New Haven: Amasa and Silva (1772)

Amasa, “a negro” about nineteen years old, was freed on September 21, 1772, as was Silva, a “negro girl” about seventeen years old. These manumissions, by the same slaveholder (a widowed woman), took place under a different legal situation than the later ones that I’ve looked at. Because of this, the language in each emphasizes that the slaveholder is renouncing any claim to the freed person’s labor, as in the one for Amasa:

I do make him a free man to all intents & purposes, so yt from the day of the Date hereof what ever he ye sd Amasa Shall by honest Labour & industry or in any Lawfull way gain or acquire Shall be his own property and at his Sole dispose and free from any Demand or Claim either in his person or Estate by me or my heirs …

New Haven Land Records, Vol. 33, Pg. 387, 09/21/1772

New Haven Land Records, Vol. 33, Pg. 387, 09/21/1772

The absence here of a stipulation that the freed person will have no claim on the former slaveholder for future support is interesting – I’m not sure yet whether that is an exception or a reflection of the legal environment. Speaking of which, I wouldn’t read too much into the emphasis on “honest Labour” and “Lawfull way.” I think that reflects a concern to not inadvertently claim other people’s property, or ill-gotten gains that would properly belong to the state. Legal documents can be very oddly precise in some ways.

But there’s more – at least about Amasa (I haven’t had time to try to figure out what became of Silva). On September 23, 1772, the ex-slaveholder gave him, free and clear, ten acres of land (which she noted used to belong to her late husband). I mean literally “gave.” The consideration noted in the deed was

the respect and Regard that I have toward Amasa my Late negro Servant whom I have Lately Set free as by a writing under my hand appears


New Haven Land Records, Vol. 33, Pg. 397, 09/23/1772

I’m rarely surprised when looking at land deeds these days, but that floored me. Consideration of this intangible sort usually appears in transactions between close relatives – parents and children, most often, or siblings, will cite “love and affection” or similar formulation as fictive compensation. “Respect and regard” hits the same notes in a different key, I think, specifically the key of “not setting off the panic alarms of my racist culture.” It makes me think that Amasa lived in this slaveholder’s household from childhood, and she came to have strong parental feelings towards him. But it’s also a very interesting choice of words, suggesting that she also had a high opinion of his character and competence.

And ten acres! I’ve seen occasional gifts of land to former enslaved people, but they’re usually an acre or two at most. I desperately want to find out what Amasa made of this gift and his freedom, but haven’t had time to look. It’s especially difficult since I suspect he took a surname; I found this deed only because it was indexed under “negro” with several of the manumissions. Connecticut deeds rarely mention the race of the parties, so unless you’re looking for a specific name or (in earlier years) under terms like “negro” or “slave,” it’s hard to find these transactions.

If and when I do find out more, I’ll update, of course.

One thought on “New Haven: Amasa and Silva (1772)

  1. Pingback: Slaveholder Roundup #1: New Haven | History Live!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.