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John Jay College Creates First Database Of New York Slavery Records

slaveryindex_story.jpg
Courtesy of John Jay College of Criminal Justice
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The birth registration of a slave from 1803. The slave owner abandoned her to the Overseers to the Poor.

John Jay College of Criminal Justice has created New York’s first database of slavery records. The online index is free to use and lets people access documents dating back to 1525.

Ned Benton, co-director of the project at John Jay College, says that it has been hard to collect records of enslaved people in the past because there were few records kept at all. 

“Enslaved people, many of them only had a first name. Of course, if they’re a woman who’s enslaved, maybe perhaps is freed and then gets married, she might take her husband’s name and then there would be another puzzle in making the connection.”

Benton says that the project can help people all over the country understand the legacies of slavery – no matter where they live.

“We tend to think of slavery as something that only happened in the South. On the eve of the Revolutionary War, Connecticut had the largest number of slaves in New England. It had 1,464.”

Benton says that this spring they will work with the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society to collect biographies of slaves and slaveholders in New York.

Anthony Moaton is a former fellow at WSHU.