As we enter the busy holiday season, I hope you will stop and think about an important event that happened on December 16, 1812. On that day, the Jamaica Town Clerk recorded Rufus King’s manumission of an enslaved person named Margaret.
Wait – Rufus King had a slave? The man who denounced the Missouri Compromise in 1820 with the words, “I have yet to learn that one man can make a slave of another. If one man cannot do so, no number of individuals can have any better right to do it. And I hold that all laws or compacts imposing any such condition upon any human being are absolutely void, because contrary to the law of nature, which is the law of God, by which he makes his ways known to man, and is paramount to all human control.”?
The short answer is yes, but there are no short, simple answers in history. King practiced what he preached and bought a slave to free a slave. King purchased Margaret from the estate of John Hewlet of Flushing, a fellow congregant at Jamaica’s Grace Church. The documentation of the sale was lost in a fire, but we know it happened at some time between Hewlet’s death in April of 1812 and December of the same year – time to prove that Margaret was skilled enough to take care of herself and not become a ward of the town if freed. The manumission record includes the Overseers of the Poor of Jamaica’s judgment that Margaret was under the age of fifty (“aged about Twenty Years” according to King’s statement) and indeed “of Sufficient Ability to provide for herself.” Margaret appears to have stayed on with the Kings as a paid servant for a few years before finding other opportunities. She was not forgotten by the Kings though. In 1816, Mary Alsop King wrote from Washington, D.C. to her son Frederick asking him to “enquire also where Margaret lives as I wish to send her a message.”
With the assistance of donors like you, we can continue to delve into the complex history of King Manor; to learn more not just about the Kings, but also about the people who worked here; and to share those stories with the over 8,000 annual visitors to the museum. You can do your part today by clicking on “Donate” below. Your generosity is most appreciated.