Born into Slavery
Jane (sometimes known as “Jennie”) was born on May 23, 1803. Her mother was an enslaved person legally owned by Jonathan Deyo, a great-grandson of New Paltz patentee Pierre Deyo. Jane’s birth record in the town’s “Register of Slaves” reads:
1803 October 6th Jonathan Deyo did Deliver
to me a Note in writing the purport of it was that he
had on the Twenty third Day of May Last a femail child
Born of his winch and called her name (Jane) Recorded
by Josiah Hasbrouck T.C.
The recorder of the birth, Josiah Hasbrouck, served both in the New York State legislature and in the U.S. Congress at various times. Around this time, Josiah owned six enslaved people. The initials after his name in the record stand for “Town Clerk,” the local official required by New York’s 1799 Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery to keep a Register of Slaves.
Jane was born into a world where slavery was commonplace. Practiced in what is now New York State as early as 1626, it was not legally abolished until two centuries later, in 1827. By the middle of the 18th century, New York had the largest slave population of any non-plantation British North American colony. Slavery was well-established in New Paltz by this time, having been instituted by the founding families since the town’s inception in 1677. A 1755 census lists twenty-eight slaveholders in New Paltz owning a total of seventy-eight enslaved people over the age of fourteen. Most slave holders owned between one and four people. Enslaved people in the Hudson Valley served as agricultural laborers, household servants, and skilled workers. On family farms, they usually worked side-by-side with their masters and mistresses, whether in the field or in the household. Slaves also lived in close proximity to their masters, mostly in attics or cellars on smaller farms. Enslaved men and women could not legally marry, but were often forced to cohabit in order to produce children, who would, in turn, provide additional labor or be sold. Sexual relations between slave masters and enslaved women were not uncommon. Much of what we know about slavery in Ulster County is based on The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, the autobiography of the much-revered former slave and abolitionist. Her book describes the separation from loved ones, hard labor, and brutal beatings that Truth herself endured from her birth in 1797 until she was freed along with most enslaved people in New York in 1827.
Just after the Revolutionary War, enslaved people comprised over 13% of the population in New Paltz. There is no doubt that the labor of enslaved Africans over the course of a century and a half contributed significantly to the building of the community and the prosperity of each of the town’s founding families.