Posts Tagged ‘slave market New York City’

The 19th century “slave market” at Union Square

October 25, 2012

If you were an actor in the 1860s to 1880s, you spent a lot of time in Union Square.

This was the city’s theater district. The Union Square Theatre, Academy of Music (below right), and other spaces attracted big evening crowds.

Photo studios, play publishers, costume shops, and other theater-focused businesses thrived during the day.

Desperate, out-of-work actors congregated here too, in a section of 14th Street deemed the “slave market,” where managers and theater agents went to fill their casts for an upcoming show.

“Until the 1880s, the south side of Union Square on 14th Street was called the Rialto, after the name of the busy commercial district in Venice,” writes Irving Lewis Allen in City in Slang.

“In the 1860s, actors lounged around the base of the great equestrian statue of George Washington, and there they had what they and passersby called the slave market for those seeking employment through the casting offices in the area.”

A New York Times article from 1921 also explains that the south and east sides of Union Square came to be known as “The Slave Mart”:

“An actor out of engagement would stand around waiting, as the saying was, to ‘sign up’ for the next season. As soon as he had ‘signed up’ he would convey the tidings to his associates and then would be seen no more—until the next season.”

The slave market disappeared when the theater district moved uptown . . . and booking agencies took over the task of filling casts. Out-of-work actors, however, are still plentiful in New York City.

An 18th century slave market on Wall Street

March 28, 2011

Slavery in New York City? It thrived from Dutch days through British rule. By the 1720s, one out of every five residents was owned by another.

The first slaves, 11 African men, came to New Amsterdam in the 1620s.

Along with other enslaved men and women who arrived from Africa or the Caribbean after them, they cleared fields, built roads, and toiled as domestics.

The Dutch (shown in this Howard Pyle painting at a 17th century slave auction) extended liberties, such as the right to own property and even win partial freedom, explains New York: An Illustrated History, by Ric Burns and James Sanders:

“Under the much harsher conditions of English rule, however, even these slender prerequisites disappeared. Henceforth, all slaves were considered chattel—forever—and the few that were freed, permanently barred from owning land or houses.”

By 1711, a slave exchange (the gazebo-like structure at right) was built on Wall Street at the East River.

“Each morning, African slaves could be seen making their way to the market at the foot of Wall Street, where while waiting to be rented out as day laborers and domestic servants they exchanged news with free blacks, and looked for every chance they could to break free,” write Burns and Sanders.

Throughout the 18th century, slave revolts kept tensions high. The British promised freedom to any slave who fought for the crown during the Revolutionary War, and the practice was officially outlawed in 1827.


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