Slave Codes

Slave Codes of New York

1627, August 29: The first enslaved African’s arrived in New Amsterdam aboard the Bruynvisch, “pinpointing exactly when the institution of Slavery was introduced into New Amsterdam and New Netherland.” (The First Arrival of Enslaved Africans in New Amsterdam by Jaap Jacobs, New York History, Volume 104, Number One, Summer 2023, Page 96-114)

First slave auction in New Amsterdam. Engraving after illustration by Howard Pyle, 1895.

1629: The Dutch West India Company declares that it will “endeavor to supply the colonists with as many [enslaved] Blacks as they conveniently can.” (Laws and Ordinances of New Netherland, 1638-1674)

1642: The Dutch West India Company institutes a punishment for drawing a knife against another person: the accused must pay a fine of 50 Dutch Gulden, or else “work three months with the Negroes in chains.” (Laws and Ordinances of New Netherland, 1638-1674)

1644: Upon the petition of eleven enslaved men to the Council of New Netherland, the Dutch West India Company granted their (and their wives’) manumission in exchange for thirty skepels of grain and “one Fat hog” to be paid per annum to the Company for the remainder of their lives; should one of the men default on this annual payment, he will be returned to enslavement.  Children of these men “at present born or yet to be born” will remain enslaved to the Company, and the freed men are obliged to work for the Company at any time it is requested. (Laws and Ordinances of New Netherland, 1638-1674)

First slave auction in New Amsterdam,”
Engraving after illustration by Howard Pyle, 1895.

Black slaves loaded onto a ship in 1881.”

1648: The Director and Council of New Netherland opens trade to Brazil and Angola, granting merchants the right to import enslaved peoples from Africa. The Council sends personal correspondence to Peter Stuyvesant imploring him to “seize on this opportunity as soon as possible.” (Laws and Ordinances of New Netherland, 1638-1674)

1648, October 6: Ordinance against Sheltering and Harboring Fugitives: “Whereas the honorable lord director general and councilors daily see and observe that some of the inhabitants of New Netherland shelter in their houses and living quarters the Company’s servants and other of their servants when the same run away from their lords and masters; also, those coming in from abroad from our neighbors, whereby giving many servants, when they are dissatisfied with their service, the means and the incentive to run away, which occurs daily; and whereas the honorable lord director general and councilors want to prevent and hinder the same as much as possible. Therefore, the honorable lord director general and councilors hereby notify and warn everyone against harboring and sheltering anyone bound to service, whether to the Company or to other private parties, living here or elsewhere, and against sheltering them no longer than 24 hours at the most; and if anyone is found to have acted contrary hereto, he shall forfeit a fine of f[florin] 150 (1 florin=2 shillings or 24 pence) as a fine payable to whomever shall make the complaint and it is applicable.”

“The steerage”, excerpt from “Plan and profile of the Marie-Séraphique”

1652: In an effort to increase productivity in the New Netherland colony, the Dutch West India Company sends a dispatch to Peter Stuyvesant granting colonists the right to “bring in their own ships from the coast of Africa, as many negroes as they shall have need of for the cultivation of the soil.” Enslaved cargo was to be taxed at fifteen guilders a head. (Laws and Ordinances of New Netherland, 1638-1674)

1663: The Company of Royal Adventurers of England Trading to Africa updates its charter to include provisions for exporting enslaved peoples from Africa. (Vivienne Kruger, Born to Run)

1664:  Following the Dutch Surrender of New Netherland to the English, the Company of Royal Adventurers of England Trading to Africa replaces the Dutch West India Company as the principal slave trader in New York. (Kruger, Born to Run)

1665: The Duke of York’s Laws become the first laws established by the British in New York. While they would not come into effect until 1674, they recognize both limited indentured servitude as well as lifetime servitude. In the interim, slavery exists in New York without express legal sanction. (Kruger, Born to Run)

1671: Upon a complaint to the New York Mayor’s Court that two free men of African descent (“Domingo and Manuel Angola”) have been entertaining enslaved peoples of New York, the Court declares that they are not to entertain any “servants or helps,” whether enslaved or free. If they are found to have entertained any of these peoples for greater than a period of 24 hours, their freedom may be forfeit. Domingo and Manuel are instructed to communicate this dictate “to the other remaining free negroes.” (Berthold Fernow, The Records of New Amsterdam from 1653 to 1674 Anno Domini, Vol. 6)

1672: The Royal African Company of England is chartered following the failure of the Company of Royal Adventurers. This new company is granted more extensive privileges than its predecessor, including the right to declare martial law in West Africa. (Kruger, Born to Run)

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. “Vue générale de New-York et Brooklyn. Prise au dessus de la Batterie” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1850-1879.

1682: Colonial authorities pass—for the first time—statutes specifically mentioning Black and Indian slavery as the Court of Assizes in New York City declares that “noe Negroe or Indian slaves within this Government” are henceforth allowed to leave their masters’ properties on the Lord’s Day “or Any Other Unreasonable time” without the written permission of their master. Punishment for violators of this statute included “Severe whipping,” and a fine to be paid by the enslaver. Additionally, this session of the court declares that a free person who acts to “Entertaine, Harbour, or Conceale” any enslaved person, or otherwise attempts to engage in trade with them, will be fined five pounds; half of this fine will be paid to the court, the other half to whosoever reports the crime. (Proceedings of the General Court of Assizes Held in the City of New York, October 6, 1680 to October 6, 1682)

1684: The New York Assembly expands legislation regarding the legal status of enslaved people, placing them within the existing legal framework “which [regulates] freemen and white servants.” Specific to enslaved people are statutes that forbid their trading and selling of goods; the institution of a five pound fine for any person who transports or harbors runaway enslaved people, and a daily fine of ten shillings paid to the enslaver for each day his enslaved property is held by another; limited protections for enslaved peoples against cruel treatment and inadequate care; and the institution of a hue-and-cry system whereby the enslaver of a runaway pays local law enforcement for the recovery of his lost property. (Oscar R. Williams, African Americans and Colonial Legislation in the Middle Colonies)

1695: The Governor and General Assembly of New York passes “An Act against profanation of the Lords day, called Sunday.” This act outlaws travel, commerce, and recreation on Sunday–government employees, postal workers, and non-Christian Native Americans excepted. Offenders–if white–are to be fined six shillings, or else sent to the stocks for three hours. If the offender is an “Indian or Negro slave or servant,” they “shall receive thirteen Lashes upon the Naked Back for each Offence Committed.” (The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution)

1702: A Proclamation Prohibiting the Entertainment of “Negers” – The New York Common Council passes a law, “A Proclamation Prohibiteing ye Intertainement of Negers.”  The law prohibited the sale of “White Rumm and other Strong Liquors” to Blacks.

1702: New York passes its first comprehensive slave code, consisting of six major clauses clarifying the legal status of the growing enslaved population of the province. 

  1. Free men are forbidden from engaging in trade with enslaved people at risk of being fined five pounds, plus three times the value of anything traded. Any “bargains or contracts” made with an enslaved person are declared legally void.
  2. Slave owners are granted the authority to punish their slaves in whatever way they see fit, barring any risk to life or limb.
  3. Enslaved peoples are forbidden from congregating in groups of more than three people, except in cases where it is required by their work or otherwise sanctioned by their enslaver. Violation of this statute can result in a punishment of up to forty lashes, which the new position of “Town Whipper” will be responsible for administering.
  4.  No enslaved person is to be allowed to be employed, harbored, concealed, or entertained by any person other than their enslaver, except in cases where their enslaver grants them written permission. Any person violating this statute will be fined 5 pounds for each day they are in violation, to be paid to the original enslaver, “if such slave shall happen to be lost, dead or otherways destroyed, such person or persons so harbouring, entertaining, concealing, assisting or conveying of them away shall also be liable to pay the value of such slave [to the enslavers].”
  5. As enslaved people “cannot without great loss or detriment to their Masters or Mistresses, be subjected to … the strict Rules of the Laws of England,” they are exempted from standard rule of law in cases of “Theft or other Trespass.” Instead, the accused will be fined 5 pounds, and be subject to corporal punishment as decided by a Justice of the Peace. 
  6. Enslaved people are no longer permitted to testify in a court of law, except in cases directly relating to another enslaved person. (The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution)

1705: In an effort to halt the flow of enslaved people escaping to Canada, it is decreed that any enslaved person found traveling more than 40 miles north of Albany (above the village of Saratoga) without the permission of their enslaver shall be jailed and executed. (The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution)

1706: Enslavers are encouraged to baptize their enslaved peoples should they so desire, but are cautioned against the “Groundless opinion” that, through baptism, an enslaved person may be set free, something the court declares to be explicitly false. Further, they clarify that any “Negro, Indian, Mulatto, or Mestee” child of an enslaved woman is to be considered enslaved at birth. (The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution)

1708: The Assembly passes “An act for Suppressing of Immorality,” which establishes a fine of three shillings for drunkenness, swearing, or cursing in public. However, every “Negro Indian or other [Slave]” that is found to be  in violation of this act, or found to have “talked impudently to any Christian,” shall be whipped as many times as the Justice of Peace sees fit, not to exceed forty lashes. (The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution)

1708: Responding to the murder of Queens resident William Hallett III, his pregnant wife, and their five children at the hands of his two enslaved people, the Assembly passes “An Act for preventing the Conspiracy of Slaves.” This act orders that any “Negro Indian or other Slave” found guilty of murdering, or plotting to murder, their master or any other non-black or free person, shall be executed by the state; “he, she, or they so offending shall suffer the pains of Death in such manner and such circumstances as the aggravation or enormity of their Crimes in the Judgement of the Justices aforesaid of those Courts shall merit and require.” This wording gave local justices tremendous latitude as to what methods of execution they would choose. As has been observed by legal scholars, this wording provided “….a euphemism for ‘to be burnt at the stake.’” The owner of the executed enslaved person is to be paid the value of their lost property, not to exceed 25 pounds. These trials are to be held in de-facto “slave courts,” where the accused will be tried solely by three Justices of the Peace, whose judgment cannot be challenged. (The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution)

1709: In “An Act for Laying a Duty on the Tonnage of Vessels and Slaves,” the Council establishes a duty of three pounds to be paid for each enslaved person imported into the Colony, whether coming from Africa, or elsewhere–likely meaning the Southern colonies, or the Caribbean. (The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution)

1709: In “An Act for Levying divers Sums of mony for defraying the Charge of this Colony,” the Assembly enacts a taxation plan for the Colony that includes a levy of two shillings to be paid for each enslaved person between the ages of 15 and 60. (The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution)

1711: In an addendum to “An Act for Laying a Duty on the Tonnage of Vessels and Slaves,” the Assembly gives the importer of an enslaved person a period of six days to pay the three pound duty, after which point authorities will requisition the enslaved person in question. If the owner does not pay the duty before three days after the seizure of their enslaved person, authorities then have the right to sell the enslaved person to the highest bidder. (The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution)

1712: In response to the New York Slave Revolt of 1712, after which 21 enslaved people were executed (twenty were burned alive, one killed on a breaking wheel), the Assembly passes “An Act for preventing Suppressing and punishing the Conspiracy and Insurrection of Negroes and other Slaves.” This act–known as the “Black Code”–reaffirms and expands upon the slave codes of 1702, allowing far greater control over the enslaved population of New York. Additions to the 1702 Code are as follows:

“Enacted that…upon complaint made to any one Justice of the Peace against any Indian Negro or Malatto Slave or Slaves who have or have supposed to have committed any of the Murders, Rapes, Mayhems, Insurrections, Conspiracies mentioned in this Act, the said Justice is immediately out his Warrant to the next Constable, to apprehend the said Offender or Offenders and for all any persons to come before him, that can give Evidence, and if upon Examination it appears that the person or persons apprehended are guilty, he shall commit him, her, or them to prison, and also shall certify to the next two Justices of the Peace the said Cause and to require them by Virtue of this Act to associate themselves to him…and they so associated are to issue their summons to five freeholders, acquainting them with the Cause and appointed them the time and place the same shall be heard and determined… the Justices are hereby impowered to appoint some person to prosecute the said Offender or Offenders, and the person so appointed shall prefer an Accusation in writing, specifying the time, place and nature of the offence as near and conveniently may be, to which Accusation the Offender or Offenders shall be obliged, to plead, and upon refusal to plead, the like Judgement shall be given against the person or persons so accused as if by Verdict or Confession, and upon pleading thereunto the Justices shall proceed to Tryall in conjunction with the said freeholders… to which freeholders no peremptory challenge should be allowed; and if upon hearing the Matter…. They shall adjudge the Negro, Indian or Malatto Slave or Slaves guilty of the offence complained of, they shall give Sentence of Death upon him, her or them…and by their Warrant cause immediate execution to be done by the common or any other Executioner in such manner as they shall think fit…[further enacted] if any [enslaver]…be inclined to have his [enslaved] tried by a jury of twelve men, it shall be granted…[such enslaver] paying the charge of the same, not exceeding the sum of nine shillings to the jury…and in such case there shall a precept be issued by the Justices to the next Constable to summon a jury of twelve men….and the justices shall proceed to Tryall by the said jury…(without a Grand Jury) to which Jurors no peremptory challenge shall be allowed.”

  1. It is made unlawful for enslavers to exercise judgment in cases where their enslaved person is entertained or dealt with by others; should a master be found to have exercised lenience in this matter, he will be charged double the sum for which the forgiven party would have been liable. This, effectively, forbids enslavers from treating their enslaved peoples with any less severity than the law decrees.
  2. If a third party is aware of unlawful entertaining of an enslaved person and fails to notify the enslaver or the courts, they will be charged a fine of two pounds. If they are unable to pay, they will be imprisoned
  3. Formerly enslaved people are forbidden from entertaining any enslaved person without permission of their enslaver. Violation of this statute will result in a ten pound fine for each day or night the enslaved person stays at their property, to be paid to their master.
  4. Going forward, newly freed enslaved people are no longer allowed to own residential property.
  5. Given that “the Free Negroes of this Colony are an Idle slothful people and prove very often a charge on the place where they are,” enslavers seeking to manumit their enslaved peoples will be required to pay a 200 pound security to the government, as well as a yearly sum of 20 pounds to their enslaved person for the remainder of their lifetime. If these conditions cannot be met, the manumission will be declared void.
  6. Any enslaved person who is found guilty of attempted murder, rape, arson, or who “shall willfully mutilate, mayhem, or dismember” any free person will be sentenced to death. The death penalty will also be levied upon enslaved people should they succeed in murdering another enslaved person.
  7.  Any enslaver who would rather their enslaved person be tried by a jury of twelve must pay 9 shillings for the privilege. Otherwise, they will be tried by a panel of three Justices.
  8. Enslaved people may not use firearms, unless in their enslavers’ presence, or at their behest. (The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution)

1720: An import duty of five ounces of plate will be levied “For every Negro Imported directly from Africa.” If the enslaved person in question is not coming from Africa, the duty will be ten ounces of Plate. Exceptions are to be made only in cases where the person in question is below the age of four, engaged on a vessel, or traveling in service of their master. (The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution)

1726: In an act clarifying the tax structure of colonial New York, the Assembly declares that for every “Negro Slave” over the age of four imported directly from Africa, the importer must pay a duty of forty shillings, or the equivalent in foreign currencies; for each enslaved person brought from any other location, the duty is set at four pounds. Any person coming to New York may bring one enslaved person without paying this duty, but if they at any time “sell or dispose” of this person, they shall pay the full duty. (The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution)

1726: The Assembly reinforces the 1702 “Act for Regulating Slaves,” and expands the powers of the court in prosecuting those who engage in trade with enslaved people. (The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution)

1729, April 9, Kingston: The Trustees of Kingston order that anyone found outside at night with a lit pipe be fined three shillings; however, “if a negro” violates this law, he is “to be whipped thirteen lashes.” (Marius Schoonmaker, The History of Kingston, New York)

1730: In response to the “many Mischiefs” that have arisen “from the too great Liberty allowed to Negro and other slaves,” the General Assembly revisits the 1708 and 1712 slave acts, reinforcing them and combining them into a permanent act designated Chapter 560. Changes to the existing laws include a stipulation outlawing the sale of alcohol to enslaved people; a stipulation allowing Justices to imprison enslaved people for up to fourteen days in cases of assault, also granting them power to inflict corporal punishment; a fine of five pounds to be effected in cases of theft, or else the subjection of the accused to corporal punishment at discretion of any Justice; and a removal of the 1712 law barring freed people from land ownership. (The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution)

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division,
The New York Public Library. “Whipping of old Barney.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1882.

“AND WHEREAS not withstanding Sundry Laws passed hereuntofore in this Colony for the purpose abovementioned several evil persons having nothing in view but their private gain do Clandestinely trade and traffick with Slaves, for remedy [it is enacted] that if any Person or Persons within this Colony…sell any rum or other strong liquor [to the enslaved] or shall buy or take in pawn from them any Merchandises apparel tools instruments or any other kind of goods whatsoever and shall thereof be accused by [the enslavers] of such Slave or Slaves or by any other person or persons before any one Justice of the Peace….shall forfeit and pay the sum of forty shillings….upon non payment of the above mentioned penalty to offending party or parties shall be by the same Justices committed to the common gaol there to remain for the space of Twenty days unless the said penalty be sooner paid.”

[THIS WORDING IS SOMEWHAT REVISED FROM 1702 AND 1712 ACTS] “….lawful here after for any City Town or Mannors….to have and appoint a Common Whipper for their slaves… Any City or Town at their Common Council or Town meeting to agree upon such Sum to be paid him [by enslavers] not exceeding three shillings per head for all such slaves as shall be whipt and upon Neglect or refusal [of the enslavers] to pay the sum agreed upon above that then such slave or slaves shall be committed until payment be made with costs”

[THIS WORDING IS SOMEWHAT REVISED FROM 1702 AND 1712 ACTS] “…And in Case any Slave shall [assault or strike] any Christian or Jew it shall be in the power of any two justices of the Peace to Committ such Slave or Slaves to Prison not exceeding fourteen days for one fact and to inflict such other corporal punishment not exceeding life or limb upon him, her or them…as to the said Justices shall seem meet and reasonable.”

[THIS WORDING IS NEW AND NOT IN AN EARLIER ACT] “…enacted that if any person or persons, knowing of such entertainer of any slave or slaves and does not discover the same to [the enslavers] or to some One Justice of the Peace, or being suspected to know, does upon complaint doth not not discover the same, or upon Tender of an Oath by by any one Justice of the Peace…the said person so neglecting or refusing to discover or take such Oath shall forfeit the sum of Two Pounds to be immediately after conviction levied upon his goods and chattles…And in the Case there are no goods or Chattels…the person so offending shall committed to Gaol till he pay and satisfy the said sum of forty shillings and charges accruing against them…if any person who by the Act are obliged to purge themselves by their Oath have sworn falsely, such person shall incur the like pains and penalties as those who are guilty of willful perjury and be prosecuted accordingly.”

1745: In the midst of King George’s War, the Assembly passes a law prescribing the death penalty to any enslaved person caught attempting to flee north to Canada. This act–only to be enforced during war with France–dictates that any enslaved person caught fleeing north will be imprisoned without bail until the court agrees upon execution, after which their enslaver will be reimbursed for the cost of the executed person, not to exceed 35 pounds. (The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution)

1753: In the interest of keeping New York’s water supply in working condition, the Assembly decrees that any “Negro Indian or Mulatto slave” found to have tampered with the wells shall be subject to corporal punishment (not extending to life and limb), unless their enslaver chooses to pay a fine of  four pounds. A non-enslaved person found doing the same will be subject to one month in jail, unless they choose to pay a fine of forty shillings. (The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution)

AdobeStock by Grecaud Paul

1755: In “An Act for Regulating the Militia of the Colony of New York,” the General Assembly orders that–in the case of “an Alarm or actual Invasion” in New York, Albany, or Schenectady, slave owners must “deliver” to the nearest officer all able bodied male slaves to be employed as militiamen. In the event that an enslaved person is killed, the courts will determine his value, and repay that sum to his enslaver. This also grants Officers the right to requisition enslaved peoples from “other parts of the Colony” should this be necessary. So as to ensure compliance, enslavers are directed to deliver lists of all enslaved people over the age of fourteen to the Captain of the Company in their district. In the event of invasion or general alarm, any enslaved person over the age of fourteen found further than one mile from their home may be summarily executed on the spot, with no ramifications for the executioner. (The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution)

1764: In “An Act for the more Effectual destroying of Wolves and Panthers in the Counties of Ulster, Dutchess and Orange,” the Assembly decrees that any “Native Free Indian or Negro or Other Slave” bearing proof of having killed a wolf, whelp, or panther shall receive the same reward for doing so that a free citizen would, though the reward will be paid to one’s enslaver. (The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution)

1764: In the updated “Act for Regulating the Militia of the Colony of New York,” it is clarified that “Indian or Negro [slaves]” are only to be utilized by the militia as Drummers, Trumpeters, or Pioneers. (The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution)

1773: In an addendum to an earlier act relating to “Hawkers and Peddlers” selling wares without a license, the Assembly institutes a fine of five pounds for peddling to enslaved people without permission of their enslaver. (The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution)

1773: In “An Act to prevent aged and decrepit Slaves from becoming burthensome within this Colony,” the Assembly addresses the issue of enslavers of elderly enslaved people taking advantage of their communities. The court forbids enslavers from allowing their enslaved persons to beg for clothing, food, and other necessities, and further forbids them from fraudulently selling them to peoples who are “unable to keep or maintain them.” In the former, the enslaver will be fined ten pounds, and, in the latter, the sale will be declared void, and the enslaver will be fined twenty pounds. (The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution)

1785: Following the failure of the newly formed New York Manumission Society to pass a bill through the Senate completely abolishing slavery in the state, the organization lobbied successfully to have the Senate pass an act that served to accomplish at least some of their goals. Per this new act of the Senate, it is made illegal to import enslaved people for sale from outside of New York; any enslaved person so conveyed into the state will be immediately freed. Manumission of enslaved persons under the age of fifty (either by certificate or in an enslaver’s will) is made considerably easier and free of charge. Finally, enslaved peoples will be granted a trial by jury in all capital cases, effectively abolishing the slave court system in New York. (Laws of the State of New York Passed at the Sessions of the Legislature Held in the Years 1777-1801, Being the First Twenty-four Sessions)

1788: New York updates its laws regarding enslaved people in “An Act concerning slaves.” New additions to existing laws include the prohibition of purchasing an enslaved person with intent to carry them out-of-state, and the criminalizing of harboring runaway enslaved peoples. Reinforced statutes include the laws passed in 1785, 1773, and 1730, with some minor alterations. (Laws of the State of New York Passed at the Sessions of the Legislature Held in the Years 1777-1801, Being the First Twenty-four Sessions)

1798: In response to the growing (and by this time firmly entrenched) abolitionist sentiments in the Quaker movement of North America, the State of New York decrees that all manumissions of enslaved peoples by members of the Society of Friends are heretofore declared valid, despite the fact that many of these manumissions were not carried out legally. (Laws of the State of New York Passed at the Sessions of the Legislature Held in the Years 1777-1801, Being the First Twenty-four Sessions)

1799: New York passes “An Act for the gradual abolition of slavery.” In this law, it is declared that any child born to an enslaved person after July 4, 1799 is to be declared free at birth, but will remain a servant to their mother’s enslaver until they reach the age of 25 for females, and 28 for males; enslavers are required to register these births with their town clerk, or else pay a fine. Enslavers are granted a one year window in which they may abandon the child, whose guardianship will then transfer to the local Overseers of the Poor, to be supported by the State at $3.50 per month. (Laws of the State of New York Passed at the Sessions of the Legislature Held in the Years 1777-1801, Being the First Twenty-four Sessions)

1801: In “An Act concerning slaves and servants,” the state amends and reinforces a number of existing statutes. It is again stated that “any negro, mulatto or mestee” who is currently enslaved shall continue to be enslaved unless he is manumitted by law. The process of manumission is clarified, dictating that owners of enslaved people may accomplish it via certificate, or in a will; any manumitted person who is over the age of fifty or otherwise unable to provide for themselves must be maintained at their owner’s expense, collection of which is to be taken by the Overseers of the Poor. Rules against the transfer of enslaved peoples are reinforced, with an additional stipulation that enslaved persons may be brought into the state if their owner is intending to take up residence in New York, and has owned the enslaved person for more than a year prior to their move. Travelers are given the right to travel in New York with their enslaved peoples, and enslaved people may be extradited out of state upon their conviction of a crime elsewhere. (Laws of the State of New York Passed at the Sessions of the Legislature Held in the Years 1777-1801, Being the First Twenty-four Sessions)

New York State Archives, New York (State). Dept. of State. Bureau of Miscellaneous Records. Enrolled acts of the State Legislature. Series 13036-78, Laws of 1799, Chapter 62.

1802: In an amendment to the 1801 “Act Concerning slaves and servants,” the state alters the terms of the statute regarding abandoned children first covered in the 1799 Gradual Emancipation act, lowering the amount paid for abandoned children of enslaved parents from $3.50 to $2.00. This amendment also limited this compensation to children under four years old. (Laws of the State of New York Vol. III)

1804: A further amendment to the 1801 “Act concerning slaves and servants” passes, fully abandoning the abandonment program; no more infant children may be given up by their owners. Enslavers may, however, abandon the children of their enslaved peoples once they reach the age of 18 for females, and 21 for males, provided these persons are sufficiently able to provide for themselves. (Laws of the State of New York Vol. III)

1811: In “An act to prevent frauds and perjuries at elections, and to prevent slaves from voting,” the state declares that “whenever any black or mulatto person shall present himself to vote,” that he must produce an official certificate of his freedom. Election officials are empowered to require the prospective voter to make a legally binding oath proclaiming his identity, and court justices, mayors, recorders and judges are empowered to call in any outside parties to sign an affidavit attesting to his identity. A voter found guilty of falsely swearing this oath will be charged with perjury, and an outside party that refuses to heed this summons may be imprisoned for one month. (Laws of the State of New York Passed at the Thirty-Fourth Session of the Legislature)

1817: In “An act relative to slaves and servants,” the state further tools with the statutes enacted in the 1799 Emancipation laws. While those born to enslaved parents after July 4, 1799 remain classified as servants until the ages specified originally (25 for females, 28 for males), children born to enslaved parents after the passage of this new act will be released from servitude after their 21st birthday. Every enslaver in custody of a child included under these laws is now required to provide education for the child such that he can read by age 18, or else provide them with four quarters of schooling between ages 10 and 18. If he fails to do so, the child will be released from servitude at age 18, and placed under custody of the overseers of the poor until age 21; enslaved people brought into the state must be taught to read. Rules regarding export and import of enslaved peoples are tightened still, but it remains legal for travelers from out of state to enter New York accompanied by their enslaved persons. Finally, it is declared that all enslaved people born before the July 4, 1799 cutoff will be declared free after July 4, 1827, establishing a date by when every enslaved person in New York will be nominally free. (Laws of the State of New York Passed at the Thirty-Ninth, Fortieth and Forty-First Sessions of the Legislature)

1822: All free men of color that wish to vote are required to swear under oath that they have been a citizen of the state for at least three years, and for at least one year have held property valued at or greater than $250. According to Carl Nordstrom, these property requirements were not voided until 1870. (Laws of the State of New York Passed at the Forty-Fifth Session of the Legislature)

“The Georgetown Election – The Negro at the Ballot Box” by Thomas Nast – Harper’s Weekly – March 16, 1867

1827-1830: Legislature produces the Revised Statutes of the State of New-York, which organizes, codifies, and updates the entire legal code of New York State. As New York was on the verge of abolishing slavery, a number of new statutes regarding enslaved people were passed.  No enslaved person is to be “imported, introduced, or brought into” the state; any enslaved person brought to New York will be declared free, but–if born between 1799 and 1827–will remain a servant to their enslaver until they reach the age of 25 for females, and 28 for males. Enslavers from other states may bring enslaved people while visiting New York, but if the enslaved person in question remains in New York for longer than nine months, they will be freed. Enslavers residing part-time in New York are free to bring in and remove their enslaved people from the state. All indentures made since March 1810 are declared invalid. Any person involved in the kidnapping of a person with intent to traffic them elsewhere for sale may face up to ten years in prison, and any person found importing peoples for the purpose of selling them elsewhere may face a fine of up to $10,000. (Selections from the Revised Statutes of the State of New York: Containing all the Laws of the State Relative to Slaves…)

1841: Privileges granted to slave owners in the Revised Statutes of 1830 are repealed. Enslaved persons of enslavers moving to New York will no longer be bound as servants, and enslavers may no longer bring enslaved people while visiting the state, or while residing here part-time. (Laws of the State of New York, Passed at the Sixty-Fourth Session of the Legislature)

“The Revised Statutes of the State of New York,” 1829