Slave Manumissions and Certificates of Freedom, 1800-1825

This is Part Two of my paraphrased transcription of the Town Book for Castletown For the Entry of Black Children. For the whole scoop on this historical document and a link to the online version of the original, see my Part One posting with transcription of slave births. In this post, I’m describing the records of adults that are found in it (even though it’s called the Children’s Book).

Town Book for Castletown For the Entry of Black Children


  • John Corsen, heretofore the slave of Hendrick Garretson, farmer, who he agreed to manumit, is under fifty years and of sufficient ability to provide for himself, 29 Jan 1800. Attested to by Tunis Egbert & John Dorsett, Overseers of the Poor, and Benjamin Parker, Justice. (p.14)
  • Samuel Brice, about forty years of age, was freed by Thomas Hazard on 9 Dec 1825. The Overseers of the Poor, John Barnes and Garrett Martling, examined him and certified that he is able to support himself by his labor. (p. 33)

Certificates of Freedom and Eligibility to Vote

The following entries all occurred on 24 Apr 1811.  These aren’t manumissions but legal certifications that free blacks were indeed free. It seems they were filed in response to a New York State law passed on 9 Apr 1811, an “Act to prevent frauds and perjuries at elections, and to prevent slaves from voting.” This law was a voter suppression effort passed in reaction to the 1799 Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery. The law stated:

 “it shall and may be lawful for every black or mulatto person within this state, to make and exhibit proof…of his freedom, such proof to be reduced to writing [in court]… [The judge or recorder] shall certify the same in writing, stating therein a brief description of the person so adjudged to be free, his age, the place of his birth, and the time when he became free, as nearly as the same can be ascertained, and it shall be the duty of the said black or mulatto person to cause the said proof to be filed, and the certificate … to be entered of record … and a copy of the said record… shall be the certificate of freedom required by the preceding section, to be produced at all such elections, and unless such certificate shall be produced, no black or mulatto person shall be permitted to vote at any such election…”

The following certificates were all dated 24 Apr 1811:

  • Henry Ryes, born in the town of Northfield, 22 years of age, obtained his freedom 24 Apr 1811.  David Mesereau, Judge of the Court of Common Pleas (p. 16)
  • Joseph Ryers, former slave of Gozen Ryers whose will specified that he should be freed. David Mesereau, Judge of the Court of Common Pleas (p. 17)
  • The above Joseph Ryers, in turn, frees his own son Harry, also on 24 Apr 1811.  David Mesereau, Judge of the Court of Common Pleas (p.18)
  • Two more black men, Joe and James, also slaves of Gozen Ryerrs, deceased, are certified free by Jonathan Lozier, Surrogate for the Estate of Ryerrs  (p.18)

The Election

On the very last page of the book, there is a long paragraph of very faint writing (probably pencil) that is undated and unsigned.  It records the location of polling places in an upcoming election for a “Person to Represent the County of Richmond in Assembly,” probably the same election for which the certificates above were filed.

“The poll of said election will be held at the house of Thomas Hazard on Monday the tenth of November at the hour of ten o’clock in the forenoon, on Tuesday at the house of Danz’d Barger at the hour of ten o’clock, on wennsday at the house of Vincent Bodine at ten o’clock.”

Slave Birth Records in the Town of Castleton, 1799 -1824

I was totally blown away to discover this historical document online! In years of researching Staten Island records I have not come across a copy of this: a digital image of the Town Book for Castletown For the Entry of Black Children. It’s online in the collection of the New York Historical Society Museum and Library.

Town Book for Castletown For the Entry of Black Children

You probably know how rare it is have birth records for slaves.  Here is the story: in 1799, the New York Legislature passed “An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery” which phased out slavery over time. All children born to slave women after July 4, 1799 would become free at a certain age: males at age 28 and females at age 25. To comply with this law, owners were required to legally record all slave births in order to document their eligibility to become free.  So this is that record for the town of Castleton on Staten Island. (There is also mention of the Town of Northfield in some of the records).

Many of the birth entries appear to be handwritten by the mother’s owner, who would have also owned the child. The wording and the details given in an entry vary depending on the writer. Most of the entries mention the child’s mother’s name, and some also give the father’s name and his owner’s name. The births are not recorded strictly in order of occurrence, as some reporting was delayed.  Here’s an example entry:

I do hereby certify that a male negro child named Nicholas the Father of whom named Sam belongs to me, and the mother named Bett belongs to Cornelius Cruser, was born In my House at Castletown the eight day of may in the year of our Lord one thousand Eight hundred, and I request that this return of the Birth of the said child may be Entered agreeable to the directions Contained In a late act for the gradual Abolition of Slavery. Castletown January 15th., 1801, John Mercereau

And the book also contains records of manumissions during this time period!

Unfortunately, the document is not searchable or printable. Because it’s so priceless, I decided to transcribe it here. There’s a lot of information, so this post will be Part 1 of a 2-part series. Below are birth records; I will do the manumission records in a second post.

Continue reading

Irish Immigrant Missing Friends Notices for Staten Island

Before text messages and Twitter, before telephones and televisions, there was only one way to broadcast a message publicly: through a newspaper.

During the great wave of Irish immigrants to America, people often lost track of each other: because word of their whereabouts hadn’t reached home to Ireland; or because family members journeyed separately, hoping to meet upon arrival; or because people who made the journey together got separated, often when one was detained in quarantine at Staten Island.

In October 1831, an advertisement appeared seeking the whereabouts of Patrick McDermott, whose wife and family had just arrived from Ireland and could not locate him. This became the start of a regular “Missing Friends” column in The Boston Pilot, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston. The column continued to run for ninety years (1831-1921).

Free Download

The advertisement records records are available online in a number of places. Each database differs in the way they present the data; and I’m not sure if any are complete.

Selected Abstracts of Boston Pilot Ads for Staten Island free [PDF]

I’ve searched the records and extracted those that mention Staten Island specifically. The details I provide for each record are merely a subset of what is available; just enough to get you started, so you will definitely want to check the following resources.


  • Boston College Information Wanted Database – free to search and view 40,892 record abstracts.
  • New England Historic Genealogical Society Irish Immigrant Advertisements The fully transcribed text of the advertisement is displayed. This database appears to have a smaller number of records.  Access is free, but you have to create a guest account to view the record detail.
  • Ancestry has announced it will index and add this collection soon. Presumably, this would include images –whether of the originals or the just the transcriptions in book below is not clear – and this will be for paid subscribers.
  • The authoritative reference is The Search for Missing Friends, an eight-volume set published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society. It includes a detailed analysis of the data, and scholarly information about  the advertisements.

The Republic of Staten Ireland

Irish Fair June 8-9, 2013 to benefit St.Columcille Irish Cultural Center

Irish Fair June 8-9, 2013 to benefit St.Columcille Irish Cultural Center

Special dispensation – nay, a societal obligation — to consume large quantities of green beer every March 17 comes to everyone with Irish heritage.

Thanks to my third great-grandfather Michael Wheeler (1808 – 1899), who immigrated to Staten Island and peddled dry goods, I gleefully escape the more sober obligations of my mostly Dutch family tree. One does what one can to preserve history.

I like to believe that Michael tipped a pint or two with this chum, who would have been his contemporary, and maybe a friend:


New York Tribune, Apr 16, 1900

“Richard Monahan, of Oak Street, Rosebank, Staten Island, who celebrated his one hundredth birthday anniversary on St. Patrick’s Day, died on Saturday night at his home.  Monahan was born in County Cork, Ireland, and came
to America when a boy. He was married in New York on St. Patrick’s Day, seventy-five years ago, and shortly after moved to Staten Island with his bride. He occupied the house where he died during all those years…In his earlier days, Mr. Monahan joined the army, and was with General Jackson in the Indian War in Florida. He was an inveterate smoker, and insisted upon having a new clay pipe every day. He was an ardent Democrat. He often expressed a desire to live until Ireland should be free. Monahan had two daughters, eleven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Imagine: a childhood transatlantic crossing to a foreign land was not enough excitement; so he went off to fight the Indians.

I shall have to rethink my slothful ways, and my loathing of I-95, I suppose.

The first Irishman to make his mark on Staten Island was probably Thomas Dongan. He was made the first governor of the province of New York under the English (about whom I shall complain loudly, but that’s another post). Dongan was born in 1634 in Castletown Kildrought, County Kildare, Ireland. He received a land patent on Staten Island, where his estate became known as Manor of Cassiltowne – which became the Town of Castleton.

The greatest number of Irish immigrants came to the Island during the Great Famine of 1845 – 1852. There was no Ellis Island, no Castle Garden then. Ships arriving at the port of New York were inspected by medical officers from the Marine Hospital on Staten Island, and passengers who were unwell were detained in quarantine on Staten Island.  Many of them died there and were buried in unmarked graves.

Having lost so many of its own during The Great Hunger,  the government of Ireland is now reaching out to those of Irish descent and recognizing the Irish diaspora (I had to look up that word). This year, Ireland is making a special family history effort with  The Gathering – Ireland 2013.

The Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage. – Constitution of Ireland, Article 2

So once you solve your ancestral mysteries, be sure to apply to the Ireland Ministry of Foreign Affairs to receive your official, totally sanctioned and completely legitimate Certificate of Irish Heritage. They are 20% off until March 24.

Excuse me please. Off to buy green food coloring.

Second Asbury African Methodist Episcopal Grave Yard

Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries of Staten Island (FASCI) has posted a concise history of the fate of the Second Asbury African Methodist Episcopal Church and Grave Yard, including a list of plot owners and some burials. This was compiled from a combination of records obtained from various sources.

Sadly, the cemetery property was subject to extensive legal wrangling, because although burial records and maps prove that the property was used as a cemetery, the corporation that ran it apparently did not properly record the land use. This left it legally vulnerable to redevelopment, which, inevitably, occurred.

If you have any information on this cemetery, FASCI invites your contributions or corrections.