Negro Servant Returns, 1788-1821

On March 1, 1780, Pennsylvania enacted a law for the gradual abolition of slavery. The act provided that thereafter no child born in Pennsylvania should be a slave. However, if the child was born to a slave mother, that child would be considered a servant until the age of 28.

The law was riddled with defects and loopholes that were exploited by “ill disposed persons.” One of the items not addressed in the original law was the method to record children of slaves who fell under the servant clause. To address this problem, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed “An Act to Explain and Amend ‘An Act For the Gradual Abolition of Slavery'” on March 29, 1788. This Act required the slave owner to send the name, sex, race, and birth date of each child born to their slave(s) after March 1, 1780 to the Clerk of Courts to be recorded.

This collection contains the returns of children born to slaves born after March 1, 1780. The following information may be found on each document:
  • Owner’s Name - The individual who owned the child’s mother, and therefore secured the servitude of the child until the age of 28.
  • Owner’s Residence
  • Owner’s Occupation
  • Child/Servant’s Name
  • Child/Servant’s Race
  • Child/Servant’s Sex
  • Child/Servant’s Date of Birth/Age
  • Date Filed