2. Richard Stockton, a humble lawyer, endured torturous conditions in British captivity for refusing to accept a conditional pardon demanding his acquiescence during the Revolutionary War.
Richard Stockton was an American lawyer elected to the Second Continental Congress, whereupon, in this capacity, he acted as the first signatory to the Declaration of Independence from the New Jersey delegation. During efforts to evacuate the family of John Covenhoven, on November 30, 1776, Stockton was captured along with his friend. Dragged from his bed in the middle of the night and transported to Perth Amboy by Loyalist bounty hunters, Stockton refused to accept the conditional pardon offered by General Howe and was instead imprisoned. Incarcerated at Provost Prison in New York, Stockton was subjected to brutal and intolerable conditions causing lasting health problems.
Suffering from starvation and exposure, Stockton endured the additional indignity of having much of his property, including furniture and livestock, seized or destroyed. His library, among the most extensive in the Americas, was burned by the British in an act of deliberate malice. In total, 4,435 soldiers died in battle in New York during the Revolutionary War, in contrast to more than 12,000 in prisons. After weeks in captivity, Washington himself petitioned Howe for the release of political prisoners including Stockton. Offered freedom on condition he would abstain from further involvement in the rebellion, Stockton, in immeasurably poor health, was eventually freed to return to what remained of his estate.
1. George Washington deliberately exploited a legal loophole in Pennsylvania law to avoid being forced to emancipate his slaves whilst serving as President of the United States.
After the ratification of the United States Constitution, whilst a new city was built to serve as the capital of the fledgling nation – Washington, D.C. – the city of Philadelphia was selected to serve as the temporary capital. Remaining the seat of government for the duration of Washington’s two terms as president, the commander-in-chief was forced to relocate to Philadelphia, bringing with him a number of enslaved persons to serve in his household. In 1780, Pennsylvania had passed the Gradual Abolition Act, stipulating that slaves were freed after they reached the age of 28 along with those who had lived in the state for more than six months.
In order to avoid surrendering his property, Washington would transport his slaves back to Mount Vernon, or on some occasions literally to the state lines, every six months. Through this method, kept deliberately secret to avoid scandal, Washington was able to perpetually reset the clock on his slave’s freedom and circumvent the clear intended purpose of the 1780 emancipation legislation. Reflecting his sustained desire to retain his Negro possessions, Washington also signed into law the Fugitive Slave Act in 1793 in addition to launching a three-year search for an escaped female slave who fled to New Hampshire after learning she was to be given as a wedding present.
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