"OFF THE RECORD: THE PRODUCTION OF EVIDENCE IN 19TH CENTURY NJ"
Established in 2012, the New Jersey Studies Academic Alliance (NJSAA) Graduate Student Award recognizes excellence in graduate writing about New Jersey history. It is presented for a paper written by a graduate student that best represents significant research and writing about any aspect of New Jersey history. The 2013 award went to:
Off the Record: The Production of Evidence in 19th Century New Jersey
By Jarrett M. Drake, M.S.I.
On February 1, 1812, the New Jersey General Assembly passed a law stating that in order for a slave or servant to be permanently removed out of the state, two judges of the Court of Common Pleas had to first obtain the bond person's consent to the removal. Intended to curb the rise of domestic trafficking following the 1808 Congressional ban on the international slave trade, the statute placated New Jersey abolitionists while simultaneously providing slaveholders a loophole for profitable disposal of their property. Jacob Van Wickle, a judge in Middlesex County, exploited that loophole. This paper examines documents found at the New Jersey State Archives to argue that methodical, synchronized record production by county officials engineered an illegal slave-trading cartel spanning from New Jersey to Louisiana. The records presented as evidence consent certificates and affidavits bear the appearance of authenticity yet contain muted elements of evidential rehearsal. Describing their collective rhetoric illuminates the dubious condition of their creation, the implications of which suggest that archivists must reevaluate the concept of authenticity during the appraisal process.
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