Saturday, June 25, 2016

A Child Named Hanover

by Ian Mumpton 
 I Philip Schuyler of the City of Albany Esquire do hereby in pursuance of the act in such case made and provided, Certify that Since the fourth day of July last a negro male Child named Hanover was born to whose Service I am entitled now aged Eight months and fifteen Days dated this 15th Day of May 1801- From the Albany Manumission Register

In September of 1800, a baby boy was born to a woman named Silvia, one of the enslaved servants of the Schuyler family. It appears that Hanover was her third child; her others were named Tallyho and Tom. Because Silvia was herself enslaved, Schuyler claimed ownership of her children as well, including young Hanover. Silvia and her children would have worked for the Schuylers in the attached courtyard behind the mansion, and likely in the home as well.

It is unclear who Hanover’s father was. It is possible that he was one of the enslaved men at the Mansion - perhaps a man named Toby, purchased by Schuyler in 1797 at the same time as Silvia and her two older children. However, the father may have lived elsewhere, possibly as a freeman but more likely enslaved himself. The pattern of slavery in New York at the time involved a large number of people owning only a few slaves each. This led to the break-up of many families, with husbands and wives, parents, children and siblings being frequently sold away from each other. Nevertheless, some enslaved families found ways to stay in contact with their loved ones, and even (albeit infrequently) managed visits despite being separated by many miles in a society which severely restricted the mobility and independence of the enslaved. For instance, in 1774 a man named Mink stood as a baptismal sponsor for a child named Henry, along with a free woman of African descent named Sara Speck. Henry was the son of a man named Bill, an enslaved servant of a Schuyler relative, and Brit, a woman enslaved by Abraham Ten Broeck. Mink himself was enslaved by Philip Schuyler. Despite being enslaved by different families, these individuals were able to forge a wider kin-group amongst the enslaved and free population of Albany.

When Silvia was purchased by Philip Schuyler in 1797, she had little reason to think that she or any of her children would ever have the chance to escape from bondage. However, in 1799, New York State passed a Gradual Emancipation act which stipulated that any child born into slavery after July 4th of that year would be freed upon reaching the age of twenty eight for men, or twenty five for women. Until that age, they were still considered the legal property of the family who had enslaved them. While this did not affect Silvia, Tom, or Tallyho, it would have ensured the eventual freedom of the youngest child, little Hanover - albeit only after the Schuylers had claimed the labor of his early adult years. In accordance with the law, in May of 1801 Philip Schuyler legally certified that Hanover had been born after the 4th of July, 1799, but made certain to claim “[the] Service I am entitled”, referring to Hanover’s twenty eight year “indenture” as Schuyler’s legal property.

When studying the history of slavery, it is rare that we find “victories”. While it brought the prospect of freedom closer for many, the Gradual Manumission Act was still only a minor victory and, and like full abolition in New York in 1827, came too late for many. Occasionally though, it is possible to catch a glimpse of light in an otherwise discomforting past. One month after Philip Schuyler’s death, on December 15th of 1804, Philip’s two surviving sons, Philip Jeremiah and Rensselaer, as well as his sons-in-law John Church and Stephen Van Rensselaer, appeared before the mayor of Albany to officially, “manumit, remise, and forever set free” seven of the people enslaved by Philip Schuyler. Those named in the document include Silvia, Tom, Tallyho, and Hanover. Toby is not listed in the manumission record, and may have died or been sold away prior to this date. Silvia was approximately thirty years old when she gained her freedom. Hanover was just over four years old, the youngest of those freed. It is unclear what happened to this family after they gained their freedom, or to the three others manumitted in the same document; a woman named Phoebe, a man named Stephan, and a man named Tone, the oldest of the seven, who found freedom at the age of forty eight.

For further reading about the Gradual Manumission Act of 1799, click here or visit  your local library. Shane White’s, Somewhat More Independent: The End of Slavery in New York City, 1770–1810, is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to learn more about slavery and racial politics in late 18th/early 19th century New York City and New York State.

To learn more about the history of slavery and the enslaved at Schuyler Mansion, check out other articles in this series by clicking here, or visit the site Wednesdays through Sundays between 11:00am and 5:00pm to continue your exploration. Call us at (518)434-0834 for tour times!

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