On this dayFeb 15, 1804

New Jersey Passes Law Delaying End of Slavery

Image | Rob Culpepper, EJI

New Jersey passed a law providing for the "gradual emancipation of slaves" on February 15, 1804, and in doing so became the last Northern state to begin the process of ending enslavement within its borders. Using the language of bondage, the 1804 act provided that children of slaves born after July 4, 1804, would be freed when they reached age twenty-one for women and age twenty-five for men.

To address the protests of slaveholders concerned they would be forced to support slave children who eventually would become free, the statute provided that slave children more than twelve months old could be abandoned to the state. These children were then bound out to work as "apprentices" - often to the same master who abandoned them–while the state paid for the maintenance of the child.

Despite the purported benefits of this gradual emancipation scheme, the United States Supreme Court held as late as 1827 that New Jersey's law continued to permit the sale of Black children as so-called "apprentices." In Ogden v. Price, the Court upheld the sale of a thirteen-year-old girl despite language in the 1804 law providing that an apprentice was subject to assignment but not sale. 

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