History of Slavery in New York

A 1798 watercolor of Fresh Water Pond. Bayard's Mount, a 110-foot (34 m) hillock, is in the left foreground. Prior to being levelled around 1811 it was located near the current intersection of Mott and Grand Streets. New York City, which then extended to a stockade which ran approximately north–southeast from today's Chambers Street and Broadway, is visible beyond the southern shore.


The well-organized African people’s enslavement in the United States began in New York as part of the Dutch slave trade. The Dutch West India Company shipped eleven African slaves to New Amsterdam in early 1626, with the first slave sale (auction) in New Amsterdam in November of 1655.

With the second-highest proportion of any town in the colonies, more than 42% of New York City homes maintained slaves by 1703, often as laborers and domestic servants.

First Dutch rule Slaves

Systematic slavery started in 1626 in New York when eleven imprisoned Africans came on a Dutch West India Company ship in the New Amsterdam dock.

Historians called them Atlantic Creoles who had African and European ancestry and knew many languages. In some cases, they achieved their European heritage in Africa when European merchants conceived kids with African women. Some were Africans who worked as crews on ships, and some came from other harbors of the Americas.

Their first names—like Simon, Paul, and John—indicated if they had European heritage. Their last names showed where they came from, like d’Congo, Portuguese, or d’Angola. People from Angola or Congo were known for their docile manners and engineering skills. Six slaves had names connected with New Amsterdam, such as Manuel Gerritsen, which he likely received after arriving in New Amsterdam and separated from repeated first names.

Jacob van Meurs, Novum Amsterodamum [New Amsterdam], 1671. In the centre of the picture a man is depicted hanging by his middle, suspended by a hook in his ribs and swung to and fro.

Men worked the fields, built roads and forts, and performed other forms of hard labor.

According to the law borrowed from southern colonies, kids born to enslaved women were deemed born into slavery, regardless of their fathers or ethnicities.

Dutch Slave trade

For 25 years after the first shipment, the Dutch West India Company was dominant in importing slaves from African coasts. A number of slaves were shipped directly from the Dutch West India Company stations in Angola harbor to New Netherlands.

Due to workers shortage in the colony, it relied upon African slaves.

The Dutch West India Company authorized New Netherlanders to trade slaves from Angola for mature African slaves from the Dutch West Indies, mainly Curaçao, who traded for more than other slaves. They also purchased slaves that came from ships of Spanish slave ships.

Slaves in the north were often held by notable people like William Penn, Benjamin Franklin, and John Hancock. In New Amsterdam, the well-known William Henry Seward grew up in a family that owned slaves. Against slavery, he became Lincoln’s Secretary of State during the American Civil War.

Unique to slaves from other provinces, slaves could sue another person, whether black or white. Early instances included suits filed for damages and lost wages when a white man’s dog injured a slave’s dog.

English rule

In 1664, the English took over the colony and New Amsterdam. They continued to import slaves from Africa and other parts of America to maintain the construction work. Enslaved Africans completed various professional and amateur jobs, mostly in the burgeoning port city and nearby agricultural areas. In 1703, more than 40% of New York City’s homes held slaves, a percentage higher than in Philadelphia and Boston, and second only to Charleston in the South.

In 1708, the New York Colonial Assembly enacted a law entitled “Act for Preventing the Conspiracy of Slaves,” which ordered a death sentence for any slave who attempted to murder or murdered her or his master. This law, one of the first of its kind in Early Colonial America, was in part a reaction to William Hallet III’s murder in Newtown (Queens).

In 1711, a legal slave market was built at the end of Wall Street on the East River, and it ran until 1762.

American Revolution

Blacks fought on both sides in the American Revolution. Many slaves chose to fight for the British, as General Guy Carleton promised them freedom in exchange for their assistance. After the British entirely occupied New York City in 1776, slaves fled to their lines for freedom. In New York, the black community grew to 10,000 by 1780, and the town became a hub of free blacks in North America.

In 1781, New York gave slaveholders a monetary incentive to assign their slaves to the military, guaranteeing independence at war’s end for the poor slaves. In 1783, black men made up 25% of the separatist militia in White Plains, who moved to Yorktown, Virginia for the last battles.

When the Treaty of Paris in 1783 was enacted, the United States was asked that all American property, including slaves, be left WHERE IT IS. Still, General Guy Carleton pursued through on his promise to the freedmen. When the British left New York, they moved 3,000 Black Loyalists on ships to Nova Scotia (now Maritime Canada), as reported in the Black Loyalists Directory at the National Archives at Washington and the Book of Negroes at the National Archives of Great Britain.

With British assistance, in 1792, a big group of these Black Britons left Nova Scotia to create an autonomous colony in Sierra Leone.

Abolition of Slavery

By 1790, 1 in 3 blacks in New York were free. Especially in concentrated population areas, such as New York City, they lived as an independent community, with their own generous and civic organizations, businesses, and churches.

Although there was a movement towards removing slavery, the council took steps to identify indentured bondage for blacks in a way that vaguely redefined slavery. Slavery was great economically, both in New York City and in farming areas, such as Brooklyn. In 1799, the government passed the Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery. It released no living slave. It declared kids of slaves born after July 4, 1799, to be lawfully free, but the kids had to serve an extensive period of contracted servitude: to the age of 28 for males and 25 for females. Slaves born before that day were redefined as enslaved servants and could not be sold, but they had to resume their unpaid labor.

From 1800 to 1827, black and white abolitionists worked to end slavery and achieve full citizenship in New York. During this time, there was a surge in white supremacy, which was at odds with the extended anti-slavery efforts of the early 19th century.

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