Middlesex County Slavery Records
In the early 19th century, County Clerks in New Jersey were responsible for registering the births, manumissions, and relocations of enslaved people. These records provide key documentation about Black people's lives in the era of Gradual Abolition in New Jersey, which began in 1804.
Middlesex County records related to Black children and adults were preserved in two bound volumes at Special Collections and University Archives at Alexander Library at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. These volumes are part of the collection known as Middlesex County (N.J.). Records, 1688-1929 (MC 784.1). The Scarlet and Black research team has scanned and indexed the books. Records from these books have been integrated into the main PERSONS and EVENTS tables in our database. Additional custom index tables for each book are linked below.
The first book, known as Volume XI in Middlesex County records, contains copies of legal documents for the period 1800–1825. Legal and historical records often refer to this volume as the "Book of Manumissions." However, only 75% of the records contained in this book are copies of manumission documents granting freedom to the Black people named. The remaining 25% are copies of removal certificates, i.e. documents recording the removal of black children, women, and men out of the State of New Jersey, primarily destined for Louisiana where they would live in perpetual slavery.
These records were maintained by the Clerk of the Court of Common Pleas for Middlesex County. The vast majority of the records are written in the hand of William P. Deare, who was the Clerk of the Court from 1801 to 1825, and who was also a long-time trustee of Queen's College.
The book contains an alphabetical index by first name of the Black person being manumitted or removed. The index is in the front, followed by 438 numbered pages of legal records. Pages 1-10 and 15-22 are blank. Additionally, page 146 is blank and page 147 was skipped by the Clerk, who resumed pagination with number 148. All non-blank pages of the book have been scanned and processed by the Scarlet and Black Research Center team.
We created three custom indexes that you can use to browse records from this book:
- To browse manumissions, see Middlesex Manumissions by Name, Date, and Location
- To browse removal certificates, see the Removal Records Index. To learn more about removal certificates, see our guide Understanding Interstate Slave Trade & Kidnapping Documents.
- Need to look up a specific page number? See Middlesex Manumissions Book by Page.
The second book, known as Volume X in Middlesex County records, contains records of births for African American children born in bondage after 1804. Beginning on July 4, 1804, enslavers had to report to the County Clerk when an enslaved mother in their household gave birth to a child.
These county records were necessary to prove the child's age and eligibility for emancipation at age 21 (for female children) or age 25 (for male children) under the provisions of the 1804 Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery.
Approximately half of records from this book have been indexed so far. The remaining names and birth dates will be published in 2024.