Event Types

The New Jersey Slavery Records database uses a vocabulary of terms to categorize different types of events documented in archival sources. This page provides term definitions and examples. After reviewing these terms, you can go to the Events browsing page and use the Event Type filter to find items relevant to your research.

This vocabulary was originally created by the cross-institutional collaborative project called On These Grounds: Slavery and the University, which provided the starting point for the development of our database. As we continue to encounter new information in the archival documents, we occasionally add new terms to the vocabulary, so this list continues to grow.

Table of Contents

Freedom Status

This category describes events that affect a person’s freedom status or ownership.


An event in which an enslaver formally abandons his or her right and title to an enslaved child.


1805-09-26 Abandonment: Simeon (from a certificate by Samuel Fitz Randolph of Piscataway) and 
1809-05-13 Abandonment: 8 Black children, including Aaron, Oliver, Sarah, Jude (from an advertisement by John Van Nuis, Overseer of the Poor of North Brunswick)


The legal system of abandonment was part of New Jersey's gradual abolition program and was widely used in the first decade of the 19th century. This system allowed an enslaver to give up their rights and responsibilities regarding the Black infants born in their household. The children thus abandoned were given up to the Overseers of the Poor of their township to be treated as paupers, and they were usually bound out to labor in another household until they reached the age of emancipation (21 years for girls and 25 years for boys). Some abandonment events in our database were created based on abandonment certificates filed by enslavers in Piscataway, Middlesex County, which appears to be one of the few municipalities where these documents were preserved. These certificates typically list the child's name, sex, date of birth, and the name of their mother.

Additionally, Overseers of the Poor throughout the state would periodically publish advertisements listing the abandoned Black children who were in their custody. Some abandonment events in the database come from these advertisements.


An event in which an enslaved person is freed by an order of a state.


1826-12-11 Emancipation: Charlotte Titus


Our database records make a distinction between manumission (an individual enslaver releasing a Black person from slavery) and emancipation (the government declaring people to be free). The great majority of people who gained freedom in New Jersey did so through emancipation under the state's gradual abolition law, which promised freedom to Black children born after July 4, 1804, upon reaching a certain age: 21 years for girls and 25 years for boys. However, people emancipated through the gradual abolition law did not have to file paperwork to indicate that they reached the age of emancipation and were now legally free. There was no documentary evidence attached to the monumental event of reaching the age of freedom. For this reason, very few records are coded as emancipation events in the database. There are, however, many manumission events recorded in the database because individual enslavers were required to file paperwork when they released a person from slavery.


An event in which an enslaved person is freed by the individual who holds them in bondage.


1802-07-03 Manumission: Sarah (by Andrew Kirkpatrick)


Most manumission events in the database come from manumission certificates and deeds of manumission maintained by county clerks since the turn of the 19th century. A law adopted in 1798 standardized the procedure and paperwork required for manumitting an enslaved person. Before a person could be manumitted, they had to be examined in court by two Justices of the Peace and by the Overseer of the Poor of their township of residence. These officials then issued a manumission certificate confirming that the person was eligible for manumission, i.e., the person was between the ages of 21 and 40 and was of sound mind and not physically disabled. In other words, the person had to be of prime working age and capable of supporting themselves through their own labor. Upon receiving the manumission certificate from the court, the enslaver then had to sign a deed of manumission recording their intent to permanently free the person. One or both documents were typically entered into the county clerk's book and maintained as proof that the person was legally free.

Occasionally, we also enter manumission events based on other evidence, particularly when formerly enslaved people provide a narrative of their life (in an autobiography or interview) and recall being manumitted by their enslaver.


An event in which an enslaved person is sold by the individual who holds them in bondage.


1815-05-25 Sale: Prince (sold by Cornelius C. Vermeule to John Neilson)


Sale events are documented in a variety of sources, including bills of sale and receipts. Such documents typically indicate the buyer, seller, and the terms of the sale, including the price paid and any term limits if the person was being sold for a term of years rather than for life. Sales are also often mentioned in the course of other events. For example, some runaway ads note that the person who ran away was recently purchased from another enslaver. Such indirect evidence of sales often provides at least the names of the buyer and seller, even if other details remain obscured. Whenever a sale of an enslaved person from one household to another is mentioned, we create a sale event in the database.


An event in which ownership or control of an enslaved person is transferred from one entity to another.


1822-03-27 Transfer: Charlotte Titus (from the estate of Gerardus Beekman to Jane Beekman)


The most common way that an enslaved person was transferred from one enslaver to another was through sale, but keep in mind that sales have their own separate event type in the database. If the event is not a sale, it will be entered as a "transfer." This includes transfers through inheritance when the original enslaver dies and their heirs inherit ownership and control of the enslaved person.


This category describes events that involve a legal filing or proceeding related to an enslaved person.


An event in which two parties come to an agreement with respect to an enslaved person, generally articulated in an official document.


1802-03-01 Agreement: Thomas Titus (Thomas Titus’s agreement with Gerardus Beekman)


The enslaved person themselves may be a party to the agreement. For example, some people, such as Thomas Titus, negotiated agreements with their enslavers whereby they would gain freedom after some years (or decades) of diligent service. Sometimes the original agreement is not found in the archive, but other documents indicate that an agreement had been made. For example, prior agreements are sometimes mentioned in wills or discussed during legal proceedings.

Criminal action

A legal dispute involving an enslaved person that relates to a criminal statute.


1805-06-14 Criminal action: Claus (murder of Joe)


Court records and newspapers discuss criminal proceedings where enslaved people are involved in a variety of ways, including as victims or as defendants in criminal trials.


A legal filing that provides an accounting of a person’s estate after their death.


1809-03-28 Probate (of John Axford): Jack, Isabel


Probate records may include estate inventories that list enslaved people as property left behind by the decedent. See also the related event type for Wills.


A legal filing outlining a person's wishes for the disposition of their property upon their death.


1814-08-18 Will (of Gerardus Beekman): Thomas Titus, Charlotte Titus


Enslaved people are sometimes mentioned in wills, which outline what should happen to the person after the death of their enslaver, whether they might be sold, freed, or given as a bequest to the heirs of the decedent. Will events in our database primarily come from information found in the abstracts of wills that were compiled by the New Jersey State Archives in the early 20th century. These abstracts were published in a series of books known as Calendar of New Jersey Wills (13 volumes) covering the period from 1670 to 1817. Additionally, we sometimes review original wills and probate records on microfilm in the course of our research.

Life Event

This category describes events that are part of the normal course of a human life.


An event in which a person is born.


1805-02-03 Birth: Elizabeth (reported by John I. Craig of Prospect Farm in Princeton)


Most birth events in our database come from birth certificates filed by enslavers with their county clerks. In 1804, New Jersey enacted a gradual abolition law that promised eventual freedom to Black children born to enslaved mothers. For children born on or after July 4, 1804, girls would gain freedom at age 21, and boys would become free at age 25. Until that age, they had to serve their mother's enslaver.

The law required an enslaver to send a birth certificate to their county clerk whenever an enslaved woman in their household gave birth to a child. The county clerks maintained these records in order to prove the child's age and eligibility for emancipation. These birth certificates were supposed to be filed within 9 months of the child's birth, but enslavers routinely waited years before registering a child, and some neglected to file a birth certificate altogether.

County birth certificates typically list the child's name, sex, and date of birth. The mother's name is often listed, but not always. The father's name is listed only occasionally. The enslaver's name and township of residence are typically indicated, although some enslavers did not list their residence. Since the records are maintained by the county clerk’s office, we always know at least the county where the child was born. Sometimes, even though the birth certificate itself does not list a place of birth, we are able to infer the location based on other documents where the same enslaver listed their place of residence.

Occasionally, evidence of a child's birth comes from a different type of document, such as a diary entry or family bible listing the date of birth.


An event in which a person dies.


1775-09-28 Death: Ukawsaw Gronniosaw and 1805-06 Death: Joe (allegedly murdered by Claus)


Deaths of enslaved or formerly enslaved people are documented in a variety of sources, including obituaries. Unlike births, which were supposed to be registered with a county clerk after 1804, enslaved people's deaths were not systematically recorded by the government. For this reason, many people in the database have a birth record, but no death record.


An event in which an enslaved person participates in a ritual to mark their commitment to a long term relationship with another person.


1811-09-08 Marriage: Mark Harris Sr., Ambo Harris


Marriage records will be integrated into the database at the next stage of development. For now, an example marriage record has been entered from the sacramental register of the First Presbyterian Church of New Brunswick.

A marriage event record will only be created if there is a document (such as a church register) that lists the date and place where the marriage ceremony took place. Known marital relationships are also reflected on the person's biographical profile page, where the person’s partner is listed in the Spouse field. This way, spouses are connected to each other in the database even if we do not know when they got married.


This category describes events in which an enslaved person takes action to resist their status, treatment, or condition, or that of a compatriot

Freedom seeking

An event in which an enslaved person leaves the controlling jurisdiction of their owner permanently or for a time.


1803-08-20 Freedom seeking: Dick, Phebe


When a Black person escaped from their enslaver, the enslaver would often publish a runaway advertisement alerting the public about the escape and offering a reward for the runaway’s capture. These escapes are coded as freedom seeking events in the database. Related event types include Capture and Jailing, which were also documented in the ads. Freedom seeking events include instances where a Black person broke out of jail, in which case the jailer may publish a jailbreak notice and offer a reward for returning the person to their jurisdiction.

Property appropriation

An event in which someone appropriates property or provisions that are not technically under their control.


1801-12 Property appropriation: Jack

Property destruction

An event in which someone purposefully damages someone else’s property.


1800 Property destruction: Caesar

Rebellion or plot

An event involving the planning or execution of acts of opposition to or subversion of the authority of an enslaver or to established authority.


1789-12 Rebellion or Plot: 2 Black men in Forman's group


This category describes events in which an enslaved person moves from one location to another, most often at the behest of an owner or trader.

Removal registration

A legal filing that registers the removal of an enslaved person from their home state to another state.


1818-04-29 Removal: Betsey


Removal registration events are based on removal certificates filed with the county clerk when an enslaved person was sold or otherwise taken away from New Jersey. See our research guide Understanding Removal Certificates, Kidnappings, and the Interstate Slave Trade for more information about this event type.


An event in which one or more enslaved persons are taken aboard a vessel for transport.


An event in which one or more enslaved persons are removed from a vessel.


An event in which an enslaved person is transferred from one primary residence to another.


This category describes events in which an enslaved person is involved in a violent altercation with a non-enslaved person.


An event in which an enslaved person is apprehended by some external entity, such as a slave patrol.


1798 Capture: Jack


Runaway attempts (i.e., freedom seeking type of events) were often documented by runaway ads offering a reward for the person’s capture and return. Often we do not know what happened after a runaway ad was published—we do not know whether the freedom seeker was ever caught or succeeded in liberating themselves and starting a new life. When we have evidence that the freedom seeker was eventually apprehended and returned to their enslaver’s household, we create a capture event in the database.


An event in which an enslaved person is confined by the state or a municipal authority for some transgression.


1814-01 Jailing: Rachel


Jailing events include instances when a Black person was arrested and lodged in jail as a suspected runaway. In such cases, the jailkeeper would typically publish a notice describing the prisoner.

For research about carceral spaces, go to the Events browsing page and use the Location filter to type in the word “jail.” This will show all events that took place at jails, including jailing events, instances of jailbreak (coded as freedom seeking events), and events related to other criminal proceedings.

Other Categories


An event in which an enslaved person's body, service, or labor is offered as available for hire, barter, sale, or transfer in a written or printed public notice, especially a newspaper or poster.


1800-12-16 Advertisement: Unnamed Black woman (by Jacob Rutsen Hardenbergh)


In the 18th and 19th centuries, New Jersey newspapers frequently published slave sale advertisements. Papers in neighboring New York City and Philadelphia (which served as early publishing centers in the colonial period) also contained many ads by Jersey enslavers. Typically, sale advertisements do not list the names of the enslaved people involved. For this reason, the Black people involved are listed in the database as unnamed individuals or groups. The name of the seller is often provided in the ad, but we also frequently see ads that do not list the enslaver’s name. Instead, such ads say "enquire of the printer," indicating that the enslaver wanted to keep the sale private, and the newspaper printer was acting as a broker in these transactions. Whenever appropriate, we link the newspaper printer's name to the advertisement to indicate their involvement as a broker in the sale.


An instance in which an enslaved person relates or writes their life story.

Sub-category of: Communication


1772 Autobiography: Ukawsaw Gronniosaw


An event in which a person is initiated into a Christian denomination.

Sub-category of: Religious or Sacramental


1756-05-06 Baptism: Rachel, Mary, Margaret, Robert Johnson, Bella


Baptismal records will be integrated into the database at the next stage of development. For now, example events have been entered based on several documents published by the Christ Church in Shrewsbury.

Commercial transaction

An event in which an enslaved person is part of a transaction that involves the buying or selling of goods, services, or labor.


1817-08 Commercial transaction: Thomas Titus, Sarah TenBroeck Titus (purchasing a farm from Ferdinand Van Dyke)

Enslaved hire

An event in which an enslaved person is hired out to an individual other than their primary enslaver for a period of time.

Sub-category of: Commercial transaction


1808-09-28 Enslaved hire: Will (construction labor at Old Queen’s building)


In the case of an enslaved hire, the primary enslaver receives wages or other compensation for the labor of the enslaved person who is hired out.


An event in which an enslaved person is performing some kind of work.


1817 Labor: Charles


Enslaved people spent their lives laboring. Database events are not usually created merely to indicate that a person is working in their primary enslaver’s household—this labor is implied in various other event types. However, a separate labor event may be created to link the Black person to other employers and work locations aside from their primary enslaver. Labor events can also be created to document the employment arrangements of free and formerly enslaved Black people.

Membership or participation

An event in which a person joins or participates in a group.


1819-01-09 Membership or participation: Henry Staats (permission to join the African Association of New Brunswick)


An event in which an enslaved person is noted in an unspecified way, e.g. correspondence that notes an encounter.


1777-12-06 Mention: Unnamed Black man (letter by Jacob Rutsen Hardenbergh Sr.)


The mention event type is used for the most ambiguous cases when the source document provides very limited information about the enslaved person. A “mention” means that we have evidence that the Black person existed, but we do not know what they were doing or what was happening to them. The Black person’s name may not even be recorded, and in that case they will be listed in the database as an unnamed individual.