Thursday, September 07, 2006

Slavery in a Free State

While reading "Struggle for a Vast Future" one of the collection of articles noted that a few New Jersey citizens held slaves up until just shy of the beginning of the Civil War. A quick internet search found the quote below on the Slavery in the North web site.
    "In 1830, of the 3,568 Northern blacks who remained slaves, more than two-thirds were in New Jersey. The institution was rapidly declining in the 1830s, but not until 1846 was slavery permanently abolished. At the start of the Civil War, New Jersey citizens owned 18 "apprentices for life" (the federal census listed them as "slaves") -- legal slaves by any name."

    "New Jersey's emancipation law carefully protected existing property rights. No one lost a single slave, and the right to the services of young Negroes was fully protected. Moreover, the courts ruled that the right was a 'species of property,' transferable 'from one citizen to another like other personal property.' "

    Thus "New Jersey retained slaveholding without technically remaining a slave state."
For the entire text of the decision from which the web site authors took these excerpts can be found at the New Jersey Digital Legal Library.



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GettysBLOG said...

My understanding is something like this:

Of the several thousand slaves in the north at the start of the Civil War, most were in New York, and the were slaves who had not reached the date/time criteria which NY Emancipation law called for. The ones in New Jersey were convicts serving a life term, hence their euphemism "apprentices for life". The remaining slaves in the north were located in Delaware (a couple hundred)and in Maryland (several thousand). The Del. and MD slaves usually are not counted as being in the north as they were border states.

Interestingly, Pennsylvania had a (final) slave auction near Reading sometime around 1842 (IIRC). It so outraged the populace that no more were ever conducted.

Most of the northern states opted for a gradual emancipation. Only Mass. outlawed it almost from the start, as it was in their state constituion, but an immediate challenge in the State Supreme Court wiped the institution from the state forever.

Randy said...

Well, the idea of slaves in the North at that late date is new to me. But the New Jersey State Library says this about the issue.

"New Jersey's Abolition Act of 1846, which declared, "That slavery in this state be and it is hereby abolished, and every person who is now holden in slavery by the laws thereof, be and hereby is made free" and that "the children hereafter to be born to all such persons shall be absolutely free from their birth, and discharged of and from all manner of service whatsoever." Although this act appeared to emancipate all the state's slaves, this was not the case, for it also provided that every slave "shall, by force and virtue of this act … become an apprentice, bound to service to his or her present owner, and his or her executors or administrators; which service shall continue until such person is discharged there from, as is hereinafter directed." Under the law's provisions, therefore, all slaves were relegated to the status of "apprentices" for life, actually a modified form of slavery; this made New Jersey the last northern state to have slaves (the 1860 U.S. Census lists eighteen for New Jersey). The apprenticeship system ensured that slave owners would continue to support their slaves and that slaves would not become wards of the state (in 1846 there were nearly seven hundred New Jersey slaves, most over fifty-five years of age). It also afforded slaves greater legal protection. They could sue for their freedom if abused; they could not be sold without their written consent; they could not be sold out of the state."

New Jersey State Library

GettysBLOG said...

As the date of gradual emancipation approached in the northern states with such laws, the northenr slaveholders held slave auctions and sold their slaves to Southerners who came north to buy them.

I suspect this was the purpose of the slave auction in Pennsylvania in the 1840s, and it also occurred in New York in the 1850s.

Randy said...

Interesting. That fits a quote I read from Jefferson Davis to the Confederate Congress. He said, "The climate and soil of the Northern States soon proved unpropitious to the continuance of slave labor, whilst the converse was the case at the South. Under the unrestricted free intercourse between the two sections, the Northern States consulted their own interests by selling their slaves to the South and prohibiting slavery within their limits."

So when the North abolished slavery, some simply held the slaves using a different name ("apprentices for life" in New Jersey) while others sold them into further slavery and kept the profits.