Tag Archives: Catherine

“But New Jersey came late and notoriously unwillingly to abolition.”


Catherine (my 5th great grandmother) born 1788 in New Jersey presents many challenges. Her status in life my have changed over time.  In 1788, over 10 years after the start of the Revolutionary War, New Jersey was still a slave-holding state.

Catherine was born at a time of great upheaval. Although the slave trade was prohibited in New Jersey in 1786, free Blacks were prohibited from living in the State. I do know Catherine was born in New Jersey based on the Census records. I do not know what her status was at birth.

In 1804 the New Jersey Legislature passed “An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery.” It provided that females born of slave parents after July 4, 1804, would be free upon reaching 21 years of age, and males upon reaching 25. Like New York’s, this law held a hidden subsidy for slaveowners. A provision allowed them to free their slave children, who would then be turned over to the care of the local overseers of the poor (the state’s social welfare agency in those days). The bill provided $3 a month for the support of such children. A slaveowner could then agree to have the children “placed” in his household and collect the $3 monthly subsidy on them. The evidence suggests this practice was widespread, and the line item for “abandoned blacks” rose to be 40 percent of the New Jersey budget by 1809. It was a tax on the entire state paid into the pockets of a few to maintain what were still, essentially, slaves.

Furthermore, New Jersey slaveowners had the option to sell their human property into states that still allowed slaveholding, or into long indentures in Pennsylvania, until an 1818 law that forbid “the exportation of slaves or servants of color.”

New Jersey, like other northern states, replaced outright slavery with stricter controls of free blacks. Black voters were disenfranchsed by an 1807 state law that limited the franchise to “free, white male” citizens.

In 1830, of the 3,568 Northern blacks who remained slaves, more than two-thirds were in New Jersey. The institution was rapidly declining in the 1830s, but not until 1846 was slavery permanently abolished. At the start of the Civil War, New Jersey citizens owned 18 “apprentices for life” (the federal census listed them as “slaves”) — legal slaves by any name.

“New Jersey’s emancipation law carefully protected existing property rights. No one lost a single slave, and the right to the services of young Negroes was fully protected. Moreover, the courts ruled that the right was a ‘species of property,’ transferable ‘from one citizen to another like other personal property.’ “[10]

Thus “New Jersey retained slaveholding without technically remaining a slave state.”[11]


Historical facts would suggest that she was not enslaved in 1820 or indentured. I’m only able to find one of Catherine’s children at this point, Catherin Little b. 1820 (my 4th great grandmother) but if she is in fact that wife of Thomas Little, she had additional children with Thomas.


  • Catherine’s parents would likely have not been free as at the time of her birth. Free Black People were banned from New Jersey in 1786.
  • The 1804 Gradual Emancipation Law would not apply to Catherine as she was born in 1788.
  • If Catherine was enslaved, could she have reached Philadelphia by 1810 at the age of 22? Was she emancipated?

In 2003, New Jersey issued an apology for Slavery. You can read the apology in the link below:

New Jersey apologizes for Slavery

The starting point is the New Jersey State Archives for some guidance, although many records for this time period are housed in county archives. Framing the outcomes via the history offers parameters. The parameters limited my ancestors but it is important to know that many of the restrictions generally found in the South, were imported both ways above and below the Mason Dixon Line, in particular, the banning of Free Blacks. As many historians have stated, Philadelphia was the Harlem of it’s day for African Americans. I’m forever indebted to Catherine for finding her way to Philly, the city I love dearly.