on the ferry-boat running from Elizabeth-Town to New
York, and, after reaching the latter place, escaped. The
master of the slave sued the owner of the ferry-boat and
obtained damages for the loss of the slave. 4 Seven years later
there is recorded a similar escape on a steamboat running
from Perth Amboy to New York. 5
The apprehension of fugitive slaves from other States was
provided for with great care by a law of 1826. 6 On the proper
application 7 by the master, a fugitive might be arrested by the
sheriff and brought before a judge of the inferior Court of
Common Pleas. If the judge deemed that there was enough
proof he was to give the claimant a certificate, which should
be sufficient warrant for the removal of the fugitive from the
1 Any person harboring, concealing or employing any negro without such
a certificate was liable to a fine of $12 for every week of such action.
Paterson, p. 307.
2 Fox vs. Lambson, N. J. Law Rep., VIII, 339-349 (3rd Halsted). This
principle was authoritatively established, in 1821, by the case of Gibbons
vs. Morse carried up to the court of errors and appeals, N. J. Law Rep.,
VII, 305-327 (2nd Halsted) ; and reaffirmed in Fox vs. Lambson.
3 Stoutenborough vs. Haviland, N. J. Law Rep., XV, 266-269 (3rd Green).
4 Gibbons vs. Morse.
6 Cutter vs. Moore, N. J. Law Rep., VIII, 270-278 (3rd Halsted).
6 51 Ses., Statutes, 90.
7 Application by the master, personally or by attorney, to any judge of
any inferior Court of Common Pleas or Justice of the Peace.
445] The Government of Slaves. 35
State. A case falling under this law, and carried up to the
Supreme Court in 1826, led to a debate in that court which
called in question the justice of the law. The judges con
curred in discharging the prisoner, a negro claimed as a
runaway slave from Maryland; but showed great disagree
ment in the discussion^ of the merits of the case. Chief
Justice Hornblower held that questions of fact were involved,
such as, was the negro lawfully held to service in the State
from which he came? has he fled into this State? has the
claimant any right to his services ? Here were facts which
must be judicially determined, "facts which involve the
dearest rights of a human being." These facts the Justice
believed should not " be tried and definitely sealed in a sum
mary manner, and without the verdict of a jury." ] The next
year, probably as the result of the discussion in the Supreme
Court, the fugitive slave law was amended. 2 A judge having
a fugitive brought before him must appoint a certain time
and place for the trial of the case, and associate with him two
other judges. Either party might demand trial by jury. 3
Other Police Regulations.
Besides the provisions for the correction of truancy, various
other police regulations were established from time to time.
The early inhabitants of East Jersey appear to have been
much troubled by the thievishness of their slaves. The com
plaint was that slaves stole from their masters and others and
then sold the stolen goods at some distance away. In the
belief that a market was necessary to make pilfering worth
while, all traffic whatever with slaves was forbidden in 1682,
1 The State vs. Sheriff of Burlington. Hurd, Law of Freedom and Bondage,
II, 64-67. Owing to disagreement among the judges as to the proper extent
of the discussion, the case was not given in the State Reports.
2 61 Ses., 2 sit., Statutes, 134.
3 In the revision of 1847 virtually the same law was approved and so
stood as the fugitive slave act of the State. Revision of 1847, p. 567.
36 A Study of Slavery in New Jersey. [446
under heavy penalties. 1 If any slave were found offering
goods for sale without the permission of his master it was the
duty of the person to whom the article was offered to take up
and whip the slave, for which service the master must pay a
reward of half a crown. 2 Later, in the same Province, we
read that slaves allowed to hunt with dog and gun killed
swine under pretence of hunting. In 1694, slaves were pro
hibited from carrying any " gun or pistol/ and from taking
any dog with them into the " woods or plantations," unless
accompanied by the master or his representative. 3 If any
person "lend, give or hire out" a pistol or gun to a slave,
that person must forfeit the gun or twenty shillings to the
owner of the slave. 4 In West Jersey, in the Proprietary
period, the selling of rum to negroes was found to be produc
tive of disorder. Any person " convicted of selling or giving
of rum, or any manner of strong liquor, either to negro or
Indian," except the stimulant be given in relief of real physical
distress, becomes liable to a penalty of five pounds by a law of
1685. As the offense was one difficult of detection, "one
creditable witness or a probable circumstance " was accounted
" sufficient evidence," unless the accused gave his " oath or
solemn declaration that he has not transgressed the law. 7 5
Kegulations against harboring, trading with, or selling rum
to slaves were reenacted during the period of the royal Gov
ernors, and in the State legislation. 6 Others were added, such
as : the prohibition of large or disorderly meetings of slaves, 7
Similar penalties are found in the slave law of 1714, and thus held
throughout the Colonial period.
2 L. and S., 254 ; N. J. Ar., XIII, 82. Law passed at Elizabeth-Town.
3 Act passed at Perth Amboy. L. and S., 340 ; N. J. Ar., XIII, 205.
4 By the same law, no inhabitant should allow his slave to keep swine
marked with another brand than the owner s. This provision was probably
intended to prevent dishonesty on the part of masters.
s Act passed at Burlington. L. and S., 512.
6 Laws of 1714, 1738, 1751 and 1798. Nevill, I, 242 ; Allison, 191 ; Pater-
7 Laws of 1751 and 1798.
447] The Government of Slaves. 37
the rule that all slaves must be at home after a certain hour
at night, 1 that slaves shall not go hunting or carry a gun on
Sunday, 2 that slaves shall not set a steel trap above a specified
weight, 3 that slaves shall not be permitted to beg. 4 For the
correction of the smaller faults and misdeeds there was the
workhouse. A law of 1754 provided that in the borough of
Elizabeth, servants and slaves accused of " any misdemeanor
or rude or disorderly behavior/ 7 being brought before the
Mayor, may be " committed to the workhouse to hard labor "
and receive corporal punishment not exceeding thirty stripes. 5
In 1799 the system was established throughout the State.
" Any stubborn, disobedient, rude or intemperate slave or male
servant " might be committed to the workhouse to endure
confinement and labor at the discretion of a Justice of the
Peace. The master paid the cost of maintenance of the slave
while so confined. 6
The Criminal Law for Slaves.
During nearly the whole period of the Proprietary Colony
the same general criminal laws governed both slaves and free
men. The bond as well as the free were tried in the ordinary
courts, for crimes and misdemeanors. In 1*695 a change was
made. Special courts were provided for the trial of slaves
1 Nine o clock by law of 1751, ten o clock by law of 1798.
2 Laws of 1751 and 1798. These laws, however, did not prevent a negro
or slave from going to any place of worship, or from burying the dead, or
from doing any other reasonable act, with his master s consent.
3 In 1760 an " Act to regulate the size of traps to be hereafter set in this
Colony " directed that any slave setting a steel trap above a specified weight
" shall be whipped with thirty lashes and committed until the cost is paid."
N. J. Statutes, p. 61.
4 The law of 1798 imposed a penalty of $8 for permitting slaves to beg,
one-half to be paid to the overseers of the poor and one-half to the person
5 Nevill, II, 25, 29.
6 An act for the establishment of workhouses in the several counties of
this State. Paterson, 379.
38 A Study of Slavery in New Jersey. [448
and an exceptional form of punishment was prescribed for
slave offenders. 1 Slaves accused of a felony or murder were
to have trial by jury before three Justices 2 of the Peace of the
county, and on conviction were to receive, in general, the
punishments t( appointed for such crimes." 3 Under the royal
governors, the law of 1714 adhered to the principle of special
courts for slaves. Ordinarily the trials of slaves for capital
offences were to be before three or more Justices of the Peace
and five principal freeholders of the county ; but the master
might demand trial by jury. 4 In 1768 the use of special
courts was discontinued, and slaves accused of capital offences
were once more tried in the ordinary courts 5 as freemen were.
The reason given for this return to earlier practice was that
the method by special courts had " on experience been found
inconvenient." 6 Throughout the period of the royal gov
ernors special forms of punishment were provided for slaves.
Not until 1788, under the State government, was it enacted
that all criminal offences of negroes should be punished in
the same manner as the criminal offences of other inhabitants
of the State were. 7 Even under the State legislation the pro
visions allowing corporal punishment or transportation to be
substituted in some cases for the usual punishment, at the
discretion of the court, violated somewhat the principle of
uniformity of procedure.
As might be expected from the grade of civilization devel
oped in the various Colonies and the accompanying stringent
1 Act passed at Perth Amboy, 1695. L. and S., 357.
2 One being of the quorum.
3 The special punishment provided was, that slaves convicted of stealing
should receive corporal punishment, not exceeding forty stripes, the master
making good the amount stolen.
5 The courts mentioned were the Supreme Court, Court of Oyer and
Terminer and General Gaol Delivery, and Court of General Quarter Ses
sions of the Peace.
6 Allinson, 307. 7 Acts of 1 3th General Assembly.
449] The Government of Slaves. 39
criminal code, the punishments provided for slaves in New
Jersey throughout the Colonial period were severe and often
cruel. 1 As early as 1704 the Lords of Trade recommended to
the Queen the repeal of an act lately passed by the Assembly
because one clause inflicted inhuman penalties upon negroes. 2
By the slave law of 1714 3 any "negro, Indian or mulatto
slave" murdering or attempting the death of any freeman,
wilfully murdering any slave, committing arson, "rape on
any free subject," or mutilation of any free person, is to suffer
the penalty of death. 4 The manner of death, however, is not
specified, but is to be such as the "aggravation or enormity of
their crimes" (in the judgment of the justices and freeholders
trying the case) "shall merit and require." The testimony of
slaves was admitted in the trials. 5 When a slave was executed,
the owner received for a negro man thirty pounds and for a
1 That in the rough, frontier conditions of the Proprietary Colony the
punishments were sometimes cruel, although slaves were tried in the ordi
nary courts, is evident from an instance given by Mr. Mellick. He says
that in 1694 a Justice presiding at the Monmouth court of sessions, sen
tenced a negro convicted of murder to suffer as follows : " Thy hand shall
be cut off and burned before thine eyes. Then thou shalt be hanged up by
the neck until thou art dead, dead, dead ; then thy body shall be cut down
and burned to ashes in a fire, and so the Lord have mercy on thy soul,
Csesar" (Story of an Old Farm, p. 225).
*N. J. Ar., Ill, 473, Eepresentation of Lords of Trade to the Queen.
Allinson, p. 5.
3 Nevill, I, 18; Allinson, 18.
In the Journal of the Governor and Council, N. J. Ar., XIII, 439, 440,
448, we find record that the Council in 1710 passed "An Act for deterring
negroes and other slaves from committing murder and other notorious
offenses within this Colony." The provisions are not given.
4 Poisoning was sometimes practiced by slaves in the Colonial period. In
1738 two negroes, found guilty of destroying sundry persons by poison, were
executed at Burlington. At Hackensack, in 1744, a negro was executed for
poisoning three negro women and a horse. N. J. Ar., XI, 523, 537 ; XII, 223.
5 At the trial of the negro man "Harry" in Bergen County, 1731, who
was hung for threatening the life of his master and poisoning the slave
" Sepio," many negroes were summoned as witnesses. Bergen Co., " Liber
A," p. 24.
40 A Study of Slavery in New Jersey. [450
woman twenty pounds, the money being raised by a poll tax
upon all the slaves in the county above fourteen years of age
and under fifty. 1 This payment made good to the master a
loss of property due to no fault of his. Further, it left him
no inducement to transport the slave out of the Province and
thus encourage other negroes to crime by allowing the hope
that punishment might be escaped. In the case of slaves
attempting rape, or assaulting a free Christian, any two jus
tices of the peace were authorized to inflict such corporal
punishment, not extending to life or limb, as they might see
fit. Slaves stealing under the value of five shillings were to
be whipped with thirty stripes ; if above five shillings, with
forty stripes. 2
A form of execution frequently chosen was burning at the
stake. At Perth Amboy, in 1 730, a negro was burnt for the
murder of an itinerant tailor. 3 In Bergen County, in 1735,
the slave "Jack" was burnt. He had beaten his master,
several times had threatened to murder his master and the
son of his master and to burn down his master s house, and
when arrested tried to kill himself. 4 In Somerset County, in
1739, a negro was burnt for brutally murdering a child,
attempting to murder the wife of his overseer, and setting fire
to his master s barn. 5 In 1741 two negroes were burnt for
1 Bergen County Quarter Sessions in 1768 ordered that Hendrieck Chris
tian Zabriskie should have thirty pounds for his negro named Harry, lately
executed for the murder of Claas Toers. The money was collected from the
slave-owners of the county, upon the basis of an assessment of ten pence per
head upon all slaves in the county. Bergen Co. Quar. Sess., January 27, 1768.
2 In Hackensack in 1769, a slave pleading guilty to the charge of steal
ing, was whipped at the public whipping-post and before the houses of two
prominent citizens, with thirty-nine lashes on each of three days, being
taken from place to place tied to a cart s tail. Bergen Co. Quar. Sess.,
October 24, 1769.
3 Am. Wk. Mercury, Jan. 14-20, 1729 (1730) ; (N. J. Ar., XI, 201).
4 Bergen County, " Liber A," p. 36.
* Boston Wk. News-Letter, Jan. 18-25, 1739 (N. J. Ar., XI, 558). In the
same county, five years later, a negro was burnt for ravishing a white child.
Pa. Gazette, Dec. 14, 1744 (N. J. Ar., XII, 244).
451] The Government of Slaves. 41
setting on fire several barns in the neighborhood of Hacken-
sack. 1 Mr. Whitehead says that the New York " Negro Plot "
of 1741 caused many executions by burning as well as by
hanging in New Jersey. He describes a case ten years later,
near Perth Amboy, when all the negroes of the neighborhood
were compelled to witness the execution. 2
The criminal law of 1768, which supplanted the provisions
relating to capital offences in the act of 1714, represents an
increase of severity. It appointed the penalty of death for
the crimes made capital under the earlier law, and for others
as well. A slave convicted of manslaughter, or of stealing
any sum of money above the value of five pounds, or of com
mitting any other felony or burglary, was to suffer death or
such other pains and penalties as the justices might think
proper to inflict. In this law, as before, there was no specifi
cation as to the manner in which death might be inflicted. 3
Under the early State legislation the severe and peculiar
forms of punishment provided for slaves by the Colonial laws
disappeared. In 1788, it was enacted that all criminal offences
of negroes, whether slaves or freemen, should be " enquired
of, adjudged, corrected and punished in like manner as the
criminal offences of the other inhabitants of this State are." 4
This principle was firmly established by the passage in 1796
of " An Act for the punishment of Crimes," a comprehensive
and fundamental criminal law, which, in general, prescribed
one punishment for all persons guilty of a particular crime,
mentioning no distinction between bond and free. 5 Slaves
continued, however, to be to some extent the subject of special
criminal legislation. By the law of 1796 a court might
impose upon any slave, in place of the usual punishment,
Bergen County, "Liber A," p. 44.
* Whitehead, W. A., Contributions to the Early History of Perth Amboy, pp.
318-320 ; also Wk. Post Boy, July 2, 1750 (N. J. Ar., XII, 652).
3 Allinson, 307 ; N. J. Ar., XVII, 483, 485, 486 (Jour, of Prov. Council).
4 Acts of 13th Gen. Assem., Nov. 26, 1788. * Paterson, 220.
42 A Study of Slavery in New Jersey. [452
corporal punishment at its discretion and not extending to
life or limb, for any offence not punishable with death. By
the act of 1801, when slaves were convicted of arson, burglary,
rape, highway robbery, or assault with intent to commit
murder, the court might choose to order them to be sent out
of the United States. 1 In this case the owner was compelled
to give bond that he would faithfully execute the court s
decree, and finally file a certificate that the sentence has been
We have seen that by the police regulations enacted for the
government of slaves, negroes were forbidden to assemble
together in companies, except with their master s consent for
some reasonaBle purpose, such as to attend public worship or
to bury their dead. Furthermore, slaves must be at home
after nine o clock at night. 2 These provisions were probably
called forth by fear of slave insurrections ; but it is difficult
to determine to what extent the legislation was connected with
actual experience of negro plots.
In 1734, a rising in East Jersey, 3 near Somerville, 4 was
feared. Certain negro quarters some miles remote from the
master s dwelling-house had become a rendezvous for the
negroes of the neighborhood. The slaves round about stole
from their masters provisions of various sorts which they car
ried to their place of meeting and feasted upon, sometimes in
large companies. It was claimed that at one of these meet
ings some hundreds had entered into a plot to gain their
freedom by a massacre of the whites. A belief on the part
of the negroes that they were held in slavery contrary to the
1 25 Ses., 2 sit., Statutes, 77. See also on this subject, Revision of 1821, pp.
738, 793, and 44 Ses., Statutes, 74, sec. 20.
2 Supra, p. 37.
*N. Y. Gazette, March 18-25, 1734, gives a detailed account of the con
4 Mellick, p. 226, says that the excitement was near Somerville.
453] The Government of Slaves. 43
positive orders of King George appears to have been an
element contributing to the excitement. According to the
plan of the conspirators, as soon as the weather became mild
enough so that living in the woods might be possible, at some
midnight agreed upon, all the slaves were to rise and slay their
masters. The buildings were to be set on fire and the draught
horses killed. Finally, the negroes, having secured the best
saddle horses, were to fly to the Indians and join them in the
French interest. Suspicion of a negro plot was first aroused
by the impudent remarks of a drunken slave. He and another
negro were arrested, and at their trial the above details were
brought out. The insurrection believed to be threatening was
suppressed with considerable severity. 1
That delirium of the New York people in 1741, known as
the "Negro Conspiracy," appears to have spread to some
extent into neighboring New Jersey also. Mr. Whitehead
thinks that this panic caused many executions in New Jersey. 2
In one day seven barns were burned at Hackensack ; an
eighth caught fire three times, but fortunately was saved. It
was believed that these were set on fire by a combination of
slaves, for one negro was taken in the act. The people of the
neighborhood were greatly alarmed and kept under arms every
night. Two negroes charged with committing the crime were
burned. 3 Mr. Hatfield quotes from the Account Book of the
Justices and Freeholders of Essex County the following items :
"June 4, 1741, Daniel Harrison sent in his account of wood
carted for burning two negroes." . . . "February 25, 174J,
Joseph Heden acct. for wood to burn the negroes Mr. Farrand
paid allowed 0. 7. 0. Allowed to Isaac Lyon 4/ Curr y for a load
of wood to burn the first negro, 0. 4. O." 4 Mr. Whitehead
1 About thirty negroes were apprehended ; one of them was hanged,
some had their ears cut off, and others were whipped. Poison was found
on several of them. N. J. Ar., XI, 333, 340.
2 Whitehead, Perth Amboy, p. 318. 3 N. J. Ar., XII, 88, 91, 98.
4 Hatfield, History of Elizabeth, N. J., p. 364.
44 A Study of Slavery in New Jersey. [454
says that, in 1772, "an insurrection was anticipated, but was
prevented by due precautionary measures." *
Mr. Hatfield tells of a panic regarding negroes at Elizabeth-
Town during the Revolution. 2 In June, 1779, a conspiracy
of the negroes to rise and murder the people of the town was
discovered. The Tories, whose plundering expeditions had
been very exasperating, were held responsible for this new
danger also. The resentment aroused by these occurrences
caused the Court of Common Pleas to enter severe judgments
against many Tories. Mr. Atkinson states that in 1796 there
was, among the whites, great fear of negro violence, and a
feeling of bitterness toward the slaves was developed. 3 The
agitation was caused by the attempts of certain blacks to set
fire to buildings in New York, Newark and other places.
iWhitehead, Perth Amboy, pp. 318-320. 2 Hatfield, p. 476.
3 Atkinson, J., History of Newark, N. /., pp. 170-172.
THE LEGAL AND SOCIAL POSITION OF THE NEGRO.
The subject of manumission began to demand legislative
action at the time of the royal governors. According to what
forms manumission should be legal, what limitations it might
be expedient to place on the power to manumit ; these were
considerations which then became of great consequence and
retained their prominence even until after the disappearance
of slavery from New Jersey life. Furthermore, the interpre
tation given by the courts to the existing law of manumission
often decided for the colored man whether his position was
that of freeman or slave.
Very early in the eighteenth century it is recorded that
experience had shown " that free negroes are an idle, slothful
people and prove very often a charge to the place where they
are." 1 Therefore, the law of 1714 had a provision designed
to prevent freedmen from ever coming upon the township as
paupers. It enacted that any master manumitting a slave
must enter into "sufficient security," "with two sureties in
the sum of 200 pounds/ 7 to pay to the negro an annuity of
20 pounds. In case of manumission by will the executors
must give such security. Owners or their heirs were obliged
to maintain all negroes not manumitted according to law.
The desire to save townships the expense of supporting freed
men was not recognized to such an extent as to allow un
fortunate negroes actually to suffer. An act of 1769 states
1 Law of 1714. Nevill, I, 18.
46 A Study of Slavery in New Jersey. [456
definitely that if the " owner becomes insolvent and so incapa
ble of providing for his slaves, who shall by sickness or other
wise be rendered incapable of maintaining themselves, they
shall be relieved by the township the same as white servants." *
In 1773, in response to several petitions, a bill providing for
manumission without the giving of security was introduced
in the Assembly. The bill stated that the manumission law
of the Colony had on experience been found too indiscrimi
nate, the requirement of equal security in all cases working,
in some instances, to " prevent the exercise of humanity and
tenderness in the emancipation of those who may deserve it."
In view of the great opposition as well as favor with which
the bill was received, the House ordered that the bill be
printed and referred to the next session. 2 At the next session,
in 1775, the various petitions presented for and against the
bill led to another postponement to the following session ; 3 by
which time the greater interests of the Revolution crowded out
the consideration of this matter.
Immediately after the Revolution we find a peculiar form
of manumission, that by special act of the legislature. On
three occasions previous to the year 1790, slaves that had
become the property of the State, through the confiscation of
Tory estates, were set free by act of the legislature. 4 The
negroes were given their freedom in recognition of past services
to the State or to the Federal cause. 5
1 Allinson, 315. The law of 1679 reenacted the requirements of the law
*Assem. Jour., Nov. 30, 1773, to Feb. 16, 1774.
3 Assem. Jour., Jan. 28 to Feb. 7, 1775.
4 1784, 1786 and 1789; 8 Ses., 2 sit., Statutes, 110; 11 Ses., 1 sit., Statutes,
368 ; 14 Ses., 1 sit., Statutes, 538.
5 There is record of an interesting case of this form of manumission in
1840. Csesar Jackson, a colored man of Hackensack, was a slave in law,
having been born previously to the year 1804. His late master, Peter
Bourdett, had inserted in his will a request that, at his death, the slave
Csesar Jackson should be set free. The heirs of Peter Bourdett desired to
carry out his request, but had been unable to do so. They had given
457] The Legal and Social Position of the Negro. 47
In 1786, changes were made in the law of manumission.
Slaves between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-five, sound
in mind, and under no bodily incapacity of obtaining a sup
port, might now be emancipated without security being given
for their support. A master must first secure a certificate
signed by two overseers of the poor of the township and two
Justices of the Peace of the county, showing that the slave
met the requirements as to age and health. He might then
manumit the slave by executing a certificate under his hand
and seal in the presence of two witnesses. A similar manu
mission by will was valid. In all other cases the master (or
his executors) was compelled to give security that the negro
should not come upon any township for support. 1 These pro
visions were virtually reenacted in the slave law of 1798. 2
A supplementary law in 1804 provides for registration of
instruments of manumission by the county clerk. 3 Such
record by the clerk was receivable as evidence in the courts. 4
The New Jersey courts interpreted the law on manumission
in a liberal spirit. They were ready to presume a manumis
sion, if an actual, formal emancipation according to law could
not be proven, whenever the circumstances seemed to warrant
such a procedure. In 1789, a negro woman who had lived
and worked in the neighborhood of Shrewsbury as a free
woman for seventeen years, with no claim upon her as a slave,
Caesar Jackson a lot of land in the township, and he had erected on it a
dwelling-house for himself and his family; but he had been unable to
obtain a deed for the land, as he was still a slave at law. In view of these
circumstances Csesar Jackson was emancipated by act of the legislature.
64 Ses., 2 sit.. Statutes, 19. See also Assem. Jour., Jan. 29 to Feb. 17.
x Acts of Gen. Assem., 1786. 2 Paterson, 307.
3 29 Ses., 1 sit., Statutes, 460. The registration book for Bergen County is
entitled "Liber A. Manumition of Slavery." It records: (1) the certifi
cate by two overseers of the poor and two Justices of the Peace; (2) the
deed of manumission ; (3) the Justice s certificate that the deed is executed
4 The certificate of health and capacity need now be signed by only one
overseer of the poor.
48 A Study of Slavery in New Jersey. [458
was declared free by the Supreme Court. The court held that
the above facts proven were prima facie evidence of freedom
and would compel the defendant to prove a strict legal prop
erty, which he had not done. 1 Similarly, six years later, the
court decided that a certain negro woman, who had been
promised her freedom by her mistress, and who had lived for
ten years as a free woman with the acquiescence of the person
claiming her, was entitled to her freedom. 2 Verbal declara
tions by a master that after his death his slave should be free,
as a reward for good behavior, entitled the slave to receive
his liberty. In the opinion of the court, these declarations
amounted to an actual manumission to take eifect on the mas
ter s death ; or, if they were regarded as proving nothing
more than a promise, it was still a promise binding upon the
master s executors. 3 A case in 1794 4 shows the limit to which
1 The State vs. Lyon, N. J. Law Rep., I, 462. A slave woman named Flora
had been the property of a certain Dr. Eaton, of Shrewsbury. He had
frequently declared that he was " principled against slavery ; that he never
intended Flora to belong to his estate ; nor should any of his children be
entitled to hold her as their property." After his death his wife had stated
that she had set Flora free. From that time Flora was considered in the
neighborhood as a free woman ; and lived and worked as such, with no
claim upon her as a slave, for seventeen years. During this time she had
married a free negro, with whom she had since lived. They had two
children whom they had supported by their industry and kept with them
until one, Margaret, was seized and forcibly carried away as a slave. The
court decided that this Margaret Eeap must be set at liberty, as the above
facts were not opposed by proof of strict legal property.
2 1795. The State vs. M Donald and Armstrong, N. J. Law Rep., I,
382 (Coxe. ) A slave had been promised her freedom upon the death of
her mistress. From the time this death occurred the negro had lived as a
free woman and had worked for herself in various places. She had mar
ried a free negro and had three children by him. For ten years the hus
band of her late mistress acquiesced in the arrangement, but at the end of
this period gave to a man a bill of sale for the negro. The court held that
these facts were sufficient evidence of the woman s right to her liberty.
3 1790. The State vs. Administrators of Prall, N. J. Law Rep., I, 4
(Coxe) ; also Halsted, N. J. Digest, pp. 831, 832, sec, 23.
4 The State vs. Frees. N. J. L. R., I, 299 (Coxe.)
459] The Legal and Social Position of the Negro. 49
the Supreme Court was willing to go on this subject. It was
held that mere general declarations of an intention to set
negroes free, unaccompanied by any express promise or under
standing, were insufficient authority for the court to declare
the negroes free. 1
In 1793, we find a very liberal interpretation of the law
when the court ignores the legal requirement of security. A
certain slave owner had, by will, manumitted all his slaves.
One, a boy, could not be considered as manumitted until the
administrators had given the security required by law. In
stead of giving security they united with the heirs in selling
the boy. The court decided that the boy was entitled to his
freedom whether the administrators had given the security or
Slaves left by will to be sold for a term of years and then
be free, were held to be free from the time of sale. As soon
as sold they were merely servants for a term of years and no
longer slaves. Any children born to them during the period
of service were free. 3
The authority of the act of 1798 was judicially established
in 1806. The supreme court declared that instruments of
manumission must be executed conformably to that law. 4
Again in 1842, in a case to prove legal settlement, 5 it was
1 If a master had made a contract with his slave for his freedom and the
terms had been fully complied with, the negro was entitled to his freedom
although afterwards sold by his master. Halsted, N. J. Digest, pp. 831,
832, sec. 26.
*The State vs. Pitney. N. J. Law Rep., I, 192 (Coxe.)
3 1790. The State vs. Anderson. N. J. Law Rep., I, 41.
*The State vs. Emmons. N. J. Law Rep. (1st Pennington, 3rd ed., pp.
6-16). The counsel for the State endeavored to establish a distinction
between emancipation as it respects the owner, and emancipation as it
respects the State. He argued that so far as the master was concerned any
kind of manumission might be valid, but at the same time be void so far as
it affected the government. The court held that "slavery was an entire
thing ; " that a negro could not be considered as at once slave and free.
5 The Overseers of the Poor of Perth Amboy vs. The Overseers of the
Poor of Piscataway. N. J. Law Rep., XIX, 173-181 (4th Harrison).
50 A Study of Slavery in New Jersey. [460
held that "a deed of manumission although acknowledged
and recorded, was not valid unless executed in the presence of
at least two witnesses 7 1 as the act of 1798 required. 2
Rights and Privileges of Slaves and Free Negroes.
The protection of slaves from ill-treatment by their masters
received some attention in New Jersey legislation. As early
as 1682, in the Proprietary Colony, one section of a " Bill for
the general laws of the Province of East New-Jersey " pro
vides " that all masters and mistresses having negro slaves, or
others, shall allow them sufficient accommodation of victuals
and clothing." 3 Queen Anne s instructions to the first royal
governor, Lord Cornbury, required him to endeavor to get a
law passed protecting servants and slaves from "inhuman
severity " on the part of their masters. The " Instructions "
directed that this law should provide capital punishment for
the " willful killing of Indians and negroes " and a suitable
penalty for the " maiming of them." 4 Again, in the early
legislation of the State, one of the reasons given for the enact
ment of the slave law of 1786 was "that such [slaves] as are
under servitude in the State ought to be protected by law from
those exercises of wanton cruelty too often practiced upon
them." Any person " inhumanly treating and abusing " his
slave might be indicted by the grand jury, and on conviction
might be fined. 5
1 There had been many instances in which deeds of manumission had
been executed conformably to law in every respect, excepting that there
had been but one witness. These manumissions were made valid by a
special act of the legislature in 1844 (68 Ses., 2 sit., Statutes, 138).
2 In a case of postponement of a trial by habeas corpus the defendant was
ordered to enter into recognizance to produce the negro at the future trial
and, in case of adverse judgment, to pay for the services of the negro
during the intervening time. Halsted s Digest, p. 831, sec. 21. In another
case the defendant was ordered to enter into recognizance not to send the
negro out of the State (Halsted s Digest, p. 831, sec. 22).
3 L. and S., 237. 4 Ibid., 640-642.
5 Laws of N. J., 1786. This provision was repeated in the law of 1798.
461] The Legal and Social Position of the Negro. 51
The owner 1 of a slave was held in law obliged to support
the slave at all times, provided that the negro had not been
legally manumitted. If the master became insolvent and so
unable to provide for his slave, the negro, if unable to main
tain himself, was treated as a pauper. Any person, " fraudu
lently selling an aged or decrepit slave to a poor person unable
to support him/ 7 was liable to punishment by a fine of $40. 2
A master who had disclaimed all responsibility for the support
of his slave could not be held liable to a third person for the
negro s maintenance. 3 Yet, if the overseer of the poor had
found the slave in actual want, it would have been his duty
to give immediate relief, and then recover from the master.
The value and need of some amount of education for slaves
was recognized soon after the establishment of the State gov
ernment. The law of 1788 provided that all slaves and
colored servants for life or years, born after the publication of
the act, should be taught to read before they reached the age
of twenty-one years. Any owner failing to supply this in
struction was to forfeit the sum of five pounds. 4
1 After the master s death the heirs were held responsible for the slave s
support. Chatham vs. Canfield, N. J. Law Rep., VIII, 63-65, decided what
circumstances were sufficient proof of a testator s ownership of a slave to
make the executors liable for the negro s maintenance (1824.)
2 Law of 1798. Paterson, 307.
3 1840. Force vs. Haines, N. J. Law Rep., XVII, 385-414 (2nd Harri
son.) Force had refused to support his slave, an infirm and helpless crip
ple. Elizabeth Haines, having maintained the negro for several years,
finally sued Force for the cost of " board, clothing, and necessaries furnished
for his slave."
4 Acts of 13th. Gen. Assem. The provision was reenacted in the law of
At first sight this fine might seem trifling ; but it was probably quite
sufficient to be a severe penalty, considering the small charge made for
teaching at the time. School bills given by Mr. Mellick show how low the
charges were. Christopher Logan had a bill against the " Estate of Aaron
Melick Dec d," " To Schooling Negro boy Joe 61 days $1.39 ; " later " Wm.
Hambly, teacher," charges " $4.16 for 159* days Schooling." (Story of an old
Farm, p. 608.)
jftr Of T
52 A Study of Slavery in New Jersey. [462
All black men were presumed to be slaves until the contrary
appeared, as has been shown earlier in this paper. 1 The Su
preme Court held to this position even as late as 1826, when
the free negroes numbered twice as many as the slaves, and
only receded from it ten years later when the injustice of the
ruling had become very evident. Nevertheless, the court
early decided that any person claiming a particular negro as a
slave must prove a good title to him. 2 A negro thus claimed
need not prove himself absolutely a freeman in order to obtain
his liberty. If he disproved the right of the person who
claimed him, that was sufficient. That the negro had been
actually held as property and had acquiesced in the arrange
ment was no proof of a good title.
In most cases at law no slave might be a witness. He was
allowed to testify in criminal cases when his evidence was for
or against another slave. 3 The presumption of slavery arising
from color must be overcome before a negro could be received
as a witness. A slave might not be a witness even to show
whether he were bond or free. His declarations on that point
might not legally be accepted as evidence. 4 That a negro was
reputed free from childhood, or had lived to all intents and
purposes as a freeman for more than twenty years, the courts
decided was sufficient proof to overcome the presumption
arising from color, and permit the negro to be admitted as a
witness. 5 Free negroes, therefore, were commonly received as
In 1760 6 the enlistment of slaves, without the express per
mission in writing of their masters, was forbidden. This
provision evidently was caused, not by prejudice against the
negro, but by unwillingness to deprive masters of the services
1 Supra, p. 34.
S 1795. The State vs. Heddon. N. J. Law Rep., I, 377.
3 Acts of 1714 and 1798.
* 1826. Fox vs. Lambson, N. J. Law Rep., VIII, 339-347.
6 Ibid., and Potts vs. Harper, N. J. Law Rep., Ill, 583.
6 Nevill, II, 267.
463] The Legal and Social Position of the Negro. 53
of their slaves. The occasion of the prohibition was the
raising of one thousand volunteers for a campaign against
Canada in the French and Indian War. To what extent
negroes in New Jersey took part or aided in the Revolution
it is difficult to determine. A law of 1780 for the recruiting
of the remainder of New Jersey s quota of troops for the
service of the United States forbids the enlistment of slaves. 1
The following year a law for the same purpose repeats the
prohibition. 2 Yet slaves from New Jersey served, in various
capacities, both the State and the Federal Government during
the war. Two instances are recorded when a slave was manu
mitted by act of legislature as a reward for faithful service
of the Revolutionary cause. Peter Williams, a slave who
belonged to a Tory of Woodbridge, having been taken within
the British lines by his master, escaped through them in 1780.
He served for some time with the State troops and later
enlisted in the Continental army, serving there until the close
of the war. When his master s estate was confiscated he
became the property of the State, and, in 1784, was set free
by an act of the legislature. 3 Five years later a slave named
Cato, part of the confiscated estate of another Woodbridge
Tory, received his freedom in the same manner. The act
declared that Cato had " rendered essential service both to this
State and the United States in the time of the late war." 4
In the Colonial period freedmen were denied the right to
hold real estate. The law of 1714 enacted that no negro,
Indian, or mulatto thereafter manumitted should hold real
1 5th Assembly, N. J. Laws. s Wilson, 209.
3 8 Ses., 2 sit., Statutes, 110 ; Assam. Jour., Aug. 30 to Sept. 1, 1784.
4 14 Ses , 1 sit., Statutes, 538; Assem. Jour., Nov. 13-25, 1789. In 1786
another negro, named Prime, the property of the State, was emancipated by
special statute. He had formerly been the slave of a Tory of Princeton.
No specific reason was given for this action other than, that " the legislature
was desirous of extending the blessings of liberty and the said negro Prime
hath shown himself entitled to their favorable notice." 11 Ses., 1 sit.,
54 A Study of Slavery in New Jersey. [464
estate " in his or her own right, in fee simple or fee tail " but
the same should a escheat to her Majesty, her heirs and succes
sors." 1 A free negro was entitled to vote in the State during
the early years. The suffrage was not confined to whites by
the constitution adopted in 1776. 2 Article IV states that "all
inhabitants of this Colony, of full age, who are worth fifty
pounds . . . and have resided within the county " for twelve
months, are entitled to vote. 3 A new constitution in 1844
limited the elective franchise to whites. 4
The provision for allowing free negroes to gain a legal set
tlement is of interest, because upon legal settlement depended
the responsibility of a township for the support of its colored
paupers. A manumitted slave had a legal settlement in the
place where his master s legal settlement was. 5 The children
of slaves born free were deemed settled in the township in
which they were born ; but might gain a new settlement in
the same manner as whites, or in any township where they
had served seven years. 6 No slave whose master had not
become insolvent could gain a legal settlement in any town
ship. 7 This inability of slaves to acquire a settlement was
l, I, 18. 2 Poore s Collection. Wilson, Acts (1776-1783).
3 In 1793, as proof of the illegality of an election for fixing on a site for
the Middlesex County jail and court house, it was stated that " a negro
man was admitted to vote, who had no legal residence, and his declaration
that he had been manumitted in another State was received as sufficient
proof of his being entitled to vote. The implication here is that a negro
able to show clear proof of his freedom, and having a legal residence, was
entitled to vote. The State vs. Justices, etc., of Middlesex, JV. J. Law Rep.,
I, 283, 284 (Coxe).
4 Poore s Collection, 1315. 5 Law of 1798. Paterson, 307.
6 1820. 44 Ses. ; Statutes, 166.
7 1824. South Brunswick vs. East Windsor, N. J. Law Rep., VIII, 78-83
.As has been shown, Supra, pp. 45 and 51, a helpless slave was not allowed
to suffer because his master was able to maintain him and yet refused to do
so. It was the duty of the overseer of the poor of the township where
such a slave happened to be, to give relief and then recover from the owner
465] The Legal and Social Position of the Negro. 55
established in several cases carried to the Supreme Court,
where one township endeavored to prove the legal settlement
of a destitute negro in another township, and then to shift the
burden of his support. 1 It is the latest form in which I have
found the influence of slavery traceable in New Jersey law.
Social Condition of Slaves.
The use of slave labor was, in the eighteenth century, very
general in the eastern portion of New Jersey. Interesting
information on the social condition of slaves is afforded by
advertisements in newspapers 2 published during the Colonial
period and in the early years of the State. Male slaves were
employed as farm laborers of all sorts, stablemen, coachmen,
stage drivers, sailors, boatmen, miners, iron workers, saw-mill
hands, house and ship carpenters, wheel-wrights, coopers,
tanners, shoemakers, millers, bakers, cooks, and for various
kinds of service within the house or about the master s person.
Slave women were employed at all kinds of household service,
including cooking, sewing, spinning and knitting ; and as
dressing maid, barber, nurse, farm servants, etc. If a woman
had children she was rendered less desirable as a slave. That
the laxness of morals ordinarily found among African slaves
was present in New Jersey is sufficiently evident. 3 Frequently
slave women were offered for sale for no other reason than
that they had children. They were, in some cases, sold with
out their child.
1 1824. South Brunswick vs. East Windsor.
1842. Overseers of the Poor of Perth Amboy vs. Overseers of the Poor
of Piscataway, N. J. Law Rep., XIX, 173-181 (4 Harrison).
1857. Overseers of Morris vs. Overseers of Warren, N. J. Law Rep. (2
2 The Newark Centinel of Freedom, the Trenton True American and excerpts
from the Colonial journals published in JV. J. Ar., XI and XII.
3 See The State vs. Anderson, N. J. Law Rep., I, 41, and The State vs.
Mount, N. J. Law Rep., I, 337.
56 A Study of Slavery in New Jersey. [466
The newspapers contained many notices of reward for the
return of fugitive slaves. In some cases the returned fugitive
seems to have been treated very leniently. One instance is
recorded in which he received no punishment whatever. 1 In
another case the advertisement promises that if he "shall
return voluntarily, he shall be forgiven, and have a new
master. 7 2 Slaves of both sexes and various ages were among
the fugitives. A man fled and left behind a wife and child.
A woman with a child of nine mouths ran away. Slaves
occasionally escaped by the ferries from Elizabeth-Town and
Perth Amboy to New York. 3 In 1734, three were thought
to have gone off in a canoe toward Connecticut and Rhode
Island. Others attempted to get on board some vessel, or
sought a chance to go privateering. A slave sometimes escaped
on the back of his master s horse.
Negroes were frequently sold for a term of years. Slaves
were at times hired out by their masters ; 4 occasionally a plan
tation together with the negroes to cultivate it was rented, or a
mine with the slaves to work it. 5 A negro indented servant is
mentioned in 1802. In 1794, a slave was given as a donation
to the Newark Academy to be sold for as much as he would
bring. 6 The Rev. Moses Ogden bought him for fourteen
pounds. Mr. Atkinson states that this clergyman owned a
number of slaves whom he employed to work his farm lands. 7
The slave s position as a chattel is brought out clearly in many
advertisements of sales where slaves are classed with horses,
cattle, farming utensils and household goods. 8
1 Cenlinel of Freedom, VI, No. 34. 2 Ibid., IV, 45. 3 Supra, p. 34.
4 Centinel of Freedom, VI, No. 14. N. J. Ar., XII, 186, 251.
6 Atkinson, History of Newark, N. J., 170-172.
7 Moses Newell Combs, another Newarker of the same period, was a rep
resentative of the anti-slavery sentiment. He was noted for the free school
which he established for his apprentices, but also advocated zealously the
emancipation of slaves. This latter principle he himself put into practice
by manumitting a negro that he owned (Atkinson, 148).
8 For example, the notice of the sale of a farm at Elizabeth, in 1801,
reads : " On the above farm is also to be sold a negro man with four children,
a horse, chair, cows, and farming utensils " (Centinel of Freedom, VI, 11).
467] The Legal and Social Position of the Negro. 57
Slaves were, on the whole, well treated in New Jersey. In
most cases, they lived in close personal relations with the
master s family and were regarded by him as proper subjects
for his care and protection. As early as 1740 there is record
of a slave that could read and write. 1 Frequently slaves spoke
both English and Dutch. 2 Many slaves played the violin
with considerable proficiency. Under the Colonial laws, it is
true, slaves accused of crime received severe treatment; but
this severity must be viewed as part of the criminal law of an
eighteenth century Colonial society, stern both from its origin
and from its individual development.
Mr. Mellick, in his " Story of an old Farm," gives a very
entertaining description of slavery on a farm at Bed minster
in Somerset County. The first negro purchased was a pic
turesque creature of somewhat eccentric habits. He was a
"master-hand at tanning, currying and finishing leather;"
and, indeed, these accomplishments were the attractions that
overcame the scruples of the family against slave-holding, at
a time when there was great need of help in the tannery. The
slaves of the farm were granted their holidays and enjoyments.
In the week following Christmas they generally gave a party
to which the respectable colored people of the neighborhood
were invited. The whole week was one of great festivity, and
but little work was expected of the blacks. Again, the day
of "general training" (usually in June), was another great
holiday for these slaves. This drill of the militia was re
garded as a kind of fair and was a time of great sociability.
The family negroes all attended in a large wagon, taking with
them root beer and ginger cakes to offer for sale.
Mr. Mellick gives copies of bills for the schooling 3 of the
negro children, showing that in this family the law that slaves
should be taught to read was well observed. When the farmer
died, his will disposed of the negroes so that those who did
1 N. J. Ar. t XII, 51. 8 N. J. Ar., XI, 209 ; XII, 102, 306.
3 tiupra, p. 51, note.
58 A Study of Slavery in New Jersey. [468
not remain on the old farm were comfortably placed with
friends of his. The boys and girls were sold for terms of
years merely. This shows a considerate interest in the happi
ness of slaves, together with a consistent regard for the welfare
of his family. 1
Slavery was very evidently an institution in New Jersey life.
During the eighteenth century especially, the use of slave
labor became very common in many sections. Yet, in other
parts, during the same period, an anti-slavery sentiment was
growing, the strength of which was shown when the Friends
in 1776 denied the right of membership in their Society to
slave holders. The anti-slavery movement progressed steadily,
after the Revolution largely under the leadership of the aboli
tion societies. Its influence toward practical ends is seen in
the extinction of the slave trade ; in the activity of various
philanthropic men in securing to negroes their rights before
the courts ; and, later, in the gradual emancipation begun in
After the gradual abolition of slavery in New Jersey had
been secured by law, the local anti-slavery movement merged
into the larger agitation going on throughout the nation. The
resolutions of the legislature in 1824, 1847, and 1849 show
that the people of New Jersey early recognized the connection
of the institution of slavery with national interests.
Mellick, A. D., Story of an Old Farm, pp. 602-612.
The following is a list of the principal works used in the preparation of
this monograph :
Allinson, Samuel. Acts of the General Assembly of the Province of New
Jersey (1702-1776). Burlington, 1776.
Atkinson, Joseph. History of Newark, N. J. Newark, 1878.
Bancroft, George. History of the United States of America. 9th ed.
Bergen County Records. "B. C. Liber A," folio May 29, 1715 to 1790.
" Black Births, 1804," folio July 28, 1804, to March 14, 1843. " Liber
A of Manumition of Slavery," June 17, 1805, to July 26, 1841.
Blake, W. O. Ancient and Modern Slavery.
Brackett, J. R. Status of the Slave.
Census Reports of the United States.
"Centinel of Freedom." Newark, N. J.
Dally, J. W. Woodbridge and Vicinity. New Brunswick, 1873.
Gordon, Thomas. History of New Jersey. Gazetteer of New Jersey, 1834.
Hatfield, E. F. History of Elizabeth, N. J. New York, 1868.
Laws of New Jersey. Yearly edition. Revision of 1821 ; Revision of 1847.
Learning and Spicer. The grants, concessions and original constitutions of
the Province of New Jersey. The acts passed during the Proprietary
governments, and other material transactions before the surrender
thereof to Queen Anne. The instrument of surrender and her formal
acceptance thereof. Lord Cornbury s commission and instructions con
sequent thereon. Philadelphia.
Mellick, A. D. The Story of an Old Farm or Life in New Jersey in the
Eighteenth Century. Somerville, N. J., 1889.
Moore, G. H. Notes on the History of Slavery in Massachusetts.
Kevill, Samuel. Acts of the General Assembly of the Province of New
Jersey (1703-1761). Woodbridge, 1761.
New Jersey Archives. Vols. I-X. Documents relating to the Colonial
History of the State of New Jersey (1631-1776), Vols. XI-XII. Ex
cerpts from various Colonial newspapers, treating of New Jersey
History, Vols. XIII-XVIII. Journal of the Governor and Council
(1682-1775). Trenton, 1890-1893.
60 Bibliography. [470
New Jersey Law Reports. I-XXIX (1790-1863).
Paterson, William. Laws of the State of New Jersey, revised and pub
lished under the authority of the legislature. Newark, 1800.
Poore. Charters and Constitutions.
Proceedings of the General Assembly of New Jersey.
Smith, Samuel. The History of the Colony of Nova-Caesarea, or New
Jersey. Burlington, 1765.
Snell, J. P. History of Sussex and Warren Counties, N. J. Philadelphia,
" True American." Trenton, N. J.
Whitehead, W. A. Contributions to the early History of Perth Amboy.
New York, 1856. East Jersey under the Proprietary Governments.
Whittier, J. G. (editor), John Woolman s Journal.
Williams. History of the Negro Race in America.
Wilson, Peter. Acts of the Council and General Assembly of the State of
New Jersey (1776-1783). Trenton, 1784.
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