Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, slave records  1788-1825
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Emancipation in Pennsylvania : On March 1, 1780, the Pennsylvania Assembly passed a law for the gradual emancipation of slaves born in Pennsylvania. Any slave born before March 1, 1780, would be a slave for life. Any child born to a slave mother after March 1, 1780, was not a slave, but rather an indentured servant until age 28. Slave owners were required by law to register their "slaves for life" by Nov. 1, 1780. If not registered by that date, the slaves would be declared free. Eight years later, on March 29, 1788, the Pennsylvania Assembly passed a second act concerning the gradual emancipation of slaves. The new law closed loopholes in the 1780 bill, such as the practice of taking a pregnant slave to another state to give birth, thus making that child a slave for life. It required that slave owners register all slave-born children and stipulated that members of slave families could not be separated by a distance of more than 10 miles, without the consent of the slave family. The bill contained enforcement measures (fines and imprisonment), and required that all slave owners register any child born to a slave mother after March 1, 1780, with the "Clerk of Peace" for that county, by April 1, 1789. Failure to register a child within 6 months of his or her birth made the child automatically free.

The Dauphin Slave Records : Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, Slave Records is a registry of slave births containing the names of 197 children, registered during a thirty-seven-year period, between Oct. 13, 1788, and June 6, 1825. The first 12 pages contain entries for children who were born during the decade before required registration, and the next 35 pages contain the names of children born after April 1, 1789.

Five different clerks or "prothonotaries" kept the register:

  • Alexander Graydon (1752-1818): from October 1788-August 1799
  • Joshua Elder: from March 1800-January 1809
  • Jacob Boas (1786-1815): from March 1809-October 1815
  • John Mchesney: from October 1816-February 1821
  • Obediah Fahnestock (1770-1840): from February 27, 1824-June 6, 1825