Where in the U.S. did slavery still exist after Juneteenth?

Posted June 19th, 2016 by
Category: History Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Today, June 19, is widely celebrated as Juneteenth, which marks the day in 1865 when Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, bringing word that the Civil War had ended and the enslaved population was free. This is a joyous occasion, one which acknowledges the horrors of slavery, but commemorates the jubilation with which the first word of freedom was celebrated at many  times, and in many places, throughout the United States.

Yet at the time of this first Juneteenth, slavery had not yet been abolished throughout the United States, even by law. That momentous occasion wouldn’t occur until ratification of the 13th Amendment on December 6, 1865, more than half a year after the surrender of Confederate forces as Appomattox.

Where in the U.S. did slavery manage to persist after Juneteenth had come and gone? The answer, and even the sheer number of places, may surprise you.

The Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment

The Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, 1863, was Lincoln’s order, as commander-in-chief of the Union’s military forces, that slavery was abolished in those parts of the U.S. which had been in rebellion and which had been re-captured by Union troops.

This meant that slavery remained legal in those slave states which had remained in the Union. This included the border states, such as Delaware, Kentucky, and Maryland, but also those northern “free states” which permitted slavery under certain circumstances, such as when the slave owner claimed to be a permanent resident of a southern state. Those states legally permitting slavery under such circumstances stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

The Emancipation Proclamation also did nothing to discourage the practice of informally permitting slavery in many northern states where it was no longer permitted by law. Many African-Americans remained in slavery under this practice, which also existed from coast to coast in the “free states,” often quietly but in many cases quite openly.

Aside from these exceptions carefully built into the Emancipation Proclamation, it was also a wartime order from the president, and was unlikely to withstand the legal challenges which would surely come after the Civil War had ended. And so, with great difficulty, the northern-controlled U.S. Congress was finally persuaded, late in the war, to propose the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which would abolish slavery throughout the United States. That amendment, however, was rejected by several northern states, and so its adoption would have to wait for the re-admission of southern states in the months following the end of the war.

Where slavery was still legal after Juneteenth

Where did slavery remain legal, even after the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War?

Maryland and Missouri, both border states which found themselves on the Union side, had finally abolished slavery late in the war.

Yet Delaware and Kentucky rejected all efforts by the Union to end slavery, and these two border states firmly rejected the 13th Amendment.1 As a result, slavery remained perfectly legal in both states for another six months after Juneteenth, until the secretary of state certified that the 13th Amendment had been ratified by enough states to become law throughout the U.S.

As mentioned above, slavery had also been perfectly legal in many northern, “free” states at the time of the Civil War, under certain circumstances, and while those (intentional) loopholes had gradually been closing, there certainly remained states on the Union side where there continued to be legal slavery after the Civil War.

For instance, out west, in California, slavery had been banned in 1850, as a condition of admission to the Union. Yet slavery had remained common in the Golden State, in part because slave owners didn’t bother to inform the enslaved of their freedom, and in part because many slave owners were allowed, by law, to keep enslaved people in the state. In fact, the California state legislature voted in 1852 to permit all who had been brought into the state as slaves to remain enslaved, as long as they were not considered to be in the state permanently and might, someday, be returned to the slave South.

As a result, California had roughly 200-300 enslaved people at the end of the Civil War, and Juneteenth did nothing to change that. Only after the 13th Amendment passed would slavery cease to exist (at least legally) in California.

Where slavery was still practiced openly after Juneteenth

Where was slavery still practiced in the U.S. after Juneteenth? The answer is in quite a few places.

In the Northeast, New Jersey still had enslaved people of African descent living within its borders after the war ended. For many years, this was believed to involved just 18 people, presumably kept quietly enslaved, and perhaps leaving many white people in New Jersey unaware of what was still happening in their state. In fact, however, recent research shows that up to 400 African-Americans remained enslaved in New Jersey at the end of the war, and this situation would not be rectified until long after Juneteenth.

Oregon is another troubling example of a “free state” which practiced slavery after the Civil War. Oregon’s provisional government had outlawed slavery in Oregon Country in 1844, and followed that up shortly with a ban on free blacks settling in the territory. Yet many white families continued to bring enslaved people with them to Oregon to help them establish themselves, and rarely saw fit to free them.

The most prominent case of slavery in Oregon in these years was that of Robin and Polly Holmes, and their children, who were brought as slaves from Missouri to Oregon in 1844, and put to work on their owner’s farm in the Willamette Valley. That owner, a prominent Oregon lawmaker named Nathaniel Ford, openly defied the law and continued to keep them as slaves. In 1850, he freed Robin and Polly, but insisted on keeping their children enslaved, until 1853 when the Holmes family won its freedom in court (the first and only time an Oregon court would free anyone who was enslaved).

For the Holmes family, then, slavery in Oregon ended in 1853. For many others, however, slavery didn’t end with the Civil War … or with Juneteenth … or even with the 13th Amendment. Even Oregon’s former territorial governor, General Joseph Lane, was allowed to keep at least one person enslaved on his farm in Roseburg until 1878.

And so Juneteenth, while a momentous celebration of freedom, must also be remembered as being only one in a long, agonizing series of steps by which our nation’s enslaved managed to win or, in some cases, were granted emancipation from slavery.

  1. Delaware wouldn’t ratify the 13th Amendment, thus acquiescing in the end of slavery, until 1901. Kentucky resisted the 13th Amendment until 1976. []

One Response to “Where in the U.S. did slavery still exist after Juneteenth?”

  1. Barbara Gradney Says:

    Juneteenth is a Texas holiday that was brought to other states by Black people moving elsewhere. I work with people from other states who've never heard of it.
    Slavery is a terrible blight on this country's reputation. But, the USA, is not the only country that had slaves. I get pissed off when other countries get on their high-horse and forget their history. As a Black American, the idea of the enslavement done to my ancestors, is poison. White ppl don't get it.
    Ancient Romans, would go to a country, fight them in a war-win, and make them all or most of them slaves. Same thing for all of the ancient empires. I understand that. BUT, Americans went to a specific country, because they thought the ppl not human and only fit for labor. They stole most from their home and enslaved them. Of course you have your bad characters in Africa (there are bad people everywhere) who would sell their grandma for a glass bead, but generally speaking, they were stolen.
    That's the point. Europeans/Americans didn't fight an African nation in a war and therefore enslaved some of the ppl to enforce their will on them. They selected the populace as being subhuman. Then they misinterpreted a Bible verse so they would feel good about themselves.
    So, to them, they were actually doing us a favor. They gave us something to do. Thanks but no thanks.
    Other races can come over here and speak their native languages at will. That was beat out of the slaves. We were not allowed to retain anything from our native lives. As for me, my family's native language (from their master) is Creole. I can't speak it but wish I could. But my dad said the white man used to look down on us when we spoke what was native for us. Unfortunately, I can't trace my family pass the 'masters language'.

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