Gradual Manumission Act


The New York Manumission Society was founded in 1785, and worked to prohibit the international slave trade and to achieve abolition. It established the African Free School in New York City, the first formal educational institution for blacks in North America. It served both free and slave children. The school expanded to seven locations and produced some of its students advanced to higher education and careers. These included James McCune Smith, who gained his medical degree with honors at the University of Glasgow after being denied admittance to two New York colleges. He returned to practice in New York and also published numerous articles in medical and other journals. By 1790, one in three blacks in New York state were free. Especially in areas of concentrated population, such as New York City, they organized as an independent community, with their own churches, benevolent and civic organizations, and businesses that catered to their interests.

Cornelius Jansen Manumission Papers
Cornelius Jansen Manumission Papers
text source: wikipedia


This novel, set in 1802-1803, has to do with some of the flaws in the Gradual Manumission Act. It deals in part with the underground railway that made it possible for slaves to escape their masters and travel from New York City to freedom in Canada.  The Freemans’ son Manny is employed at the African Free School in Manhattan. Working with the Libertas Society, he arranges the escape of one or two prisoners every few months.

In this novel Selah Voyager Manny’s wife, runs away from her master and is headed north to Paradise, where Curiosity and Galileo will see her on the way to a community of freed slaves living at Red Rock in the Endless Forests. Selah, heavily pregnant, falls ill when she reaches Paradise, and the Bonner family commits to seeing her recover and will help her reach Red Rock. Much of the novel deals with this group of escaped slaves and blackbirders, men who earn a living by hunting down and returning escaped slaves to their masters.


See also: slavery

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