July 2nd, 1777

Vermont Abolishes Slavery

After declaring independence from New York in January 1777, the citizens of Vermont developed their own constitution, which contained “A Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the State of Vermont.” This declaration affirmed that all men were born free and that no male over age 21 or female over age 18 could serve another in the role of servant, slave, or apprentice whether “born in the country, or brought from over sea.” Thus, with the ratification of its constitution on July 2, 1777, Vermont became the first North American territory to abolish slavery.

Earlier, in 1774, the Rhode Island and Connecticut legislatures outlawed international slave importation but fell short of banning inter-colony slave trade. Despite their bans, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Vermont enacted laws interfering with free blacks’ efforts to find work, own property, or even remain in the state.

By 1804, all Northern states had voted to abolish the institution of slavery within their borders, but not always immediately. In some states, gradual emancipation laws set deadlines by which all slaves would be freed, releasing individuals as they reached a certain age or completed a certain term of labor. Gradual emancipation left many black people in bonded servitude. Though Pennsylvania passed its Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in 1780, the federal census as late as 1850 documented the presence of hundreds of young black slaves awaiting emancipation upon their 28th birthday.