What is a Removal Certificate?

Removal Records Index:
explore certificates by name, date, and destination.


Learn about the Slave Trading Ring in Middlesex County.

One of the key Event Types in our database is Removal Registration. Information about these events comes from documents known as removal certificates, issued by the Court of Common Pleas and recorded by the county clerk.

A removal certificate is a document authorizing an enslaver to relocate (or "remove") an enslaved person out of the state. A New Jersey law adopted in 1788 (and expanded in 1812), stipulated that an enslaved person had to give their consent before an enslaver could take them out of the state permanently. These rules applied when an enslaver's family planned to move to another state or when an enslaver wanted to sell a Black person across state lines. Most removal certificates document the movement of people to southern destinations as part of the interstate slave trade.

The removal procedure required the enslaver to bring the enslaved person before two judges, who were supposed to privately examine the enslaved person (separately from the enslaver), asking whether he or she agreed to relocate to another state. In the case of a minor child, parental consent was required. If the judges were satisfied that the enslaved person gave their consent freely, the officials would issue a removal certificate authorizing the relocation.

Once the removal certificate was issued, the county clerk would transcribe a copy of the certificate by hand into a bound volume, next to records of manumissions (i.e. records of individuals who were freed from slavery). For this reason, early 19th-century removal certificates can be found in county records inside of bound volumes with titles such as "Book of Manumissions" or "Manumission of Slaves."

New Jersey Slavery Records has digitized and indexed removal certificates for nearly a hundred people from Middlesex County, most of them victims of the Van Wickle Slave Trading Ring. We are now working to digitize a set of removal certificates from Somerset County.

Destinations: Where Are They Going?

Most removal certificates document movement to the slave states of the South, primarily to Louisiana. Several certificates list destinations in Mississippi and Virginia.

But not all removal certificates issued in Middlesex County pertain to the interstate slave trade with Southern destinations. A handful of certificates show relocation to the northern states of New York and Ohio. These were usually instances where the enslaver moved together with the enslaved person, rather than selling the enslaved person to a third party.

Sample Transcript of a Removal Certificate

Phillis }
State of New Jersey }
Middlesex County }
On the 23rd day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and seventeen Phillis the negro slave of Staats Van Deursen of the city of New Brunswick, in the county and State aforesaid, aged twenty two years was privately examined before us Thomas Hance and John F. Randolph two of the Judges of the Court of Common Pleas in and for said County of Middlesex, and on her examination did state and acknowledge to us that she was twenty two years old and that she was perfectly willing to leave the service of her present master and to remove with Jacob Klady to the State of Louisiana and that she would rather go with and serve the said Jacob Klady than continue with her present master. All of which we do hereby certify. In Witness whereof we have hereunto set our hands the day and year above written. -
Thos. Hance
John F. Randolph. -
Received October 8th, 1817 recorded
by Wm. P. Deare CLK

Certificate recorded on page 208 of the Middlesex County Manumissions and Removals book for enslaver Staats Van Deursen, treasurer of Queen's College (now Rutgers University).

Related event: 1817-09-23 Removal: Phillis