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» Slaves and Servants in the Rosencrantz Household

Slaves and Servants
in the Rosencrantz Household

Elijah Rosegrant came from a slave owning family in Sussex County, New Jersey, and his wife's family, the Sufferns, owned slaves in New Antrim, New York. Bergen County, where the couple settled, had the largest population of African Americans, and the highest percentage of slaves, in the State New Jersey in the first years of the 19th century.

Many members of the extended Hopper family also owned slaves. Thus, it was not unusual for Elijah to acquire slaves after he bought The Hermitage in 1807. This was after gradual emancipation had become law in New Jersey in 1804, despite opposition by many Bergen County slaveholders. The legislation did not free those who already were slaves. It did, however, legally emancipate boys born after the law's passage when they reached age 25 and girls when they reached 21.

In 1808, Elijah and Cornelia witnessed the purchase of Tom, a 16-year-old slave boy, by Elijah's brother Levi for $250. In the same year, Elijah bought, Gin, an adult African American slave, and her young son, Caesar, for $175. Since Gin was born before of the Gradual Emancipation Act passed, Elijah could continue to hold her as a slave. However, three-year-old Caesar would become free as an adult.

Indenture for CaesarIn 1810, Elijah took advantage of a loophole in the gradual emancipation law and emancipated young Caesar. He then turned the boy over to the local Overseers of the Poor, who sent Caesar back to Elijah and provided an annual subsidy for his care. The arrangement required Elijah to provide Caesar with food, clothing, enough education to read and write, and some kind of work skill in return for Caesar’s labor until he was 25. However, in 1811 Elijah bound Caesar to Garret Zabrieski, a carpenter in Harrington. Meanwhile, Gin, Elijah’s female slave, gave birth to at least three children: Harry in July 1808, Jack in 1810, and Phebe in 1813. Elijah also sold a Negro boy to his brother Levi in 1810.

According to the census, Gin was no longer part of The Hermitage household by 1830. Four African Americans did live with the family, however, listed as “‘free’ colored persons.” There was an adult man who name is not known. An adult woman, Silvia (Sill) Rosencrantz, had become part of the household in 1820; she had a son, Pompey, in 1826. The young man in the household, Harry, may or may not have been related to Sill. He appears to have been around the same age as Elijah's sons. Elijah II, who was then 13, wrote to his 17-year-old brother John in 1827: “Harry says he has blacked your boots so often for nothing that you could afford to buy him a pair second hand, Harry also says that you must not forget his flute.” And in 1832, Elijah wrote: “Harry and I are building a house. I had to do all the ploughing and Harry had to do all the mason.” Harry was then 24 years old.

In 1840, the census listed one African American male (age 10–14) and one female (age 24–36) at The Hermitage. The 1850 census listed the African American household members by name: “Silva Rosencrant, black, 40, born N.J., illiterate” and “Pompey A. Rosencrant—black, 22, laborer, born N.J., illiterate.” Sill was listed again in 1860 as “50, black, servant, born N.J.” The 1850 census also noted that Charick Rosencrantz and his wife, Marianne, lived in a neighboring household with African Americans who carried the Rosencrantz name: Jane Rosengrant (18), Thomas (24), Benjamin (22), Susan (14), and John (2). Further, at least two African Americans worked at the Rosencrantz mill in the 1850s: Nancy Kipp and Anne Johnson. Both lived nearby.

In the 1850s, Elijah and Killie, like others in Bergen County, made changes among their servants that reflected the growing importance of immigration in the United States. By 1860, only one African American, Sill, 50, remained at The Hermitage, but two immigrant servants had been added: Janie Cox, 35, a nurse, born in England who was the nanny and would stay with the family for 35 years, and Eliza, also 35 and born in Ireland, who was the cook. Sill was the last African American recorded as a member of The Hermitage household. In 1865, the Rosencrantzes employed an Irish immigrant named Ellen as a domestic. The increasing presence of Irish servants and farm workers at The Hermitage, in the families of Killie's relatives in Ridgewood; and in other families in the area, as well as of Irish workers in the mills and on the railroad, resulted in the establishment in 1865 of St. Luke’s Catholic parish in Ho-Ho-Kus. The church was built directly across Franklin Turnpike from The Hermitage.

The 1880 census notes that Janie Cox, 45, was still at The Hermitage, along with May Cain, 45, a domestic servant born in Ireland, and her daughter, Mary, 18, also born in Ireland. When Janie Coxe died in the late 1880s, the practice of employing live-in servants at The Hermitage seems to have become intermittent. Family correspondence suggests the presents of servants for some periods in the 1890s. In addition, the household received help by employing people from the neighborhood to do laundry and other domestic work. In the 1890s, Fanny Johnson, the daughter of the Anne Johnson who worked a the mill in the 1850, was paid as a laundress for the Rosencrantz family, and other African American residents of the may have done day work at The Hermitage in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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