"ON THE SEVENTH DAY OF JUNE IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 1797, MARY JOHNSON OF THE SIXTH WARD OF THE CITY OF NEW-YORK, A BLACK WOMAN, PERSONALLY CAME BEFORE ME…"
(BLACK HISTORY) (LAW). Document signed. New York, June 7, 1797. Single sheet of unlined cream paper, measuring 8 by 10 inches, printed and finished in manuscript; p. 1.
Original 1797 bond agreement in which a Black woman, Mary Johnson, agrees to pay 20 pounds in the event of her failure to testify in an assault and battery case against a relative, important primary evidence of the legal status of free Black women in the early United States.
This bond form, printed and finished in manuscript, reads in full: "City of New-York. Be it remembered, that on the Seventh Day of June in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety-Seven Mary Johnson of the Sixth Ward of the city of New-York a black woman personally came before me Thop. Beekman one of the Aldermen of the City of New-York, and one of the Justices assigned to keep the Peace in and for the said City, and acknowledged himself to owe to the People of the State of new-York, the Sum of Twenty Pounds, good and lawful money of the said State, to be made and levied of his Goods and Chattels, Lands and Tenements to the use of the said People, if default shall be made in the Condition following, viz. The Condition of this Recognizance is such, that if the above bounden Mary Johnson shall personally appear at the next Court of General Sessions of the Peace to be holden in and for the City and County of new-York, and then and there testify and give such Evidence in Behalf of the People of the State of new-York, as he knoweth concerning an Assault and Battery said to have been Committed on the Sixth Instans at the Sixth ward of said City by Benjamin Johnson and do not depart thence, without leave of the Court, then this Recognizance to be void, otherwise to be and remain in full Force and Virtue. Acknowledged before me this Seventh Day of June 1797. Theop. Beekman Ald." The interest of this bond agreement stems primarily from the fact that a Black woman was engaged in the legal system as a witness and agreeing to be responsible for the sizeable sum of 20 pounds bond in 1797. However, Mary Johnson was evidently a free Black woman—likely one of the many who accepted freedom in exchange for siding with the colonies during the Revolutionary War—which would have put her in a very different position legally and economically. As here, she would have been permitted to testify in court regarding a criminal action and to sign court documents on her own behalf, a far cry from the experiences of enslaved Black women in the South. This document powerfully demonstrates the two versions of America that Black Americans were experiencing even in the earliest days of the United States. Theophilus Beekman, who signed this document, was from one of New York's most prominent families, known for its early residency in the colony of New York as well as for its successful business, military, and political pursuits. Docketed in ink on verso.
Ink slightly faded but still legible, slight toning to early folds and extremities, a couple very faint dampstains, chip to marginal left edge. Near-fine condition.