A Woman of African Descent

This woman may be in line to vote. Or, she may be present at the polls as proof that one of the other women in the scene owned property and had the right to vote.

As a woman of African descent, her eligibility to vote depended on her status as either a property owner, or as the enslaved property of one of the other women. If she was enslaved, this women could not legally vote in New Jersey. In 1801, slavery was still legal in the state, making for cruel contradictions between the promise of the American Revolution and the reality of life for many of its inhabitants of African descent. A few white women who voted in Montgomery Township in 1801 owned enslaved people and counted them as part of their property. Estate inventories from the 1790s and early 1800s in New Jersey show that the value of one enslaved woman was approximately 50 pounds, exactly the amount of property value needed to legally vote. If a free person of color in New Jersey owned property and was over 21 years old, they could and did legally exercise their right to vote before the state’s voting laws changed in 1807.

Photograph by Museum of the American Revolution