Middlesex County Slavery Records

Middlesex County Historical Note

Middlesex County was one of the original counties created in New Jersey in the 17th century. It is located at the mouth of the Raritan River across from Staten Island, New York. Many communities in the county were originally established by Dutch settlers. New Brunswick is the county seat and the location of Rutgers University's historic campus (established in 1766 as Queen's College). Another important city in Middlesex is Perth Amboy, which served as New Jersey's main slave trading port since the 1680s.

Note that, prior to 1850, Albany Street in New Brunswick served as the county boundary between Middlesex and Somerset County, and thus the City of New Brunswick was actually split in half. A portion of the city (most of today's downtown) was located in Middlesex County and another portion (including all of the Rutgers College Avenue Campus) was officially in Somerset County. This situation was remedied in 1850 when the county boundary was redrawn to move all of New Brunswick into Middlesex County. But due to this history, researchers looking for slavery era records linked to Rutgers University's historic campus on College Avenue are encouraged to consult Somerset County records, which will contain many documents related to Rutgers affiliates.

Additionally, Middlesex County borders shifted in 1838 when a portion of the county around West Windsor and Princeton was annexed to form the new Mercer County. Middlesex County records contain many documents related to the West Windsor and Princeton area.

For additional information about the county and all of the places within it, see the Middlesex County place record in our database. The record links to all places that are presently in Middlesex County and provides a separate list of places that were previously in Middlesex County, but have been annexed to Mercer County. Alternatively, use the PLACES browsing page where you can quickly filter places by county.

Demographics and Slavery in 1800

The enslaved population of New Jersey grew after the American Revolution and reached its peak on the 1800 federal census (the last census before the start of the state's gradual abolition program). In 1800, Middlesex County had a total population of 17,890, ranking 6th among New Jersey's 13 counties by overall population. The county had 1,827 Black residents, making it the 4th in the state by Black population. The number of enslaved persons in the county was 1,564, with 85.6% of the Black residents living in slavery. In terms of percentages, Middlesex County figures closely resembled Monmouth: 10.2% of Middlesex residents were Black, and 8.7% of Middlesex residents were enslaved. Middlesex had 263 free Black residents (14.4% of the Black population or 1.5% of the total population of the county).

Archival Collection at Rutgers

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.

For some counties in New Jersey, these 19th-century archival records remain in the custody of their respective County Clerk's Office, but this is not the case in Middlesex County. Most early county records were moved for preservation to Rutgers University in the 20th century and are held at Special Collections and University Archives in New Brunswick in a collection called Middlesex County (N.J.) Records (MC 784.1)

Middlesex County archival records related to Black children and adults were preserved in two bound volumes that are part of this collection. 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. 

Middlesex County Manumissions and Removals Book, 1800–1825

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 Rutgers University.

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:

 

Middlesex County Births of Enslaved Children Book, 1804–1844

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.

  • To view all birth records that have been indexed so far, see the EVENTS table and select "Birth" from the Event Type drop-down box.
  • Need to look up a specific page number? See Middlesex Births Book by Page.