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History of slavery in New Jersey


History of slavery in New Jersey

History of
New Jersey
Colonial period
American Revolution
Nineteenth century
Twentieth century
Twenty-first century
Timeline of New Jersey

Slavery in New Jersey began in the early 17th century, when Dutch colonists imported African slaves for labor to develop their colony of New Netherland. After England took control the colony in 1664, its colonists continued the importation of slaves from Africa. They also imported "seasoned" slaves from their colonies in the West Indies and enslaved Native Americans from the Carolinas.

Most Dutch and English immigrants entered the colony as indentured servants, who worked for a fixed number of years to repay their passage. As conditions in England improved and the number of indentured laborers declined, New Jersey's colonists imported more Africans for needed labor. To promote increasing the number of laborers and settlers in order to develop the colony, the colonial government awarded settlers headrights of 60 acres (240,000 m2) of land for each person transported to the colony.

During the American Revolution, enslaved African Americans fought on each side. The British Crown promised freedom to slaves who would leave their rebel masters and fight for the British. The number of blacks in Manhattan increased to 10,000, as thousands of slaves escape to the British for the promise of freedom. The British refused to return former slaves to the Americans and they evacuated many Black Loyalists together with their troops and other Loyalists; they resettled more than 3,000 freedmen in their colony of Nova Scotia. Others were transported to England and the West Indies.

Bergen County developed as the largest slaveholding county in the state,[1] in part because many slaves were used as laborers in its ports and cities. After the Revolutionary War, many northern states rapidly passed laws to abolish slavery, but New Jersey did not abolish it until 1804, and then in a process of gradual emancipation similar to that of New York. But, in New Jersey, some slaves were held as late as 1865. (In New York, they were all freed by 1827.) The law made African Americans free at birth, but it required children (born to slave mothers), to serve lengthy apprenticeships as a type of indentured servant until early adulthood for the masters of their slave mothers. New Jersey was the last of the Northern states to abolish slavery completely. The last 16 slaves in New Jersey were freed in 1865 by the Thirteenth Amendment.[2]

The Underground Railroad had several routes crossing the state,[3] four of which ended in Jersey City, where fugitive slaves could cross the Hudson River.[4] During the American Civil War, African Americans served in several all-black Union Army regiments from New Jersey.[5]

In 2008, the legislature of New Jersey passed a resolution of official apology for slavery, becoming the third state to do so.


  • Colonial period 1
  • Post-American Revolution 2
  • Abolition of slavery 3
  • The Civil War 4
  • Apology 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9

Colonial period

The Dutch West India Company introduced slavery in 1625 with the importation of eleven black slaves to New Amsterdam, capital of the nascent province of New Netherland. They worked as farmers, fur traders, and builders.[6] It later expanded across the North River (Hudson River) to Pavonia and Communipaw, eventually becoming Bergen, where slaves worked the company plantation.[6] Settlers to the area later held slaves privately, often using them as domestic servants and laborers.[4][7] Although enslaved, the Africans had a few basic rights and families were usually kept intact. They were admitted to the Dutch Reformed Church and married by its ministers, who also baptized their children. Slaves could testify in court, sign legal documents, and bring civil actions against whites. Some were permitted to work after hours, when they earned wages equal to those paid to white workers. When the colony fell, the company freed all its slaves, establishing early on a nucleus of free negros.[6][8]

English traders continued to import African slaves after they took over the colony from the Dutch in 1664 and established a proprietorship. Eager to attract more settlers and laborers to develop the colony, the proprietorship encouraged the importation of slaves for labor by offering settlers headrights, an award of allocations of land based on the number of workers, slaves or indentured servants, imported to the colony. The first African slaves to appear in English records were owned by Colonel Lewis Morris in Shrewsbury.[7] In an early attempt to encourage European settlement, the New Jersey legislature enacted a prohibitive tariff against imported slaves to encourage European indentured servitude.[9] When this act expired in 1721, however, the British Government and New Jersey's royal governor, countered attempts to renew it. The slave trade was a royal monopoly and had become a lucrative enterprise.[9]

Camden was a center for the importation of slaves, its ferry docks on the Delaware River across from Philadelphia acting as auction sites for the plantations in the Delaware Valley, of which Pomona Hall was one.[10]

Post-American Revolution

African-American slaves fought on both sides in the War for Independence. The British Crown promised slaves freedom for leaving their rebel masters to join their cause. The number of blacks in New York rose to 10,000 as slaves escaped there from both northern and southern masters after the British occupied the city. The British kept their promise and evacuated thousands of freedmen from New York, resettling 3,500 Black Loyalists in its colony of Nova Scotia and others in the Caribbean islands.[11] Colonel Tye, also known as Titus Cornelius (c. 1753–1780),[12][13] was a slave of African descent who achieved notability during the war by his leadership and fighting skills, and was one of the most effective guerrilla leaders opposing the American rebel forces in Central Jersey.[12][13]

According to the American historian Giles Wright, by 1790 New Jersey's enslaved population numbered approximately 14,000.[14] They were virtually all of African descent.[15] The 1790 federal census, however, recorded 11,423 slaves, 6.2 percent of the total population of 184,139.[16] In the decades before the Revolution, slaves were numerous near Perth Amboy, a major point of entry, and in the eastern counties. Slaves were generally used for agricultural labor, but they also filled skilled artisan jobs in shipyards and industry in coastal cities.

Abolition of slavery

Following the Revolutionary War, New Jersey banned the importation of slaves in 1788, but at the same time forbade free blacks from elsewhere from settling in the state.[17] In the first two decades after the war, many northern states rapidly abolished slavery, and some slaveholders independently manumitted their slaves. Some people of color left the areas where they had been enslaved and moved to more frontier areas. Since slaves were widely used in agriculture, as well as the ports, the New Jersey state legislature was the last in the North to abolish slavery, passing a law in 1804 for its gradual abolition.[18] The 1804 statute and subsequent laws freed children born after the law was passed. African Americans born to slave mothers after July 4, 1804 had to serve lengthy apprenticeships to the owners of their mothers. Women were freed at 21, but men were not emancipated until the age of 25.[19] Slaves who had been born before these laws were passed were considered, after 1846, as indentured servants who were "apprenticed for life."[20]

Although at first New Jersey allowed free people of color to vote, the legislature disfranchised them in 1807, an exclusion that lasted until 1875. By 1830 two-thirds of the slaves remaining in the North were held by masters in New Jersey, as New York had freed the last of its slaves in 1827 under gradual abolition. It was not until 1846 that New Jersey abolished slavery, but it qualified it by redefining former slaves as apprentices who were "apprenticed for life" to their masters.[17][20] Slavery did not truly end in the state until it was ended nationally in 1865 after the American Civil War and passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution.

Communities of free negros and freedmen formed at Dunkerhook in Paramus[21][22] and at the New York state line at Skunk Hollow, also called The Mountain. A founding African-American settler bought land there in 1806, and later bought more. Other families joined him, and the community continued into the twentieth century.[23] According to the historian David S. Cohen in The Ramapo Mountain People (1974), free people of color migrated from Manhattan into other parts of the frontier of northeastern New Jersey, where some intermarried and became ancestors of the Ramapo Mountain Indians.[24] (Cohen's findings have been disputed by some scholars, including Albert J. Catalano.[25])

The Civil War

A total of 2,909 United States Colored Troops from New Jersey served in the Union Army. Because of the state's long-term apprenticeship requirements, at the close of the American Civil War, some African Americans in New Jersey remained in bondage. It was not until the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed in 1865 that the last 16 slaves in the state were freed.[2][26]

In the 1860 census, free colored persons in New Jersey numbered 25,318, about 4% of the state's population of 672,035. By 1870 the number had increased to 30,658, but they constituted a smaller percentage of the total population because of the high rate of European immigration. Overall, New Jersey's population had increased to 906,096, with nearly 200,000 European immigrants.[27]

New Jersey was slow to abolish slavery and reluctant to pass the 13th Amendment,[7] which it did in January 1866. Some of its industries, such as shoes and clothing, had strong markets in the South supplying planters for their slaves, which was probably a factor.[28]

On March 31, 1870 Thomas Mundy Peterson (1824–1904) became the first African American to vote in an election under the just-enacted provisions of the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution.[29][30]

In 1875, "Jack" Jackson, who was described as the last slave in New Jersey,[31] died at the age of 87 on the Smith family farm at Secaucus. In 1820, Abel Smith had manumitted his slaves, but Jackson refused freedom and remained on the family estate until his death. By the will of the late Abel Smith, Jackson was interred in the family burial ground.[32]


In 2008, the New Jersey Legislature acknowledged the state's role in the history of slavery in the United States.[33][34]

See also


  1. ^ "Bergen County Slavery", Bergen County, accessed 13 July 2012
  2. ^ a b "Interview: James Oliver Horton: Exhibit Reveals History of Slavery in New York City", PBS Newshour, 25 January 2007, accessed 11 February 2012
  3. ^ Steal Away, Steal Away..." A Guide to the Underground Railroad in New Jersey""" (PDF). New Jersey Historical Commission. Retrieved 2014-04-15. 
  4. ^ a b Karnoutsos, Carmela. "Underground Railroad". Jersey City Past and Present. New Jersey City University. Retrieved 2011-03-27. 
  5. ^ Rizzo, Nina (February 28, 2011). "Historian highlights service of NJ's black Civil War troops". Asbury Park Press. Retrieved 2011-03-31 
  6. ^ a b c Hodges, Russel Graham (1999). "Root and Branch: African Americans in New York and East Jersey, 1613-1863". Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press 
  7. ^ a b c Shakir, Nancy. "Slavery in New Jersey".  
  8. ^ Switala, William J (2006). Underground Railroad in New York and New Jersey. Stackpole Books.  
  9. ^ a b Moss, Simeon F. (July 1950). The Persistence of Slavery and Involuntary Servitude in a Free State (1685-1866). Vol. 35, No. 3 (Jul., 1950). The Journal of Negro History. p. 294.  
  10. ^
  11. ^ Nancy Shakir, "Slavery in New Jersey", Slavery in America, Accessed 24 January 2007
  12. ^ a b "Colonel Tye", Africans in America, PBS
  13. ^ a b African Americans at WarJonathan D. Sutherland, , ABC-CLIO, 2003, accessed 4 May 2010
  14. ^ Giles R., Wright (1989). (PDF). Trenton: New Jersey Historical Commission 
  15. ^ Lawrence Aaron, "Confronting New Jersey's slave past", Bergen Record, 10 February 2006. Accessed 24 January 2007.
  16. ^ Historical Census Browser, 1790 census. Accessed 28 December 2007
  17. ^ a b Slavery in the North, Accessed 28 December 2007
  18. ^ "An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery" (15 February 1804), electronically transcribed text of act of the New Jersey State Legislature published by the New Jersey Digital Legal Library (hosted by Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey). Accessed 24 January 2007.
  19. ^ Douglas Harper, "Slavery in New Jersey", Slavery in the North website, 2003, accessed 13 July 2012
  20. ^ a b "An Act to Abolish Slavery" (18 April 1846), electronically transcribed text of act of the New Jersey State Legislature published by the New Jersey Digital Legal Library (hosted by Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey).Accessed 21 February 2012.
  21. ^ Dunkerhook: Slave Community?
  22. ^
  23. ^ Kathleen Sykes, "Skunk Hollow: History of a 19th Century Community of Free African-Americans", The Palisades Newsletter (NY), Mar 2006 - Issue 192
  24. ^ Cohen, David Steven (1974), The Ramapo Mountain People, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, pp. 74, 197, ISBN 978-0-8135-1195-5
  25. ^ Catalano, Albert J.; Plache, Matthew J. (April 30, 2006). "Opinion: The case for Ramapough tribal status". North Jersey Media Group. Archived from the original on May 21, 2006. 
  26. ^ According to Snell, James P. History of Sussex and Warren Counties, New Jersey, With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers. (Philadelphia: Everts & Peck, 1881). No ISBN (Pre-1964). Note: Several families in northwestern New Jersey (Sussex County) had slaves who, while legally "freed" by their owners, refused to leave their former masters.
  27. ^ Historical Census Browser, 1860 and 1870 censuses. Accessed 28 Oct 2007
  28. ^ New Jersey ratified the 13th Amendment on 23 January 1866, after having rejected the amendment on 16 March 1865. [1], published by the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site Interpretive Staff, National Park Service (no further authorship information available). Accessed 24 January 2007
  29. ^ "Perth Amboy Church Is 302 And Counting".  
  30. ^ African-American Firsts Remembered – Newark Public Library at
  31. ^ "Obituary Index 1874 -1882" (PDF). Belvidere Apollo/Intelligencer. p. 116. Retrieved 3 October 2010. 
  32. ^ Jack" Jackson..""". Hunterdon County Democrat (XXXVIII). November 30, 1875. p. 13. Retrieved 28 September 2010. 
  33. ^ "Assembly Concurrent Resolution 230" (PDF).  
  34. ^ Peters, Jeremy (January 13, 2008). "A Slavery Apology, but Debate Continues". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-03-28 

Further reading

  • Joan N. Burstyn; Women's Project of New Jersey (1 June 1990). Past and promise: lives of New Jersey women. Scarecrow Press.  
  • Graham Russell Hodges Slavery and Freedom in the Rural North: African Americans in Monmouth County, New Jersey, 1665-1865 Madison, WI: Madison House, 1997
  • Clement Alexander Price; New Jersey Historical Society; New Jersey Historical Commission (December 1980). Freedom not far distant: A documentary history of Afro-Americans in New Jersey. The Society.  
  • James P. Snell (1881). History of Sussex and Warren Counties, New Jersey, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers. Genealogical Researchers. Retrieved 10 August 2012. 
  • Giles R. Wright (1 January 1988). Afro-Americans in New Jersey: a short history. New Jersey Historical Commission, Dept. of State.  
  • William J. Switala (1 July 2006). Underground Railroad in New Jersey And New York. Stackpole Books. pp. 69–.  

External links

  • Slavery in the NorthDouglas Harper, , website, 2003
  • The Law of Slavery in New Jersey, New Jersey Digital Legal Library
  • "History of Slavery in New Jersey", Slavery in America
  • "New Jersey Slave Laws Summary and Record to 1798", Slavery in America
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