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New York City’s Slave Trading Past

1626 – 1775
Location: New York City
Notable: Place

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Located in Lower Manhattan, Wall Street is home to many investment banks, brokerage firms, and other financial companies. As the site of the New York Stock Exchange, Wall Street is regarded as the world’s financial epicenter. In 2015, a plaque was erected at the corner of Wall Street and Water Street to commemorate the former site of a less celebrated but equally notable market. From 1711 to 1762, the New York Municipal Slave Market was located on Wall Street and stretched from Pearl to Water Street which was then the water’s edge of the East River.

In the present, little mention is made about the connection between these markets. But proceeds from the NY Slave Market and the slave trade elsewhere played a vital role in generating revenue for Wall Street’s financial firms and establishing New York City as a major economic center.

The Dutch West India Company established a settlement named New Amsterdam in 1626. They concurrently established slavery via the eight enslaved Africans that they brought to the settlement. Three enslaved women were delivered to the settlement a few years later bringing the enslaved population to 11. This group built a fort at the site, cleared land for the road that is now Broadway, and built the wall that Wall Street was named after. All while being compelled to defend the settlement against the land’s indigenous people.

These original enslaved people petitioned and were granted their freedom 18 years after their arrival. In addition to freedom for themselves and their wives, they received land. But their freedom was conditional. Their children, whether already born or yet to be born remained in bondage. As would be the case with future sharecroppers after Emancipation, they had to pay fees by delivering specific amounts of livestock and crops to the colonizers. And they could be re-enslaved if they failed to meet the established delivery quotas.

The Dutch held New Amsterdam until the British took control of the settlement in 1664. The site was renamed “New York” after James Stuart, the Duke of York. Stuart had received a charter for the Royal African Company (RAC) from his brother King Charles II through which he traded in slaves and other resources. New York was intended to be used by the British as a commercial slave trading port.

Thousands of enslaved people were brought to the settlement. During the years of Dutch control, 70% of the enslaved people arriving in the city were brought from the Caribbean. Under British control, the majority of enslaved people were brought directly from Africa with many bearing the brand of ‘RAC’ or ‘DY’ (Duke of York).

The Port of New York in Lower Manhattan was the primary dock for ships involved with the slave trade. Records show that between 1651 and 1775, there were at least 70 Transatlantic slave ships whose primary landing base was New York City. By the early 1630s, New York’s population stood at about 300 of which 100 were enslaved. 100 years later 42% of the city’s White population owned slaves. New York City was the largest slave-owning colony in the North and overall only second to Charleston.

When slave owners had no work for their slaves or needed extra money, they would hire out their slaves. As the demand for slaves grew and thus their population, White residents became uncomfortable. Enslaved people were sometimes sent out to find work on their own. Groups of enslaved people, especially men, walking about created feelings of unease. In response to complaints, the New York Municipal Slave Market was established on Wall Street to contain the hiring, buying, and selling of enslaved people. The use of people as commerce took place alongside the sale of corn and grain which led to the building being called the Meal Market.

People do not like to be enslaved and knowing this, slave owners were in constant fear of uprisings. In 1712, just a few months after the market opened, New York experienced its first slave uprising. The revolt began a few blocks away on Maiden Lane and ended with the government executing 21 people. New laws were passed to bar enslaved people from owning weapons, congregating, or being on the street after dark unless in the company or service of their enslaver.

The NY Municipal Market was closed in 1762 though New York City continued to be a vital port in the slave trade. Over the years slave markets were established and operated in other parts of the city until slavery was abolished. The city’s financiers and insurance brokers provided financial backing for slave interests in the South. Cotton and sugar produced on slave plantations in the South passed through New York City before making their way to Europe. Thus the foundation of America’s financial system was built on slavery and its first official marketplace in New York City was located on Wall Street.

Sources

  1. Curriculum Concepts International. n.d. “Mapping the African American Past.” MAAP. Columbia University. Accessed July 9, 2024. https://maap.columbia.edu/place/22.html.
  2. Diouf, Sylviane A. 2015. “New York City’s Slave Market.” New York Public Library. The New York Public Library. June 29, 2015. https://www.nypl.org/blog/2015/06/29/slave-market.
  3. “Mannahatta Park Highlights – New York’s Municipal Slave Market.” n.d. NYC Parks. The City of New York. Accessed July 9, 2024. https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/mannahatta-park/highlights/19696.
  4. “Origins: The Transatlantic Slave Trade.” 2022. Equal Justice Initiative Reports. Equal Justice Initiative. October 25, 2022. https://eji.org/report/transatlantic-slave-trade/origins/.
  5. Owusu, Tony. 2021. “The Hidden History Wall Street’s Slave Market.” Thestreet. The Arena Media Brands, LLC. February 3, 2021. https://www.thestreet.com/investing/wall-street-legacy-in-slavery.
  6. Thalenfeld, Adam. 2019. “A Short History of Slavery in NYC.” NYC URBANISM. NYC URBANISM. June 18, 2019. https://www.nycurbanism.com/blog/2019/6/18/a-short-history-of-slavery-in-nyc.
  7. Ware, Kamau. 2022. “The Slave Market at Pearl Street and Wall Street.” Downtown Alliance. ALLIANCE FOR DOWNTOWN NEW YORK. October 11, 2022. https://downtownny.com/news/black-gotham-experience-slave-market-pearl-wall-street/.

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