Sussex County Slavery Records

Sussex and Warren County Formation

Sussex County is located in the northwestern section of New Jersey, bordering New York to the north and the Delaware River (with Pennsylvania across it) to the west. The county was formed in 1753 and was originally about twice as large as it is today for the first 71 years of its history. In 1824, the southern half of the county was split off to form Warren County. Thus, many slavery era documents related to the area of present-day Warren County can be found among Sussex County records.

Sussex 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, Sussex County stood out among New Jersey's 13 counties for its large and overwhelmingly white population. Sussex was the most populous county in New Jersey with a total of 22,534 residents (this count included the area that would later become Warren County). Yet at the same time, Sussex had the lowest proportion of Black population in the state, with only 2.7% of the residents being Black. Sussex County was strikingly different from other populous counties in the northern part of the state, most of which relied heavily on slavery and boasted a much higher Black population than Sussex.

The county had a total of 616 Black residents, ranking 11th in the state by Black population totals (only the state's least populous counties of Cape May and Cumberland counted fewer Black residents than Sussex). The vast majority of the county's Black residents were enslaved, with 83.4% living in slavery, while 16.6% of Black residents were free. Enslaved persons in the county numbered 514 and represented 2.3% of the county's total population. Sussex had 102 free Black residents, meaning that free Black people represented about 0.5% of the total county population (the smallest percentage in the state).

Sussex County Birth Certificates

The Sussex County Births of Slaves is a collection of birth certificates submitted to the Sussex County Clerk's Office. This collection was microfilmed in 1980 at the Sussex County Courthouse in Newton. The microfilm roll has been digitized and made available to the public by FamilySearch.org as Image Group 004541260 (a free FamilySearch.org account is required to view the microfilm images). The microfilm roll is also available for review at the New Jersey State Archives in Trenton (Control # CSUCL003).

The items in this collection are individual slips of paper submitted by enslavers to the County Clerk. 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. The name of the mother was often (but not always) listed on the birth certificate. Occasionally, the father's name was also listed.

The New Jersey Slavery Records team has reviewed and indexed all birth certificates that appear on this microfilm roll. All records have been integrated into our database. Whenever possible, our team conducted additional research, verified information about the enslavers, and created household and family group links. Each Sussex County birth record in our database provides a link to the relevant image on FamilySearch.org.

The Sussex County Births of Slaves microfilm contains many records from the neighboring Warren County. Prior to the establishment of Warren County in 1824, enslavers who lived in the communities that are now part of Warren County were submitting birth certificates to the Sussex County Clerk in Newton.

Some enslavers listed their township of residence on the birth certificate, but about a third of the certificates do not list any locality. The certificates that are missing a locality have been linked to the general area of Sussex County in our database, but keep in mind that some of these births likely occurred in present-day Warren County. In some cases, even though the birth certificate did not list a locality, we were able to infer the place of birth for the child based on additional research about the enslaver's residence. 

To browse these birth records, go to the EVENTS table and set the following filters:
    - Event type: Birth
    - County (Historical): Sussex

If you want to see records associated with the present-day Warren County, then select the filter County (Modern): Warren. This will isolate records for towns and villages that moved from Sussex to Warren County.