[ Member Login ]

Horsman Mx and Jack the Slave
By US294 George Mollineaux

In the May 2008 issue of MxWorld (Volume XXII, No. 4) two stories appeared about members of the Mx family and their position on slavery. We have found additional information about how they dealt with one slave that they owned and the legal path they took to free him.

With the help of the Westchester County Archives in Elmsford, New York1 we were able to find copies of two documents that freed “Jack the Slave” in 1701, 126 years before abolition in the State of New York and 164 years before the 13th amendment to the U. S. Constitution. The information provided by the Archives included digitized copies of the original handwritten deeds from 1701 and typewritten transcriptions of both.

Horsman Mullinex, the lead character in the May 2008 stories, was born about 1652 and was an early convert to the Quaker religion. He married Elizabeth Heustis in one of the first Quaker weddings in Westchester, New York in 1692. It appears as though he was a devout Quaker who, along with people in other Colonies, began to question slavery even as the importation of enslaved people into North American was growing2. Horsman was the grandson of Thomas Mulliner (Thomas Mx1), featured in last November’s edition of MxWorld as being the first documented furniture maker in America (see my article entitled: THOMAS MULLINER--Probably the first documented American Furniture Maker.)

In reading the two deeds (Liber C pages 73,74 and 75) central to this research you can begin to understand what was going on. Overall, this Mx family was intent on freeing the enslaved Jack in 1701 but was not sure about how to make it happen. It took two deeds, written two days apart, to get it right.

From the first deed signed by Thomas Mx2 (father of Horsman and son of Thomas Mx1) on page 73 we can glean the following information:

  1. Thomas Mx2 had given “my negro boy Jack” to his son John on March 12, 1693/94.
  2. On January 14, 1701 Thomas Mx2 wrote in the deed that his son John was deceased.
  3. The key passage in this document is “...give, grant, bargain & confirme freely, clearly & absolutly unto my said negro or mellotta3 slave Jack his freedom forever...” The problem with this passage is that Jack was not Thomas2’s property to give away.
  4. From the second deed (pages 74 and 75) signed by Horsman Mx2 and written on January 16,1701, two days after the Thomas deed, an attempt is made to clarify the declaration of freedom.
  5. This deed is more detailed and even has a sentence describing the date as in the “...twelfth years of the reign of our soveraigne Lord William the Third, by the Grace of God over England, Scotland, France and Ireland...
  6. Horsman acknowledges the transfer of ownership of Jack from his father to his brother in 1693 as stated in the first deed. He also says that his brother is deceased.
  7. Horsman goes on to say that his brother’s property now belongs to his (Horsman’s) son Moses (b. 1693) as the next “heir in law”. The reason that Horsman intervened was that Moses was a minor in 1701.
  8. The important passage in this deed in part is “...give, grant & confirme unto the said Jack, forever his freedom from any manner of servitude or service to or from my said Moses Mullinex, his heirs or assignee forever, and that he said Jack shall have, possess and enjoye his said freedom with liberty peaceably & quietly and in all respects as amply and fully as any person or persons can have or may enjoy as fully and amply in all respects whatever as if all the words, clauses, mentioned and set downe in any deeds or writing for the freeing of any slave or servant whose freedom have been sold or given them by their Masters within this province or any part of his Majesties dominions....”.
  9. The two deeds, one by Thomas Mx2 drafted on January 14, 1701 and the other by his son Horsman Mx drafted on January 16, 1701 were both filed by John Hunt, Justice of the Peace for the County of Westchester on January 17, 1701.
  10. In The New York African Burial Ground History Final Report by Edna Medford from Howard University, one relevant sentence describes the problem Horsman faced; “While slavery has been regarded by some as a singularly human, if morally repugnant experience, others have emphasized that by its very nature, it reduced people to property.” Ironically, in order to free Jack, Horsman was forced to reduce him to a piece of property.

Little is written about the life of freed slaves during the first decade of the eighteenth century. We can only speculate on Jack’s fate. In a book titled A History of Negro Slavery in New York by Edgar McManus the following passage on page 141 outlines a concern the different Towns had.

For many years there were virtually no restrictions on the master’s right to free his slaves. Since the slaves were legally chattels, the slave owner had the power to dispose of them in any way he saw fit, and this included the power to renounce his rights of ownership completely. Ordinarily the courts interfered only if the owner manumitted a slave in order to avoid the claims of creditors. Until the eighteenth century the legal regulation of manumission varied considerably from town to town. But the crux of all the regulations was that masters might not abandon aged or infirm slaves under the pretext of freeing them. Since local overseers of the poor were responsible for indigent freedmen, in most places the masters were required to obtain their approval before freeing a slave.

During the period when the Dutch West India Company settled New Amsterdam, with the purchase of Manhattan Island in the spring of 1626, and at the time the English took over in 1674, slavery existed but enslaved people in the colony were accorded a modicum of civil rights, to include what was described as “half freedom” for some4;. Their treatment by the European establishment varied little if any from that of the indentured servants working and living side-by-side with them. It was during this time period that the Mx family (presumably including any slaves they might have owned) was evicted from the Connecticut colony and moved to what is now called Throg’s Neck, New York (the Bronx) about 15 miles NE of lower Manhattan.

The reasoning behind the Mx family election to free Jack may never be known. But its clear that Horsman believed strongly in freedom and a commonality with the enslaved people, and that he held these beliefs throughout his lifetime as witness his public condemnation of the practice at the 1717 yearly meeting of Quakers in Flushing, New York (see the May 2008 MXWORLD Vol. XXII no.4) As for Jack, we’ve found no amplifying information about him or about his condition at the time of his emancipation. Was he native born or imported, young or old, skilled or unskilled, married or single, hale or infirm? We’ll probably never know.

All that having been said, the primary importance of this story lies in the fact that, occurring as it did among New York’s Quakers, this act represents one of the earliest recorded instances5 of abolitionist thought and action in Britain's American colonies6.

Notes:

1. Many thanks to Ms. Jackie Graziano, Reading Room Manager, Dept. of IT, at the Westchester Co. Archives for her help in finding these deeds. The Westchester land archives may be accessed on-line at wro.westchesterclerk.com/landsearch.aspx

2. The English ruled New York colony between 1674 and 1783. In 1701, when Jack was freed, importation of slaves from the West Indies and Africa to the port of New York was increasing. This trend was to continue until 1790, when it virtually halted.

3. The description of Jack as “mellotta” (i.e., mulatto) indicates he was of mixed African and European ancestry. Though unlikely, given early Quaker taboos against “miscegenation” (defined as marriage, cohabitation, or sexual intercourse between a white person and a member of another race—Merriam- Webster) one can’t help but wonder whether Jack was actually a scion of this Mx family—not an unusual circumstance as witness the Jefferson/ Hemming children. A familial relationship might, in part, help explain Horsman’s aversion to slavery at a time when it was a still considered an acceptable social practice.

4. In 1644, 11 black slaves successfully petitioned the government of New Amsterdam for their freedom.

5. Some earlier examples of abolitionist action in the colonies include: 1676, slavery is prohibited in West New Jersey, a Quaker settlement in current day South New Jersey; 1688, Germantown (now Philadelphia) Pennsylvania, Quakers and Mennonites protest against slavery; and 1693, publication of An Exhortation & Caution to Friends Concerning the Buying or Keeping of Negroes by the Philadelphia Monthly Meeting.

6. Although slavery, as a result of the Somersett case and thus by judicial and legislative fiat, was outlawed in England in 1772; banned in the Republic of Vermont in 1777; outlawed in Scotland in 1778; and abolitionist legislation was passed in Pennsylvania in 1780; it wasn't until 1783 that Quakers established the first official British abolitionist organization. Note that 1783 is the same year that both Massachusetts & New Hampshire banned slavery. This was likely not a coincidence as both states had significant Quaker constituencies, as did Vermont and Pennsylvania.