An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery, 1799

Essential Question
Was New York a perfect model for the best way to end slavery?
Check for Understanding
Did the Gradual Abolition Act of 1799 do anything to improve the lives of enslaved African Americans in New York State? Explain your answer.
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An Act for the gradual abolition of slavery, New York State Archives, NYSA_13036-78_L1799_Ch062
Document Description
New York laws of 1799, an act for the gradual abolition of slavery, specifying that children born to a slave mother after July 4, 1799 were declared legally free--but not until male children had turned 28, and females 25. Slaves born before that date remained in servitude, although they were redefined as indentured servants.
  1. What was the purpose of this law?
  1. Berlin, Ira and Leslie Harris. Slavery in New York.
                Johnson, Mat. The Great Negro Plot: A Tale of Conspiracy and Murder in Eighteenth
    Century New York.
    Singer, Alan J. New York and Slavery: Time to Teach the Truth.
An Act for the gradual abolition of Slavery.
Be it enacted by the people of the state of New York repre
=sented in Senate and Afsembly, That any Child born of a slave
within this State after the fourth day of July next, shall be
deemed and adjudged to be born free: Provided neverthelefs that
such Child shall be the servant of the legal proprietor of
his or her mother until such servant if a male shall arrive
at the age of twenty eight years, and if a female at the age of
twenty-five years.
And be it further enacted That such proprietor his, her, or
their Heirs or Afsigns shall be entitled to the service of such
child until he or she shall arrive to the age aforesaid,
in the same manner as if such Child had been bound to
service by the Overseers of the Poor.
And be it further enacted, That every person being an Inhabi
=tant of this State who shall be entitled to the service of a child
born after the four day of July as aforesaid, shall within
nine months after the birth of such child, cause to be deli
=vered to the clerk of the city or Town, whereof such person shall
be an inhabitant, a certificate in writing containing the
name and addition of such master or mistrefs, and the
name age, and sex of every child so born, which certificate
shall be, by the said Clerk recorded shall be good and
sufficient evidence of the age of such Child, And the Clerk of
such City or Town shall receive from said person Twelve
cents for every Child so registered, and if any such person
neglects to make a return of every such Child as afore
said to said Clerk within nine months after the Birth
thereof, such person shall forfeit and pay Five Dollars
for every such offence, to be sued for and recovered by the
Clerk of the City or Town in which such person resides,
the one half for his own use and the remainder for the use
of the Poor of the said City or Town: Provided neverthelefs that
it shall be and is hereby made the duty of the Town Clerk to
register the certificate of any such child at any time after
nine months from its birth and every master or mistrefs,
masters or mistrefses of every such Child shall forfeit and
pay the sum of One Dollar for every month, he she, or they
shall neglect to deliver such certificate to the Town Clerk.
And be it further enacted that the person entitled to such
service may neverthlefs within on year after the Birth of
such child elect to abandon his or her right to such service
by a notification of the same from under his or her hand
and lodged with the Clerk of the Town or city where the owner
of the mother of any such Child may reside; in which case
every child abandoned as aforesaid shall be considered as paupers
of the respective Town or City where the proprietor or Owner of
the mother of such Child may reside at the time of its birth;
and liable to be bound out by the Overseers of the Poor on the
same Terms and Conditions that the Children of paupers
were subject to before the pafsing this Act.
And be it further enacted that every Child abandoned
as aforesaid shall be supported and maintained till bound
out by the Overseers of the Poor as aforesaid at the expence of this
State provided however that the said support does not exceed three Dollars and fifty Cents per Month for each child
and the comptroller is hereby authorized and directed to
draw his Warrant on the Treasurer of this State for the
amount of such account not exceeding the allowance
above prescribed, And the Accounts of the respective Towns or cities being first signed by the Supervisor of the Town or
Mayor of the City as the case may be where such Child
may be maintained as aforesaid. And Provided also
that the Person so abandoning as aforesaid shall
at his own expence support and maintain every such child
till it arrives at the age of one year, And every owner omitting
to give notice in due form as aforesaid shall be answerable
for the maintenance of every such child until the arrival
of the respective period of servitude specified in the first sec
=tion of this Act.
And be it further enacted that it shall be lawful for the
owner of any slave immediately after the pafsing of this Act
to manumit such slave by a certificate for that purpose
under his hand and Seal.
State of New York                                               State of New York
    In Senate March 20th, 1799                               In Afsembly February 9th, 1799
This Bill having been read the third time        This Bill having been read the third time
   Resolved that the Bill do pafs.                         Resolved that the Bill do pafs.
    By Order of the Senate.                                      By Order of the Afsembly.
                Stephen Van Renfselaer                                    Birck Ten Broeck Speaker
                A. Prudent