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Part 2 – Slavery in Early English East Jersey

Graham Hodges (1999:34-68) describes the early English period from 1664-1714 at the “closing vice of slavery.” He refers here to several developments that built on the Dutch commitment to slavery after 1640 in which the experience of African-descended people in New Jersey became ever more tied to the practice of slavery. This was made clear in the Articles of Capitulation that transferred New Amsterdam to the English. As Fishman (1997:27) puts it “this document … upheld the private property institution of slaveholding to the project of the English master and slave traders. It was a tactical thrust aimed at gaining the allegiance of the Dutch propertied classes in the colony. The burghers and the Dutch West India Company itself accepted the capitulation without firing a shot. The scent and prospects of profits were apparently stronger than loyalty to the Dutch flag.”

English settlers from Barbados

A second feature of the English system especially related to northern New Jersey was the arrival of large landowning settlers from Barbados. Barbadians were enticed by promises made by the English to provide 150 acres for each household head and another 150 acres for each manservant, which included slaves. As early as 1668, Governor Carteret granted enormous tracts of land between the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers to English Barbadian planters who had direct experience with single-crop plantation production based in slave labor. These include a tract of 5,300 acres of upland and 10,000 acres of woodland granted to William Sandford who was partnered with Major Nathaniel Kingsland. Kingsland never actually came to New Jersey, though his nephew Isaac Kingsland inherited his uncle’s property which provided a base for his rise to prominence in New Jersey politics. Sandford and Kingsland named the tract New Barbados and divided it between them, Sandford taking the lower third and Kingsland the rest. To gain title to the land from the Native Americans, “Sandford gave 170 fathoms and black wampum, 200 of white wampum” as well as clothing, weapons, liquor, blankets, and tools (Pomfret 1962:54). 

Other Barbadians who settled in northern New Jersey include Captain John Berry who acquired 10,000 acres, or six miles between the rivers above Sandford’s tract. Berry is reported to have “arrived with thirty-two black slaves, twenty of whom were involved in clearing only 2,000 acres.” Another Barbadian, Michael Smith, “came with twenty Black slaves to take up a grant of 2,000 acres.” Barbadians also settled in Monmouth County, which is where Lewis Morris settled and established the Tinton Iron Works, which was run by “sixty to seventy black slaves” (Fishman 1997:29).

The Barbadians who came to New Jersey were experienced planters with a direct familiarity with slave-based commodity production. They also were part of extended merchant families, who providing ties to Barbados itself as well as other sites across the emerging Atlantic world. Hack (2017:Ch. 2, 13-14) explains that: 

because of extensive deforestation, Barbados lacked wood to keep the sugar boilers running. And with little land available to grow foodstuffs, they were reliant on outside supplies. New Jersey, with its extensive forests and arable lands (especially in East Jersey), seemed to be an ideal feeder colony. The Barbadian migrants understood this well. Without these trade connections in the Caribbean, the economy of early New Jersey would have languished. Finally, with economic connections solidified, New Jersey residents had easier access to credit, which allowed them to purchase preferred, seasoned slaves. Ethnic Dutch also benefitted from the English Caribbean trade. With their land and chattel property secured, their commodities could now flow to a much wider market in the Caribbean and Europe. Ready markets and access to credit created a great deal of optimism. However optimistic farmers may have been in the area, they needed labor to fulfill their expansion.

Growth of slavery in English New Jersey

In just a few years after the Dutch capitulation that landscape of northern New Jersey changed dramatically and that a big part of this change was the arrival of a very large number of enslaved Africans brought to the colony by experienced planters. By one count, the number of slaves in East Jersey in 1680 was 120, which seems like an undercount, as this figure would rise to 1,500 by 1715 and again to 2,581 (8% of the colonial population) in 1726 (Hodges 2019:16). Wacker (1975:413-417) tabulated population figures for several early New Jersey censuses, which are transcribed in Appendix A. One point to note from these is the especially high figures for Bergen County where Negroes/slaves made up at least 18% of the population of the county up to 1810 and, except for 1745, almost 20% of all slaves in New Jersey. 

Most of the labor required was for agricultural production for both international and local trade. Hack (2017: Ch 2, 23) writes that “A Brief Account of East Jersey (1682), noted the economic possibilities as ‘oak for timber…and all sorts of English grain…Indian corn…[and] flax and hemp.’ It goes on ‘[a] great plenty of horses, and also beef, pork, pipe staves, boards, bread, flour, wheat, barley, rye, Indian corn, butter, cheese, which they export for Barbados, Jamaica, Nevis, and other adjacent Islands, as also to Portugal and Spain and the Canaries, &ct.  Their whale oil and whale finns, beaver, mink, and raccoon and martin skins they transport to England.’ Hodges (1999:47) suggests that by 1700, East Jersey was also serving as an agricultural hinterland, supplying growing urban population in New York with food and fuel. Along with local farming, this remained the focus of African labor in the colony. 

Slave Laws

The growing number of enslaved Africans in the colony came concurrent with laws meant to control this population. The first of these slave codes was passed 1682. Among the provisions this Act required “That all Masters and Mistresses having Negro Slaves, or others, shall allow them sufficient Accommodation of Victuals and Cloathing” (Axel-Lute 2005 – full text of this and other New Jersey laws related to slavery and free people of color are reproduced in Appendix B). The same Act referenced runaways with promises to double the time in servitude and to fine any who helped them. The 1682 act also forbid sales or purchases of goods from slaves, specifically as a reference to slave theft. Fishman (1997:42) notes that the payment offered for the whippings shows that “the ideology of white supremacy moved from an impulse behind the legislation to into the legislation itself.” 

A second law passed in 1694 restricted the use of guns by slaves. The next year, in 1695, the legislature of East Jersey passed a law regarding the jury trial and punishment of slaves accused of murder or livestock theft. These laws indicate that slaves were actively resisting the restrictions of their captivity by running away, stealing from their masters, perhaps threatening people with firearms, and murder. Instances of retaliation by whites for these acts are also recorded. Hodges (1999:52) reports that in 1680 several Negroes were “whipt 20 lashes a piece” for allowing hogs under their care to damage the property of a Col. Lawrence. Other more vicious responses also occurred in New Jersey. Convicted of arson, Cuffy was executed, disinterred, and hung in chains (Hodges 1999:53). Quack, convicted of stealing “was sentenced to be dragged along by a cart and at eight different locations in Hackensack, Bergen County, to be whipped precisely 117 times” (Fishman 1997:46). Jeremie and Agebee were hanged and Oliver whipped in 1695 after being convicted of killing Lewis Morris of Passage Point. During the brief trial, it was established the slaves were exacting revenge themselves as Morris had killed a slave woman they knew, though he was never punished. A gruesome death was ordered for Caesar, convicted on murder in Monmouth County in 1694. The judge’s sentence ordered that Caesar be brought to the place of execution, “when thy right hand shall be cut off and burned before thine eyes. Then, thou shalt be hanged by the neck until thou art dead, dead, dead; then thy body shall be cut down and burned to ashes in a fire” (in Fishman 1997:45).

After the turn of the 18th century, the slave codes became more focused and harsh. The 1704 Act for Regulating Negro, Indian and Mallatto Slaves within this Province of New-Jersey firmly established a collective white authority over virtually all aspects of slave life from movement to socializing to sex to trade to religion. Notably, a provision for the castration of rapists and fornicators of white women was disallowed by the Privy Council in London in 1709. 

What little freedom black people could envision was ultimately shut down in 1713 by a new set of laws in New York and New Jersey passed after a slave revolt in 1712. On April 1, black people in New York set a house on fire. When whites came to put it out, they discovered these African Americans standing in the streets who “shot down and stabbed as many as they could” (in Hodges 1999:65). Eight whites were killed and 12 more injured. Terrified of the possibility of another revolt, colonial legislators acted quickly with stricter laws to control the enslaved. New Jersey’s 1713 Act for Regulating of Slaves reproduced much of the language of the 1704 Act but added new provisions regarding compensating slave owners for executed slaves, insults and restrictions regarding free blacks, and required bonds for manumissions. Not included in the full text of the Act is a statement in the preamble that describes free Negroes of the colony as “Idle, Slothful people who prove very often a charge on the place they are” (in Hodges 1999:67). This sentiment was then materialized in a prohibition of any further land acquisitions by free blacks and the attachment of a £200 security and a L20 annual fee to any manumissions. Hodges (2019:19) concludes that this law “made emancipation for New Jersey blacks very difficult and expensive. The slave code meant that the New Jersey government supported human bondage completely.” In other words, the vise of bondage and racism was closed as tight as could be.