On February 1, 1812, a bill in the Kentucky legislature that would have criminalized the more cruel maiming practices directed against slaves was defeated by a vote of seven in favour and nineteen in opposition. The bill would have provided a jury trial for persons charged with burning, cutting or maiming a slave. If guilty, the convicted person would be subject to a sentence of three months in jail. Lesser acts of cruelty against a slave would have been punished by fines of $100. The bill also provided that a second conviction would result in the loss of the slave who would be sold to another owner (Source: Boynton Merrill, Jefferson's Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy). It is telling that even such a lenient bill could not pass.
At the same time, George Lewis a seventeen year old African American slave had been missing since the night of December 15-16, 1811. In fact, he had been murdered on that night by Lilburn and Isham Lewis, nephews of Thomas Jefferson.
On the same day an act came into force in New Jersey that prohibited slaves from being removed from the state. New Jersey had been the last of the northern states to abolish slavery. The law provided that no person born after that date would be a slave. In practice this meant that slavery continued well into the 1830's in New Jersey. The legislation of February 1, 1812 can be found in The Law of Slavery in New Jersey: An Annotated Bibliography and provided,in part, as follows:
That no negro or other slave or servant of color for life or years, shall hereafter be removed out of this state, with the design or intention that the place of residence of such slave or servant shall be thereby altered or changed without his or her consent, if of full age...
... if any inhabitant of this state shall hereafter go to any place out of the same, and take with him or her any negro or other slave or servant of color for life or years, and shall return without such negro or other slave or servant, he or she shall within ten days after such return, if required by any person or persons, make proof to the satisfaction of two judges of the court of common pleas in the said county, wherein he or she shall reside, that such slave or servant could not be brought back, by reason of some unavoidable circumstance, a certificate of which proof, stating the particular circumstances, signed by the said judges, shall be forthwith filed in the office of the clerk of the said county, and in default thereof, such person shall forfeit and pay five hundred dollars for each and every such slave, and one thousand dollars for each and every such servant so left behind, to be recovered by action of debt with costs of suit in any court having cognizance thereof, by any person who shall sue for the same, one third to the plaintiff and the remaining two thirds to the use of the county where the prosecution is had....
Passed at Trenton, Feb. 1,1812.
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