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Guide to the Records of the New-York Manumission Society
 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

Descriptive Summary

Creator: New-York Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves, and Protecting Such of Them as Have Been, or May Be Liberated
Title: New-York Manumission Society records
Dates [inclusive]: 1785-1849
Abstract: This collection contains 11 volumes of records for the New-York Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves, and Protecting Such of Them as Have Been, or May Be Liberated (commonly known as the New-York Manumission Society), covering its activities from its founding in 1785 through its dissolution in 1849.

The New-York Manumission Society records are digitized and available in the  Shelby White and Leon Levy Digital Library.
Quantity: 1.3 Linear feet (11 volumes on 2 microfilm reels)
Call Phrase: BV Manumission Society

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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.

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Scope and Content Note

The New-York Manumission Society records document the organization's sixty-four year history, relating to both its internal operations and public efforts on behalf of free and enslaved blacks of New York State. It is composed of meeting minutes, commission reports, financial records, indentures, registers, and communications.

The largest portion of the collection is composed of the minutes of the quarterly meetings. These encompass committee appointments, reports from various committees, election results for officers, reports and decisions concerning the Society's sponsorship and operation of the African Free-School and houses of refuge for the benefit of New York's African American population. They also discuss efforts to enact legal reforms aimed at abolishing the slave trade in New York and preventing the exportation of slaves, reports on individual cases of slaves in need of assistance in negotiating their freedom, and the protection of manumitted slaves.

Material relating to the day-to-day operation of the Society includes minutes of the Ways and Means Committee and the treasurer's account book. These cover issues such as collection of dues, expenses, income and payments, including rent for the African Free-School. Other material includes records and reports of various committees, such as the minutes of the Standing Committee, which discusses cases entered into on behalf of the Society, and one formed for obtaining land for the African Free-School. There are also a small number of circulars and communications to other organizations and miscellaneous minutes and reports. Among these are papers pertaining to the American Convention for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery.

Relating to its more public work, the collection has documentation of slaves manumitted in New York City as well as those whose service was commuted to indenture. Although these predominantly relate to slaves held in New York State, some are for slaves in other states.


The physical records are bound and arranged by type of documentation. The microfilm is arranged by volume number.

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Access Points

Subject Names

  • Allen, Nehemiah
  • Benson, Egbert, 1746-1833
  • Bowne, Samuel
  • Burling, Thomas, 1741-1820
  • Clarkson, Matthew, 1758-1825
  • Colden, Cadwallader D. (Cadwallader David), 1769-1834
  • Cornell, Robert C.
  • Duane, James, 1733-1797
  • Dunlap, William, 1766-1839
  • Hamilton, Alexander, 1757-1804
  • Hegeman, Adrian, 1773-1826
  • Jay, John, 1745-1829
  • Jay, Peter A. (Peter Augustus), 1776-1843
  • McDougall, Alexander, 1732-1786
  • Murray, John, --1758-1819
  • Seaman, Willet
  • Slocum, William T.
  • Smith, Melancton, --1744-1798
  • Tompkins, Daniel D., --1774-1825
  • Webster, Noah, --1758-1843
  • Woolsey, William Walton, --1766-1839

Document Type

  • Account books
  • Reports
  • Registers (lists)
  • Indentures

Subject Organizations

  • American Convention for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and Improving the Condition of the African Race [611]
  • New-York African Free-School

Subject Topics

  • Slave-trade -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Slavery -- New York (State)
  • Slaves -- Emancipation -- New York (State)
  • Antislavery movements -- New York (State) -- New York
  • African Americans -- Education -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Abolitionists -- New York (State) -- New York -- Societies, etc.

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Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

Open to qualified researchers.

The collection has been microfilmed and will be brought to the researcher in that format.

Researchers on site may print out unlimited copies from microfilm reader-printer machines at per-exposure rates. See guidelines in Reading room for details.

Use Restrictions

Photocopying undertaken by staff only. Limited to 20 exposures of stable, unbound material per day. Application to use images from this collection for publication should be made in writing to: Department of Rights and Reproductions, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024-5194, Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282.

Copyrights and other proprietary rights may subsist in individuals and entities other than the New-York Historical Society, in which case the patron is responsible for securing permission from those parties. For fuller information about rights and reproductions from N-YHS visit:

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as New-York Manumission Society Records, MS 1465, New-York Historical Society.

Related Material at The New-York Historical Society

Further material on the New-York Manumission Society can be found in the African Free-School Records (BV African Free-School).

Existence and Location of Copies

Digital copies are available in the Shelby White and Leon Levy Digital Library.

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Container List

Container 1     Title Date
Reel: 1 Volume 1, Minutes of the Ways and Means Committee
Reel: 1 Volume 2, Register of Manumissions of Slaves (New York City)
Reel: 1 Volume 3, Manumissions and Indentures
Reel: 1 Volume 4, Treasurer's Account Book
Reel: 1 Volume 5, Minutes of Meetings, Records and Reports of Committees
Reel: 1 Volume 6, Minutes
Reel: 1 Volume 7, Minutes
Reel: 2 Volume 7, Minutes
Reel: 2 Volume 8, Minutes
Reel: 2 Volume 9, Minutes
Reel: 2 Volume 10, Minutes
Reel: 2 Volume 11, Minutes

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