We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Emancipating New York

The Politics of Slavery and Freedom, 1777–1827

David N. Gellman

Publication Year: 2006

An innovative blend of cultural and political history, Emancipating New York is the most complete study to date of the abolition of slavery in New York state. Focusing on public opinion, David N. Gellman shows New Yorkers engaged in vigorous debates and determined activism during the final decades of the eighteenth century as they grappled with the possibility of freeing the state's black population. The gradual emancipation that began in New York in 1799 helped move an entire region of the country toward a historically rare slaveless democracy, creating a wedge in the United States that would ultimately lead to the Civil War. Gellman's comprehensive examination of the reasons for and timing of New York's dismantling of slavery provides a fascinating narrative of a citizenry addressing longstanding injustices central to some of the greatest traumas of American history.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Series: Antislavery, Abolition, and the Atlantic World

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

pdf iconDownload PDF (74.9 KB)

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (62.8 KB)
pp. ix-xi

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. ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (101.4 KB)
pp. 1-11

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. ...


read more

1. Labor, Law, and Resistance in the Eighteenth Century

pdf iconDownload PDF (84.3 KB)
pp. 15-25

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. ...

read more

2. Unfished Revolutions

pdf iconDownload PDF (106.2 KB)
pp. 26-42

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. ...


read more

3. 1785: The Road Not Taken

pdf iconDownload PDF (79.3 KB)
pp. 45-55

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 ...

read more

4. Containing Slavery: The Manumission Society and the Law, 1785–92

pdf iconDownload PDF (132.0 KB)
pp. 56-77

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. ...

read more

5. Pirates, Sugar, Debtors, and Federalists: The Paradoxes of Antislavery Political Economy

pdf iconDownload PDF (140.3 KB)
pp. 78-101

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. ...

read more

6. Race, Citizenship, Sentiment, and the Construction of an Antislavery Public Sphere

pdf iconDownload PDF (151.3 KB)
pp. 102-129

“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 ...

read more

7. Slavery and the Politics of Upheaval: The 1790s

pdf iconDownload PDF (186.8 KB)
pp. 130-151

“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 ...

read more

8. Ambiguous Victory: Gradual Abolition Becomes Law

pdf iconDownload PDF (181.9 KB)
pp. 153-186

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 ...


read more

9. Freedom, Slavery, Memory, and Modernity, 1800–27

pdf iconDownload PDF (167.0 KB)
pp. 189-219

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 ...

read more

Epilogue: Inescapable

pdf iconDownload PDF (62.8 KB)
pp. 220-223

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. ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (321.0 KB)
pp. 225-284


pdf iconDownload PDF (885.2 KB)
pp. 285-297

E-ISBN-13: 9780807134658
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807133682

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: Antislavery, Abolition, and the Atlantic World