Manuscripts Division William L. Clements Library University of Michigan
Finding aid for Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, Slave Records, 1788-1825
Finding aid created by Mary H. Parsons and Philip Heslip, March 2010
Title: Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, slave records Creator: Graydon, Alexander 1752-1818, Fahenstock, Obediah, 1770-1840, and Boas, Jacob, 1786-1815 Inclusive dates: 1788-1825 Extent: 1 volume, 8 loose items Abstract:
The Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, Slave Records is a register of black and mulatto children born in Dauphin County between 1780 and 1825. The volume contains approximately 170 bound slave records giving each child's name, date of birth, sex, race, as well as owner's name, occupation, and place of residency.
Language: The material is in English Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave. The University of Michigan Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190 Phone: 734-764-2347 Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu
Access and Use
The collection is open for research.
Copyright status is unknown
Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.
Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, Slave Records, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan
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
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.