An 18th century slave market on Wall Street

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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4 Responses to “An 18th century slave market on Wall Street”

  1. Dave Says:

    Nice post. The remarkable NY Historical Society-published book Slavery in New York, associated with their 2005 exhibit, mentions that Brooklyn had the highest concentration of slaves of any county in the North at some point in the early 19th c.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks, and here’s a link to the NY Historical Society exhibit. It’s a disturbing, fascinating part of the city’s past that I don’t think gets the attention it should:

  3. Woody Whit-akers Says:

    where the gazebo was located is where the building for the new york stock exchange is located today?

  4. Where New Yorkers met for coffee in the 1790s | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Finally, it was a place where deals were made on all kinds of goods . . . and that included human beings. […]

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