Emancipation Day in New York

In 1799, the state of New York gradually began to change its laws regarding slavery. This gradual abolition law stated that although all children born to enslaved mothers after July 4, 1799 would be legally free, they would be required to work for their mother’s owners until they were 25 if they were female and 28 if they were male. For those who were born before July 4, 1799, they were then redefined by the law as indentured servants and therefore, enslaved for life. On March 31, 1817, the New York legislature ended two centuries of slavery within the state, setting July 4, 1827 to be the date when final emancipation was to occur. This made New York the first state to pass a law that included the total abolition of legal slavery. Around 11% of the black population living in New York was freed when Emancipation Day finally arrived, which was supposed to include Sojourner Truth. July 4, 1827 is an important day for Sojourner because her master, John Dumont, promised to emancipate her before that day came. But a year before the official emancipation, Dumont retracted his promise. Sojourner then freed herself and her infant daughter, Sophia. Unable to bring the rest of her family, Sojourner later found out that her 5-year-old son, Peter, had be illegally sold into slavery by Dumont, which led her to filing a lawsuit against him to regain custody of her son. Before doing so, Sojourner found refuge with Isaac and Maria Van Wagenen in New Platz, New York. In order to keep her safe, the Van Wagenens paid Dumont $20 for Sojourners labor until Emancipation Day on July 4, 1827. Emancipation Day was the day that Sojourner had been waiting for and what ultimately saved her. This law was also what led to the lawsuit she filed to get her son back and helped her to win it. With the help of the Wagenen, Sojourner won the lawsuit. As the first ever black woman to win a case against a white man, Emancipation Day plays a significant role in the empowerment of Sojourner Truth as an abolitionist. To be a black woman who was formally a slave, win a lawsuit against her former white, male owner, is an accomplishment that resonated within the abolitionist and black community.  

 Works Cited:

Landy, Craig A. “When Did Slavery End in New York?” Historical Society of the New York Courts, 24 Oct. 2018, history.nycourts.gov/when-did-slavery-end-in-new-york/. 

“Sojourner Truth (U.S. National Park Service).” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, www.nps.gov/people/sojourner-truth.htm. 

Associated Place(s)

Event date:

4 Jul 1827