Petition of Prime for Manumission (1786)

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To the Honourable The Legislative Council, and the General Assembly of the State of New Jersey —

The humble and earnest Petition of Negro Prime Sheweth

That your Petitioner heretofore belonged to Absalom Bainbridge, sometime of the County of Hunterdon, but at the Commencement of the late War, an inhabitant of the County of Somerset —

That the said Absalom Bainbridge adhered to the Enemies of this State and of the United States, in the Month of December 1776 — in Consequence of which Defection his Estate became forfeited —

That your Petitioner remained for some Time at Princeton, and was sometimes in the Family of Mr. John Taylor, of Monmouth, Father to the Wife of the said Absalom Bainbridge, whence he was taken over to Long Island where the Family of the said Absalom Bainbridge sided within the Enemies Lines, but from which Place your Petitioner escaped and returned to the Neighborhood of his former residence in the year 1778.

That your Petitioner having, with other parts of the Estate of the said Absalom Bainbridge, come into the Possession of Jacob Bergen, Esq one of the Commissioners of Forfeiture for the County of Somerset, he humanely declined setting up your Petitioner to Sale like a Beast of the Stall, and applied to His Excellency the Governour and the Honourable The Legislature, then sitting at Princeton, who seemed to be of [the] opinion that though no Law provided for Cases of this Kind, there was something very inconsistent in contending for Liberty under an appeal to Heaven and at the same Time selling for account of the Publick, the Bodies and Service of human Beings into perpetual Bondage — In the result Mr. Bergen told your Petitioner he might go into the publick Service, which he did, and served as a waggoner in the American Army for a long Time during the late Troubles —

That in the Month of June 1784, your Petitioner being then in the Neighbourhood of Trenton, earning his Bread as a Day-Labourer, under the pleasing Persuasion that he was a free Subject of the State, he was seized and forcibly carried off by Mr. John Vanhorne, then of Rocky-hill in the County of Somerset, under Pretext of a Purchase from the aforesaid John Taylor, who alledged that he purchased your Petitioner from the wife of the said Absalom Bainbridge in the year 1777 by virtue of a license from General Putnam — Your Petitioner having obtained a Habeas Corpus his Case was argued before the Supreme Court when the justices were of opinion that the Law would not authorize Manumission of your Petitioner. But Moore Furman, Esq., agent of Forfeiture for the County of Hunterdon, having in the mean Time applied to the Court by memorial, claiming your Petitioner as the Property of the State, the Court ordered that your Petitioner should remain in Custody of the Law, until an issue could be tried between the State and the said John Vanhorne —

That in the Term of May 1786 the said Issue came on to be tried when, after a full and fair Hearing, a verdict and judgment passed in Favour of the State, and your Petitioner by order of Court, was delivered into the Hands of Mr. Furman —

Thus is your poor Petitioner the Slave of the State of New Jersey and liable to be sold as their Property — but he earnestly implores that he may be delivered from a Situation so distressing, and by the Compassion and Munificence of The Honourable The Legislature, entitled to that Liberty to defend, secure and perpetuate which the Fields of America have been dyed in the Blood of her Citizens —

Were your poor Petitioner to be sold, his Price would scarcely amount to the fifth Part of a Copper-penny to each Taxable in the State — and your poor Petitioner cannot believe that one Person can be found who would not willingly contribute the fifty Part of a Penny to release a human Being from a Bondage which must otherwise continue until his Eyes are closed in Death —

That your poor Petitioner is the more encouraged to hope for Success in this his humble application from observing the Goodness of the Legislature in a like Instance, manifested by their Act of 1 September 1784 in the Case of Negro Peter —

Your Petitioner, therefore, most humbly prays that The Honourable The Legislature, being ascertained of the Truth of the Facts set forth in his Petition, will grant him leave to present a Bill for his Emancipation.

And your humble Petitioner as in duty bound, etc.

Trenton 6 November 1786

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Prepared by Deborah Mercer and Edith Beckett of the New Jersey State Library.
Copyright 2003 © by the New Jersey Historical Commission,
New Jersey Department of State.
All rights reserved.
Please direct questions and comments to Deborah Mercer.
Updated:Thursday, April 24, 2003