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Timeline of Emancipation

Timeline of Emancipation

1775-1779 British North America

[Francis Rawdon-Hastings, 1st Marquis of Hastings, 
2nd Earl of Moira, 1754-1826]
[Philipsburg Proclamation]
June 30, 1779
Manuscript letter 
Henry Clinton Papers

During the American Revolution, the Earl of Dunmore offered freedom to slaves in Virginia who joined British forces. Sir Henry Clinton’s 1779 Phillipsburg (NY) Proclamation went further, deeming all slaves in the new United States free and entitled to protection and land.

1777 Vermont

1783 Massachusetts

1780-1847 Pennsylvania

State of Pennsylvania
An act to explain and amend an act, entitled,
“An act for the gradual abolition of slavery.”
Philadelphia: Printed by T. Bradford [1788]
Printed broadside
Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, Slave Records

Pennsylvania’s Gradual Abolition Act of 1780 did not free any slaves immediately. Instead, all slaves born prior to the law remained in bondage, while their children were free, but deemed indentured servants until age 28. The Dauphin County clerk required slaveholders to record the births of this new class of servant children, both to show compliance with the law and to provide evidence to such children of their free status.

1796 Virginia

Saint George Tucker (1752-1827)
[Proposal for Gradual Emancipation]
Nov. 30, 1796
Manuscript letter to Virginia House of Delegates
African American Collection

Virginia jurist Saint George Tucker first proposed that his state enact the gradual abolition of slavery in his Dissertation on Slavery: With a Proposal for the Gradual Abolition of it, in the State of Virginia. Tucker’s formal proposal to the state legislature, a draft of which is presented here, failed.

1793-94 Saint-Domingue (France)

Saint-Domingue. Commissaires Nationaux-Civils
Etienne Polverel (1738-1794)
Léger Félicité, Sonthonax (1763-1813)
Proclamation. Nous Étienne Polverel & Léger-Félicité Sonthonax,
Commissaires Civils de la Republique, Délégués aux iles Françaises de l’Amérique sous le vent pour
y Rétablir l’Ordre et la Tranquillité Publique.
Au Cap [Cap-Haïtien, Haiti]: De l’Imprimerie de la Commission Civile de la République, [1793]
Letterpress broadside

The Haitian Revolution began in 1791 in the French colony of Saint-Domingue. By 1793, colonial officials sought an alliance with enslaved insurgents through local decrees that ultimately abolished slavery. In July 1793, a decree extended liberty to the families of insurgents turned soldiers, as set out here in a Haitian Creole broadside. Only later, in 1794, would the French National Convention in Paris ratify abolition throughout the French Empire. Napoleon Bonaparte’s re-instatement of slavery in 1802 would not affect Saint-Domingue, which would become the free and independent republic of Haiti in 1804.

1810-1820 Mexico

1821 Gran Colombia (Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama)

1799-1828 New York

1834 British Empire

Ca. 1834
Mezzotint engraving

While the British Empire banned the international slave trade in 1807, the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 ended slavery itself. Stephen Gimber’s print offers a powerful interpretation of this moment, through the figures of liberated slaves and the Act itself posted nearby. Gimber elided two elements of the act: former slaves were now bound to indentured service, many until 1840, and former slave owners were compensated 20 million pounds for the loss of their property.

1848 French Empire

1863-1865 United States

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
War Department, United States.
General Order No. 1.
By the President of the United States of America. A Proclamation.
January 2, 1863

It was not until 1865, with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, that slavery was abolished in the United States. Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation was but one, partial step in the prolonged process of abolition in the Americas that unfolded between 1775 and 1888.

1880-1886 Cuba

George N. Barnard (1819-1902)
Scenes in Cuba No. 68. [Plantation Slaves and Workers during
a Break at Noon]
New York: E & H.T. Anthony & Co., 1863
Albumen photograph (1/2 stereo pair)
Tom Pohrt Photograph Collection. Courtesy of the Cuban
Heritage Collection, University of Miami Libraries, Coral Gables, Florida

Abolition in Cuba began in 1880 with a decree of patronato, a form of indentured servitude that required former slaves to work for eight years. In 1886, slavery was finally abolished by a royal decree. Photographer George Barnard captured a group of enslaved African and Yucatecan Indian laborers in 1863. Shortly after taking this image, Barnard would return to the United States to join the ranks of Civil War field photographers.

1888 Brazil

Antonio Luiz Ferreira (?-c.1906)
[Passing the Golden Law in Brazilian Senate]
Wikipedia Commons

Brazil was the last nation in the Americas to abolish slavery. In 1888, the Lei Áurea or Golden Law, formally ended legal bondage and liberated approximately 720,000 slaves. Here, Brazilian legislators gather to witness the signing of the new law, which had passed both houses of the National Assembly and was sanctioned by Isabel, Brazil’s Imperial Princess and Regent.