Records of Slavery and Emancipation
A BRIEF HISTORY OF SLAVERY IN NEW YORK:
Slavery was introduced into New Amsterdam by the Dutch West India Company (DWIC) in 1626. The first slaves were 11 men whose labor was owned by the DWIC and not by individual residents of the colony. The company desperately needed laborers to erect buildings, construct roads and grow food. Slavery continued uninterrupted until 1827.
In 1799 the New York State Legislature passed an “Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery” which granted freedom to all children born of slave women after July 4, 1799. However, the children were required to serve a period of indenture to the slave owner; males until the age of 28; females until the age of 25. After this period of servitude they would become free.
One of the requirements stipulated in the act stated:
That every person being an inhabitant of this state who shall be entitled to the service of a child born after the fourth day of July as aforesaid, shall, within nine months after the birth of such child, cause to be delivered to the clerk of the city or town, whereof such person shall be an inhabitant, a certificate in writing containing the name and addition of such master or mistress, and the name, age, and sex of every child so born, which certificate shall be by the said clerk recorded...shall be good and sufficient evidence of the age of such child …
As a result of this clause, records were kept of the birth of slave children. These records note the date of birth of the child and will sometimes include the name of the mother and/or the child. Enslaved individuals who were born before July 4, 1799 were not included in the 1799 act. This was addressed in 1817 when new legislation was enacted which freed the remaining slaves in 1827.
The emancipation of slaves did not occur solely as a result of legislation. Throughout the period of slavery, slave owners manumitted slaves and the enslaved purchased their freedom or the freedom of others.
Manumission papers, records of slave births, bills of sale and various ordinances and court records relating to the life of slaves can be found within the collections of the Municipal Archives. Finding Aids and microfilm are available in the Research Room in room 103. Records that have not been microfilmed must be requested by patrons in advance. Access to these records is dependent upon the condition of the records and is at the sole discretion of the Archivist.