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General Timeline of Events

1638: New Haven Founded

1701: Yale Founded

1776: U. S. Declaration of Independence

1784: Connecticut Gradual Emancipation (Explanation below)

1778-1795: Ezra Stiles President of Yale

1795-1817: Timothy Dwight President of Yale

1825-1832: J. Calhoun serves as U.S. Vice President

1831: "Negro college" stopped in New Haven

1839-40: The Amistad affair

1850: Moses Stuart publishes Scriptural defense of slavery.

1842-53: N. W. Taylor's pro-slavery decisions at Yale

1856: The New Haven meeting about Kansas

1861-65: U.S. Civil War

1863: Morse pro-slavery society

1874: Edward Bouchet, the first black man admitted by Yale, graduates. He later earns a Ph.D.

1930s: Yale builds & names 1st 10 colleges

1955-56: MLK leads bus boycotts in Montgomery, Alabama.

1960-62: Yale builds & names Stiles and Morse colleges

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Gradual Emancipation

Just after the revolutionary war ended, the institution of slavery in the North started to change. Slavery peaked in New Haven and in Connecticut during the 1780s. Describing New Haven in the year 1784, the historian Franklin Dexter explains that this was "the time when domestic slavery was general in New Haven ... the papers have occasional, not frequent advertisements for the sale of likely Negroes, or it may be a family of Negroes" (48).

Year Slaves in Conn.
1774 6,562
1790 2,759
1800 951
1810 310
1820 97
1840 17
1850 0

In 1784, "gradual emancipation" was passed in Connecticut (and Rhode Island). This law was intended to slowly "phase out" slavery, and would become the primary mechanism of abolition throughout New England. In Connecticut, it worked like this: All slaves born on or after March 1, 1784, remained bonded while children, but were released upon reaching a certain age (first 25, later reduced to 21). All slaves born before 1784 remained slaves for life. This allowed slavery to slowly disappear. Jonathan Trumbull was governor up until the time this law was passed. Ezra Stiles was president of a society whose missions was to enforce the terms of this law.

The motivations behind "gradual emancipation" were complex. Keeping slaves had ceased to be cost-effective as the slaves grew older, for a servant's labor had become cheaper than the cost of caring for the servant throughout his or her lifetime (50). However, most colonists did not view immediate emancipation as the right solution, for then either the slave owners would lose property that they had legally acquired, or the government would have to repay these owners for their lost property. Instead, "gradual emancipation" shifted the cost of freeing slaves onto the slaves themselves, who effectively worked their way out of slavery.

This new system did not free any current slaves, and it guaranteed twenty years of service from any child born of a slave. At the same time, the law did help encourage the full-scale elimination of slavery from Connecticut.

After 1784, chattel slavery in Connecticut slowly disappeared. In its place, bondage from birth until age 21-25 became more common. This raises a question of terminology. Are children born into a bondage that expires after 25 years themselves "slaves"? Or are they more like white "indentured servants," who often traded years of servitude in exchange for passage across the Atlantic or training in some trade? Black people born into a bondage that expires at a certain age do not fit neatly into either the category "slave" or "indentured servant." Their bondage was hereditary, mirroring "slavery." Their bondage was temporary, mirroring "indentured servitude."

Historian Joanne Melish suggests using the term "statutory slave" for those born to slaves after the gradual emancipation statutes were passed. She points out that, unlike white indentured servants, such black "statutory slaves" received nothing in return for their indenture. Furthermore:

Whites made no manifest effort to distinguish statutory slaves from slaves, because there was no effective difference in their treatment or employment. In fact, there is some evidence that some slaves' children born after passage of the gradual emancipation statutes considered themselves slaves. (51)

It seems reasonable to adopt Melish's vocabulary: "Slave" for a person considered a permanent piece of property; "Statutory slave" for one born immediately into a bondage that expires at a certain age. Both whites and blacks who contractually indenture themselves to a master shall be termed "indentured servants."

We must recognize, however, that at this time in history there was a complex continuum, rather than a crystal clear distinction, between slave and free. Ira Berlin observes that the history of black chattel slavery blurred the differences between slavery and indentured servitude for African-Americans:

Although servitude, unlike slavery, was not hereditary, servants lived under the control of a master or mistress, and their rights to their labor could be sold or traded like other property. The more closely that indentured servitude became identified with black labor, the smaller the difference between the treatment of slave and servant ... The line between servitude and slavery was fine indeed for black indentured servants, particularly since white servants rarely served more than 7 years and rarely after the age of twenty-one. (52)

Benjamin Silliman offers one example of how the "gradual emancipation" law was put into effect.

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Numbers in parentheses refer to notes. See the notes page.