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Gloucester County Slavery Records - Introduction


Historians agree that Negro slaves were first brought to America in 1619, when a ship deposited about 20 slaves at a colony in Virginia. Slavery received recognition in New Jersey in 1664, when the Proprietors, Berkeley and Carteret, in order to speed up the "planting" of their new colony, offered to each settler an additional rant of 75 acres for "every weaker servant, or slave" taken to New Jersey.1 The earliest legislation implying the presence of slaves in this state was enacted by the General Assembly in 1675, wherein a penalty was imposed on any person granting aid to. fugitive slaves.2 The first law in West Jersey which made mention of Negroes was enacted in November 1692, prohibiting the selling of rum to Negroes or Indians.3 This act indicates the presence of Negro slaves in the western division of the colony, but the exact date of the first arrival of slaves in Gloucester County is not definitely known.

It was the policy of the government in England to encourage the slave trade in America. Lord Cornbury was instructed in 1702 to further trade with Africa and to have on hand a supply of "merchantable negroes." He was requested to give a yearly account of the number of Negroes in the Province and the cost of their acquisition.4 Moreover, he was instructed to punish wilful killing of Negroes and to attempt to convert the Africans to Christianity.5

There are no statistics available to show the number of slaves in New Jersey at the beginning of the 18th century. However, in 1737 New Jersey was reported to have 3,981 slaves, representing 8.4 percent of the population. Eight years later the number rose to 4,606, but this amounted to only 7.5 percent of the total inhabitants.6 A chart showing the proportion of slaves to the total population for the years of 1790-1860 follows:

1. Aaron Learning and Jacob Spicer, The Grants Concessions and Original
Constitutions of the Province of New Jersey, 1664-1702 (reprint,
Somerville, New Jersey, 1881), pp. 20, 21.
2. ibid., p. 109.
3. ibid., p. 512.
4. ibid., p. 640.
5. ibid., p. 642.
6. Henry Scofield Cooley, A Study of Slavery in New jersey (Baltimore,
1896), p. 30 (hereafter cited as Cooley, Slavery in New Jersey).


Percent of Slaves in the Total Population 1790-1860
Year Total Pop. Slaves Percent
184,139 11,423 6.2
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.7

The above chart depicting the growth and decline of slavery in New Jersey can best be explained by a resume of the legal, economic, and social aspects of the slave trade in this state. There were many laws enacted which affected the development of slavery. The Gloucester County Court in its June 1694 term placed a tax on the ownership of Negroes.8 A duty of 10 pounds was levied by the Assembly in 1714 on every slave imported to New Jersey.9 This would imply a heavy importation at this time, although the custom house records at Perth Amboy show no slaves were imported between 1698 and 1717, and only 115 between 1718 and 1726.10 The 1714 act expired in 1721 and for about 50 years no duty was planed on imported slaves.11 In 1744, a bill prohibiting imports of slaves was rejected for economic reasons by the Provincial Council.12 An act limited to two years was passed in 1767 levying a duty on slaves,13 and in 1769 a similar enactment was made.l4

A petition from a great number of inhabitants was presented to the Assembly in 1785, praying for the gradual abolition of slavery and the prevention of imports of slaves. This resulted in the passage of an act the following year, inflicting a penalty for importing slaves. In the preamble to this act appears for the first time a legal recognition of

7. ibid., Slaves made apprentices for life; see Revised Statutes of New Jersey. 1846, p. 382.
8. Transcript ft Minute Books, Quarter Sessions and Common Pleas
Courts, 1686-1739. Gloucester el, (Newark, N.J.,
1940), p. 144.
9. Samuel Allin son, comp.,
Acts of the General Assembly - of the Province
New Jersey. 1702-1776 (Burlington, New Jersey, 1776), p. 31. (hereafter cited as Allin son, Laws).
10. Cooley, Slavery in New Jersey, p. 14.
11. Ibid., p. 15.
12. William Adee Whitehead, Frederick William Ricord, William Nelson,
Austin Scott, et al., editors, New Jersey-Archives, 2 series (First
Series, 34 vol., Newark and Somerville, New Jersey, 1880-1928; Second Series, 5 vol., Trenton, New Jersey, 1901-1917). First Series, VI, 222; XV, 351, 384, 385.
13. Allinson, Laws, pp. 300,3.
14. ibid., , 3J5,



the ethical side of the question. Heretofore, all legislation on the subject resulted from economic necessity-15

One of the most important acts respecting slaves was passed in 1798.16 This statute provided for rewards to be paid to persons returning fugitive slaves to their owners regulated the personal conduct of slaves, penalized the importation of slaves, suggested that slaves be at least taught to read, prevented the fitting out of ships for slave trade , arid provided a system for the manumission of slaves by deed or will. Furthermore, the legal obligation of maintaining Negroes not manumitted was prima-
rily placed upon their owners, and if they were unable to care for the slaves, the burden was placed on the townships. Free Negroes were required t carry their certificates 'with-them, when traveling, and if they should fall into difficulties, the act provided for the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus to test their status.

The 1798 law was the forerunner of the act of 1804 passed by the Assembly for the gradual abolition of slavery.17 Increasing public sentiment against slavery at this time was influential in the passage of this important statute.lB New Jersey had a larger slave population north of Maryland than any other state except New York. However, the three great Quaker counties of Burlington, Gloucester, and Salem, containing 23 percent of the total population of the state, possessed less than 3 percent of the slaves.]-9 The Act of 1804 was intended to reduce the number of
slaves in the state. It provided that every child born of a slave after July 4, 1804 was to be free, but to remain servants until the males reach ed the age of 25 and the females, 21. That the act achieved its purpose may be seen by referring to the chart shown above.

The act of 1820 in addition to repeating the provisions of the 1804 act made it a criminal Offense to export slaves from the state without first obtaining a license from the Court of Common Pleas.2O Two acts, one passed in 1826,21 the other in 1837,22 made provision for the trial procedure to be followed in the actions against fugitives.

Although the constitution of 1844 declared that "All men are by nature free and independent," 23 the courts decided that this provision

15. Cooley, Slavery in New Jersey p. 18.
16. William Sandford Pennington, comp, Laws of the State of New Jersey,
1703-1820 (Trenton, New jersey, 1821), p. 369. (hereafter cited as Pennington, Laws).
17. Acts of the State of New Jersey "Pamphlet Laws" (Trenton,-New Jersey, 1804), p. 251 (hereafter cited as P. L.).
18. Cooley, Slavery in New Jersey p. lB.
19. ibid.,p. 31.
20. P. L. 1820, p. 74.
21. P. L. 1826, p. 90.
22. P. L. 1837, p. 134,.
23. Art. I, par. 1.




did not abolish slavery.24 It was not until 1846 that slavery in New Jersey was legally abolished. An act passed that year bound all slaves under "apprenticeship," and contained provisions similar to many of the previous laws. The sale of an apprentice was required to be in writing and had to bear his consent, and all children born of apprentices were to be free from

A very early law passed March 11, 1713, provided that slaves charged with murder and other felonies were to be tried by a court of 5 principal freeholders sitting with the justices, and not in the usual courts designated for the trial of such offenders. This act was repealed in 1768, not because of any change in the attitude of the people towards slaves, but due to the fact that the. procedure was found to be inconvenient.26 The crimes act in 1796 allowed the courts to disregard the punishments provided therein and permitted the judges to impose on all slaves whatever sentence they thought necessary under the circumstances.27

The passage of laws for the abolition of slavery, however, gave the courts of New Jersey an opportunity to lend assistance to the Abolitionist trend. The courts on the whole interpreted these laws in a liberal spirit.28

The abolishment of slavery would have been long delayed had it not been for the energetic, untiring, and fearless efforts of the Abolitionists. This movement had its beginning as early as 1696, when the Quakers recommended to the members of their church that they cease further importations. In the meeting held in 1716 the Society of Friends voiced a cautious disapproval of slavery Considering the tenor of the times on this question, the disapproving voice may now be termed loud in its denunciation. In the 1738 meeting it was stated that "not for several years had any slaves been imported by a Friend," and in 1758 a suggestion was made that Friends set their slaves free. In 1774 only one Negro "fit for freedom" remained a slave within the jurisdiction of the Society of Friends, and finally in 1776 the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting ordered subordinate meetings " to deny the right of membership to such as persisted in holding their fellowmen as property." 29

One of the first societies for the abolition of slavery was formed at Trenton in 1786.30 Thereafter many such societies sprang up throughout the land. New Jersey had five representatives at the first convention of Abolition societies in 1796. Joseph Bloomfield, who later became

24. New Jersey Law Reports Vol. 21, p. 699.
25. Revised Statutes of New Jersey, 1846 (Trenton, New Jersey), p.382.
26. Allin son, Lacvs, pp. 18, 307., 308; see cumens, pp. 46-55.
27. Pennington, Lass p. 262
28. Cooley, Slavery in New Jersey, p. 47.
29. bid. pp. 20-22.
30. ibid.,p. 23.


Governor of New Jersey, served as president of the convention.31 These societies did everything in their power to secure remedial legislation and to aid the escape of slaves through New Jersey to the north.

Thousands of slaves sought to escape by means of the "underground railroad" in New Jersey. This consisted of a chain of way-stations maintained by Abolitionists where fugitives were hidden during the day, and were transported to the next station at night.32 This procedure entailed great risks, for the way was beset with spies and slave-catchers. In many places feeling against persons aiding the escape of slaves ran high, but in southwestern New Jersey, among the Quakers, this activity was more popular. It is estimated that many thousands of slaves were led to freedom by the New Jersey operators of the "underground railroad." 33

The records reproduced in the following pages are evidence of the great struggle for the freedom-of an enslaved people. These records were required to be filed or recorded by the various laws enacted during this period in American history. Birth certificates of all children born of slaves were required to be filed with the County Clerk within nine months after each birth.34 An act of 1798 required the recording of each instrument of manumission with the County Clerk. This instrument had to be in writing, signed in the presence of two witnesses, and accompanied by a certificate signed by the two Overseers of the Poor and two Justices of the Peace of the county.35 The act also provided, that any citizen of this state owning slaves in another state might bring them here for servitude but not for sale, if he first obtained a certificate of such ownership from the Supreme Court Justice or Common Fleas Judge of that state, and then filed such certificate in the County Clerk's office.36 An act of 1820 pro-
:vided that, if an owner took his slave out of the state on business, he had to return that slave to New Jersey. If, because of some accident, he could not do so, he was required to file with the County Clerk a certificate setting forth the facts, signed by two judges, and henceforth that slave was to go free.37 Another act of 1820 stated that, whenever. e. slave was to be banished because of the commission of a criminal act, the owner of the said slave had to post a bond with the court in the sum of $400 to insure the faithful execution of the sentence. Upon producing satisfactory evidence of the execution of punishment, the owner was released from his bOd..38 This act was subsequently repealed by another law requiring the posting of

31. New Jersey Writers Project, "The Underground Railroad in New Jersey,"
Bulletin No. 9, 1939-40 Series, Stories of New Jersey
32. ibid
33. ibid.
34. P. L. 1804, p. 251; see Transcribed Documents following this intro-
duct ion, pp. 1-8 (hereafter cited as Documents)
35. Penning-ton, Laws, pp. 373, 374; see pp. 9-47.
36. Penning-ton, Laws, pp. 371-372,
37. bid., p. 684.
38. ibid.,p.736.



the bond with the Secretary of State.39 An act of 1826 provided for the issuance of warrants to arrest fugitive slaves escaping into this state. However, no warrant could be issued unless based upon an affidavit by the slave owner setting forth his title to the fugitive, as well as his name, age, and description.40

As a result of the favorable legislation obtained through the activities of the Quakers and Abolitionists in New Jersey, the number of slaves in this state steadily declined subsequent t 1804. Conversely, the number of free Negroes finding a new way of life in New Jersey steadily increased. The census figures for 1860 show there were then only 18 slaves in this state and 25,318 free Negroes. A chart prepared by the United States Census Bureau gives the following picture:4l

Number of Slaves and Free Negroes in NJ 1790-1860
Year Slaves Free Negroes
1790 11,423 2,762
1800 12,422 4,402
1810 10,851 7,843
1820 7,557 12,460
1830 2,254 18,303
1840 674 21,044
1850 236 23,810
1860 18 25,318

The documents reproduced in the following pages constitute the contribution of Gloucester County to the collection of slave records resulting from the passage of legislation regulating the institution and abolition of slavery in New Jersey.

39. Pennington, :j_s, p.. 793..
40. P. L. 1826, p. 90; see Documents pp. 56-61.
41. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Census, Negro Population
1790-1915 (Washington', D. C., 1918),p. 57.


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