Emancipating New York
The Politics of Slavery and Freedom, 1777–1827
Publication Year: 2006
Published by: Louisiana State University Press
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
As I have imagined finishing this book through the years of research and writing, I have relished the prospect of thanking all those who have supported and encouraged me. ...
New York, the state with the highest concentration and largest number of slaves north of Maryland, finally designated freedom as a birthright on July 5, 1799. The “Act for the gradual abolition of slavery” implemented a maddeningly indirect program of emancipation for African American New Yorkers born any time after the nation’s twenty-third birthday. ...
I. NO EXIT
1. Labor, Law, and Resistance in the Eighteenth Century
On November 17, 1783, Rachel Willis, her husband Samuel, and their three young children gathered aboard the Nesbit, joining 150 other Americans of African descent. The ship prepared to weigh anchor for Nova Scotia as part of the nearly complete British evacuation of New York City. Two years after Cornwallis’s surrender to Washington at Yorktown and two months after the signing of the Peace of Paris, the war between the United States and Britain was over. ...
2. Unfished Revolutions
The Revolutionary War changed everything and nothing for the institution of slavery in New York. The strained, paradoxical equilibrium was captured, perhaps unintentionally, in the essays of Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur. Writing as the emblematic “American Farmer,” the French immigrant to Orange County imagined a “new man” emerging in America. ...
3. 1785: The Road Not Taken
In March 1784, New York City’s Common Council passed “A Law Regulating Negro and Mulatto Slaves,” which required slaves to carry lanterns at night, banned gaming, required daytime burial of deceased slaves, and prohibited the “disorderly” riding of horses. Violators of all but the daytime burial provision could suffer a public flogging, unless their masters paid a fine. The next month the ...
4. Containing Slavery: The Manumission Society and the Law, 1785–92
In the spring of 1792, the New York Manumission Society (NYMS) assessed the difficulties of combating slavery. In much of the state, according to the standing committee of this New York City organization, black people “have been obliged to submit in silence to their severe fate merely because they were friendless and unprotected and because their oppressors were powerful and strong.” The situation, however, was far from hopeless. ...
5. Pirates, Sugar, Debtors, and Federalists: The Paradoxes of Antislavery Political Economy
Neglecting commerce and abusing slaves could bring a society to ruin. In the spring of 1786, “Americanus” sought to impress on New Yorkers these lessons from ancient history. “The method in which the Spartans treated their slaves, formed the strongest proof of the pernicious infl uence of their government,” wrote the pseudonymous essayist in the New-York Journal. ...
6. Race, Citizenship, Sentiment, and the Construction of an Antislavery Public Sphere
“CATO MUNGO, who lately arrived into this city from the United States of America, where he has been kept in slavery for upwards of twenty years, has given us a long and melancholy account of the treatment of the poor African in that land of cruelty,” read the opening line of an excerpt from the imaginary “Gazette of Guinea.” This curious parody, printed in a 1795 edition of ...
7. Slavery and the Politics of Upheaval: The 1790s
“Men have not thus a right to trifle with truth, and with social confidence and happiness,” lectured Noah Webster in 1797. Unscrupulous parties would have the public believe that urban America’s destructive encounter with yellow fever had its origins in Africa. They wished to sabotage the development of an African free-labor cotton colony, which might signal the end of the ...
8. Ambiguous Victory: Gradual Abolition Becomes Law
On March 29, 1799, the New York Council of Revision informed the state assembly of its approval of “An Act for the gradual abolition of Slavery.” All children born to New York slave mothers after July 4 of that year would be free, with the requirement that males serve until age twenty-eight and females until age twenty-five. After more than 170 years, racial slavery did not ...
9. Freedom, Slavery, Memory, and Modernity, 1800–27
Emancipation reached its summit on July 4, 1827. In compliance with a law passed ten years before, Independence Day brought freedom to those men and women still legally enslaved. From Rochester to Albany, from Cooperstown to Manhattan, African Americans celebrated something more vital than a national anniversary in July 1827—they celebrated the end of racial bondage in the state of New York.1 ...
The connection of past and present helped to define the hazards and the pathos of free black life in the North. In 1830, Sally, a black woman from Ulster County, fell into the hands of an unscrupulous white trader. Her former master, George Tappen, wanted to assert the legal protection available to Sally under state law and wished to offer information to establish her identity. ...