MANUSCRIPT PAY ORDER, 1783, DIRECTING THE TREASURER OF A NEW ENGLAND TOWN TO PAY THE SELECTMEN FOUR POUNDS FOR "SUNDRIES EXPENDED IN SUPPORTING A TRANSIENT NEGRO MAN AS ALLOWED IN COUNCIL"
(SLAVERY). Manuscript pay order. New Town, [New England], October 21, 1783. Single unlined sheet, measuring 7-1/2 by 6 inches. $450.
Late 18th-century manuscript pay order written by New Town, Connecticut clerk directing the town treasurer to pay four pounds to the town's selectmen as reimbursement for supporting a "transient negro man," quite possibly an escaped slave.
The autograph order reads: "To John Lawrence Esqr Treasurer. Sir, Pay out of the —— Treasury to the Select Men of New Town the Sum of four pounds Lawfull money (the avails of the 12d Tax payable in April last) for Sundries Expended in Supporting a Transient Negro Man as allowed in Council. New Town Octo. 21 1783. [signed] Clerk," with a signature across the order, presumably acknowledging its receipt or execution. This order was written in New Town (Newtown), Connecticut. The addresses on the back reference Jabez Baldwin, a silversmith and a member of Newtown's early elite. "Select Men" or selectmen, as they are better known, were and are the executive governing body of many New England towns. Composed of three to five men, these bodies serve the same function as a city council. This order authorizes reimbursement money for the support of a transient negro man, which, in 1783, might have been either an escaped slave or a destitute free Black man. The fate of escaped slaves in Connecticut in 1783 was less certain than it would be even a few years later—prior to the Fugitive Slave Acts, attempts at recapture were often limited to flyers and advertisements. Indeed, in 1783, there were still slaves in Connecticut; a law limiting slavery to those Blacks already born would not be passed until the next year. A spirit of emancipation was alive, though, and many Connecticut towns were on their way to limiting the impact of extant pro-slavery legislation. Still, records exist, even in "safe" parts of New England, of residents posting advertisements attempting to send escaped slaves back to their original owners and secure reimbursement for the expenses incurred in their care. Even for non-slaves, life could be deeply dangerous. In many places, free Blacks had few (if any) rights. Limited from birth by their circumstances, many Black men and women faced devastating difficulties with housing, education, and social integration in the North. Farm labor and household servitude were the only occupational choices for most. Thus, populations of "transient negroes" became a fact of life in many cities and towns, with free men and slaves finding anonymity by moving in and out of a constantly reorganizing group. The man referred to in this order may have been free or a slave, but the only difference may have been his legal autonomy; his circumstances may not have been much different either way.
A few stains, early creases, minor splitting to creases. Extremely good condition.