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Age in AmericaThe Colonial Era to the Present$
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Corinne T. Field and Nicholas L. Syrett

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9781479870011

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479870011.001.0001

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“Beyond the Time of White Children”

“Beyond the Time of White Children”

African American Emancipation, Age, and Ascribed Neoteny in Early National Pennsylvania

Chapter:
(p.47) 2 “Beyond the Time of White Children”
Source:
Age in America
Author(s):

Sharon Braslaw Sundue

Publisher:
NYU Press
DOI:10.18574/nyu/9781479870011.003.0003

Sharon Braslaw Sundue’s essay explores the fate of young African Americans in Pennsylvania after the passage of that state’s gradual emancipation law in 1780, which freed slaves born after its passage once they reached the age of twenty-eight as well as slaves brought to the state after a period of six months’ residence. Sundue focuses on how the law built on longstanding beliefs about blacks’ neoteny—or the persistence of childlike traits into adulthood—in order to justify binding black children to servitude for seven years longer than white children could traditionally be indentured. Sundue argues that slaveowners manipulated the law—sometimes breaking it outright—in order to keep young people enslaved longer and that, as a result, chronological age became a crucial tool that emancipated slaves could use in order to prove their fragile claims to freedom. Focusing on the records of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, Sundue demonstrates the ways that chronological age came to have special significance for young African Americans intent on proving that they were no longer obligated to serve their former masters.

Keywords:   African Americans, Pennsylvania, emancipation, freedom, neoteny, Pennsylvania Abolition Society, slaves, slaveowners, law, children

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