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The Slaves Of New Jersey

Chapter 09
Page 83

We have so long looked upon New Jersey as prominent among what were called the "free States" of the Union, that it now seems strange when we consider, that among the first of the institutions established upon its soil by the early settlers, was the system of slavery. This was the case not only in New Jersey, but in all the American Colonies. The settlers of New England, as well as those of the Southern Colonies, used Negro slaves as laborers on their farms; and the trade in native Africans was a very important branch of industry.

The Duke of York, to whom his brother, Charles II.,

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had made a grant of extensive American possessions, was at the head of the African Company, formed for the purpose of bringing slaves from Africa, and selling them. The Dutch were then the great rivals of the English in this trade; and the Duke of York was very glad to possess New Jersey and the rest of his grant, for then he could not only oust the Dutch from the territory, but could possess himself of this very desirable and profitable slave market.

But it was not only the English and Dutch who brought Negro slaves to America, for it is stated that the earliest Swedish settlers brought slaves with them as laborers. So we may say that slavery and freedom were planted together in this country of ours; one to be pulled up afterward like a weed, the other to be left to grow and flourish.

When Berkeley and Carteret acquired authority over New Jersey, they did everything that they could to induce settlers to come to the new country; and, as they were anxious to have the lands opened up and cultivated as rapidly as possible, they encouraged immigrants to bring as many slaves as they could afford. They offered one hundred and fifty acres to every one who would settle, and another one hundred and fifty acres for every full-grown able-bodied male slave, and seventy-five acres each for those not grown up. Afterwards, when slaves became more numerous, the bounties given on their account were diminished, and in course of time they ceased altogether.

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A great many slaves must have been brought direct from Africa to New Jersey, for at Perth Amboy there was established what was then called a barracks; and in this, negroes who had been brought in the slave ships were confined until they were sold and sent out into the country.

Not only were there Negro slaves in the State, but there were also Indians who had been enslaved, and were regularly sold and bought. How these red men happened to be slaves, we do not certainly know; but we may be very sure that the whites did not make war upon Indian tribes, and capture prisoners, for the purpose of making slaves of them. It is far more likely, that, when one tribe of Indians made war upon another, the conquerors found it a very profitable thing to sell their prisoners to the whites. There is no reason to suppose, however, that the natives made war on purpose to capture and sell their fellow-countrymen, as was the case in Africa.

The early records, however, prove that there were Indian slaves. When the House of Representatives for the Province met at Burlington in 1704, an act was brought before that body for the regulating of Indian and Negro slaves.

Negroes were then considered to be such

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legitimate articles of merchandise, that English sovereigns thought it very necessary to see to it that their loyal settlers were sufficiently supplied with slaves, and at prices not too high. When Queen Anne sent out Lord Cornbury as governor of the Province, she recommended the Royal African Company to the especial attention of the governor, that New Jersey might have a constant and sufficient supply of merchantable negroes at moderate rates in money or commodities. In consequence of the fostering care of the Proprietors and the English sovereigns, slaves rapidly increased in New Jersey.

The English themselves were not at all averse to the ownership of a good serviceable slave; and about the middle of the eighteenth century a young gentleman in England wrote to his father in New Jersey, begging that he might "be favored with a young Negro boy to present to the brother of the then Duke of Grafton, to whom he was under obligations, as 'a present of that kind would be very acceptable.'"

Of course, the existence of slavery made the state of society in New Jersey and the other Colonies very different from what it is now; and this difference is strongly shown by the advertisements of runaway Negroes, which we can find in some old newspapers. It seems very strange to see in a Boston paper of one hundred years ago a picture of a black man running away with a bag over his shoulder, and under the picture the statement of the reward which would be given for his capture; and in

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the New Jersey papers there were frequent advertisements of runaway slaves and of Negroes for sale. One of these, published in Burlington two years after the Colony had declared itself free and independent, reads as follows:-

"To be Sold-For no fault-but a saucy tongue for which he is now in Burlington jail-A Negro man about 39 years of age. He is a compleat farmer, honest and sober. For further particulars enquire of the subscriber in Evesham, Burlington Co. Feb. 4, 1778."

When Washington was in Morristown in 1777, one of his aids wrote a letter to a friend in Elizabethtown, which states,-

The General will esteem it as a singular favor if you can apprehend a mulatto girl, servant and slave of Mrs. Washington, who eloped from this place yesterday, with what design cannot be conjectured, though as she may intend to the enemy and pass your way I trouble you with the description: her name is Charlotte but in all probability will change it, yet may be discovered by question. She is light complected, about thirteen years of age, pert, dressed in brown cloth wescoat and petticoat. Your falling upon some method of recovering her should she be near you will accommodate Mrs. Washington and lay her under great obligations to you being the only female servant she brought from home and intending to be off today had she not been missing. A gentle reward will be given to any soldier or other who shall take her up.

I am with respect your most obedient servant

-- --

After a time, Negro slaves became so plentiful in New Jersey, that laws were passed restricting their importation, and a considerable tax was laid upon each African brought into the country.

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But the Negroes were not the only slaves in New Jersey during those early days. Here, as well as in many of the other Colonies, was a class of white people, generally from England, who were called "redemptioners." These were poor people, although often persons of fairly good station and education, who desired to emigrate to America, but who could not afford to pay their passage.

A regular system was then established, by which a poor person desiring to settle in New Jersey would be brought over free. When one of these emigrants took passage on a ship, he signed a contract which gave the captain of the vessel the right to sell him, as soon as he arrived in America, for enough money to pay his passage. This white man was thus bought, when he reached New Jersey, exactly as if he had been a Negro slave; and he was subject to the same rules as those which governed other slaves. Of course, he was made the subject of great imposition; for the captain would naturally desire to get as large a sum of money as possible for each redemptioner, and therefore would be perfectly willing to sell him for a long term.

The people who owned redemptioners could sell them again if they chose; and it often happened that some of them passed into the possession of several families before they finally served out the term for which they had been sold. All sorts of people became redemptioners,-mechanics, laborers, and even professional men. Among the people who sold themselves into limited slavery there were schoolmasters, and it is stated that at one time the supply of

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redemptioner schoolmasters was so great that they became a drug in the market.

In the days before there were many regular schools in New Jersey, much of the education must have been carried on by what we now call private tutors; and a schoolmaster who could be bought as if he had been a horse or a cow was often a very convenient piece of property. If a family should own a teacher who was able only to instruct small children, it would be very easy, when these children grew older and able to undertake more advanced studies, to sell this primary teacher to some family where there were young pupils, and buy one capable of teaching higher branches.

It is said that these redemptioners were often treated

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much more harshly and cruelly than the negro slaves, and any one who assisted one of them to escape was severely punished. There was good reason for this difference in the treatment of the two classes of slaves; for a Negro was the property of his master as long as he lived, and it was manifestly the interest of the owner to keep his slave in good condition. But the redemptioner could only be held for a certain time, and, if his master was not a good man, he would be apt to get out of him all the work that he could during the time of his service, and to give him no more food or clothing than was absolutely necessary.

After a time there were laws made to protect the redemptioners. One of these was, that any person sold after he was seventeen years old could not serve for more than four years; and another provided, that, when a redemptioner's time of service had expired, his master should give him "two good suits of clothing, suitable for a servant, one good ax, one good hoe, and seven bushels of Indian corn."

But although the redemptioner sometimes fared very badly in the new country, it often happened that he came out very well in the end. Among the white people who came here as slaves there were often convicts and paupers; but even some of these succeeded in bettering their condition and establishing themselves as good citizens, and in founding families.

It often happened that some of the Germans who came to buy land and settle, chose rather to put away their money, and sell themselves as redemptioners to English families, so that they might learn the English

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language and manner of living. Then, when they had educated themselves in this practical manner, and their time of service was over, they could buy land, and establish themselves on terms of equality with their English neighbors.

But the trade in redemptioners gradually decreased; and by the middle of the eighteenth century there were not many of them left in New Jersey, although there were a few in the State until after the Revolution. Negro slavery, however, continued much longer. It grew and flourished until it became a part of the New Jersey social system; but it must not be supposed that all the people of the State continued to be satisfied with this condition of things.

At first everybody who could afford it owned slaves, and the Friends or Quakers bought negroes the same as other people did; but about the end of the seventeenth century some of these Quakers began to think that property in human beings was not a righteous thing, and the Quakers of New Jersey united with those of Pennsylvania in an agreement recommending to the members of the Society of Friends that they should no longer employ negro slaves, or, if they thought it best to continue to do this, that they should at least cease to import them.

A strong party among the Quakers of New Jersey opposed slavery for many years, and the system was denounced at some of their yearly meetings; and this went on until about the middle of the next century, when a law was made that no person owning slaves should continue in the Society of Friends.

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As years passed on, people other than Quakers began to consider slavery an injustice and an evil; and this feeling gradually increased, until in the beginning of the nineteenth century it became very strong, and in 1820 an act was passed by the Legislature for the emancipation of the slaves. They were not set free all at once, and turned into the world to take care of themselves; but a system of gradual emancipation was adopted, by which the young people obtained their freedom when they came of age, while the masters were obliged to take care of the old Negroes as long as they lived. By this plan, slavery was very gradually abolished in New Jersey, so that in 1840 there were still six hundred and seventy-four slaves in the State; and even in 1860 eighteen slaves remained, and these must have been very old.

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