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Slave births 1799-1801

Jan 3, 2012 11:45 AM | 2 comments

To find the birth records for Kings County during the 19th century, we usually refer people to the Municipal Archives.  There you will find the names of people born in Brooklyn from 1866  to 1909.  But here we are fortunate to have some earlier records as well.  Donated by St. Francis College some years ago, these microfilmed records span the years 1799 - 1801 and they chronicle births in Flatbush, which at the time was its own municipality.  The records are written in meticulous, precise calligraphic handwriting.  John Vanderveer, the town clerk at that time, put pen to paper using succinct and efficient language, recording each birth for posterity.  The ledger contains the usual suspects of Brooklyn's early farmocracy, names that would in later years distinguish our streets, schools, and buildings.  Entry after entry, month after month, one can imagine Vanderveer as he inscribes the names for the Lefferts, Remsen, Ditmars, Rapelye, Bergen, Lott, Martense, Gerritsen et al. households. 

But what sets these births records apart from the better known files at the Municipal Archives is that these are the lists of slave births in Flatbush.  They begin with the names of all slaveholders in Flatbush, and with the numbers of slaves owned--page after page with a businesslike formality that masks the human impact of the events.


"I Jannite Lott of the new Lots in the town of Flatbush, widow do certify that a Female child named, Suke, aged Five Months, was born of a Slave belonging to me.  Witness my hand this thirieth day of August, one thousand Eight hundred. Jannitie Lott

To the Town Clk of Flatbush Recorded the 2nd Sept. 1800 by me John C. Vanderveer Clk." 

There is no mention of the mother's name--just the property owner and the name of the child.  Names like Dine, Sukey, Jafta, Henry, Bett, who as newborns in that turn of the 19th century would grow up seeing the light at the end of the darkened tunnel. In 1799 the state legislature passed the "Act for Gradual Abolition of Slavery" which decreed that any slave child born after July 4th, 1799 would be free -- in 28 years for men, and 25 years for women.  Sadly the mothers of these children would remain a slaves for life, but would be called indentured servants.


"I Court Vanbrunt of the new lots in the Town of Flatbush, Farmer do hereby certify that a female child named Poll, aged eight Months, was born of a slave belonging to me.  Witness my hand this thirtieth day of August one thousand eight hundred.  Court Vanbrunt      To the town Clerk of Flatbush   Recorded the 2nd of September 1800    John C Vanderveer Clk.

Where did they go after slavery was abolished in 1827?  Some may have stayed on at the farms where they worked. Still others were kidnapped and sold South. And more remained, raising families and starting the work that led to the many African-American institutions in Brooklyn. We don't know for sure, but we have their names. 


   Mike with the gray horse and Roy, April 1884 - Vanderveer Farm Collection