Happy February 1 and Happy Friday!
Now, let's look at an unhappy topic. Since Maggie and her family are from New Jersey, I’m going to turn to the topic of slavery in their (and my) home state.
In Wednesday’s blog, I noted that during the colonial and early federal era, northern and southern states embraced slavery. New Jersey was no exception. However, because slavery was not a crucial part of the economic engine in the north, a slow push emerged to abolish the institution. New Jersey chose to take a gradual approach to making slavery illegal. The process began in 1804 and continued until the abolition of slavery became permanent law in 1846. The forty-two-year process was accompanied by increasingly strict laws limiting the movement and activity of free and enslaved people of color. Statistical information from New Jersey Census tells the story of how slow this process was.
In 1790 New Jersey had a total population of 184,139 people: 169,954 of them were white, 14185 were black (almost 8% of the population), and 11,423 of that black people were enslaved. Enslaved people comprised 7.7% of the New Jersey’s total population, and 80% of the total black population.
By 1850 New Jersey’s total population was 489,555. Of these, 465,509 people were white, 24,046 were black (almost 5% of the total population), and 236 were enslaved. Enslaved people now comprised 4% of the total population and almost 1% of the black population. Of the 236 enslaved people remaining on the books, all but 28 of them were clustered in Bergen, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris & Somerset Counties. Although it had been made illegal in 1846 to own human beings, it did not mean that all people were free. This most likely was the case for elderly people and individuals who had been born to enslaved parents and required to spend the first quarter of their lives as “indentured.” Also, did you notice the drop in New Jersey’s total black population? The drop might be attributable to increased European immigration, people of color leaving the state for a more hospitable environment, and an 1808 law that prohibited the importation of kidnapped people from Africa.
The 1860 census showed that New Jersey contained 646,699 people, of whom 25,318 were black (almost 4% of the population). No slaves were listed by the census but there were 8 “apprentices for life” on record. Now, “apprentices for life” sounds suspiciously like just another name for slaves. The state had complicated laws regarding manumission and white property rights. The white residents of the state were uneasy about abolition and so New Jersey vigorously sought to protect their property rights, which included the rights of who owned other people. As mentioned in the above paragraph, manumission laws purposely were complicated, which explain why New Jersey could have eight people on the books as lifelong servants fourteen years after slavery had been made illegal.
Also, as in other parts the country, New Jersey passed laws seeking to control the movement and daily lives of people of color. These included laws that kept them from owning, inheriting, or purchasing land, or buying alcohol. If a freed black person came from into New Jersey another the state, then he or she could not travel in the state, and those who had been freed in New Jersey could not travel beyond the county in which they lived without proper manumission proper papers.
Clearly, New Jersey was not a bastion of freedom for people of color. And it is the world in which Maggie, Emily, Nate and the rest of my novel’s family and friends live.
Next week, I’ll dive into some basic information about the Underground Railroad, as well as information regarding the UGRR and its routes in New Jersey. At the end of this blog series, I’ll provide a list of references, should you wish to do further reading on the subject. Look for the list either on Wednesday or Friday of next week.
Have a great weekend, all!
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder