A series of pages exploring
Q. What was the date that slavery ended in Pennsylvania, officially and unofficially. Also,what was the method?
A. No one knows for sure exactly when the last Pennsylvania slave crossed from being held in bondage to complete freedom, whether through manumission, legal action, or death. The census of 1850 was the first national census to record no slaves being held for life in the state (see note below), however there were still, in 1850, hundreds of children of enslaved mothers, who we now refer to as "term slaves," who were fully enslaved until their 28th birthday, in accordance with the 1780 Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery.
Officially, slavery ended
in Pennsylvania with the state's ratification of the 13th amendment
to the Constitution on February 3, 1865. For more information
on gradual abolition, see our text of the 1780
Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery.
Q. How could there be so many term slaves in Pennsylvania in 1850, seventy years after passage of the Gradual Abolition Act?
A. The "hundreds of children of slaves" that were still around in 1850 came as a result of many severe abuses, misunderstandings and simple disregard for the law. Some of the most blatant and frequent abuses occurred in Lancaster County, where the grand-children of enslaved persons were themselves registered as children of slaves for another twenty-eight years. This practice obviously sets up an endless cycle very much contrary to the spirit of the law--yet few or none were challenged in court. Some of these abuses were the result of a misunderstanding of the law and some were justified by the slaveholders as being necessary to recover losses due to the pregnancy of term slaves. In the latter cases, additional years were added by the courts to the terms of enslaved women who became pregnant while serving their twenty-eight year term, and their children, once born, were themselves registered as slaves for twenty-eight years.
For specific cases, see the entries for Mary H. Thompson, of Colerain Township, Lancaster County, for the slave child Saul, who was registered in 1830 as the "child of negro Eliza, servant of the said Mary H. Thompson until she arrives to the age of 28 years;" and the entry for Michael Graeff of the city of Lancaster, who in 1827 registered the child Chloe Ann, daughter of Hannah Boyle. Hannah had been registered as a child of a slave in 1805. Thomas Brice of Washington Borough, Washington County, in April 1829 registered Ann Clark the child of "Betsey a Slave until 28 years."
Q. What were some legal methods to abolish slavery and what were some obstacles that stood in the way of abolition?
Pennsylvania, the only method of legally abolishing slavery was the
1780 Gradual Abolition Act, which is explained
below. In addition, slaveholders could manumit, or free,
enslaved persons by putting this in writing and filing the document with the
county or township in which they lived. This could be a direct manumission,
or it could be predicated on certain conditions, such as the death
of the slaveholder, in a will. Of course manumission was a personal choice,
and had no effect on the larger issue of abolition.
Q. When did slavery end in the other northern states?
A. While some northern states prohibited slavery from the start, most had a history of tolerating or encouraging slaveholding. The revolution had a strong impact on how slavery was perceived, and most northern states began to debate abolition during or soon after the war. However, in states that passed gradual abolition legislation, slavery lingered in the form of term slavery for decades. For many states, the only official end to slavery came in 1865 with the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Chronologically, slavery ended in:
Vermont, 1777 (slavery prohibited
by the state constitution)
This information is from Leon F. Litwack, North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free States, 1790-1860. (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1961) page 3. For more details about individual states and the persistence of slavery, see "Slavery in the North." (http://www.slavenorth.com/index.html)
Q. What is the difference between a "term slave" and a "slave for life?"
A. When Pennsylvania legislators decided to abolish slavery in the state, they knew that a complete and immediate abolition of the practice would cause a financial loss to slaveholders by freeing those persons that were already held in bondage. They also knew that this would be politically unpopular, and might not pass a vote in the legislature. So they decided on a gradual approach, setting a cut-off date, whereby all of the persons held in bondage as of March 1, 1780 would remain in bondage, but all children of slaves born in Pennsylvania after that date would be held in bondage only until age twenty-eight.
This created two classes of slaves. Those born prior to March 1, 1780 and considered slaves for their entire lives would remain "slaves for life." However the children born after that date, to mothers who were considered "slaves for life," would be freed at age 28, and were originally referred to as "indentured servants," but who we now refer to as "term slaves." We do this to distinguish these persons from other servants who were serving an indenture, usually of only a few years, in order to learn a trade or pay a debt. For more information on gradual abolition, see our text of the 1780 Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery.
Q. According to old advertisements on your site, many captured slaves were kept in something called a "goal." What is that?
A. When local authorities suspected that an unfamiliar African American man or woman in their town was actually a runaway slave, they arrested the person and locked him or her up for further investigation. They would then take out an advertisement in a local newspaper describing their prisoner. Similarly, owners of enslaved persons that had run away usually placed advertisements describing the runaway and the circumstances of his or her escape. Both types of ads commonly referred to the place of confinement for the captured slave as a goal or gaol. "Gaol" is nothing more than the old British spelling for our modern word "jail"--it's even pronounced the same way--and old newspapers often misspelled the word as "goal." Jailers were referred to as gaolkeepers or gaolers (or goalkeepers and goalers). Click here for an example of an advertisement that uses this term.
Q. I saw something on the news the other night in reference to the end of slavery being June 19, 1865, however I didn't catch all of it. Please tell me the significance of this date.
celebrate various dates in this country regarding the end of slavery,
and it depends upon your viewpoint of when it really ended. January
1st is often celebrated because it is the official date that Abraham
Lincoln set in the Emancipation Proclamation for the end of slavery
in areas affected by the proclamation. Many African American churches
still celebrate this date with an event known as "Watch Night," held
on New Year's Eve. (click
here for more on this subject)
Q. What are the reasons why white Americans treated African Americans so badly in the years of slavery?
begin by recognizing that all persons in every type of bondage everywhere were, and are, treated
horribly. Slavery has existed since the times of ancient Greece and Rome,
and it exists today in many parts of the world. It existed, and
exists wherever human beings allow their greed to overcome their compassion.
You cannot "own" another human being as an
object. Therefore, persons who "own" slaves refuse to
recognize the basic humanity in these persons and instead
view these persons as something less than human beings.