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Guide to the Records of the New-York Manumission Society
1785-1849
 BV Manumission Society

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400


New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Ted O'Reilly

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on April 09, 2020
Description is in English. using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Historical Note

In January and February of 1785, a number of New York's leading white citizens convened to found the New-York Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves, and Protecting Such of Them as Have Been, or May Be Liberated, commonly referred to as the New-York Manumission Society. The Society's mission was to publicly lobby for the abolition of slavery and manumission of slaves in New York State, and to advocate on behalf of those already freed. More specifically, the Society provided legal assistance to illegally enslaved blacks, prosecuted owners guilty of mistreating their slaves, and supported efforts to enforce laws banning the sale of slaves. Additionally, it sought to strengthen legislation against the transportation of slaves to and from New York State.

Among the Society's major achievements was the founding of the African Free-School in 1787, devoted to the education of black children as preparation for life as free citizens. The school played a significant role in producing new leadership from within the New York black community, before the Manumission Society turned it over to the New York public school system in 1834.

The Society's efforts helped bring about the Gradual Emancipation Law of 1799 and its counterpart in 1817, which officially ended slavery in New York in 1827. Emancipation slowly diminished the Society's role that ended with its disbanding in 1849.

The Society and its commitees met in a number of different locations around New York, including the Coffee House, the inn of John Simmons, the City Dispensary, Ely's School Room, the Senate Chamber at City Hall and the rooms of the African Free-School.

During its tenure, the Society drew together a diverse membership of varying political perspectives. It counted among its members, Quakers, professionals, merchants, and political figures, many of whom were also slave owners. Some of the Society's active members included: Robert C. Cornell, W. W. Woolsey, Nehemiah Allen, Melancton Smith, William T. Slocum, Samuel Bowne, Adrian Hegeman, Willet Seaman, Thomas Burling, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, James Duane, John Murray, Jr., William Dunlap, Alexander McDougall, Noah Webster, Egbert Benson, and many others.