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Recording the enslaved in the North

The year was 1782, the place Windsor County, Vermont.

And an eight-year-old boy named Anthony faced a fearful fate.

Eight years old.


And sold away from his parents.

Yes, The Legal Genealogist hastens to note, slavery north of the Mason-Dixon line was a very real thing.

And if you want more information, there’s a fabulous new website from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, with its partners Atlantic Black Box, Monmouth University and the Witness Stones Project that can help provide it.

Called the Northeast Slavery Records Index (NESRI), it’s “an online searchable compilation of records that identify individual enslaved persons and enslavers in the states of New York, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Jersey.”1

Originally launched in 2018 with records from New York,2 the project has been expanded to include the other jurisdictions: “The rationale for a project that encompasses New Jersey, New York, and the six states of New England is primarily historical, based on the shifting jurisdictional boundaries of the states involved. … A single NESRI database would enable a locality to access enslavement records from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries for that location regardless of boundary and jurisdiction changes.”3

And what an amazing resource it is… Here’s what the website says about what it wants to include:

• ”Colonial census records
• United States Census records
• Slave Trade Records: Emancipations
• Fugitive advertisements and announcements for enslaved people
• Gradual Abolition Records: Connecticut, New Jersey and Rhode Island had “gradual abolition of slavery” laws like New York. Massachusetts freed enslaved people at the time of abolition. The graduate abolition laws imposed periods of servitude of children born to enslaved mothers and records of birth and eventual emancipation must be included in the database.
• Treaty of Paris Records: The Book of Negroes is a hand-written list of more than 3,000 formerly enslaved persons allowed to emigrate to Nova Scotia in 1783 because of their service to the British during the Revolutionary War.
• Cemetery Records
• Slave ship Records: NESRI will index records of slave ships that delivered enslaved people to or from the New England states, including records of ownership.
• Portraits and Sculptures and other memorializations: NESRI will index art representations of enslaved persons and enslavers from the northeast states.
• Court records: These include criminal and civil records.
• Records from other indices: These would include records of enslaved persons in Louisiana who were born in a northeast state, such as Simon who was born in Massachusetts in 1750 and sold in Louisiana in 1772.”4

It’s offering to partner with other academic institutions to expand its offerings, but what it already has is stunning. Essentially all of the site is covered by a Creative Commons license, making it available for us all to use as long as we stick to the terms of the license. And yes, there’s a page to donate to support the work.

Records can be searched by based on community or locality (an entire state, or a county, or a municpality), by specific record, by record type based on issue or topic and more. And there are research articles on topics such as the “Art of Enslavement,” focusing on “adding a visual dimension to New York’s records of enslavement.”

Anyone interested in seeing the impact of slavery north of the line… check it out.

The Northeast Slavery Records Index (NESRI) is a welcome addition to the tools available for this crucial research.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “North of the line,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 2 Sep 2021).


  1. Northeast Slavery Records Index (NESRI) ( : accessed 2 Sep 2021).
  2. See “New York State Slavery Records Index Launched by John Jay College,” John Jay College of Criminal Justice News, posted 31 Jan 2018 ( : accessed 2 Sep 2021).
  3. Northeast Slavery Records Index (NESRI).
  4. Ibid.
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