J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, July 29, 2016

The Workings of Gradual Emancipation in Pennsylvania

In 1780, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a law ending slavery in the state—but not yet.

This blog post from the Manuscripts and Archives Department of the Yale University Library explains:
The Act, which represented an early approach by a U.S. state to abolishing slavery, simply banned importation of new slaves into the state. Slaves already in the state remained enslaved for life, and children born to them were afforded the status of indentured servants, forced to serve their mothers’ master until the age of 28.

The Act stipulated that residents of the state had to register their existing slaves with the county government annually or risk manumission. Foreshadowing a long tradition to come, members of the U.S. Congress, then meeting in Philadelphia under the Articles of Confederation, were exempted from the Pennsylvania Act.
The Yale library holds the registry of slaves in Chester County from 1780 to 1821, indexed by the owners’ names. Pennsylvania became known as an anti-slavery state, a refuge for people escaping from the states to the south. But it maintained the property claims of local slave-owners until 1847.

[Featuring a document from Yale’s Manuscripts and Archives Department has some sentimental meaning for me since I worked there part-time for a couple of years.]

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