Return to Long Island Genealogy
Any day of the eighteenth century the reader of a Long Island newspaper
might read such an advertisement as this: "For Sale, a middle-aged negro
woman brought up in this country is of an uncommon fine temper for one
of her color. Having lately become discontented with her present situation
is the sole cause of her being offered for sale." Or one might have seen
a notice of a slave who had run away from his master carrying with him
"his master's great coat and white cloth coat he used to wear in the church,
his gun, and other things not yet missed."
The present day Long Islander might be surprised at this evidence which shows that the institution of slavery was present here, for many Northerners seem to take it for granted that only the South was cursed with slavery. Actually, the population of New Amsterdam in 1700 was fifteen percent slave, a larger proportion than in Virginia at that time. " Whoever looks diligently enough, can find mention of slaves in the wills of old Long Island families, the Colonial Statutes of the Colony of New York, in the scrapbooks of Henry Onderdonk, in the old family histories like that of Adam and Anne Mott of Cow.Neck, old township records, and other such "original sources." The story of slavery is not told fully in any of them, but the scraps gleaned from each can be pieced together to make a comprehensive picture of slavery on Long Island, if not an entirely complete one. This is the story:
In the middle of the seventeenth century the colonists of Hempstead, Gravesend and New Amsterdam found that there were not enough people in the colony to fill their demands for house servants and Farm laborers. They asked the directors of the West India Company if they might bring young men as indentured servants from Europe in ships chartered for that purpose. The directors in Holland did not believe that this would fill the requirements and also believed that the cost of transportation would be too great. They were afraid, too, that trade, rival to their own, might be started and of course that would be contrary to the best interests of the Company. They suggested slaves from Africa and had already sent some, possibly from Virginia, when they wrote in 1646 that "We have seen that more negroes could be advantageously employed and sold than the ship Tamandare has brought." The first slaves direct from Africa arrived on August 6th, 1655 on the ship Witte paert. An ordinance put a ten percent tax on all negroes exported to other places beyond the colony of New Netherlands. In 1660 more were sent from Cenaco on the African coast on the ship Eycksenboom with these orders from the directors: "You must sell these at public auction to the highest bidder on condition that they are not to be carried from there but employed in cultivating the soil." Later, ships brought the negroes from the West Indies and Madagascar as well as the West coast of Africa.
Although this is the first official mention of sending slaves to help the farmers who settled in New Amsterdam, Benjamin F. Thompson, in his History of Long Island, wrote that slavery was introduced by the Dutch into this colony by 1626 if not sooner. There was slave traffic between Africa and Virginia and apparently some of the slaves were brought North. Besides, in the earliest days of the colony slaves were taken off Spanish prize ships and sold for pork and beans.
Slavery spread throughout the Island among all types of people. Even ministers and Quakers held them as personal servants or as laborers on their farms. The number of slaves a man owned was indicative of his wealth. The poorer families held one or two, and the more prosperous as many as eight. In 1698 there were 199 negroes out of a total Queens population of 3,565. The Hempstead census of 1722 shows that for 937 white men and women there were 192 slaves, for 954 white children there were 127 young slaves. Queens County had the largest slave population. The 1732 census of the whole Province lists 40,048 whites to 7,232 blacks. Queens had 1,064 slaves out of a population of 7,995, Kings 492 out of a total of 2,150; and Suffolk 601 out of 7,675. The 1723 census of Queens County enumerates 6,068 whites to 1,123 slaves. Breaking the figures down we find that there were 3,167 white adults and 687-negro men and women, 2,901 white children to 486 slave children. In 1749 the whites numbered altogether 6,617, and the blacks 1,323. Separated into age groups, of the adults 3,437 were white, 549 slaves; of the children 3,180 were white and 778 slaves. The census in later years shows that the peak of slavery must have been in the years between 1749 and 1790, and that after 1790 the number of slaves decreased rapidly. In Queens there were 2,039 slaves in 1790;.1,528 in 1800; 800 in 1810; 630 in 1814; and 559 in 1820. Other figures show that there were more men held as slaves than women. During the years 1824 to 1826 the traffic in negroes ceased altogether on Long Island, and by 1827 it was against the law to hold slaves. The public slave market at the foot of Wall Street slip was a busy place. Auctioneers shouted prices, urging higher bids in persuasive tones. Buyers-farmers from Long Island or, perhaps, the foremen of well-to-do plantations wandered through the crowds looking over the coal black newcomers from Africa, who were standing bewildered and dejected on the auction blocks. From the waterfront drifted the noises of sloops unloading, the chants of negro stevedores, the rumble of molasses kegs rolling down a gangplank, a sailor's fight before a tavern. And the singing of the anvil drifted up from the forge on the nearby Strand of the East River. In such an atmosphere the Africans found their new masters.
Sometimes the slaves were not taken to the market to be sold when a ship-came in from Africa, as this advertisement in a newspaper of 1762 testifies: "To be sold at Public Vendue, tomorrow, at Cruger's Warf, between 11 and 12 o'clock, on board the sloop Rebecca and Joseph, just arrived from Anambo in Guinea, a parcel of likely young slaves-men, women, and boys."
An Act of the Colony in 1753 put "a duty on the importation of slaves. "For every Negro, Mulatto or other Slave, five ounces of Sevil, Pillar, or Mexico Plate or Forty Shillings in Bills of Credit." If such a slave were ,imported from any other place into the colony the duty was four pounds sterling. The lower duty pertained to slaves who had been brought on ships which had made other stops on the way from Africa, if the Master swore that the negroes had not been put on shore along the way. A master traveling with his slaves did not have to pay the duty. A master settling in the New York Colony did not have to pay unless his slaves were sold here. If there was a dispute over the age of a negro child two Justices of Peace were to decided whether the little slave was under or above four years old.
The law continues: "It has been credibly represented that a great number of Slaves have clandestinely been imported into this colony both by Land and Water, to the great impairing of the Duty laid on them, and to the great Discouragement of fair Traders." The remedy was that on the payment of the duty the treasurer gave to the importer of the slave "a Certificate, that the Duty thereof is satisfied." The possessor of the slave carefully guarded the certificate for if he could not, produce it within ten clays public notice, a Justice of the Peace was authorized to sell the slave at public auction for the benefit of the colony.
Slaves who were not fresh from Africa were seldom auctioned off at the market but instead their masters advertised for buyers in the journals. Or, it was a custom, especially among the Dutch, for the owner to permit slaves who were offered for sale to select their new masters themselves. The owner would give the slave a slip of paper on which his age and price were written, and if he could find someone willing to buy him, he was sold. This was apparently a satisfactory method, although in the case of Kelso the master put too much faith in his slave. Kelso was given an eight day leave of absence in which he could look for a purchaser. His owner had to advertise for him as lost, adding that he "wore appletree buttons on his coat."
Slaves were very highly valued in the colonial days. In 1700 the high price was fifty pounds for a male and forty-five pounds for a female. Kings County records show that on December 16th, 1719, a negro wench and her child were valued at sixty pounds while five milch cows, five calves, three young bulls and two heifers were collectively worth only twenty pounds. In 1760 a negro wench was sold for sixty-seven pounds and ten shillings. The prices depended on the various qualities and capabilities of the slave. Naturally, the healthiest were the strongest and most valuable. Because of the dreaded epidemics of small-pox, a slave who showed the marks of that disease was more highly esteemed than one who had not had it. A slave just in from Africa, who could speak only "Black English" and was unacquainted with civilized ways was not so useful as the "likely" wench of twenty-two who "understood all kinds of housework."
One Long Island historian has written that "Slavery tainted free labor and made it undesirable, if not dishonorable." That might have been true in the city, where the slaves were mostly household servants or manual laborers of one sort or another; but on the farms on Long Island anyone who could do a good day's work was appreciated, and the family usually worked in field and kitchen along with the slave help. The farm hand might do such things, besides laboring in the fields, as caring for the horses and cows, working the dairy and mill of his owner. The women slaves were nurses, cooks and. kitchen help. Farm workers who showed intelligence might rise to managing the plantation.
Slaves working for a master who was in business generally had some special skill. Israel and Timothy Horsfield were butchers on the Brooklyn shore. Their three slaves, after helping them dress the meat, rowed it across the East River to New York, where they carried it in wheelbarrows to stands at Old Slip Market. Bob De Bevoise Iived where Columbia Heights is now and where the ferry from New York used to land. His "Black Peg" peddled hot corn and baked pears from his garden, gayly calling out her wares with this ditty
An advertisement in 1735 offered for sale the farm of the late Thomas Parmyter
at Whitestone opposite Frog's Point. With its twenty acres of clay-ground
"fit for making tobacco pipes" also went two negroes, utensils and "other
conveniences for carrying on that business."
The instrument which accompanied the singing and dancing was a "banjo drum."
It was made out of a hollow log with a skin of parchment stretched over
one end, and the other end open. The drummer beat on it with a stick. This
banjo drum was probably introduced from Africa by the Guinea negroes.
A country slave who could not get to the town gathering or perhaps did
not have a taste for dancing might enjoy a leisure hour on Long Island
hunting or fishing. The slaves were not allowed to carry firearms, but
such a rule as that did not stand in the way of an ardent hunter. Onderdonk
wrote that "the skunk he will leave to the negro, who dexterously kills
him, eats his flesh, and extracts from his fat a valuable domestic ointment
called `skunk's grease;' and highly esteemed." Every one to his own taste!
"Whereas I am informed that several negroes in Kings County have assembled themselves in riotous manner, which, if not prevented may prove of ill consequence; you and every one of you are therefore hereby required and commanded to take all proper methods for the seizing and apprehending of all such negroes in the said county as shall be found to be assembled in such manner aforesaid, or have run away or absconded from their masters or owners, whereby there may be reason to suspect them of ill practices or designs and to secure them in safe custody, that their crimes and actions may be inquired into; and if any of them refuse to submit themselves, then to fire on them, kill or destroy them, if they cannot otherwise be taken."The wording of these old laws and decrees is as definite and as forcefully spoken as one can imagine. A law of 1706 is very emphatic on the subject of prohibiting slave evidence in trials. "Provided always and be it declared and enacted, That no Slave, whatsoever, in this Colony, shall, at any time, be admitted as a Witness for, or against, any freeman in any Case, Matter, or Cause, civil or criminal, whatsoever."
1n 1700 the worthy legislators in Albany felt that an "Act for the suppressing of Immorality" was needed to correct the moral lassitude of the colony. A slave guilty of drunkenness, cursing or swearing, "or talking impudently to any Christian, shall suffer as many stripes at some public place," as a Justice of the Peace decreed, not exceeding forty lashes.
The most comprehensive act regulating the negroes was passed in 1730 and started out "whereas many Mischiefs have been occasioned by the too great Liberty allowed to Negro and other Slaves . . ." This attitude was probably stimulated by an attempted insurrection in New York City in 1712. The tension between the two races had been steadily growing and the whites were greatly alarmed by the rumor of an intended negro insurrection. During a riot a house was burned and several white men were killed. The affair was quickly suppressed with the prompt execution of twenty-one negroes. Six others killed themselves. The whites may have imagined most of the evidence of a premeditated plot, but in any event such an affair made the frightened slave owners ask for protection from their slaves. Here is a resume of the important Act of 1730:
The penalty for trading with a slave was treble the value of the article, besides a sum of five pounds sterling for the master. It was lawful for any master or mistress to punish slaves for their crimes, at their discretion, "not extending to Life or Limb."
Since the number of slaves was increasing and they might congregate to make plans for running away, it was unlawful for more than three slaves to meet together at any time. The penalty was being whipped "upon the naked back" not more than forty times.
"In case any slave shall presume to assault or strike any Christian or Jew," two Justices of the Peace could place him in jail for not more than two weeks and inflict not too severe corporal punishment.
No one was to "employ, harbour, conceal or entertain" another man's slave without the consent of the master. The forfeit was five pounds for every twenty-four hours, although the penalty was not to exceed the value of the slave. If the master of a bad slave did not punish him the master would have to pay, twice the sum the misdoer should have. Freed slaves who entertained slaves had to pay the master ten pounds for every twenty-four hours the slaves were harboured.
Since slaves were property it was detrimental to the masters for them to be subject to the strict English crimnal laws. So if the slaves stole or committed other small crimes, the master was to pay the court a fine of five pounds.
This law of 1730 reiterated the earlier provision prohibiting slave evidence at trials, adding that the slaves could testify against each other only in "cases of plotting or Confederacy among themselves, either to run away, kill or destroy their Master, or others, burning Houses, Barns, Haystacks, or killing cattle." If the slave committed any of these crimes his punishment was to be death. Three or more Justices of the Peace, together with five freeholders of the country were to try the slave, without any action from a Grand Jury. The verdict reached by seven members of the tribunal decided his fate. If the master wished it, the slave might be tried before a jury of twelve. Owners of executed slaves were to be paid not more than twenty-five pounds.
It was unlawful for a slave to carry arms, a club or any kind of weapon.
A slave could not be freed unless the master entered into bond for two hundred pounds, so that the slave wouldn't be a burden on the town.
The law established in every town the office of the "common Whipper" whose duty it was to whip the slaves guilty of slme offense. The whipper was paid his salary by charging three shillings of the master of each slave whipped.
In 1773, another law made it illegal for a tavernkeeper to sell "spirituous liquor" to any slaves without their master's consent. This was such a grave offense taht the license of an innkeeper could be suspended as a penalty.
How well these laws were executed on Long Island I don't know, but there is much evidence to show that the laws were necessary. The least harmful of a slave's misdemeanors was to run away. Onderdonk's scrapbooks are full of little advertisements for runaway slaves. The master of one wrote that his slave had "often tried to go to sea," Another runaway was identified as a Guinea-born negro, branded on the breast with three letters. He spoke good English, and was "a great talker." Pompey had "a down look when spoken to and his shows tied with strings." Another "pretends to be free," while still another "is fond of strong liquor and gets drunk as often as he has opportunity."
When a runaway slave was found such a warrant as this was written to insure his safe return to his master: "Upon notice given unto mee, by Mr. Allard Anthony (Scout of this town) That the Negro Servent by him lost, is found and secured by you; These are therefore to require you to deliver the said Negro into the Custody of the Bearer hereof, his messenger. And all necessary Charges by you expended, shall bee defrayed by him, And for the doing whereof this shall be your Warrant."
On November 27th, 1780, Daniel Colden of Flushing placed this revealing advertisement in the local newspaper: "To be sold, a healthy negro man and woman, neither in the least infatuated with the desire of obtaining freedom by flight, which so unhappily reigns throughout the generality of negroes at present."
The pieces which Onderdonk cut from old newspapers don't stop at such mild exploits as running away. At Newton, in 1793, Absalom assaulted a spinster and stole a ring and earring from her. The slave was hung on the Hempstead Plains for the murder of another negro. It was said that Than was so jealous of his fellow farmhand that he killed his rival with a hoe in a cornfield. Onderdonk remarked, "It was generally supposed that Than was a fit subject for the pardoning power, but men were not so tender in those days as at present."
In 1707 at Newton, the Hallet family, a man, his wife and their five children were murdered one night by their two slaves. They confessed, saying they had committed the crime in revenge, because they were not allowed out on Sunday. In 1772 Mr. Nathaniel Brewster ordered a negro to clear a piece of ground. He had to reprove the slave and struck him with a cart whip. The negro knocked Brewster down so hard that he died and the next day, after a short trial, the negro was hanged. In still another case, two slaves, Nelly and Sarah, were hanged for setting fire to the house of the Town Clerk of Flushing, John Vanderbilt. . The town records were lost in the fire.
It was not only from such isolated cases that the blacks got the reputation for trouble-making. I have already alluded to the insurrection in 1712 but that was nothing compared to the upheaval of 1741. Some goods and silver were stolen from a New York merchant, and an indentured servant girl; Mary Burton, told where they were hidden. She was arrested and promised her freedom if she would tell all she knew. Several negroes were arrested. A few weeks later the governor's house was burned to the ground, and dozens of other fires followed. The people of New York were ready to believe the rumor that the negroes had plotted to burn the city so negroes were seized indiscriminately and thrown into prison. It will never be known if Mary Burton really was telling the truth when she incriminated dozens of people, mostly slaves. One of the whites hanged was John Ury, an Episcopal dominie, accused of being an emissary of the Jesuits, sent to stir the negroes to revolt. In all, from May 11th to August 29th, 154 negroes were put in prison, fourteen burned at the stake, eighteen hanged, and seventy-one transported. Within the same time twenty-four whites were imprisoned, four of them executed.
The terror of the New Yorkers over the affair spread to Long Island for it was supposed that the Island negroes joined the City ones in the plot. The country slaves were forbidden to mingle with the city ones. Onderdonk reports that several arrests were made on Long Island on this sort of evidence:
"Will said to Robin, `What think you of Corlear's Hook or the Plot? 'D--n it,' replied Robin, `I'll have nothing to do with it or say to it, if they (the slaves) will put their fingers in the fire they must feel the pain; let them go on and prosper."'On "this very slim evidence one Long Island slave, Doctor Harry, was hanged and two others transported.
It is obvious that the slaves needed protection against the whites as well as the whites against the slaves. After committing a misdemeanor the slaves were given an immediate trial, as the law demanded. It could hardly have been very fair for the slaves seldom had counsel, and the Justices of Peace and freeholders were not apt to be sympathetic. A man named Ceasar was hanged for robbery, and another was executed at Jamaica in December, 1826 for the same crime. Onderdonk's clippings seldom mention that a white man was punished for the murder of his slave. In 1788, John Allen of Flushing, was indicted for killing a negro slave "by chance medley." Allen had lost some money and tortured and flogged the slave until he finally died. Allen was not punished. Mary, a negro child, died of head wounds which were inflicted by her master during a punishment.
The worst treatment the negroes could be given was torture when they were being executed. The purpose was to terrorize the other slaves into good behavior. Onderdonk describes the method of torture used in the early 1700's: "The executions were by fire, which was the usual punishment of slaves convicted of capital crimes in those dark ages. The criminal was chained to a stake with light wood thrown around him. If the torture was to be prolonged then green wood was used, and the executioner supplied him (the author writes "tempted" in another place) with water to quench his thirst, by means of a cow-horn fastened to the end of a pole." Writing of another case, Onderdonk explained that "It was not unusual to hang up negroes in a wooden frame so that they might die of starvation and their carcasses be devoured by birds of prey."
To return to more pleasant subjects, there are several interesting stories about the part the slaves played in the American Revolution.. A law passed by the New York legislature in 1775 stated that "in case of an Alarm or actual Invasion" of New York, every man holding an able manslave was to deliver him to an officer appointed for that purpose, "every such slave to be employed at the Artillery of the several fortifications." The master had to pay a fine of forty pounds if he did not surrender his slave. If the slave was killed six freeholders of the town decided the value of the slave and that sum was paid to the owner. A slave who voluntarily enlisted as a rebel with his master's consent, was rewarded with his freedom. The legislators were afraid that some slaves might take advantage of the uncertainty of the war so they included the following precautionary measures in the law: "In case of any Alarm or Invasion, the Captain or other Officer . . . shall appoint and leave such proper Detachment of his Company as he shall judge necessary to guard against an Insurrection of the Negroes." Besides, a slave above fourteen years old "in time of Alarm or Invasion" could be shot if he were found a mile or more from his master's house without a note from the master telling why he was away from Rome.
If the owners were Tories then the slaves probably had to follow their master's bidding. The wife of John Rappelje, who lived in Newton, kept right on drinking tea so the rebels sent a cannonball through her house. For revenge she used her feminine wiles to discover when the defeated army of patriots was crossing the East River to New York. She sent her Dutch speaking negro slave out of the rebel camp to General Howe's headquarters. It was lucky for the Americans that the slave fell into the hands of some Hessians who couldn't understand him. By the time the negro was taken to Howe the entire American army had escaped.
Two slaves became the heroes of Flatlands when a roving band of British soldiers attacked their master's house. The soldiers knew that old Jan Ditmars was a rich man, and they had heard of a valuable treasure of gold hidden in his house. So one dark night several soldiers forced their way into the house. Jan's wife, and his son, Johannes, were there alone, and they were pinned under a featherbed while the soldiers pried open chests and cupboards, looking for the treasure. Old Cominey and Cuff, the slaves, were sleeping in the attic, but the noise of the commotion downstairs woke them up. They picked up some old blunderbusses and clattered down the backstairs, hoping to make enough noise so that the soldiers would think they were outnumbered. The slaves scared them away, all but one, whom they caught and took to the town jail. The two Ditmars were rescued from the featherbed just before they smothered to death. The family gratefully took good care of Cominey and Cuff until they died.
Old Banjo Billy was a well-known patriot whom the British would like to have caught. Besides being a patriot he was an interesting character, who with his wife Jinny, was the slave of the Motts of Cow Neck. He was a very good banjo player, and could make his own out of gourds. Billy's pipes were funny little stubby things, which he said he smoked because a short pipe kept his nose warmer than a long one. Although his master was a Quaker, Billy was an ardent patriot, and had numerous exciting escapades. Many of the Long Island patriots along the North Shore used to smuggle goods into New York on whaleboats, and once one of the leaders, Cap'n Pete Davis, asked Billy to go along. At sundown of a moonless night two whaleboats quietly rowed along the rocks and islands of the shore toward New York. They made a portage across the narrow space in Frog's Neck, and crept past an English brig anchored off a point, without any mishap. The whaleboat men hid their boats in a creek at Wallabout and scattered so that they would not be obvious. They took the ferry from Brooklyn and spent the day selling their butter, eggs and berries. Old Billy found the opportunity to buy some powder and shot in readiness for the fall duck shooting, and as he said, "If I didn't shoot no ducks I might have to do some other shooting." At night the whaleboat men congregated again at the boats and started home. They were held up by one sailor who finally staggered along drunk and the sunrise came too soon for safety. An English brig chased them almost all the way home firing at them, but never getting the range on them accurately. It must have been some sight to watch the two little whaleboats staying out of the sailing ship's reach by the sheer determination which the sweating whaleboat men put into their straining oars! Just as the boats were entering their little harbor, one of the cannonballs struck a nearby rock and threw fragments over the occupants of one of the boats. A few seconds later the boats were safe: and, as one of the Motts, who had the story from Old Billy, later wrote, "No sooner did the keels grate upon the gravelly shore than the men dropped upon the thwarts utterly exhausted, and with regret it may be stated, in accordance with the belief of the day, each took a drink from the jug of rum under the delusive idea of deriving there from refreshment and strength." After a huge breakfast they went to sleep in Mott's barn (for although Mott was a Quaker, his sympathy was with the patriots) and Billy lived many years more to tell this exciting story over and over.
So far I have not specifically mentioned the slaves on Long Island other than the negroes. But there is quite sufficient evidence for believing that the negroes were not the only ones enslaved in the colony.
From 1644 until 1788, the laws of New York recognized Indians as slaves, for the regulations concerning slaves generally applied to "Negro, Indian, Mulatto and other slaves." Old documents and records also indicate that the Indians were bought and sold like other slaves. Onderdonk's Long Island In Olden Times mentions an Indian girl servant of Brookhaven in 1733. Another notice read that an owner had "sold and delivered Sarah ... an Indiane Garle about eight years daughter of an Dukas Indian woman, which said Sarah was my slave for her lifetime."
Here is another quotation from the records: "Sendeth greeting Know yee that I the sd. thomas hawarden for a Compttant sum of money to me in hand paid have bargained and sould and by these presenc doe bargain and sell unto Christifor Dene bucher one indian boy named will to have and to hould the sd. Indian boy to the said Christifor Dene his hairs Exseceters administraters or assigns for ever-"
An old Dutch law made on June twenty-third, 1663, stated: "To encourage the settlers to assist in the war against the Esopus Indians, the Governor promises them all the plunder they could gain, and whatever Indians they might take prisoners to be their slaves." In 1679 when Andros was the Governor of New York, a law was passed which altered the situation - "That all Indians here have always been and are, free, and not slaves, except such as have been formerly brought from the bay (of Campeachy) or other foreign parts. But, if they shall be brought hereafter into government, within the space of six months, they are to be' disposed of, as soon as may be, out of the government. But after the expiration of the said six months, all'that shall be brought here from those parts and landed, to be free as other free Indians." According to Fernow's collection of colonial documents an act of the state provided for the freeing of the Indians in 1778.
There seems to be some disagreement among the Long Island historians about the Indians being slaves. Schultz stated that the Indians were very often bound out as youths and that a free Indian became an "uncommon sight" around Hempstead. Gabriel Furman admitted that there are regulations pertaining to them in the journals of the General Assembly of the province but he had not thought that the Indian character would "brook" slavery. Furman thought that the Indians alluded to were probably French Indians, captured by the Iroquois and sold to the English. Onderdonk confuses the issue further by reporting that Indians, halfbreeds or swarthy Spaniards were sold as negroes because slaves were so valuable.
On the material I have found it is impossible to come to any definite conclusions about Indian slavery on Long Island - except that it existed.
Besides Indian and negro slaves, white slaves were just as liable for sale. Such whites were generally indentured servants whose passages were paid for by a specified term of service in the colony. The directors of the Dutch West India Company sent over several boatloads of children from orphanages to be bound out. The colonists complained that such children were more accustomed to begging in the streets than doing a hard day's work. Later English prisoners convicted of political or criminal offenses were sold in the provinces at auction with the other slaves. These people were not always of a very satisfactory character either. Some bond slaves were natives of the colony who worked for a cooper, blacksmith, or other tradesman in return for board and the knowledge gained. When an apprentice had worked out his term he was given a new suit of clothes called his "freedom suit," a sort of diploma.
The full term of an indentured servant from Europe was five or six years. The owner and the servant would sign a pact like this one between John Bowne and James Clement, Bowne agreeing to pay half the passage "from ye place of embarkation to ye place of ye aforesaid mansion. In performance of ye promise by ye sayd James Clement ye aforesaid John Bowne do hereby bind myself, heirs and assigns to pay or cause to be paid to ye James Clement ye full quality of two hundred and forty pound weight of Tobacco, and sufficient to clothe him with two suits of Apparell, one fit to Labor, ye other fit to use on other occasions.
Some of these foreign servants were worth their passage to the owners. A notice of May thirteenth, 1751 reported: 'Any person desirous may be supplied with vases, urns, flowerpots, &c., to adorn gardens or tops of houses or any other ornament made of Clay by Edmond Armely at Whitestone - he having set up the potter's business by means of a German family that he bought, who are supposed by their work to be most in genious ever arrived in America,"
The New York Gazette of December twenty-fourth, 1767. ran this advertisement: "To be disposed of, the remaining time, being about three years, of three German servants, one baker by trade, one a butcher, and the other a laborer. They are very industrious, good men, whose honesty has been tried, and may be had on reasonable terms."
These people and the apprentices were not slaves in the same sense that the negroes were. They eventually regained their freedom, and in the meantime got something in return for their services. But as the following cintract shows, during apprenticeship they lost a great deal of their personal freedom.
John Englis, later a great shipbuilder at Green Point, apprenticed himself to a ship carpenter "to learn the art, trade and mystery of a ship carpenter, and after the manner of an apprentice to serve . . .for and during and until the full end and term of four years, two months and seven days next ensuing: during all which time the said apprentice his master faithfully shall serve, his secrets keep, his lawful commands everywhere readily obey: he shall do no damage to his said master, nor see it done by others without telling or giving notice thereof to his said master: he shall not waste his said master's goods, nor lend them unlawfully to any: he shall not comtract matrimony within the said term: at cards, dice or any lawful game he shall not play whereby his said master may have damage with his own goods, nor with the goods of others, without license from his said master, he shall neither buy nor sell: he shall not absent himself day or night from his master's service without his leave: not haunt ale-houses, taverns, dance-houses, or play houses: but in all things behave as a faithful apprentice ought to do during said term." In return the master promised to pay the apprentice two dollars and fifty cents weekly, and also forty dollars a year "which is in lieu of the meat, drink, washing, lodging, clothing, and all other necessaries."
A very interesting type of bond servant came from Nova Scotia. During the French and Indian War the British feared that the "neutral French" were conspiring against them and therefore distributed the Nova Scotians throughout the provinces. Longfellow's "Evangeline" told the story of some of the unfortunate French who were taken farther south, but some were also sent to the New York Colony. An act of the province in 1756 allowed for their well-being, empowering "the Justices of Westchester, Suffolk, Queens, Kings, and Richmond Counties respectively, to bind out such of his Majesty's Subjects, commonly called Neutral French, as have been removed from Nova-Scotia to this Colony, and distributed into the said Counties (a certain Number has been received into this Colony, poor, naked and destitute of every Convenience and Support of Life)." Those not yet twenty-one could be bound out to "reputable families" during which time they were "faithfully and industriously to discharge their services, as other indented Persons within this Colony." They could not be bound out if they were not a burden on the public, the act concluded. Onderdonk believed that this is the origin of the many familiar French names on Long Island-Fournier, Conihane, Legross, Chadoyne. It is very possible for nine of these neutral French were sent to Flushing alone.
Today few Long Islanders are aware that slaves were owned here, probably because slavery was abolished in New York State in the remote past, well over one hundred years ago. The movement to free the slaves was begun in the first quarter of the eighteenth century by the Quakers. This humane cause was aided by the fact that slavery was becoming unprofitable in the latter part of the colonial period, for, as one farmer put it, "The hogs have eaten all my corn, the slaves have eaten all my hogs, and all I've got left is niggers."
The Quakers were not always against slavery, the records of the Flushing Friends show; for, in 1684, one of the Friends bought a negro which he could not pay for. John Bowne and William Ricardson were appointed "to take ye charge in behalf of ye meeting, to procure the sum of money - the meeting doeth promise and Engage to ReImburs and pay the said sumb so procured." The first agitation by the Friends appears to have been at a meeting in Flushing in 1716. In 1718, William Burling published an address on the abolition of slavery which is probably the first anti-slavery publication in the country.
The meeting at Flushing in 1765 "dealt with" Samuel Underhill of New York, for importing negroes from Africa. He agreed to follow the Quaker principles. In 1775 a committee was appointed "to visit such Friends as hold negro slaves, to inquire into the circumstances and manner of education of the slaves, and give such advice as the nature of the case requires." The committee reported the next year that many Friends had slaves, that some were willing to free them, and others already had. Another committee was appointed "to labor with Friends who keep these poor people in. bondage, in the ability that truth may afford, for their release." The Quakers declared that they could "have no unity" with the slave-holders, and would receive none of their money. Later it was ordered that the Friends should not acknowledge, in anyway, that slavery was right.
Their attitude toward their slaves is shown in this manumission of a slave belonging to one of the Motts
"I, Phoebe Dodge of Cow Neck, having for some years been under concern of mind on account of holding negroes as slaves and being possessed of a negro woman named Rachel, I am fully satisfied it is my duty, as well as a Christian Act, to set her at liberty, and I do hereby set her free from bondage."Among the farmers who set their slaves free were the Gardiners of Gardiner's Island. These manumitted slaves settled near East Hampton in a village they called Freetown. They used to go back to work as laborers on the Island, and were often paid with suits of the homespun for which the island was famous.
The freemen also collected in Flushing because they knew of the kindness of the Quakers there. The town was full of aggressive lawless negroes "who hoped to secure the blessings of freedom without its responsibilities." Their wild dancing and drunken brawls led the young men of the town to form a vigilance committee, "The Rotten Egg Society," whose duty was just what the name implies.
A State law of March twenty-ninth, 1799, provided for the gradual abolition of slavery from the colony. To prevent freed slaves from becoming charges on the town, an investigation was required before the Overseers of the Poor would grant manumission. If the slave was under fifty and capable of supporting himself he could be freed. If he became a beggar his last owner was fined ten pounds sterling. All the births and names of the children of slaves were to be recorded in the books of the town clerks. In the first quarter of the 1800's there were sixty-five slaves freed in Hempstead. By the 1820 census in Brooklyn there were 657 free blacks and only 190 slaves left.
In March, 1817, an act was passed freeing all the slaves who had been born after July fourth, 1797, the males at twenty-eight years old, the females at twenty-five. Every child born in slavery after the passage of the bill was to be' free at twenty-one.
The last step was taken in ridding the state of slavery in 1827, when the state legislature passed a law prohibiting the holding of slaves in New York State. . So slavery disappeared from Long Island, leaving traces only in the documents and newspapers of old Long Island.
The material for this subject was scattered throughout twenty books, some
having little more than a sentence pertaining to slavery, others having
several pages. It is impossible to say that one book furnished the material
for one subject, another for some other subject, because, although each
book stressed one particular part of the whole story, every book had a
stray fact or two that can't be categorized.
[Note: Miss Hartell prepared this paper as a member of the History Seminar at Adelphi College, in the spring of 1943. It was published in the Nassau County Historical Journal, Fall Issue, 1943. It was generously provided to Long Island Genealogy by Van Field].