Sunday, July 08, 2012
Slavery Abolished In Vermont
The 1777 constitution entitles Vermont to claim to be the first U.S. state to have abolished slavery.
Historian Joanne Pope Melish finds that "the language of the act was sufficiently vague that slaveholding may have persisted without sanction in a few cases for several years." She cites the age limit in the clause banning involuntary servitude and points out the possibility of binding out black children of parents who had been slaves before 1777. But more likely, as Melish states, this was meant to continue the common New England policy of binding out indigent children, white or black, to prevent them being public charges.
The Vermont slave story has another footnote, however. The official report of the U.S. Census in 1870 assigned 16 slaves to Vermont in 1790, all in Bennington County. The chief clerk of the Census Bureau at the time, George D. Harrington, happened to be from Vermont, and he "discovered the mistake" and changed the status of the 16 to "Free Other." A modern historian has turned up an issue of the "Vermont Gazette" of Sept. 26, 1791, which reported the return for Bennington County, with 21 black males and 15 black females, and the marshal's assistant's boast, "To the honor of humanity, NO SLAVES." On the one hand, this seems to verify that the 1870 report was an error; on the other hand it raises the suspicion that the state pride and Free Soil enthusiasm of the census taker and Chief Clerk Harrington may have obscured a lingering slavery in Vermont.
Still, pretty damned enlightened for the epoch. And it set the stage for our own nullification efforts against slavery, contra our friends south of Mason-Dixon. The last few years before war broke out by Vermont passed laws in contravention of The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, guaranteeing due process to escaped slaves and securing freedom to all persons in our State (pissing off folks in Kentucky, Virginia and Georgia, amongst others).
Arc. Justice. Etc.
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Slavery Abolished In Vermont: