Genealogy Trails logo

Slavery in Essex County, New Jersey

Source: History of the City of Newark New Jersey, Embracing Two and Half Centuries 1666-1913; Vol. II, Lewis Historical Publishing Co.; New York-Chicago; 1913

Submitted by C. Horton, 2007

Newark had its abolitionists from the time of the War for Independence. Shortly thereafter Moses Combs, the father of Newark's industries so far as putting them on an organized basis
is concerned, had preached the freeing of the blacks ; and in order to show that he dared to practice what he preached, he gave a slave his freedom, as told in a preceding chapter. This black man was most ungrateful, and he later killed his own wife and was hanged, here in Newark.
New Jersey had an Abolition Society as early as 1792.

The slaves, and, in fact, all the black population, gave the people of the town much anxiety from the opening of the last century.
On January 7, 1801, the people were "requested to meet at the Court House, at the ringing of the bell, to deliberate upon the expediency of adopting measures to effect the following objects:

1. To prevent the unlawful residence in the town of free negroes or such as falsely declare themselves to be free.
2. To prevent negro slaves from meeting together in an unlawful manner.
3. To prevent their unlawful absence from their owners after 10 o'clock at night.
4. To prevent persons unlawfully dealing with or employing slaves."

In February, 1804, an act of the Legislature was adopted declaring that all children of slave parents born after the Fourth of July of that year, free; but providing that those born previous to that date should continue in bondage. This left sixteen male and fifteen female slaves in Newark for life. There were twenty slaves here in 1836, and three in 1840.
By 1809 the black population had become so demonstrative that another meeting was called, for the evening of October 3, "to concert means to suppress the riotous and disorderly meetings of Negroes in our streets at night. These disorders have grown to a very great pitch and call loudly for the vigorous application of the law." At that meeting committees from each of the four wards were appointed to see that the slave laws were enforced. On the night of December 1, 1830, the New Jersey General Debating Society met in Newark and discussed this question: "Would it be politic for the United States to effect an immediate emancipation of slaves?"

Early in the month of July, 1833, the Rev. Dr. W. R. Weeks, pastor of the Fourth Presbyterian Church, gave a Friday evening lecture upon "The Sin of Slavery" in his church. A crowd of fully a thousand gathered outside the church, first contenting itself with hooting its disapproval of the theme and its expounder, and finally rushing inside. In the audience was a black man. The mob fought fiercely to get hold of him, but a few young men gathered around him and saved him, probably from lynching. Then the crowd vented its fury upon the building, mutilating the altar, smashing the lamps and doing other damage. Later Pastor Weeks took occasion to explain that, while he considered slavery a sin, he did not believe in the inter-marrying of the white and black races. A few days later a mob gathered around the shop of a colored man and made direful threats. Presently there came a rumor that the unfortunate man was armed and would sell his life as dearly as possible; and the mob's enthusiasm vanished.

There were no less than three hundred slaves in New Jersey in 1846. As late as 1810 Essex County, as then constituted, had 1,129 slaves. Numbers of slaves were employed on the farms in what is now Clinton Township during the first three or four decades of the last century. But the slavery question, as applied to Newark and Essex County, had practically settled itself by 1840, as there were almost
no slaves. Anti-slavery sentiment, however, grew steadily, being fostered in the churches, and by some of the newspapers. This city had every sound business reason to deprecate the enforcement of the laws against secession by drastic means, for it was, as one writer has put it, "essentially a Southern workshop. For about two-thirds of a century the shoemakers of Newark shod the South,
its planters and its plantation hands, to a large extent. For generations the bulk of the carriages, saddlery, harness and clothing manufactured in Newark found a ready and profitable market south of Mason and Dixon's line. And so it was to a greater or less extent with all our industries." It was not strange, therefore, that many of the leading manufacturing houses were opposed to the war. The majority of the people, however, were firmly and devotedly resolved to do their full share in upholding the Union, no matter what should happen.

A dispatch from Newark, N. J., states that a Negro boy, 11 years old, belonging to and accompanying a Mr. Rall, of Augusta Ga., who had been temporarily sojourning in the former city, has mysteriously disappeared, and it is supposed that the Abolitionists have smuggled him away.
[Douglas Monthly, Aug. 1, 1860 - Submitted by Candi H.]

©Genealogy Trails