The Question of Slavery: Public Sentiment in New Jersey

Permission slip for Harry to join the African Association

Permission Slip written by Arthur Hall, the slaveholder of Harry, an enslaved man to join the African Association. Date: 1819-01-09.

There have been several articles found in New Jersey newspapers during this time that could possibly show that a general social consensus was favoring the abolition of slavery in New Jersey. Laws were beginning to be pushed forward towards legislatures suggesting methods of beginning the abolition.

The “Trenton Association for promoting the abolition of slavery” advertised for membership on newspapers in the areas surrounding New Brunswick. In this association’s constitution they stated that their goal was in educating and finding work for freed black people and pushing for abolition laws. While this may be done in good intention, the association still used language that heavily implied the inferiority of people of colour. Using descriptors such as “Ignorant”, “Indolent”, and “Vicious” it seems that these intentions to help came from a mindset of “The White Man’s Burden”.[1] Furthermore, there is no evidence that has been found to imply that this association succeeded in its goals or even attempted them. It is also evident that even though these organizations had good intentions, laws and loopholes under gradual abolition greatly favored the slave owners and trade that profited off the selling of human labor.

In contrast to this, The African Association was founded in New Brunswick in 1817. It consisted of a group of freed black people as well as a small amount of enslaved black people. The association would meet in the church and inside of the homes of freed blacks. It is very important to note that this group was heavily controlled by the Dutch Reformed Church and the African Colonization Society as a way to try and control the behaviors of black people. While it can be said that this association was only allowed because of the bad intentions of some organizations, its presence is still evidence of some social progress in New Brunswick. With permission from their owner an enslaved person could meet with the association and learn from black educators and preachers how to construct an identity as a black person in America. It was one of the only ways in New Brunswick for the black community, free and enslaved, to construct an identity outside of the eyes of the white community.[2]

[1]Wright, David. “To the People of the County of Hunterdon and Vicinity.” Trenton Federalist. March 2, 1802. America’s Historical Newspapers. 
[2] Fuentes, Marisa; White, Deborah Grey,Scarlet and Black: Slavery and Dispossession in Rutgers History. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2016), 112-118.
The Question of Slavery: Public Sentiment in New Jersey