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New York Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves – 1794 Land Deed from John Jay’s Brother for First African Free School in New York City
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“Whereas many respectable and benevolent Persons in the City of New York have associated under the denomination of ‘the Society for promoting the Manumission of Slaves and protecting such of them as have been or may be Liberated,’ and have Instituted a School in said City, called the African free School for the humane and charitable purpose of Educating negro Children to the end that they may become good and useful Citizens of the State...”

The New-York Manumission Society was founded in January 1785. The 19 initial founders included Future federal judge Robert Troup, prominent Anti-Federalist Melancton Smith, and John Jay, who was elected as the Society’s first president. Alexander Hamilton joined at the second meeting ten days later.

On November 2, 1787, the Society voted to establish the African Free School.  In 1794, by this deed, Frederick Jay – John Jay’s brother – donated lower Manhattan lot 635 on Hester Street to support the school, one of the first nondenominational charity schools in the United States.

FREDERICK JAY. Manuscript Document Signed, Deed to African Free School Trustees Matthew Clarkson, William Dunlap, Elihu Smith, and William Johnson, July 22, 1794. Endorsed by Master in Chancery John Ray and witnessed by John Keese and John Tyson. 1 p. on vellum, 27 x 24¼ in.

Inventory #27319       Price: $125,000

Historical Background
New York’s Assembly voted for some form of gradual emancipation in 1785 but could not agree on civil rights for former slaves. The Society’s lobbying was instrumental in passing a law that prohibited the importation of slaves into the state and made it easier to manumit slaves.

The Society organized boycotts against merchants and newspapers involved in the slave trade. In 1799, Governor John Jay signed an Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery, which would free all children born to slaves after July 4, 1799, after a period of apprenticeship. The last slaves in New York were freed in 1827.

The Society also provided financial and legal assistance to both free and enslaved members of the community. During the on May 19, 1794, Frederick Jay, brother of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay, offered “a lott of Ground on Great George Street 25 feet by 100 for the purpose of a School….” The Society agreed, with thanks.[1] Two months later, Frederick Jay conveyed through this deed a different lot, on Hester Streety.[2] The deed allowed the Society to sell the lot to support the school, which is apparently what happened.

In February 1796, the Society purchased a building on Cliff Street to use as a schoolhouse.[3] 19 members, including Alexander Hamilton, Matthew Clarkson, and lexicographer Noah Webster formed a committee to raise money to complete the payments .[4]

Whereas many respectable and benevolent Persons in the City of New York have associated under the denomination of ‘the Society for promoting the Manumission of Slaves and protecting such of them as have been or may be Liberated,’ and have Instituted a School in said City, called the African free School for the humane and charitable purpose of Educating negro Children to the end that they may become good and useful Citizens of the State. And Whereas the said Frederick Jay one of the Members of the said Society formed for the purpose aforesaid, being desirous of aiding and promoting the said Charitable Institution by granting a Lot of Land in the said City for the use and benefit of said Institution to Trustees appointed for that purpose. Now this Indenture Witnesseth That the said Frederick Jay for and in Consideration of the Sum of ten Shillings lawful Money of New York to him in hand paid by the said Matthew Clarkson, William Dunlap, Elihu Smith, and William Johnson at or before the Sealing and delivery of these presents the receipt whereof he doth hereby acknowledge and himself therewith fully satisfied and paid, Hath granted, bargained, sold, aliened, released and confirmed, and by these presents Doth grant, bargain, sell, alien, release and confirm unto the said Party of the second part in their actual possession now being by virtue of these Presents and by force of the Statute made for transferring uses into Possession, All that Lot of Land number six hundred and thirty five situate lying and being in the seventh Ward late the out Ward of the City of New York.... In Trust nevertheless that the same shall be and remain to the sole use of the said Society for the purpose of erecting a School House on the said described and herby granted Premises, or to be disposed of and conveyed for the benefit of the said African free School in such other manner as the said Society shall hereafter direct and appoint, and for no other use, trust, intent or purpose whatsoever....

Additional Background
The first schoolmaster, Cornelius Davis, served until 1796. The next year, bookseller William Pirsson was hired, and Abigail Nichols retained as the teacher of the female classes. They also hired African American John Teasman (ca. 1754-1815) as an assistant teacher or usher. To supplement their incomes, Pirsson and Teasman began an African Evening School for adults. Teasman succeeded Pirsson as principal of the school in 1799 and served until 1809. A white English immigrant, Charles C. Andrews (1783-1835), replaced Teasman as principal.[5]

The Cliff Street schoolhouse was destroyed by fire in 1814. Its replacement on William Street opened in 1815. African Free School No. 2 was opened in 1820 on Mulberry Street.[6] Beginning as a one-room school with about forty students, the African Free School grew to seven buildings in different neighborhoods with more than 1,400 students. By 1835, when it was merged into the public school system, The African Free School had educated thousands of black students.

Notable graduates include physician Dr. James McCune Smith (1813-1865), minister Henry Highland Garnet (1815-1882), lithographer Patrick H. Reason (1816-1898), and the first African American college professor Charles Lewis Reason (1818-1893).

Frederick Jay (1747-1799) was born into a prominent merchant family who had descended from the French Huguenots who fled to New York to escape religious persecution. He was younger brother of Founding Father John Jay (1745-1829). During the Revolutionary War, Frederick served on the Committee of Safety for Rye, and was a member of the New York Battalion of Independent Foot Companies. From 1777 to 1783, he was a member of the New York state assembly.

Trustees named in the Deed
Matthew Clarkson (1758-1825) rose to the rank of Lt. Colonel during the Revolution, serving as Assistant Secretary of War from 1781 to 1783. As a member of the New York Assembly from 1789 to 1790, he introduced a bill for the gradual abolition of slavery. He was president of the New-York Manumission Society for several years, and from 1791, regent of the University of the State of New York, president of the New York City Hospital, vestryman for Trinity Church, and vice president of the American Bible Society. Clarkson served as U.S. Marshal (1791-1792), a New York state senator (1793-1795), and president of the Bank of New York (1804-1825), founded by Alexander Hamilton, a close friend. His daughter married John Jay’s eldest son.

William Dunlap (1766-1839) was born in New Jersey. In 1783, he painted a portrait of George Washington, which is now owned by the U.S. Senate. He studied art in London under Benjamin West. In 1787, he returned to the United States and managed two of New York City’s earliest and most prominent theaters. He resumed painting in 1805 and by 1817, he was painting full-time. He produced more than sixty plays, mostly adaptations of French or German works, though he produced some originals as well. He was active in the New York Manumission Society and the Friendly Club, a New York literary society for young Federalist intellectuals. In 1825, he was a founder of the National Academy of Design. He published a History of the American Theater, 2 vols., in 1832 and History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States, 3 vols., in 1834.

Elihu Hubbard Smith (1771-1798) graduated from Yale College in 1786, the youngest graduate to that time. He attended lectures at the Medical College of Philadelphia in 1790. Though he did not receive a degree, he practiced medicine in Wethersfield, Connecticut (1791-1793), and New York City (1793-1798) and joined New York Hospital in 1796. Smith wrote the first American comic opera in 1796 and edited the first book-length anthology of American poetry (1793) and the first national American medical journal (1796). He was a member of the Connecticut Wits (later Hartford Wits), who satirized society and politics. Smith was the host of the Friendly Club. His many friends included Noah Webster, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Rush. He died in New York City’s yellow fever outbreak in September 1798.

William Johnson (1769-1848) was born in Connecticut and graduated from Yale College in 1788. He studied law, gained admission to the bar, and began a practice in New York City. He was instrumental in the founding of the New-York Historical Society and was a member of the New-York Manumission Society and the Friendly Club. He befriended James Kent, who in 1798 became a justice of the New York Supreme Court. In 1805, then Chief Justice Kent engineered the appointment of Johnson as Reporter of the Supreme Court. Over the next eighteen years, Johnson published twenty volumes of Reports. He also published seven volumes of the Cases of the State Court of Chancery (1814-1823); three volumes of Johnson’s Cases, covering Supreme Court decisions from 1799 to 1803, and a Digest of Cases in the Supreme Court of New York from 1799 to 1836. Justice Joseph Story wrote in 1820, “No lawyer can ever express a better wish for his country’s jurisprudence than that it may possess such a Chancellor [as Kent] and such a reporter [as Johnson].” Johnson’s Reports were known for their thoroughness and accuracy, and they became a model for other court reports throughout the nation.

Condition:Small piece of tape attachment at lower margin; one area of dried adhesive on left margin; smoothed folds, with scattered light soiling; top edge trimmed; remnants of wax seal and ribbon; docketed on verso.

[1] Great George Street is now Broadway, running from Ann Street north 1½ miles to Astor Place. Minutes of the New York Manumission Society, 1785-1797, pp. 188-191, New-York Historical Society.

[2]We aren’t sure if this is a second gift, or why the location of the first gift was changed.

[3] Ibid., p. 226.

[4] Ibid., p. 229.

[5] Robert J. Swan, “John Teasman: African-American Educator and the Emergence of Community in Early Black New York City, 1787-1815,” Journal of the Early Republic 12 (Autumn 1992): 335, 350.

[6] Charles C. Andrews, The History of the New-York African Free-Schools, From Their Establishment in 1787 to the Present Time (New York: Mahlon Day, 1830), 18-20, 23-24.

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