Black History Timeline: 1700 - 1799

Site of Stono Rebellion, near Charleston, SC
Henry de Saussure Copeland hdes.copeland/ Flickr CC

Black people experienced many hardships throughout the 1700s including enslavement and oppression, but the end of this century marks a slow shift toward equality for Black Americans. Here is a timeline of Black history in the 18th century.


New York Slave Codes Passed: The New York Assembly passes a law making it illegal for enslaved Africans to gather in groups of three or more and granting enslavers permission to use violence to punish the people they enslave as they see fit as long as they do not kill or dismember them.


Elias Neau Opens School for People of Color: Elias Neau, a French colonist, establishes a school for free and enslaved Black people as well as Indigenous people in New York City. 


Virginia Slave Codes Passed: The Colonial Virginia Assembly determines that indentured servants brought into the colony who were not Christian when they were captured should be considered enslaved. The law also applies to Indigenous people. The assembly defines the terms of this enslavement by specifying that enslaved people are to be the property of their enslavers. This code also prohibits interracial marriage.

Enslaved people and enslavers standing together at a boat dock
Enslavers discussing trading the people they enslave with potential buyers.

Kean Collection / Getty Images


New York Opens Market for Trading Enslaved People: A public market trafficking enslaved people opens in New York City near Wall Street on June 27. 


  • New York City Revolt of Enslaved People: On April 6, the New York City revolt of enslaved people begins. Armed enslaved people attack their enslavers. An estimated nine White colonists and countless Black people die during the incident. For their role in the uprising, an estimated 21 enslaved Black people are hung and six die of suicide. 
  • New York Slave Codes Become Stricter: New York City establishes a law preventing formerly enslaved Black people from owning land. This act also requires enslavers to pay the state when they want to emancipate the people they enslave.
Ships in a harbor
Ships at a harbor in New York used to transport enslaved people.

MPI / Getty Images


Asiento de Negros Signed: The Spanish government awards the British crown exclusive rights to trade enslaved people under the Treaty of Utrecht, this agreement referred to as the Asiento de Negros. England now has a monopoly on transporting captured African people to Spanish colonies in the Americas for enslavement.


French Bring Enslaved People to Louisiana: French colonizers bring an estimated 2,000 enslaved Africans to present-day Louisiana.


French Begin Trading Enslaved People: The French establish the city of New Orleans and begin trading enslaved people. Many enslaved people imported from overseas contract illnesses and diseases and die shortly after or before arriving in Louisiana. New Orleans is not considered to be a desirable trade port due to Louisiana's geographical location inland.


South Carolina Passes Voting Laws: South Carolina passes legislation requiring voters to own property equivalent to ten enslaved people. Only Christian White men who meet these requirements are eligible to vote. 


  • Boston Curfew for Black Occupants: A curfew is established in Boston for non-White occupants, with a special watch patrol ordered to apprehend any non-White people out past 10 p.m. It's one of several similar curfew laws passed in the colonies: New Hampshire instituted a 9 p.m. curfew in 1726. Even earlier than that, Connecticut had a 1690 curfew law that authorized any White citizen to apprehend a non-White person (specifically, a slave or servant) out without written permission from their masters, and Rhode Island passed a 9 p.m. curfew in 1703 for any non-White person who lacked permission from a master or an "English" person.
  • Code Noir Created: The Code Noir is created by the French colonial government in Louisiana. This code prohibits people enslaved by different people from gathering, outlaws enslaved people from trading or selling anything without permission from their enslavers, and prohibits enslaved people from marrying other enslaved people without permission from both enslavers. Under these codes, no enslaved people may own property. This legislation also requires enslavers to teach the people they enslave about religion. All suitable punishments for various offenses enslaved people may commit are outlined in these laws as well.


South Carolina Negro Act Passed: The South Carolina Negro Act is passed. This legislation specifies what type of clothing enslaved people may wear. Enslaved people are only permitted to wear certain inexpensive and low-quality fabrics or clothes given to them by their enslavers. If an enslaved person is found wearing anything other than these fabrics, an observer may take their clothes by force.


Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose Established: A group of freedom seekers establishes Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose (Fort Mose), a settlement in St. Augustine, Florida. This is considered the first permanent Black American settlement. 


Stono Rebellion Occurs: The Stono Rebellion or Cato's Rebellion takes place on September 9 in South Carolina. With roughly 50 enslaved people participating, led by a man called Jemmy, this is one of the first and largest revolts of enslaved people in history. An estimated 40 White and 80 Black people are killed during the revolt by stolen weapons and in fires set to buildings.


New York Slave Conspiracy Takes Place: An estimated 34 people are killed for their participation in the New York Slave Conspiracy, which resulted in fires across the city thought to be started by enslaved people seeking freedom. Out of the 34, 13 Black men are burned at the stake and 17 Black men, two White men, and two White women are hung. Also, 70 Black and seven White people are expelled from New York City, the Black people sold into enslavement in the Caribbean. 

Journal of Proceedings for New York Slave Conspiracy
Journal of Proceedings for the New York Slave Conspiracy of 1741.

Bettmann / Getty Images


South Carolina Places Restricts the Rights of Enslaved People: South Carolina bans teaching enslaved people to read and write. The ordinance also makes it illegal for enslaved people to meet in groups or earn money. Also, enslavers are permitted to kill the people they enslave if they deem this necessary.


Bars Fight Is Published: Lucy Terry Prince composes the poem "Bars Fight." For almost one hundred years, the poem is passed down through generations in the oral tradition. In 1855, it is published. 


Anthony Benezet Opens School for Black Students: Quaker Anthony Benezet opens the first free day school for Black children in Philadelphia. He teaches them out of his own home.


Benjamin Banneker Builds One of First Clocks in America: Benjamin Banneker, a free Black man, creates one of the first clocks in the colonies. It is made entirely out of wood. 


First Black Church in U.S. Founded: The first known Black church in North America is founded on the plantation of William Byrd in Mecklenburg, Virginia. It is called the African Baptist or Bluestone Church. 


Briton Hammon's Personal Narrative Published: Briton Hammon publishes the first narrative of an enslaved person. The text is entitled "A Narrative of the Uncommon Sufferings and Surprising Deliverance of Briton Hammon."


Jupiter Hammon's Poetry Collection Published: Jupiter Hammon publishes the first collection of poetry by a Black person. Enslaved from birth in New York, Hammon writes about his experiences as a Black man and formerly enslaved person.


Virginia Changes Voting Requirements: Property ownership requirements for voting are lowered, making it easier for most White men in the colony of Virginia to meet them, but Black people are still prohibited from voting. 


Crispus Attucks Dies: Crispus Attucks, a self-liberated formerly enslaved person, is the first resident of the British American colonies killed in the American Revolution. His death at the start of the Boston Massacre is mourned by many.

Crispus Attucks
Portrait of Crispus Attucks, a formerly enslaved man and the first American killed in the American Revolution.

Archive Photos / Getty Images


  • Phillis Wheatley's Book of Poems Published: Phillis Wheatley publishes "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral." This is the first book of poems written by a Black woman. 
  • Silver Bluff Baptist Church Founded: Silver Bluff Baptist Church is founded near Savannah, Georgia, on Galpin Plantation. 
  • Enslaved People Petition Massachusetts Court for Freedom: Enslaved Black people appeal to the Massachusetts General Court arguing that they have a natural right to freedom. They compare their situation to that of colonialists seeking independence from British rule. They are denied.


  • Black People Allowed to Enlist in Army: General George Washington begins to allow enslaved and free Black men to enlist in the army to fight against the British. As a result, at least five thousand Black men enlist to serve in the American Revolutionary War. Notable among them is Peter Salem. He famously kills British Major John Pitcairn at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
  • First Abolitionist Meeting Held: The Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage begins hosting meetings in Philadelphia on April 14 at the Sun Tavern. Many in attendance are members of the anti-slavery Friends of Pennsylvania, a group of Quakers. This is considered the first meeting of abolitionists. 
  • British Emancipate Enslaved People in Exchange for Service: On November 7, Lord Dunmore declares that any enslaved Black people fighting for the British Flag will be freed. This announcement, called Lord Dunmore's Proclamation, does lead many freedom seekers to fight for the Crown but also serves to anger colonists and create further opposition to British rule.
Black soldier shooting British general with troops trying to catch him
Formerly enslaved man turned Revolutionary war soldier Peter Salem shoots British Major John Pitcairn at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Bettmann / Getty Images


Enslaved People Liberate Themselves: An estimated 100,000 enslaved Black men and women self-liberate during the Revolutionary War. 


Enslavement Abolished in Vermont: Vermont abolishes enslavement on July 2. It is the first state to ban the practice.


  • Cuffee Brothers Refuse to Pay Taxes: Paul Cuffe and his brother, John, refuse to pay taxes on the grounds that Black people cannot vote, are not represented in the legislative process, and are not afforded as many opportunities as White people to earn a sufficient income. The council denies their petition and the two brothers are jailed until they pay.
  • 1st Rhode Island Regiment Established: The 1st Rhode Island Regiment is established. This unit recruits Black soldiers as well as White soldiers to fight for the colonies, earning it the nickname the "Black Regiment."


  • Enslavement Abolished in Massachusetts: Enslavement is abolished in Massachusetts with the passing of the Constitution of 1780. Some enslaved people not freed after this legislation is passed sue their enslavers, including Mum Bett. In Bett v. Ashley, Bett challenges Colonel John Ashley for enslaving her. The court rules that Bett's enslavement is unconstitutional and grants her freedom.
  • Free African Union Society Founded: The first cultural organization established by Black people is founded in Rhode Island. It is called the Free African Union Society. 
  • Pennsylvania Passes Gradual Emancipation Law: Pennsylvania adopts the gradual emancipation law called the Abolition Act. The law proclaims that all children born after November 1, 1780, will be freed on their 28th birthday but that all other enslaved people will remain enslaved. 


  • Connecticut and Rhode Island Pass Gradual Emancipation Laws: Connecticut and Rhode Island follow Pennsylvania's suit, adopting gradual emancipation laws. 
  • New York African Society Established: The New York African Society is established by freed Black people in New York City. 
  • First Black Masonic Lodge Established: Prince Hall founds the first Black Masonic lodge in the United States. It is called the African Lodge of the Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons.


  • New York Emancipates Enslaved Veterans: New York frees all enslaved Black men who served in the Revolutionary War
  • New York Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves Established: John Jay and Alexander Hamilton establish the New York Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves. This society fights to prevent Black people from becoming enslaved but does little in support of ending enslavement completely. For example, Hamilton suggests that all members of the society themselves liberate the people they enslave but many refuse.


  • U.S. Constitution Drafted: The U.S. Constitution is drafted. It allows the trading of enslaved people to continue for the next 20 years. In addition, it proclaims that each enslaved person counts as only three-fifths of a person for the purposes of determining the country's population for the House of Representatives. This agreement between those in favor and those against the practice of nslavement is part of a larger plan known as the Great Compromise.
  • African Free School Established: The African Free School is established in New York City. Men such as Henry Highland Garnett and Alexander Crummell are educated at the institution. 
  • Free African Society Founded: Richard Allen and Absalom Jones found the Free African Society in Philadelphia. 


Brown Fellowship Society Founded: The Brown Fellowship Society is established by freed Black people including Samuel Saltus, James Mitchell, George Bedon, and others in Charleston, South Carolina. This organization helps arrange for the burials of Black Americans in a designated cemetery. Membership is restricted to lighter-skinned Black men with few exceptions.


Banneker Chosen to Survey Federal District: Benjamin Banneker assists in surveying the federal district that will one day become the District of Columbia. He works with Major Andrew Ellicott.


Banneker's "Almanac" Published: Banneker publishes "Almanac" in Philadelphia. This text is the first book of science published by a Black American. 

Benjamin Banneker
Writer and mathematician Benjamin Banneker.

MPI / Getty Images


  • Fugitive Slave Act Passed: The first Fugitive Slave Act is established by U.S. Congress. This legislation makes it a criminal offense to help freedom-seeking enslaved people. Offering freedom seekers shelter and safety instead of capturing them and returning them to their enslavers now carries a $500 fine.
  • Cotton Gin Patented: The cotton gin, invented by Eli Whitney, is patented in March. The cotton gin's manufacture boosts the economy and increases the demand for cotton. This leads to more enslaved people being forced to harvest cotton.


  • Mother Bethel AME Church Founded: Mother Bethel AME Church is founded by Richard Allen in Philadelphia. This is the first African Methodist Episcopal church in the country.
  • New York Passes Gradual Emancipation Law: New York also adopts a gradual emancipation law, abolishing enslavement entirely in 1827. 


Bowdoin College Established: Bowdoin College is established in Maine. It becomes a major center of abolitionist activity, taking part in both Underground Railroad activity as well as hosting many civil rights activists over the years. 


  • First Prominent Black Artist Places an Ad for His Work in the Paper: Joshua Johnston is the first Black visual artist, a painter, to gain popularity in the United States. He publishes an ad in the Baltimore Intelligencer in which he describes himself as a "self-taught genius." Little is known about his personal life except that he has overcome many obstacles posed by racial discrimination, possibly including enslavement.
  • Venture Smith's Personal Narrative Published: Venture Smith publishes "A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, Native of Africa but Resident Above Sixty Years in the United States of America." This is the first narrative written by a Black author. Previous narratives of Black people were dictated by White abolitionists. 
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Your Citation
Lewis, Femi. "Black History Timeline: 1700 - 1799." ThoughtCo, Mar. 10, 2021, Lewis, Femi. (2021, March 10). Black History Timeline: 1700 - 1799. Retrieved from Lewis, Femi. "Black History Timeline: 1700 - 1799." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 7, 2023).

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