Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, slave records  1788-1825
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, Slave Records is a register of the names of black and mulatto children born in Dauphin County between 1780 and 1825. The volume contains approximately 170 bound slave records, with 7 loose copies, a memorial for John Ewing, and a printed notice in the book’s front cover.

The ledger contains a seven-page index at the front, followed by 49 pages of entries, with three to four entries per page. Glued inside the front cover is a printed copy of the March 29, 1788, law regarding the registration of the children of slaves -- An act to explain and amend an act, entitled, "An act for the gradual abolition of slavery." The ledger contains 6 officially embossed copies of entries copied in the volume, and an undated letter with a tribute to a lawyer named John Ewing, who died at the age of 40. The content of this letter is highly religious and laudatory.

The volume lists 105 female children and 92 male children. Only 17 of the 197 children have recorded surnames. Of the 97 different slave owners most of them (76%) registered only one or two children. Only 7% of owners registered more than four. Notable slave owners include John Andre Hanna, a Revolutionary War general and U.S. congressman; Cornelius Cox, a Revolutionary War colonel and elector from Pennsylvania in the 1792 presidential election [he voted for Washington]; and Mordecai McKinney, whose son defended numerous fugitive slaves in Pennsylvania in the 1850's. For a complete list of slave owners see the Additional Descriptive Data section below.

The register lists the names, birthdates, and owners of 197 children born to slaves in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, in the 45-year period between 1780 and 1825. The registrar often recorded estimated ages of those born prior to April 1, 1789, but for those born after that date, he noted exact birthdates. In one case, the record shows the actual hour of birth. The racial designations are Negro, Mulatto, Negro or Mulatto, and colored child. In only one case is a parent named:

"Be it remembered that on the Seventeenth day of April A.D. 1819 William N. Irvine, Esq. Attorney at Law...maketh return on Oath that a female Mullatto child was born by his Negro Servant Ann, on the seventeenth day of November 1818 and that the said female child is called Harriet, is now living and has been supported by the said William and is of the age of 5 months and twenty-nine days."

The children born after the 1780 act for Pennsylvania's gradual abolition of slavery became free men and women in 1808. The last child registered (Eve, a Mulatto, born June 6, 1825) would have been able to obtain her freedom in June of 1853. Covering a 45-year period, this volume demonstrates that abolition of slavery in Pennsylvania was a gradual process.

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