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I was totally blown away to discover this historical document online!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.

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Historical Place and Street Names

Place Names and Nicknames Previous to 1898

First published in Ira K. Morris’ book, Memorial History of Staten Island,  this list of colloquial designations for locations on Staten Island prior to 1898 is useful for helping identify the present day location or equivalent.  It’s pretty comprehensive, but the list is specific to the era prior to the publication date, so it’s not going to include changes in the vernacular since then.

Street Name Changes

If you’ve identified the street your ancestors lived on, but can’t find it on a contemporary map, the street name may have been changed. Steve Morse’s website has a table of Staten Island Street Name Changes from 1900 to 1930.