Pennsylvania's Gradual Abolition Act of 1780
I. When we contemplate our abhorrence of that condition to which the arms and tyranny of Great Britain were exerted to reduce us, when we look back on the variety of dangers to which we have been exposed, and how miraculously our wants in many instances have been supplied, and our deliverances wrought, when even hope and human fortitude have become unequal to the conflict, we are unavoidably led to a serious and grateful sense of the manifold blessings, which we have undeservedly received from the hand of that Being from whom every good and perfect gift cometh. Impressed with these ideas, we conceive that it is our duty, and we rejoice that it is in our power to extend a portion of that freedom to others which hath been extended to us, and release from that state to which we ourselves were tyrannically doomed, and from which we now have every prospect of being delivered. It is not for us to inquire why in the creation of mankind the inhabitants of several parts of the earth were distinguished by a difference in feature or complexion. It is sufficient to know that all are the work of an Almighty Hand. We find in the distribution of the human species that the most fertile as well as the most barren parts of the earth are inhabited by Men of complexions different from ours and from each other; from whence we may reasonably as well as religiously infer that He who placed them in their various situations, hath extended equally His care and protection to all, and that it becomes not us to counteract His mercies . . . .
II. And, whereas, the condition of those persons who have heretofore been denominated Negro and Mulatto slaves, has been attended with circumstances which not only deprived them of the common blessings that they were by nature entitled to, but has cast them into the deepest afflictions by an unnatural separation and sale of husband and wife from each other and from their children, an injury the greatness of which can only be conceived by supposing that we were in the same unhappy case. In justice, therefore, to persons so unhappily circumstanced, and who, having no prospect before them whereon they may rest their sorrows and hopes, have no reasonable inducement to render their services to society, which they otherwise might, and also in grateful commemoration of our own happy deliverance from that state of unconditional submission to which we were doomed by the tyranny of Britain.
III. Be it enacted, and it is hereby enacted, That all persons as well Negroes and Mulattoes, as others, who shall be born within this State from and after the passing of this Act shall not be deemed and considered as servants for life, or slaves; and that all servitude for life, or slavery of children in consequence of the slavery of their mothers, in the case of all children born within this State from and after the passing of this Act, as aforesaid, shall be, and hereby is, utterly taken away, extinguished, and forever abolished.
IV. Provided always, and be it further enacted, That every Negro and Mulatto child, born within this State after the passing of this act as aforesaid shall be deemed to be, and shall be, by virtue of this act, the servant of such person . . . until such child shall attain the age of twenty-eight years, in the manner, and on the conditions, whereon servants bound, by indenture for four years are or may be retained and held . . .
V. And be it further enacted, That every person, who is or shall be the owner of any Negro or Mulatto slave or servant for life, or till the age of thirty-one years, now within this State, or his lawful attorney, shall, on or before the said first day of November next, deliver, or cause to be delivered, in writing, to the Clerk of the peace of the county, or to Clerk of the court of record of the city of Philadelphia, in which he or she shall respectively inhabit, the name and surname, and occupation or profession of such owner, and the name of the county and township, district or ward, wherein he or she resides; and also the name and names of such slave and slaves, and servant and servants for life, or till the age of thirty-one years, together with their ages and sexes, severally and respectively set forth and annexed, by such persons owned or employed, and . . . that no Negro or Mulatto, now within this State, shall, from and after the said first day of November, be deemed a slave or servant for life, or till the age of thirty-one years, unless his or her name shall be entered as aforesaid on such record, except such Negro and Mulatto slaves and servants as herein excepted . . .
IX. And be it further enacted, That the reward for taking up runaway and absconding Negro and Mulatto slaves and servants, and the penalties for enticing away, dealing with or harboring, concealing or employing Negro and Mulatto slaves and servants, shall be the same, and shall be recovered in like manner, as in case of servants bound for four years.
X. And be it further enacted, That no man or woman of any nation, or color, except the Negroes or Mulattoes who shall be registered as aforesaid, shall, at any time, be deemed, adjudged, and held within the territories of this commonwealth as slaves and servants for life, but as free men and free women; except the domestic slaves attending upon Delegates in Congress from other American States, foreign Ministers and Consuls, and persons passing through or sojourning in this State, and not becoming resident therein, and seamen employed in ships not belonging to any inhabitant of this State, nor employed in any ship owned by such inhabitants; provided such domestic slaves be not aliened or sold to any inhabitant, nor retained in this State longer than six months.
XI. Provided always, and be it further enacted, That this act, or anything in it contained, shall not give any relief or shelter to any absconding or runaway Negro or Mulatto slave or servant, who has absented himself or shall absent himself, from his or her owner, master or mistress, residing in any other State or country, but such owner, master or mistress, shall have like right and aid to demand, claim, and take away his slave or servant, as he might have had in case this act had not been made . . .
XIII. Be it therefore enacted, That no covenant of personal servitude or apprenticeship whatsoever shall be valid or binding on a Negro or Mulatto for a longer time than seven years, unless such servant or apprentice were, at the commencement of such servitude or apprenticeship, under the age of twenty-one years, in which case such Negro or Mulatto may be held as a servant or apprentice, respectively, according to the covenant, as the case shall be, until he or she shall attain the age of twenty-eight years, but no longer.
XIV. And be it further enacted, That an act of Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania, passed in the year one thousand seven hundred and five, entitled An Act for the trial of Negroes; and another act of Assembly of the said Province, passed in the year one thousand seven hundred and twenty-five, entitled An Act for the better regulating of Negroes in this Province; and another act of Assembly of the said Province, passed in the year one thousand seven hundred and sixty-one, entitled An Act for laying a duty on Negro and Mulatto slaves imported into this Province; and also another act of Assembly of the said Province, passed in the year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-three, entitled An Act for making perpetual an act for laying a duty on Negro and Mulatto slaves imported into this Province, and for laying an additional duty on said slaves, shall be, and are hereby, repealed, annulled, and made void.