The First Emancipation 1780-1804


Map Code: Ax02489

While moral opposition to slavery amongst American colonists swelled during the 18th century, it would, ironically, be a sworn enemy, the British Governor of New York who would institute the first concrete measure towards emancipation. Lord Dunmore offered black slave recruits to his Ethiopian Regiment their freedom in return for fighting against the Patriot rebels. The War of Independence highlighted the incongruity of slave owners fighting for freedom from tyranny. Rhode Island banned the importation of slaves in 1774, and the then independent Republic of Vermont abolished slavery in 1777. Vermont had virtually no slaves, but Pennsylvania (1780) and Rhode Island (1784) introduced Gradual Abolition Acts. Similar phasing out legislation aimed at propitiating the opposition of slave holders was enacted in New York in 1799 and New Jersey in 1804. However, in the southern states, where the plantation economy was built on mass slave holding, emancipation sentiment failed to gain a foothold. Where emancipation was enacted, it proved far from a panacea. In northern cities work like goldsmithing, weaving and woodcut illustrating had become virtual slave preserves. Emancipation allowed white workers to wrest back control of these professions leaving many freed blacks destitute.

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