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Stories of New Jersey
The Slaves Of New Jersey
(Period, 1626-1860.)

By Frank R. Stockton

Originally published in 1896
This Web version, edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003

WE have so long looked upon New Jersey as prominent among what were called the "free States" of the Union, that it now seems strange when we consider, that among the first of the institutions established upon its soil by the early settlers, was the system of slavery. This was the case not only in New Jersey, but in all the American Colonies. The settlers of New England, as well as those of the Southern Colonies, used negro slaves as laborers on their farms; and the trade in native Africans was a very important branch of industry

The Duke of York, to whom his brother, Charles II., had made a grant of extensive American possessions, was at the head of the African Company, formed for the purpose of bringing slaves from Africa, and selling them. The Dutch were then the great rivals of the English in this trade; and the Duke of York was very glad to possess New Jersey and the rest of his grant, for then he could not only oust the Dutch from the territory, but could possess himself of this very desirable and profitable slave market.

But it was not only the English and Dutch who brought negro slaves to America, for it is stated that the earliest Swedish settlers brought slaves with them as laborers. So we may say that slavery and freedom were planted together in this country of ours; one to be pulled up afterward like a weed, the other to be left to grow and flourish.

When Berkeley and Carteret acquired authority over New Jersey, they did everything that they could to induce settlers to come to the new country; and, as they were anxious to have the lands opened up and cultivated as rapidly as possible, they encouraged immigrants to bring as many slaves as they could afford. They offered one hundred and fifty acres to every one who would settle, and another one hundred and fifty acres for every full-grown able-bodied male slave, and seventy-five acres each for those not grown up. Afterwards, when slaves became more numerous, the bounties given on their account were diminished, and in course of time they ceased altogether.

A great many slaves must have been brought direct from Africa to New Jersey, for at Perth Amboy there was established what was then called a barracks; and in this, negroes who had been brought in the slave ships were confined until they were sold and sent out into the country.

Not only were there negro slaves in the State, but there were also Indians who had been enslaved, and were regularly sold and bought. How these red men happened to be slaves, we do not certainly know; but we may be very sure that the whites did not make war upon Indian tribes, and capture prisoners, for the purpose of making slaves of them. It is far more likely, that, when one tribe of Indians made war upon another, the conquerors found it a very profitable thing to sell their prisoners to the whites. There is no reason to suppose, however, that the natives made war on purpose to capture and sell their fellow-countrymen, as was the case in Africa.

The early records, however, prove that there were Indian slaves. When the House of Representatives for the Province met at Burlington in 1704, an act was brought before that body for the regulating of Indian and negro slaves.

Negroes were then considered to be such legitimate articles of merchandise, that English sovereigns thought it very necessary to see to it that their loyal settlers were sufficiently supplied with slaves, and at prices not too high. When Queen Anne sent out Lord Cornbury as governor of the Province, she recommended the Royal African Company to the especial attention of the governor, that New Jersey might have a constant and sufficient supply of merchantable negroes at moderate rates in money or commodities. In consequence of the fostering care of the Proprietors and the English sovereigns, slaves rapidly increased in New Jersey.

The English themselves were not at all averse to the ownership of a good serviceable slave; and about the middle of the eighteenth century a young gentleman in England wrote to his father in New Jersey, begging that he might "be favored with a young negro boy to present to the brother of the then Duke of Grafton, to whom he was under obligations, as `a present of that kind would be-very acceptable.'"

Of course, the existence of slavery made the state f society in New Jersey and the other Colonies ery different from what it is now; and this difference is strongly shown by the advertisements of runaway negroes, which we can find in some old newsapers. It seems very strange to see in a Boston aper of one hundred years ago a picture of a black man running away with a bag over his shoulder, and under the picture the statement of the reward which would be given for his capture; and in the New Jersey papers there were frequent advertisements of runaway slaves and of negroes for sale. One of these, published in Burlington two years after the Colony had declared itself free and independent, reads as follows: –

TO BE SOLD – For no fault – but a saucy tongue for which he is now in Burlington jail – A negro man about 39 years of age. He is a compleat farmer, honest and sober. For further particulars enquire of the subscriber in Evesham, Burlington Co. Feb. 4, 1778.
When Washington was in Morristown in 1777, one of his aids wrote a letter to a friend in Elizabethtown, which states,–
The General will esteem it as a singular favor if you can apprehend a mulatto girl, servant and slave of Mrs. Washington, who eloped from this place yesterday, with what design cannot be conjectured, though as she may intend to the enemy and pass your way I trouble you with the description: her name is Charlotte but in all probability will change it, yet may be discovered by question. She is light complected, about thirteen years of age, pert, dressed in brown cloth wescoat and petticoat. Your falling upon some method of recovering her should she be near you will accommodate Mrs. Washington and lay her under great obligations to you being the only female servant she brought from home and intending to be off to-day had she not been missing. A gentle reward will be given to any soldier or other who shall take her up.

I am with respect your most obedient servant

After a time, negro slaves became so plentiful in New Jersey, that laws were passed restricting their importation, and a considerable tax was laid upon each African brought into the country.


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