This Month In History
The New York State Legislature officially ended slavery on July 4, 1827 and the following day, abolitionists and African-Americans alike took to the streets to celebrate the first official “Emancipation Day.”
After the Revolutionary War, the leaders of New York came together and assessed the morality of slavery compared to the ideals of liberty, freedom and justice for all that had been proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence. Recognizing the dichotomy, the state Legislature began by voting to declare that any slave who had fought for the rebels in the Revolutionary War was to be freed in 1781. This began to set the wheels in motion towards full abolition. In 1785, the future Governor of New York and first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court John Jay would found the New York Manumission Society, which sought to end the international slave trade and slavery as a whole.
In 1799, the state legislature passed a law declaring that children of slaves born after July 4, 1799 were to be technically free, but still owed indentured servitude. This satisfied neither the freed African-Americans, nor the abolitionists. After the War of 1812, where thousands of African-Americans patriotically defended the state against the British Army, public fervor for further abolition grew. In 1817, the state legislature voted to free all slaves born before July 4th, 1799, and established full freedom for all slaves beginning July 4, 1827. Once this date arrived, celebrations began throughout all of New York City as men, women and children celebrated their freedom. New York joined other northern states in recognizing the abhorrent nature of slavery.
While both the 4th and the 5th of July represented joyous occasions, the abolitionists recognized the work that was still necessary. Kidnapping of freed African-Americans still occurred, most notably in the case of Solomon Northup, a freed man from Saratoga Springs who was tricked into traveling to Washington, D.C. with two slavers, who then sold him into slavery (made famous by the novel Twelve Years a Slave).
Additionally, the United States government did not officially abolish slavery until the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, declared by President Abraham Lincoln in the midst of the Civil War. While work was still to be done to create truly equal rights for African-American New Yorkers, the official ending of slavery in New York on July 4, 1827 was a cause for celebration. A large scale parade was held down Broadway in New York City, and the celebrating would continue on this date for decades to come.