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Interpreting the Evidence

Manumission of Mink

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Revolution and New Nation (1754 - 1820s)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School

  • Topics:

    African Americans

  • Primary Source Types:

    Written Document

  • Regions:

    Capital District
    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Manumission of Mink, April 28, 1795 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Topics: Slave Laws, Change over time in legislation, Views of Enslaved in Society

Skills: Perspective taking, Inferencing

This document shows a New York State enslaver in 1795 is legally providing freedom to an enslaved person, Mink. The language of the document tells so much about the time period… “Mink the property of …” and “Mink appears to us to be under fifty years of age and sufficient ability to provide for himself.”

 ​​​​​Historical Context: During the 17th, 18th, and early 19th century, manumission policies were developed and approved by the individual colony or state. Manumission occurred when enslavers freed an enslaved person. The number of manumissions varied by state and time period. For example, after the American Revolutionary War, many states revised their policies and passed new laws the allowed enslavers to free enslaved individuals more easily. New York, in particular, formed their own Manumission Society that was created in order to encourage the manumission of the enslaved in this state. This document is evidence of these efforts and certifies the manumission of an enslaved person named Mink, in the town of Schodack in Rensselaer County.

Essential Question: What does this document tell us about slavery in New York State during this time period and how does this compare to the policies of the rest of America?

Document Analysis:
1. Slave legislation in NYS
Fugitive Slave Law of 1793 – If a child was born to an enslaved mother then the child was property of the enslaver.  Additionally, if an escaped enslaved person was caught, that person had to be returned to the enslaver. Returning escaped enslaved persons to their enslaver became a lucrative enterprise for some people.  However, free blacks were at risk of being kidnapped and transported to the South to be sold into slavery or used to obtain rewards from enslavers with escaped slaves.
NYS Gradual Emancipation 1799 – If a child was born after 1799, then they were considered to be a free born enslaved person. Any enslaved person born before 1799 was not considered free and remained enslaved.
Freedom in NYS 1827 –Legislation was passed to free all enslaved persons in the state starting July 4, 1827.
2. Read the document Manumission in New York State with class.  Based on the context of the document, have students infer the meaning of the term manumission (freeing from slavery).
3. If Mink was not legally given his freedom in 1795, would the NYS Gradual Emancipation of 1799 have any impact on him?
4. Why might Mink’s enlsaver grant him his freedom (no answers provided in document)?
5. Discuss the following questions as a class or small group:

1. What is the relationship between Mink and Roclf Johnson?

2. Why were the 2 Overseers of the Poor involved in this legal transaction?

3. Why doesn’t the legal document state Mink’s true age?

Check for Understanding

Students will utilize historical information from discussions, document analysis sheet, and outside resources to write the following:

Write a letter, as if you are Mink, to a friend living in south, explain what has happened to you and how you feel about it.  Include 3 pieces of information from the document and 3 historical facts from discussion or research.

2.      Extension Activity:

After students have written a letter, place them in a dyad and exchange letters with the partner. Respond to Mink’s letter as if you are the friend.  Include 3 historical facts about slave laws in the south at this time (requires additional outside research or discussion)

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