African Presence in New York

This post continues our Wednesday series that highlights historic Middle Passage/UNESCO Site of Memory markers that have been installed and those locations where a remembrance ceremony was held since MPCPMP incorporated 9 years ago. MPCPMP is/was involved in the planning for the installation of most of these markers and/or the coordinating for the UNESCO Site of Memory Slave Trade Route Project designation (indicated by an * next to the state name).

New York*

In the early 1600s, the Dutch claimed parts of present-day New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut and Delaware to establish the colony of New Netherland. In 1626, the first major group of settlers to the region “founded New Amsterdam on the southern tip of nearby Manhattan Island.” New Amsterdam, the capital of New Netherland, became a major British colonial settlement and would later become New York.

Along with the European settlers’ arrival in 1626, 11 enslaved Africans from Congo, Angola, and the island of Sao Tome were transported to the small town, beginning the systematic and increasing use of captive Africans in New Netherland. “From about 2,000 in 1698, the number of the colony’s black slaves swelled to more than 9,000 adults by 1746 and 13,000 by 1756. Between 1732 and 1754, black slaves accounted for more than 35 percent of the total immigration through the port of New York. And that doesn’t count the many illegal cargoes of Africans unloaded all along the convoluted coast of Long Island to avoid the tariff duties on slaves.” It was the forced labor of these men, women, and children in bondage that built the infrastructure of the colonial city by: clearing forests; dredging harbors; building roads, bridges, houses, the first city hall, the first Dutch and English churches, docks, the prison, the hospital, and fortifications (such as the wall built in 1653 to protect Dutch settlers from Indian raids, the wall for which Wall Street is named). From 1665-1775, 63 ships delivered approximately 5,600 captives directly from Africa to the city. In the 18th century, New York had the second highest urban concentration of enslaved Africans on the North American mainland, more than Philadelphia and Boston combined, second only to Charleston, SC.

As a major ocean-centered commercial colony/state, New York’s Middle Passage history extends far beyond shipping captive Africans to the North American mainland. It became a financial center. Although the New York legislature set July 4, 1827, as the date of final emancipation (making New York the first state to pass a law for the total abolition of legal slavery), merchants, investors, and traders continued to enable the transport of agricultural products to U.S. and European industrial manufacturing centers and captive Africans to the West Indies and the Americas well into the mid-19th century, especially Cuba and Brazil, where slavery continued until 1887 and 1888 respectively.

In 1991, the remains of more than 400 Africans were uncovered during excavation for the federal Foley Square Courthouse in Lower Manhattan. They were part of the largest colonial cemetery for Africans in North America (15,000-20,000), a segregated graveyard outside of city limits used to bury Africans and people of African descent. Much of the biological historical research of this location was led by Michael Blakey (College of William & Mary), who is a member of MPCPMP advisory board.

Today, this area (known as the African Burial Ground) encompasses approximately 5 city blocks or 6 acres located north of Wall Street in lower Manhattan. On October 4, 2003, the ancestral remains of those 419 African men, women and children were ceremonially reinterred at the site where they were discovered, and a memorial was dedicated at the site on October 5, 2007, in a ceremony presided over by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and poet Maya Angelou. Please follow these links to read more about New York and slavery and find resources for additional information:

https://www.nypl.org/blog/2015/06/29/slave-market
http://slavenorth.com/newyork.htm
http://www.slaveryinnewyork.org/history.htm

Memorial at African Burial Ground
Photo credit: Larry Gertner, February 15, 2015
Historic map of the African Burial Ground
Photo credit: Larry Gertner, taken September 2005
The first market where enslaved Africans were sold in New York, located where Wall Street reaches the East River, between Pearl and Water Streets (established on December 13, 1711).
Photo credit: New York Public Library Digital Collection
This is an aerial view of the African Burial Ground National Monument. One of the panels is inscribed:
For all those who were lost
For all those who were stolen
For all those who were left behind
For all those who were not forgotten
This entry was posted in African American History, captured Africans, Middle Passage, slave ports, Wednesday African History Series. Bookmark the permalink.