Middle Passage

Continuing our series on the book: Jack Cudjo. Newark’s Revolutionary Soldier & 1st Black Businessman

Slavery in the Gold Coast was not effectively abolished until after the British‐Asante War of 1874. Historians of African slavery usually glossed over a minor yet important practice of slavery. There were instances that stubborn members of family, royals inclusive, were “given away” by families without the usual transaction, barter or otherwise. Getting rid of a problematic family member was a way to “rehabilitate” an uncompromising character of say, a royal. Slavers would just donate meager “thank you” token to the families. These intermediaries considered slavery as a commercial venture.  Most early slaves in the Mid Atlantic areas arrived via the Caribbean. In an article “Slavery in the North” Douglas Harper writes that: 

“Both the Dutch and English colonists in the North preferred to get their slaves from other New World colonies rather than directly from Africa. Direct imports from Africa were considered too dangerous and difficult. Instead, the middle colonies sought their African slaves from Dutch Curacao and later from British Jamaica and Barbados. “These slaves were familiar with Western customs and habits of work, qualities highly prized in a region where masters and slaves worked and lived in close proximity.” Having survived one climate change already, they also adjusted better to Northern winters, which incapacitated or killed those direct from Africa. Both causes contributed to the adjective often used to advertise West Indian slaves being sold in the North: “seasoned.”

Slave seasoning in the Caribbean – process of learning and acclimatization—usually took three years. More important to the slaveholder, it was the time when slaves were broken down emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually to surrender totally and submit to a master. However, by the eve of the American Revolutionary War, New Jersey and other northern states were importing slaves direct from Africa, resulting in the rapid increase in slave population. It must be noted here, though, that at this period, the Dutch were the largest slave importers to New Jersey. And on the Gold Coast, the Asante nation was the largest supplier of slaves to the Dutch.  

 Slavery in Newark, New Jersey

West and East Jersey bounded together to form the state of New Jersey in 1776. West Jersey was settled by the fleeing Quakers from England. Among its pioneers was William Penn. He founded Pennsylvania. In 1664, the Duke of York, who later became King James II of England, signed a lease giving West Jersey to Sir George Carteret and Lord John Berkeley. The slave population in New Jersey was estimated to be around 2,600 in 1726. The population of slaves swelled to 4,700 by 1745. By 1780, the slave population in New Jersey had jumped to 7,994 out of total State population of 137,000. In 1790, about 7.7% of New Jersey’s population was African‐American. Nearby New York had more than 20,000 slaves around this period.

The state of New Jersey officially abolished further importation of slavery in 1786, yet 74 years later (1860) eighteen slaves were recorded in the census. These slaves were apparently freed by the 1865 thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Before 1865, a New Jersey Act dated February 15, 1804 Acts of the General Assembly titled “An Act for the gradual Abolition of Slavery” was enacted to free black slaves born on or after July 4, 1804 after rendering services to their mother’s slave master for twenty one years for females and twenty five years for males. A similar second New Jersey State law was enacted in 1846 that proscribed slavery and eliminated the apprenticeship for black children. However, existing slaves (mostly senior citizens) were apprenticed the rest of their remaining lives! Early in 1784, the New Jersey legislature passed a law that freed all slave veterans on both sides of the Revolutionary War. 

In 1800, there were about 12,422 slaves in New Jersey, of which 4,500 lived in Newark. The number decreased to 236 by 1850. In 1835, there were about 360 freed blacks in Newark and, by 1850, there were some 23,810 freed colored people statewide, according to Pierson’s History of Newark. In this same period, white population in Newark was 37, 664 and colored 1,230. 

Ten years later in 1860, there was virtually no population change in the colored community (1287), while white population jumped almost two-fold to 70,654; Atkinson points out this fact in his book, “History of Newark, New Jersey.” By 1900, more than 69,000 of the population of New Jersey, representing 3.7 percent of the entire population of the state of New Jersey, were African‐Americans. Volume 35 of The Journal of Negro History highlights a clear conflict between a slave master and a slave. “Seeing that no other alternative presented itself, many slaveholders freed their slaves because of economic reasons,” it writes.  Freeing slaves became an inherent problem for slave owners. For once, slaves had to be of sound mind and body before they could be manumitted. Frances D. Pingeon highlights this point. She writes that the owner who wished to free a black slave was still required “to post a 200-pound sterling bond and guarantee him an income of twenty pounds a year – a financially prohibitive arrangement for most slaveholders.”   The State did not want freed, yet poor slaves to be its liability. Notwithstanding, “Poor Houses” were established for freed slaves who quickly learnt that “freedom” without basic needs and resources only satisfied the mind. But abolishing slavery was in the interest of slave owners and the government. The fear of slave population explosion alone and the potential of successful slave uprisings and revolutions stared in the faces of the white populace. It must be noted that black participation in the Revolutionary War, whether fighting on the loyalists’ side—such as Colonel Tye (Titus)—or on the colonists’ side—such as Peter Salem, was supposed to be a route to emancipation from slavery and servitude.

The author, Kofi Ayim, is the editor of Amandla.The book is available @ amazon.com

Posted by on Feb 12 2021. Filed under BHM Special: Remembering Our Heroes & Sheroes. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

Leave a Reply