The Issue of Slavery


The slavery question seems to have been a major issue in the migrations of the Bolejack/Bolerjack family.  Often, families moved and sometimes split to either avoid or maintain slavery.

The importation of slaves was encouraged by many of the early colonies.  In 1663 North Carolina offered each new settler twenty acres of land for every male slave and ten acres for every female (Franklin 60).

Count Zinzendorf had no doubts that God himself had created slavery, and to challenge God's will was not advisable.  Man's concept of the universe at the time was very mechanistic, with everything in its place, like the workings of a giant clock set in motion by God.  Although Zinzendorf clearly felt that Blacks were inferior, the church still held that once they had accepted salvation, they would no longer be slaves to the Devil, but would still remain slaves to their fellow man. 

In Bethlehem (PA), slaves co-existed with and were members of the church.  They ate, worked and slept with the Brethren and were treated with respect.  The Moravians preferred to lease slaves rather than them buy because they could quickly return one who proved to be a problem.  Blacks were never referred to as slaves but rather "Negroes."  Five of the early settlers of Wachovia in 1753 were slaves.  However, slaves were not an established part of Wachovian life.  They were expensive, and the Brethren feared ruining the spiritual haven they hoped to create in the wilderness.

However, as increased demand for laborers persisted, slaves became a partial solution.  A female slave was leased for Bethabara's tavern in 1763 and a second in 1764.  By 1769 the Oeconomy purchased Sam who had been in Wachovia for three years and had been leased by the settlement for several years.  When he expressed a desire to join the Moravian Church and be purchased by them, the Board agreed.  They purchased four others by 1771.  According to the autobiography of Anna Catherina Antes, black were treated as children would be treated, with respect, but with obedience a requirement.  All purchases by individuals had to be approved by the governing board.  The settlement tended to use slaves for heavy labor.

The struggle of the American colonies for freedom seemed to be a turning point for the issue of slavery in America.  To many, fighting England on the grounds that the colonies had a basic, natural right to freedom seemed incongruous with holding slaves.  In the fall of 1774 the Continental Congress passed an agreement not to import any more slaves after 01 Dec 1775.  However, this act was passed more as a means to hurt English slave trade than a true desire to ban slavery.

In May 1775 the Committee on Safety decided that only free Blacks could serve in the Continental Army.  However, this rule was not strictly enforced as there were slaves as well as free Blacks in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

When General Washington took command of the Continental forces on 09 Jul 1775, it was decided that Blacks would not be needed and therefore would not be enlisted.  There were some efforts to remove those already serving.

On 07 Nov 1775, Virginia's English Governor John Murray, Lord Dunmore, offered freedom to all slaves who would fight against the colonists in the rebellion.  This sent a shock wave through the colonies already struggling to defend themselves.  Even Thomas Jefferson lost 30 slaves who escaped, most of them joining the British.

Not yet knowing of Lord Dunmore's order, General Washington prohibited the enlistment of all Blacks on 12 Nov 1775.  After many slaves fled to the British cause, on 31 Dec 1775, Washington partially reversed himself by allowing the enlistment of Blacks.  On 16 Jan 1776 the Continental Congress approved the return of those Blacks who had already served, but did not allow any new enlistments.  Eventually the law was softened to allow the enlistment of slaves and free Blacks.  Some states allowed Blacks to serve as substitutes for those who had been drafted.  In 1778 North Carolina passed strict laws against fugitive slaves, but these laws were not to be applied to liberated slaves in the service of North Carolina or the United States.  Of the 300,000 soldiers who served during the Revolutionary War, an estimated 5,000 were Black (Franklin 93).  There were some all Black corps, but most Blacks were integrated into the regular army.

The Black population of many Southern States decreased dramatically between 1770 and 1790.  South Carolina's population decreased by over 15% during those years.

The Moravians do not seem to have softened on the issue of slavery.  On 2 Jul 1776 when the Moravian slave Jacob was considered for membership in the congregation, he was reminded that "this does not mean that he becomes free and the equal of this master" (Salem Boards).  However, Jacob had a rather bad habit of stealing and so it was decided to sell him as quickly as possible.  He was sold on 23 Sep 1779 for 100 bushels of oats, 6 bulls, 125 bushels of corn, 2000 pounds of hog meat, and 130 bushel of rye for a total value of ,105.

The Northern States seemed to offer the most resistance against slavery.  The 1777 Constitution of Vermont outlawed slavery.  Pennsylvania's law of 1780 provided that all future-born slaves would be freed at age twenty-eight and up to that age s/he was to be treated as an indentured servant.  A lawsuit filed in Massachusetts by Blacks ended with a ruling in 1783 that the Massachusetts Constitution did not permit slavery.

The anti-slavery sentiment of the new nation seemed to ebb and flow, depending on the economic needs of the moment and the state.  North Carolina increased the importation fee on slaves from Africa to ,15 for each male age 12-30.  However, this law was repealed in 1790.

In 1787 the Northwest Ordinance abolished slavery in the Northwest Territory of the Ohio Valley and beyond.  However, at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the minority slave advocates managed to prohibit the banning of slave trading for twenty years, allowing the labor-starved Southern States to import thousands of new slaves.  More slaves were brought to America between 1787 and 1807 than during any other time in the country's history.

The Constitutional Convention also avoid the use of the word "slavery," resorting to euphemisms to conceal the issue.  They also allowed owners to reclaim run-away slaves and the counting of each slave as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of determining representation in Congress, thus giving additional powers to Southern States.

However the number of free Blacks continued to rapidly increase.  The number of free Blacks in the United States went from 59,466 (7.9% of all Blacks) in 1790 to 186,446 (13.5% of all Blacks) in 1810 (Kolchin 81).  Most of these freed slaves were in the Northern States where nearly three-fourths were free in 1810 while only 3.9% were free in the Southern States.  At the same time the number of slaves increased from 697,897 in 1790 to 1,191,354 in 1810 (Kolchin 93). 

Ironically, life for free Blacks was not easy in the North.  They were often excluded from public schools and churches and denied the right to vote.  The attitude toward Blacks in general was often hostile.  A significant population of the free Blacks in the South were wealthy and well-treated within their limited society.

Although tobacco cultivation was labor-intensive, most often using slaves, the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney in 1ญญ793 launched a new crop in the deep South, and with it, a new demand for slave labor.  Cotton became America's number one export in the years before the Civil War.

The question of slavery did not seem to be a predominate problem in North Carolina until the start of the 19th century.  As the land became increasingly settled and cash crop farming became more developed, the demand for cheap labor augmented the slave trade economy.  The Bolejack family was centered in Stokes/Surry Co., NC.  None of the Bolejack families owned slaves in the first United States census of 1790 although several of the families who later intermarried with the Bolejack family were listed as slave owners in 1790.

By 1790 Kentucky and Tennessee were being rapidly settled even though they were not yet states.  With some new settlers came their slaves. 

On 02 Dec 1806 Congress passed a law that prevented the importation of any African slave after 01 Jan 1808.  However, this law was so weak and enforcement was so lax that many African slaves were brought into the South.

As new lands on the frontiers were settled and news of the possibility of  good profits from agriculture, especially cotton, filtered back to the settled states, a strong westward migration began. 

By 1818 settlers began moving in greater numbers to Tennessee which had been carved out of North Carolina in 1792.  Most used the Yadkin, Watauga and French Broad Rivers to pass through the Smokey Mountains into Tennessee.  Tennessee, being less developed, did not require the massive slave labor force that the older states required.  Part of the early migration to Tennessee can be attributed to avoiding the slavery issue while most of its settlement can be attributed to larger tracts of cheaper land.  Farmers in the eastern part typically did not own slaves while those in then central and western parts used slaves.  The Bolejack/Bolerjacks in the 1830 and 1840 Tennessee censuses did not own slaves.

As Tennessee developed, so did the slave labor force, starting another migration out of the state to the newly opened lands of the Northwest Ordinance in 1787, including Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin.  The river and canal routes into this region made it possible to migrate to the new territories and still take the few earthly possessions that most of the settlers had managed to acquire.

When Missouri applied for admission to the Union in 1818, the balance of free and slave state Senators was even at 22.  If Missouri were admitted, the slave states would have an advantage.  With the passage of the Missouri Compromise in 1820, Maine was admitted as a free state and Missouri was admitted as a slave state on 10 Aug 1821. 

In 1848 the Congress passed the Oregon Territory bill which prohibited slavery in the territory. 

In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820.

By 1860 there were 3,953,760 slaves in the United States, almost exclusively in the South where the slave population represented one-third of the total population (Kolchin 93).  Because the importation of slaves had been banned in 1808, most of the increase in the slave population resulted from natural increase in population although slaves were still smuggled into the United States because of the high demand.  In the early 1800's a strong farm laborer would sell for $350.  By 1860 the slave might sell for as much $1,500.  (See the history of Samuel Bolejack for a view of their lives in the Kansas/Missouri area during this time period.)

After the Civil War, the former slaves were released.  Sometimes they took the name of their former master because that was the only name they knew.  Other who were treated cruelly took any name except that of their former masters.

In the 1870 and 1880 censuses of Tennessee, there is a large population of blacks with the Bolejack/Bolyjack name.  Many of them were freed slaves from the North Carolina and Tennessee branches of the family.  Several family stories from North Carolina tell of slaves being given money which they used to go to Kentucky and Tennessee to settle and buy land.

The question of slavery seems to have been at least partially responsible for the migrations of the Bolejack/Bolerjack families either to Northern or Southern states.