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- Book of Deeds of Manumissions of Slaves, 1774-1792 (Kent, Pennsylvania)
What can these records tell me?
Images and transcripts are included in this collection. Transcripts will include the following details:
The images provided with each result will often provide additional details, occasionally including details regarding parentage and birth dates, as well as the relationship between the slave owner and slave. Abner Alston, for example, wrote that Abram would, during his minority, be considered as an apprentice and taught to read and write.
Discover more about these records
These records comprise the Book of Deeds of Manumission of Slaves that was discovered in the records of a local Society of Friends (Quakers), the Duck Creek Monthly Meeting of Friends in Kent, Pennsylvania. The original records have not survived, and this is the only known digital copy of the entire collection.
Manumission deeds were legal documents, created by slave owners, granting freedom to their slaves upon the owners’ deaths. The records include such details as the names, ages, and, often, parentage of the enslaved individual. It is incredibly rare to have such documentation about enslaved persons as both generally and legally they were considered property. As such, this collection is invaluable for those tracing slaves in America during the late 1700s.
The end of slavery in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania passed an Abolition Act in 1780. The law provided for a gradual emancipation of the state’s slaves. In part, the act stated the following: ‘That all Persons, as well Negroes, and Mulattos, as others, who shall be born within this State, from and after the Passing of this Act, shall not be deemed and considered as Servants for Life or Slaves; and that all Servitude for Life or Slavery of Children in Consequence of the Slavery of their Mothers, in the Case of all Children born within this State from and after the passing of this Act as aforesaid, shall be, and hereby is, utterly taken away, extinguished and for ever abolished’.
While the act freed those born in the state, it did nothing for those currently enslaved, and children born to current slaves were required to serve their mother’s master as an indentured servant until the age of 28. With this act, children of slaves and of African-descended indentured servants had to be registered at birth: such records can be found amongst Quaker records.
Soon, the state had a growing community of African Americans who started printing newspaper articles and other literature on freedom. As an anti-slavery border state with the pro-slavery south, such activists invested in protecting the border to aid those fleeing the southern states.
In addition to the impact of the 1780 law in phasing out slavery, some masters chose to free their slaves in the years following the Revolutionary War. A portion of these masters would have been inspired by the teachings and efforts of the Quakers and Methodists who sought for the manumission of all slaves.
Data gathered from the United States censuses reveals the decline of slavery in Pennsylvania: In 1790, of the black population, 36% were slaves; by 1810, the black population had doubled but only 3% were still slaves.