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 For the whole scoop on this historical document and a link to the online version of the original, see my Part One posting with transcription of slave births.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

Manumissions

  • 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.

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