The Workers - Age of Slavery in New York

The Workers

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Age of Slavery in New York

Harry, John, Joe, George, Jack, Susan, Mary, Margaret, Dina, Louisa, little Mary, little John, little Louisa, and other enslaved individuals are mentioned in Janet’s accounts during the years she lived at Montgomery Place.

Family groups, including Louisa and her three young children, were part of the Montgomery Place household at the time of Janet’s death in 1828.  

Janet’s period of ownership of Montgomery Place coincided roughly with the gradual manumission of slaves under New York State law. In 1799, New York State passed a gradual emancipation law which ostensibly phased out enslavement by 1827. This action was due in large part to John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and other state leaders who had joined forces with Quaker groups in 1785 to form the New York Manumission Society. This group agitated for legislative action to abolish slavery throughout the state.

Despite the Society’s efforts, in the Hudson Valley countryside slaveholding remained strong until finally outlawed in 1827. This is true for Janet Montgomery. There is no evidence that she formally manumitted her slaves prior to the official deadline. The 1820 Federal Census showed that twelve enslaved individuals were still part of the Montgomery Place household. In her will, Janet dictated that any slaves in her service at the time of her death would receive $20 per year. Her own family’s circumstances illustrate the complexities of gradual manumission in particular and slaveholding in general. Her sister Catherine was active in abolitionist circles. Her brother Robert was a member of the New York Manumission Society yet still owned slaves.

After 1827, many freed Africans in the Hudson Valley left rural areas and moved to cities. They wanted to escape the isolation and low wages that marked farm existence in favor of a broader social network and greater economic opportunity, aspects of urban life they appreciated.  

The Narrows, Hoboken (detail), from The Picturesque Beauties of the Hudson and its Vicinity, by Samuel Knapp (1836).

Pages from Janet Montgomery’s account book, 1815. Manuscript Division, Departments of Rare and Special Collections, Princeton University.

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