The New Paltz Register of Slaves
Edited by Eric J. Roth and Susan Stessin-Cohn
Published by the Huguenot Historical Society, New Paltz, NY, 2002
The authors would like to acknowledge a number of individuals without whom this
project would not have been possible: A.J. Williams Myers and Marc Fried, historical
and writing advisors; Michael Staub, transcription; Linda Kelso, indexing; and Jeff
Diener, design. Finally, the authors would like to thank the following individuals and
organizations: Al Marks, Historian of the Town of New Paltz, the Haviland-Heidgerd
Historical Collection of the Elting Memorial Library, and the African American Research
Founded in 1677 by a small group of French Huguenots, the settlement of New Paltz
emerged during the next two hundred years as an “isolated, conservative, tightly-knit
farming community” whose unique history has been much celebrated and studied in
recent times (Martin, p. 208). Often overlooked is the fact that African slaves provided
the town of New Paltz with an abundant supply of labor for use in the farms, mills, and
homes during the town’s first 150 years. The institution of slavery thus provided the
Huguenots and their descendants with much of the labor upon which to build their
communities, prosperity, and longevity.
The historical record of slavery in New Paltz begins in 1674, three years before its
founding, when Louis DuBois, purchased two African slaves at a public auction held in
Kingston, then called Esopus (Christoph, pp. 207-209). The two slaves ran away from
DuBois the following spring and were picked up elsewhere in the colony by a man
named Lewis Morris of Barbados. From 1675 to 1680, Morris and DuBois engaged in a
lengthy custody battle for the two slaves, with Morris claiming that the two slaves were
kidnapped from his plantation in Barbados and sold illegally to DuBois. The final
outcome of this case is unknown and no further mention of Anthony or Susan is made in
any of the three wills made by DuBois.
Despite DuBois’ difficult experience, more slaves were brought to New Paltz to
support the settlement’s growth. The Deyo family bought slaves in 1680 and 1694.
Catherine DuBois, widow of Louis DuBois and since remarried to schoolmaster Jean
Cottin, baptized a slave girl named Rachel in 1703 and later set forth the conditions for
her manumission in her will dated 1712. It is uncertain whether the executors actually
carried out the manumission (Heidgerd, W. ADCD, pp. 6-14). Throughout the next 125
years, references to slaves continually appear in the historical records of the settlement.
In 1703, there were 9 slaves out of a total of 130 residents of the town (O’Callaghan, p.
966). By 1755, as in the rest of the state, slavery was a very well-established part of the
New Paltz community: the census from that year lists 28 slaveholders, who collectively
owned 78 slaves over the age of 14 years with the large majority of slaveholders (82%)
owning between one and four slaves (O’Callaghan, p. 849). The largest slaveowners were
Solomon DuBois and Abraham Hardenbergh, each of whom owned seven. The overall
population of New Paltz grew rapidly to 2,309 in 1790, when there were 77 slaveholders
owning a total of 302 slaves, or 13% of the population. Thirty-eight households now
owned 1 to 3 slaves, and 25 households owned 4 to 6. Eleven households now held
between 7 and 14, with the largest slaveholders coming from well-established third and
fourth generation French and Dutch families such as Hasbrouck, DuBois, Freer,
Wynkoop and Vandermark.
Before discussing more specific aspects about slavery in New Paltz, it is important to
understand a major difference between slavery in early New York as compared slavery in
the plantation-era South, which unlike Northern slavery, has long been well-documented
and understood. Through the examination of local documents such as census, legislative
and court records, wills, account books, receipts, inventories, and correspondence, it is
possible to uncover some of the stories of the individuals who bore so much of the
economy of early New Paltz upon their backs; from the records, one can gain some
understanding of the harsh and restrictive characteristics that defined the lives of slaves in
relation to the comparatively easy and unrestricted lives of their owners. The occasional
and fragmentary nature of the records, however, necessitates placing such evidence
within the larger historical context of slavery in early New York. According to the
groundbreaking dissertation on the slave family in New York by historian Vivienne
The central feature of New York and northern slavery was that most
slaveholdings were small and contained only from one to five slaves.
Because of the small size of the holdings, slave family members were
usually owned by separate masters and forced to live apart…Slavery
created artificial black demographic conditions in New York: a small
overall black population, low black population density, unbalanced adult
sex ratios, and a random rather than familial distribution of slaves into
white households. (Kruger, abstract)
This concept is vital to understanding the nature of slavery in New Paltz. Slaves did
not work in plantation gangs or live in community with other black slaves. The slaves
would have had much less contact with other Africans, but would have been largely
integrated into the white community, albeit clearly as inferior and vulnerable members.
Large gatherings of slaves were prohibited by the white slaveowners, who feared the
possibility of rebellion and violence. As a result, slaves lived and worked more closely
with their masters in the North than in the South.
Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, the institution of slavery was governed by a
series of laws passed by the Colonial assemblies and later by the New York State
Legislature. A brief overview of these laws shows the development and eventual
dissolution of slavery within the state. Slavery began in New York with very little
regulation at all, with only a handful of laws passed during the 17th century. Most
historians generally agree that under Dutch rule, slavery was a loosely defined institution.
Under the Dutch, “Freed negroes were not legally discriminated against – no racial
legislation existed to restrict their freedom to own property, intermarry with whites, or
own white or indentured servants…While not as legally prohibitive as slavery would later
become under the English, by 1664 the use of slave labor in New Netherland had
achieved local importance and acceptance and was deeply entrenched” (Kruger, p. 42).
However, slavery became more legislated and more restrictive after the English won
the colony in the 1660’s. Beginning in about 1702 and continuing until mid-century, the
state legislature under English rule passed a series of laws that restricted all activities of
the slave population, mostly out of fear of violent reprisals such as the 1712 slave
rebellion in New York City and the widespread problem of runaways. These laws placed
severe restrictions on slave movements, rights of property ownership, use of alcohol, and
assembly, and mandated extremely harsh punishments for slaves found guilty of
transgressing these laws. Slaves found guilty of such crimes often faced severe corporal
punishments that would be viewed as “cruel and unusual” today. Historian A. J.
Williams-Myers explains that the intent behind these harsh conditions was to create a
“hearty, obedient, docile, but dependable labor force and to make the African stand in
fear.” (Williams-Myers, Long Hammering, p. 45). However, these laws also gave the
slaves a degree of legal protections against some forms of mistreatment by slaveowners,
such as mutilation and dismemberment. The regulation of slavery continued to tighten
until about 1773, when a new series of laws began to show a new attitude towards the
institution. Acts passed in 1773, 1775, 1784, 1785, and 1788 each provided slaves with a
little more freedom than before, and together led directly to the Manumission Act of
1799, which finally set forth the process for the gradual abolition of slavery in the state.
This act freed all children born to slave women after July 4, 1799. Male children were
to become free at the age of twenty-eight, and females at the age of twenty-five. The
slaveholders were required to register all children born to their slave women with the
town clerk under penalty of a fine and immediate freedom for the child. When properly
registered, the children were to legally become the indentured servants of the slaveowner
until they reached the statutory age. This meant that in some cases, children of slaves
were held in servitude long after their parents were set free. For example, a male child
who was born in 1820 to parents born before July 5, 1799 would still be required to serve
his master until as late as 1848, even though the parents would have been freed in 1827.
The owner, however, could and often did waive his claim to them, as well as his
responsibility for their support, by assigning them to the local overseers of the poor.
(McManus, pp. 174-175.)
Following the 1799 Act were several other acts regarding the amelioration of slavery
and its consequences. In 1801, the legislature passed an act that restricted travel in order
to discourage slaveholders from selling their slaves in Southern states before their slaves
were to become free in New York. This issue was brought up again in 1810 and even
later in 1819. Another act passed in 1802 placed restrictions on slaves’ rights to purchase
liquors. The legislature passed several acts dealing with the regulation and education of
children of slaves who became paupers. (Northrupp, p. 299.) But this series of laws was
nothing more than the last gasp of the dying institution, and the freed slaves then had to
solve the problem of supporting themselves and gaining full acceptance in a difficult and
often unyielding new environment.
Description of the Register of Slaves
The Register of Slaves (1799-1825) was kept by the Town Clerk of New Paltz as a
requirement of the New York State Manumission Act of 1799. In keeping the slave register, the
town clerk recorded the births of children born to slaves owned by the town’s inhabitants. Each
entry includes the owner’s name, the slave’s name, sex, and date of birth. In addition, located in
the final pages of the book is an entry entitled the “Record of Disbandments”, which list the dates
that the slave owners freed, or “abandoned” individual slave children in accordance with the 1799
act. Thus, this portion of the register is of particular interest to researchers, since not only does it
provide the names of the owners and their slaves, but also the date in which certain slaves gained
their freedom, and whether or not this was done before the official deadline.
The Register of Slaves is an important document for tracking the transition of black
Americans from slavery to freedom in New Paltz, but the information it provides is
repetitive and quantitative rather than qualitative. The Register does not contain anecdotal
information, nor does it give us insight into the daily lives of the slaves, their origins,
their feelings, or even the attitudes of the free white community about the institution they
supported for over a century. The Register thus serves the researcher as a reference point
to study slavery in New Paltz, but cannot be considered the only or even the best source
for this purpose. In addition, other documents such as census records, legislative records,
court records, wills, inventories, account books, receipts, newspapers, and letters are
essential to the search to gain a fuller understanding of the African American experience
in this one Mid-Hudson Valley community.
The original register is stored with the New Paltz Town Records held at the Huguenot
Historical Society and is accessible to researchers by appointment. In formatting the text
of the transcription, the authors decided to adhere completely to the format of the original
document in terms of spacing, pagination, and spelling.
List of Sources
Christoph, Peter R. and Florence A., editors. The Andros Papers 1674-1676: Files of the
Provincial Secretary of New York during the Administration of Governor Sir Edmund
Andros. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1989.
Heidgerd, William. The American Descendants of Chretien DuBois of Wicres, France. 20
volumes. New Paltz, NY: The DuBois Family Association and the Huguenot Historical
Kruger, Vivienne L. Born to Run: The slave family in early New York, 1626 to 1827. 2
volumes. Doctoral Dissertation, Columbia University, New York, 1985.
Martin, Irene. “New Paltz.” The History of Ulster County: with and Emphasis upon the last 100
years, 1883-1983. Kingston, NY: compiled by the Historians of Ulster County for the
Tercentenary Year, 1984.
McManus, Edgar J. A History of the Negro Slave in New York. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse
University Press, 1970.
Northrupp, A. Judd. “Slavery in New York.” State Library Bulletin: History, No. 4, Albany, NY,
O’Callaghan, E.B. The Documentary History of the State of New York. 4 volumes.
Albany, NY: Weed, Parsons & Co., Public Printers, 1850.
Williams-Myers, A.J. Long Hammering: Essays on the forging of an African American
presence in the Hudson River Valley to the early twentieth century. Trenton, NJ: African
World Press, Inc., 1994.
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