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Thursday, December 28, 2023


By L. Lloyd Stewart

Copyright ©2023 All rights reserved by the author.

Recent articles[1] have reported finding burial sites of formerly enslaved Africans in upstate New York and enslaved quarters sequestered in a southern New York State farmhouse dating back to the 1700s. It is anticipated that these finds are archeological clues to New York State’s little-known history of enslavement. These findings are of personal interest, however, because a good portion of my family history is grounded in New York State, going back as far as the early 1700s.

Historians and New Yorkers alike have had difficulty associating New York State’s brand of enslavement, which they have concluded to be of a rather benevolent and mild nature, with the “barbarism” that anti-enslavement advocates and historians have proven existed in the southern states of America. Historians have juxtaposed enslavement’s existence in New York with an early period of colonization far removed from the consciousness and mentality of freedom-fighting colonialists or antebellum northern liberals. The abolition of enslavement in the North, particularly in New York State, has been depicted as a natural occurrence and removed from Southern attempts to fight its implementation[2] at all costs. Further, historians have eulogized the colorblind nature of the Dutch colonial and early New York State enslavers to purport a system of enslavement in New York that was more akin to the European system of “Indentured Servitude.”

Unlike other states, the abolition of enslavement was never included in New York State’s Constitution. This inaction has led many historians, scholars, statesmen, and the general public to assume and conclude that enslavement if it existed at all in the state, was not extensive enough to require a constitutional ban on its continuance. The assumption that Africans and their descendants lived in a state of “quasi-freedom” for a twenty-five-year period until their actual emancipation is the prevailing mantra of today’s historians and writers. These perceptions and the belief that enslavement died an uneventful death in New York scurrilously distort historical facts.

Even after efforts on the part of African American and other historians to collect the personal narratives of enslaved life in New York and the South, white historians, like Ulrich B. Phillips, either discounted the validity of these accounts or saw them as peripheral to what they believed to be enslavement’s more significant meaning in American life -- its role in the coming of the Civil War.

This Project will serve to clarify some of the misleading “facts” about the history of enslavement and its abolition in New York State. Specifically, I plan to document the history of enslavement in New York under the Dutch and its later administration under British and American rule using manuscripts, books, journal articles, personal narratives, legislative documents, and court and county records. I will also use an analysis of enslaved life in New York State, early attitudes toward enslavement, the resistance of the enslaved toward this system of oppression, the general conditions of life in New York State, the role of the state in the institution of enslavement and the final abolition of enslavement, as a basis for a more “fact-based” accounting of enslavement and abolition in New York. This method will be used due to the recent “passing” of a generation of first-hand participants (formerly enslaved) during this past century.

Through the production of this project, I expect to prove that the perception of the comparative “benign” nature of enslavement in New York State was a false concept and that the system of enslavement in New York State mirrored the system as it was instituted and practiced in the southern region of the colonies and later in the republic.

I contend that the State of New York, in every respect, was a “Slave State” of the caliber and dedication documented in the colonial and antebellum South, and it was engaged in a thirty-year effort to circumvent and deprive Africans and their descendants of actual (legalized) emancipation. I intend to prove that enslavement’s existence in New York State could not have existed for as long as it did, nor could it have sustained or benefited the state as much as it did without the full and complete participation of both public and private governing bodies.

Lastly, I will document New York State’s active involvement and complicity in the institutional administration and support of enslavement and the bondage of Africans and their descendants. This insight into the involvement of state and local government in the institution, administration, and financial support of chattel enslavement in New York State will expose America and New York’s efforts to consciously institute a racial system of inferiority and subjugation at the expense of Africans and their descendants. Further, it will illustrate New York State’s involvement in a conspiracy with its resident enslavers to prolong inevitable abolition by developing a means of compensating enslavers for emancipated enslaved Africans.

The Humanitarian purpose of this Project is to, at the very least, provoke a new awareness and understanding of the efforts now being initiated by Africans and African descendants to advocate for reparations for “crimes against humanity” perpetrated during the two centuries that New York State was engaged in the forced bondage of African descendent men, women, and children.



When people remark that there is often some truth concealed in the myths and legends of the past, it is not at all difficult to comprehend the substance of this statement. When a history student attempts to seek the truth of any historical happenstance, we first search for the writings of that period, the historical record. We search for the “history,” as it is called. However, when we analyze the process of writing history, we realize that history is often an exercise in personification. That is to say - history assumes the human characteristics of the author who interprets it. History often inherits the personality of its writers. It reflects his/her likes and dislikes, cultural worldview, and, unfortunately, their prejudices and fears.


Similarly, witnesses to a crime interpret what they have seen according to their frame of reference, as historians interpret history. It is common to experience a trial when each witness presents a different version of the same crime. Or, more importantly, differing aspects of the same crime. This is not to say that the resulting testimony is useless. On the contrary, each version enables the complete truth to become clearer. Much like a puzzle, each piece brings us closer to the final truth, the completed picture. So, history is like a puzzle, too. However, all too often, one version of history is allowed to serve as “the” only valid or acceptable truth, to the suppression and detriment of any contrary version or interpretation, regardless of its scholarly methodology.


Labeling any contrary or differing view of accepted historical events as “revisionist” history has become a common practice. This writer observes that in many instances of African and African American history, the accepted or mainstream version proves to be “revisionist” in both its interpretation and presentation.

These varying expressions of methodology frequently depict a false or half-truth history to embellish our past good or honorable deeds or actions. We, thus, minimize and dehumanize ourselves when we fall victim to these often unconscious attempts at falsifying history. This process forces us to become not “seekers of the truth” but purveyors of fallacy. This historical methodology is designed to make us more comfortable with our past deeds and actions. Our history becomes nothing more than a myth or legend itself. It assumes the character of modern-day “spinning.’ The result is that true history suffers. It now contains only some truth, and we have lost the real essence of historical remembrance.

More shockingly, we realize that men and their personal or collective cultural agendas can gain control of “History,” thus twisting and shaping it to suit their personal and cultural worldviews.  History becomes nothing more than a propaganda tool used to sway public opinion. Thus, in the case of people of African descent, we find ourselves “enslaved” a second time by the prejudices, fears, and xenophobia of individuals and national agendas that may have existed centuries ago. We cannot set new directions and aspirations for our people due to this flawed historical memory and its deficiency of fundamental truth.

We have all heard the adage that history repeats itself, yet we cannot avoid repeating prior mistakes because of these corrupt interpretations of history. People cannot exist on fallacy and fiction any more than a person can exist on a history slanted toward good deeds and accomplishments and completely lacking in the mistakes and wrongdoings of the past.

I have opened my paper with this introduction for two reasons: first, to set the stage for the readers to comprehend better what follows with an open mind. Second, and most importantly, to state the reasons by which the history of an entire race of people can be corrupted by myths and fallacies propitiated by the prejudices and fears of a people who only wished for their subjugation. No intelligent human being can deny that the history of the Black man in both Africa and the Americas has been obscured by prejudices and fears, manifesting themselves in untold numbers of myths surrounding the heritage, culture, intelligence, courage, determination, and abilities of Africans and their descendants. This paper aims to effectively and with scholarly intent address the myths of enslavement and its abolition in New York State and provide a documented framework for a “Case for Reparations against New York State.”

The articles that I referenced earlier in the work have, in varying degrees, inspired the writing of this paper. One of these articles explains the role of Africans and their descendants in this historical period. At the same time, the other distorts the history of this period and the circumstances surrounding the lives of African descendants in New York State.

This paper is, then, an attempt to clarify some of the misleading pronouncements depicting the history of enslavement and its abolition in New York State. Specifically, I will deal with the issue of the perception of the comparative “benign” nature of enslavement in New York State in relation to the corresponding system that flourished in the southern colonies and states of the Union before, during, and after the War of Independence. I will also examine the nature and substance of abolition and the anti-enslavement movement in New York State.

To accomplish this mission, I will provide a brief history of enslavement in the geographical territory now known as New York under the Dutch, as well as its later administration under British and American rule. I will elaborate on the living conditions of enslaved Africans in New York, the early attitudes toward enslavement, the resistance of enslaved Africans toward this system of oppression, the general conditions of life in New York State, the anti-enslavement movement, and the role of the state, in its financial and legislative support of enslavement and its final abolition.

Finally, I conclude that the system of enslavement in New York State merely mirrored the system as it was instituted and practiced in all regions of the colonies and later in the republic and that the State of New York actively participated in the institution and support of enslavement and development and implementation of a system of institutional-based racial discrimination.





“The introduction of Black labor in the middle colonies originates in the trade rivalry of the Atlantic during the seventeenth century. The rivalry between the Netherlands and Spain placed the former in possession of Blacks and territory where Black labor was profitable. The Dutch sought to increase commerce by enhancing the production of their possessions. Thus, this situation created a need for labor in those places. From the desire to establish firm and absolute control of Atlantic commerce came the elements necessary to make slavery possible in New Netherlands”[3]


At the end of its conflicts with Spain, culminating in the 1609 truce, the Dutch turned their attention to gaining Spanish possessions in the New World. With the formation of the Dutch East India Company in 1602, the Dutch had achieved “phenomenal success” in the Far East. Given this history of success, merchants and capitalists in the Netherlands obtained permission to establish the Dutch West India Company with visions of similar success and profits. They had hoped to strip Spain of their New World possessions as they had Portugal in the Far East with the Dutch East India Company.[4]

In 1621, the States General of the United Provinces of the Netherlands (Dutch Republic) chose to grant a monopoly to a trading company to colonize the newly discovered lands in America. There was a concern that the new colonies needed a permanent political presence to protect the Dutch commercial and other interests against the possibility of English, French, or Spanish challenges. That year, the newly incorporated Dutch West India Company (the ‘Oude” Company) obtained a twenty-four-year trading monopoly along the west coast of Africa (below the Tropic of Cancer) and the West Indies and sought to have the New Netherland[5] area formally recognized as a province. Their mandate was “to maintain armies and fleets, to build forts and cities, to carry on war, to make treaties of peace and commerce.”[6] This charter was renewed in 1647 for another twenty-five years. The provincial status was granted in June 1623, and the Dutch West India Company began organizing the first permanent settlement in New Netherland. 

In 1624, the first wave of settlers departed from their home country of Holland. Additional ships sailed for New Netherland with colonists, livestock, and supplies in the following years. The uniqueness of this venture was that the New Netherland Colony was a company-owned and operated business that was run on a for-profit basis by the directors of the Dutch West India Company. The mission of the business was to make a profit for the investors who had purchased shares in the company. In its first half-century, it was directed by five “chambers” of shareholders: the Amsterdam Chamber held four-ninths of the shares; Zeeland two-ninths; Maas (Rotterdam, Schiedam, etc.) one-ninth; the Northern Quarter one-ninth; and the Chamber of Stad en Landen (Groningen and Friesland) one-ninth. Each chamber had several directors who, in turn, elected a council to run the Company. The states-general of the Netherlands appointed the chairman, making nineteen council members. A new charter granted in 1675 reduced the number of the council to ten, now known as the “Assembly of Ten.” Each chamber was responsible for a different proportion of the capital and enjoyed corresponding control over the enterprise. The Amsterdam chamber was dominant, for it owned most of the capital. Part of the capital for the Company’s endeavors came from public funds. This group of directors also operated the Company’s colony in Guiana.[7]

The Company paid skilled persons, doctors, and craftsmen to relocate to New Netherland. It sent soldiers for the military protection of the colony. It built forts and provided the settlers with provisions. It must be understood that company employees carried out all the responsibilities one would associate with government or public service. However, the difficulties associated with establishing and expanding a new colony were considerable. To increase their profit margin, the company subcontracted these responsibilities to Patroons, who were given large land grants and jurisdictional rights over the colonists, but the Dutch West India Company retained ultimate authority.[8] Thus, a landed aristocracy came to control the economic activities of the colony in partnership with the trading class, which owned the Dutch West India Company.

The charter that was granted to the Dutch West India Company serves to illustrate the prototype for what was called the “Triangle Trade” in the 16th to 19th centuries. The Company, based in Holland, now armed with trading and colonization rights in both America and Africa, instituted a process of enslavement that involved the interaction of two major economic systems. The capitalists who represented the company were the shipping owners, controlled the colonies' provisions, and were the shipping employees and the military personnel who implemented and enforced their policies. The Enslaver class (Patroons, southern Aristocrat land owners, etc.) exploited and supervised enslavement directly and derived their power from the Company. The capitalist merchant traders purchased agricultural materials from the enslaved-owning class and used these products in exchange for captured Africans. They were transported to New Netherland, where they were exchanged for money. The profits were then shared with the capitalist owners of the company, and the remainder was used to purchase more agricultural products for more “slave- trading.” Only in the New World did enslavement provide the labor force for a high-pressure, profit-making capitalist system of agriculture production for distant markets.

African American history in New York State began with the Dutch colonization of North America and the introduction of 11 enslaved Africans into New Netherland between 1625 and 1626.[9] Under the “Patroonship” arrangement, New Netherland continued to expand with more colonists, settlements, and enslaved Africans. Included in the “Freedom, Privileges and Exemption” of the Patron class were:


“In like manner, the incorporated West India Company shall allot to each patron twelve men and women out of the prize in which Negroes shall be found for the advancement of the colonies of New Netherlands.”[10]


The “Colonial Records” illustrate that this number was increased several times and topped out to “as many as possible.”[11] By 1640, there were 1,600 Africans in North America, with almost a third in Dutch New Netherland. From the time of the Dutch occupation, when it was called New Amsterdam, virtually until the end of the American Revolution, New York City was the enslavement capital of Colonial America.

The Dutch first realized the profit-making advantages of large numbers of enslaved Africans in 1646, when a shipload of enslaved Africans was purchased from Tamandar’e on the coast of Brazil. They were sold for pork and peas on the company’s account.[12] The majority of those enslaved did not remain in New Netherland but were sold to the South. The Dutch West India Company quickly realized the favorable circumstances of this “foreign” labor base to cope with the growing labor shortage in New Netherland. Henry Wysham Lanier in Greenwich Village: Today and Yesterday recounts a company director’s communiqué from Amsterdam:

“We have seen that more Negroes could be advantageously employed and sold there (New Amsterdam) than the ship Tamandar’e brought. We shall take care that in the future, a greater number of negroes be taken there.”[13]


The demand for labor during the colonial period far outran the supply of European workers. The company's strategy was to send farm produce to Angola, their primary resource for captured Africans, and then transport them back to New Netherland to work in cultivating the land.[14] Governor Pieter Stuyvesant of New Netherland requested that Dutch traders import their human cargoes directly from the West Coast of Africa to New Amsterdam to supply local farmers and English colonies north and south of the port. Local artisans, merchants, and frontier farmers eagerly bought enslaved captives, spreading the popularity of enslavement throughout Dutch colonial society.[15]

Enslaved Africans worked as farmers and builders and in the fur trade of the Dutch West India Company. Their involvement in the fur trade yielded immediate and substantial profits.[16] Some of those enslaved helped build the wall intended to keep settlers safe from the Native American populations at the location of today's Wall Street. They were also the first New York City maintenance workers. The Dutch West India Company’s strategy was to import parcels (10-20) of enslaved Africans to work on farms, public buildings, and military works for which free workers were not available.[17]The Company also guaranteed the safety and stability of enslavement by passing “fugitive slave” ordinances. Even given these assurances, the Dutch settlers did not become enslavers at the rate anticipated by the Company. This led the Company to become the largest enslaver in New Netherlands. The Company, always directed by the need to create profit, chose to create a new profit center by leasing its enslaved Africans to surrounding farmers and businesses. Thus, it established a market for the more than 300 enslaved Africans owned by the Company.

With the initial arrival of Africans circa 1625-1626, laws or codes did not establish their legal status. They seemed to exist in a “twilight zone between indentured servants and clear-cut enslavement.” In the 1620s and 1630, Blacks were referred to as enslaved, but the 1640s saw the appearance of “half-free” and Free Blacks.”[18]

Trade and shipping were the economic engines that powered the Dutch colony. However, their fortifications remained unfinished even with dividends up to 50 percent of their investments in some years.”[19] The Dutch were also very protective of their investment in human capital and often used the political powers of their colony to discourage any attempts to alter their monopoly on enslaved labor. One example of this resolve occurred in New Amsterdam, where the Dutch initiated the first sales tax: "An import tax of 10% was imposed to discourage merchants from selling ‘human cargo’ outside the colony.[20] It was during this period that the West India Company chose to abandon its monopoly on trade in goods, deciding to share the expenses and risks associated with trade by opening commerce to merchants of all friendly nations and subject to a 10% import duty, a 15% export duty and restricting all shipping to West India Company ships.[21]Chief among these trading commodities was enslaved labor. This strategy resulted in expansion and the establishment of settlements in what is now New Jersey, on Staten Island, and in what is now the Bronx.

By 1656, the Company reversed its attitude towards the existing land-grant policy. The Company began to view the granting of patroonships as inadvisable and injurious to the increase in population. It decided to grant private persons as much land as they could cultivate without giving them privileges. The result of this action was an increase in the population of New Netherland from an estimated 2,000 to 3,500 in 1655 to 9,000 in 1664.[22] During this period under Dutch rule, New Netherland evolved from a trading post to a full-fledged colony. As colonial wealth and economy grew, so did the requirements for a correspondingly larger labor force. Unlike southern colonial provinces, New York had a highly diversified enslaved workforce geared to the needs of a mixed economy, and they populated the entire colony.

Up to the middle of the 18th century, most of the enslaved were to be found in the counties bordering New York harbor -- Queens, Kings, Richmond, New York—and Westchester County. Approximately seventy-four percent (74%) of the enslaved in New York in 1703 resided in this area, while more than sixty percent (60 %) were located there a half-century later.[23] In this part of the colony, farmers became prosperous because of the presence of a nearby market, and they began to invest in enslavement. The development of large “plantations” in and around this New York City area led to the continuation of an “Enslaver Class,” who used enslavement to stabilize their station in life. Aristocracy and enslavement were closely related in colonial New York.

It can be argued that the more significant stimulant to enslavement by this aristocracy was the social prestige derived from the ownership of a large number of enslaved Africans. “In its history, New York was perhaps the most aristocratic of all the colonies.”[24] The Upper Hudson Valley colonists’ preference for fur trading rather than agriculture accounts for their lagging in their enslaved population during this period. In technical skill and versatility, African and African descendant workers spanned the whole range of free labor[25]. They were vital in transforming an unstable Dutch outpost into a rich and powerful state.” ‘[26] Thirty years after the first settlement at New Amsterdam, the population of some 1,000 proved surprisingly heterogeneous, with one-fifth of the total Negroes, enslaved and freemen.[27]

Unlike the British settlements in New England, the persons largely responsible for exploiting New Netherland’s resources were merchants from the home country who controlled the colony’s lifeline to Holland. Profits from their enterprises flowed into Amsterdam, thus depriving New Netherland of capital and the ability to develop a viable colony-based merchant community. This lack of economic independence was one of the reasons the Dutch colony in Manhattan was headed toward failure from its very beginning.

“Since profit-making was the major focus of colonial [Dutch] administration, the fluctuating fortunes of the company’s imperial interests rather than the needs of New Amsterdam’s economy and community guided the formation of policy.”[29]

In addition, despite the substantial increase in the price of enslaved Africans between 1636 and 1664, the West India Company did not profit greatly from the New Netherland trade. Higher prices prevailed in the plantation colonies; the enslaved Africans supplied to New Netherland sold at a discount (10%) below the international market.[30] The same amount as the export duty was levied in 1655 to prevent the diversion of enslaved Africans to the plantation colonies.

Essentially, the difference between these Dutch New Netherland merchants and the merchants in the British colonies, such as the Hancocks of Boston, was that the New Netherland merchants primarily worked at the local level and never controlled foreign trade. “The Dutch West India Company’s control of the participation of New Amsterdam merchants in the trade similarly was geared towards reaping advantage for the company.”[31] The ability to independently trade with one’s sovereign nation is critical to economic competitiveness. They traded independently when possible, but more frequently, they were employed as agents or suppliers for the major Dutch trading firms. Oliver Rink in Holland on the Hudson has identified four firms that controlled more than 50% of the New Netherland to Holland trade from 1640 through the Dutch era. These four firms were the merchant houses of Kiliaen van Rensselaer, Gilles and Seth Verbrugge, Dirck and Abel de Wolff, and Gillis van Hoornbeeck. These four companies worked together to control most of the profits from the New Netherland trade.


Great Britain and the Dutch Republic emerged as the principal maritime powers of the seventeenth century. Their rivalry led them into several wars, in which the issue at stake was ultimately the freedom of the seas and the control of world trade.

The first Anglo-Dutch war was fought entirely at sea and ended in a compromise after two years of fighting. It was also related to the English Navigation Act of 1651, which was directed against Dutch trade with British possessions. The second war, 16654-67, was directed at English commercial supremacy, especially in the East Indian trade and the West African trade. This war involved raids on Dutch colonies in Africa, the disruption of shipping along the Dutch coast, and an attack on British ships on the Thames. In response to Dutch actions, Charles II of England formally annexed New Netherland as a British province. A fleet of British ships was sent to seize the colony. The British take-over was a function of these international wars (among the emerging European capitalist states) to conquer the “New World” as a basis for the accumulation of “primitive” capital.


“Whatever the balance of power in Europe, on the North American continent, the subjects of the Netherlands were in a disadvantaged position.”[32]


Governor Pieter Stuyvesant surrendered Fort Amsterdam, and Fort Orange capitulated in September 1664. The loss of the New Netherland province led to a second Anglo-Dutch war during 1665-1667. This conflict ended with the Treaty of Breda in August of 1667, in which the Dutch relinquished their claim to New Netherland, now New York, and Delaware, in exchange for Surinam, off the coast of Brazil.[33] After several additional skirmishes for control of the colony, the Treaty of Westminster in 1674 ended the conflict, and the British maintained control of New York.

For African New Yorkers, both enslaved and free, British occupation meant severe change. Under Dutch rule, some Africans had gained half or full freedom. Even if enslaved, they had legal and social rights, yet given these accomplishments, the Dutch could not be described as completely colorblind. Africans and African descendants who could not produce, on demand, proof of their status were always in danger of being re-enslaved.[34] This and other social policies changed under British rule. The legalization of enslavement in 1665 was the first example of this “New World Order” shift in colonial policy, with enslavement now redefined as an inherited racial status. The British brand of enslavement would soon result in terms of life enslavement as a rule and not the exception.[35]


“After 1664, Blacks were either free or enslaved. As far as the English were concerned, there was no middle ground by which Common Law could protect Blacks. Slaves became outright property with no rights, and they were governed as such. Colonists despised Free Blacks, but they were to be tolerated.”[36]

The British “conquest” of New Netherland laid the groundwork for making New York the most important enslaver colony and, later, state north of Maryland for a century and a half.

“From the start of the English occupation, the creation of a commercially profitable enslaved system became a joint project of both government and private interests. Unlike the Dutch West India Company, which used enslavement to implement colonial policy, the Royal African Company used the colony to implement enslavement.”[37]

The Dutch West India Company did not try to develop and implement a profitable trade but strove instead to promote the economic progress of the colony by keeping costs down. As Governor Pieter Stuyvesant saw it, the purpose of enslavement was “to promote and advance the population and agriculture of the province.[38] However, under British rule and the instructions of the Duke of York, the steady importation of enslaved Africans by every possible means served to stabilize the economy. 

New York's first “Slave Market” during the British period was established at Wall Street and the East River in 1711. In the early 1700s, under British rule, there were 800 African men, women, and children in New York City, representing about 15% of the total population. Local and state documents did not distinguish between free and enslaved Africans until 1756. Before then, the term ‘enslaved’ was used to describe all Africans and their descendants. They were all looked upon as valuable sources of labor.[39]

The horrendous journey of the “Middle Passage,” replete with chains, torture, hunger, starvation, disease, and death, was but an inkling of the fate that awaited these “innocents” in the New World. Whether in the West Indies or colonial America (North or South), scholars agree that life for these first Africans in America was harsh and full of isolation and alienation. Separations from their culturally grounded families, religion, history, and traditions were the circumstances that awaited them in the “New World.”[40]

Europeans imported enslaved Africans partly for demographic reasons. As a result of epidemic diseases, which reduced the native population by 50-90 percent, the labor supply was insufficient to meet demand. Africans were experienced in intensive agriculture and raising livestock and knew how to raise crops like rice, which Europeans were unfamiliar with.

The first generation of Africans in New World America tended to be remarkably cosmopolitan. Few of the first generation came directly from Africa. Instead, they arrived from the West Indies and other European settlement areas. These imported captives were often multilingual and had Spanish or Portuguese names.

In New York, in particular, enslaved workers showed extreme proficiency in virtually every colonial and economic development field. Africans and their descendants in the various towns and villages of New York very often worked as coopers, tailors, sailors, bakers, tanners, goldsmiths, naval carpenters, blacksmiths, spinners, weavers, bolters, sail makers, millers, masons, candle makers, tobacconists, caulkers, carpenters, shoemakers, brush makers, glaziers, wheelwrights, tailors, butchers, metal workers, silversmiths and in the frame construction of houses. Their skills and experience in these trades matched those of white artisans in all areas. On Long Island, enslaved Africans were concentrated in production agriculture. Their ability to keep “plantations” in the north operating fully and efficiently was well documented.[41]

Their skills were of such value that their enslavers even rented (hired) them out to non-enslavers as a means of helping neighbors meet their labor requirements. Enslaved artisans and workers were of such skill and in such demand that there were instances where some enslaved Africans entered into contracts with their enslavers for special benefits relating to work days and holidays. These benefits were not made available to free white workers or bondsmen who were required to work seven (7) day weeks due to their “wage worker” status.[42] Enslavement in the North and some respects in the South involved a constant process of negotiation as the enslaved bargained over the pace of work, the amount of free time, monetary rewards, access to garden plots, and the freedom to practice burials, marriages, and religious (non-Christian) ceremonies free from white oversight.[43]

This aspect of enslavement in the North (the hiring out of one’s enslaved) and particularly in New York was the cornerstone upon which enslavement in New York continued to grow and impacted every aspect of the colony’s/state’s economy. With the establishment of the Market House at Wall St. in 1711, New York’s implementation of this “hiring” system grew to the point that it was unequaled in any of the other colonies with returns of between 10 to 30 percent annually on their market value.[44] In upstate New York, on the large estates and manors, enslaved Africans were rented out to the tenants of the owner of the estates to increase tenant production and share the maintenance costs of the enslaved themselves.[45]

The “Slave Trade” became one of the cornerstones of New York’s commercial prosperity in the 18th century.[46] New York was the developing center of incipient American capitalism. Merchant capital sources resided there. In later years, the “Report on Manufactures” by Alexander Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury would indicate that New York's hegemony in the traditional capitalist enterprises was well understood. Enslavement flourished in New York because of this redirected approach to farming and manufacturing and the scarcity of immigrant white workers. Enslavement also became a “cash cow” for the government of the colony. In 1734, the Colonial Assembly enacted a law that required a duty for every “Negro, Indian, and Malatta slaves owned in the Colony of New York to be used to build fortifications in anticipation of war[47].

Even the smallest of towns experienced enslavement’s curse. In small local towns like Waterford, New York, enslavement existed for centuries. The History of Waterford by Sydney Ernest Hammersly speaks of its existence in Chapter Twenty-two, “Slavery in Waterford’‘ Hammersley recounts the first arrival of enslaved Africans to Waterford as follows: “These unfortunates first came to our shores in the West India Company’s “slave ship” in 1647. They were sold for peas and pork.”[48]


During the first century and a half of the African’s presence in colonial New York, whether ruled by the Dutch, the British, or Americans, few whites voiced public concern about the practice of chattel enslavement. Matthew T. Mellon wrote in his Early American Views on Negro Enslavement:


“Any student of the period must admit that with the occasional outbursts of honest indignation against slavery and the slave trade, there existed a great deal of moral indifference and unconcern which allowed this great social problem to develop.”[49]

This attitude was directly linked to the fact that early colonists in New York and the other colonies “thought that the great natural resources of America were meant to be consumed and exploited as quickly and ruthlessly as possible.”[50]It should also be noted that before 1750,

no church or religious sect condemned enslavement or the trading of enslaved Africans. “One fact seems certain: the church as an institution played a small role in obtaining freedom for Blacks.”[51]

Africans did what they could to free themselves of this oppressive system, sometimes by escaping[52] and other rudimentary and more sophisticated means, personally and collectively. The enslaved learned to work slowly, break tools, steal from their enslavers, poison animals, tell stories of resistance, and, in some cases, rebel with violence.[53]Whatever the effort, it was continuously thwarted by the society that bound them. Even though there were very few laws passed in the first twenty years of British occupation regulating the activity of those enslaved, it soon changed. These early laws were designed to restrict the contact of those enslaved with other whites, particularly with respect to socialization and the exercise of commerce.

The year 1702 marked the beginning of categorizing Africans as separate from the mainstream colonial community. This law illustrates the attitude of colonial lawmakers to clarify the rights of enslavers over the enslaved and expressly establish the institutional acceptance of enslavers’ rights, which was passed in the New Jersey Assembly. It allowed the enslavers to punish the enslaved at their discretion, thus placing enslaved human beings outside of the rule of British Law.[54]


“Many of the laws which were passed in the early days of the republic were stimulated primarily by the fear of a Negro insurrection.”[55]


A highly visible and powerful example of this effort to end African-inspired emancipation was highlighted in 1705 when the Colonial Assembly passed “An Act to Prevent the Running away of Negro Slaves out of the City and County of Albany to the French at Canada.” This law, also mentioned in the Hammersley book, mandated the penalty for being recaptured beyond forty miles north of Albany (Albany County) at or near Saratoga (Saratoga County) to be executed. This Law was enacted under the guise of protecting the Colony during their conflict with French Canada by ensuring that intelligence on the disposition of the Colony would not be communicated to the French. It appears that the colonists were so afraid of the possibility that enslaved Africans would defect to the French that they enacted legislation with a death penalty to discourage its possibility and/or continuance.[56]

The true purpose of this law becomes clearer when certain facts are brought to light. For example, the governing officials of the City and County of Albany had already convened to discuss this issue with its interesting proviso that fully addressed the fears that enslaved Africans would continue to leave their enslavers and seek refuge with the French. “Some have already done (so) which has and would be to the great loss & detriment of the Owner.”[57] The law further requires that the enslaved, once recaptured, should be appraised and his/her value determined before trial by an Appraiser with the express purpose of assessing, levying, and collecting a tax to be paid to the Treasurer of Albany County by enslavers within the city and county. The Treasurer was then charged with defraying the expenses of the prosecution (not to exceed ten pounds), and the enslaver was then given the full value of his/her executed enslaved Africans or groups in accordance with the findings of the Appraiser. This provision was an effort to compensate the enslavers for the loss of their human property by means of execution).[58]

Suppose we understand that the true intentions of governments are written in their budgets. In that case, it is obvious that the impetus for this legislation was the loss of enslaved Africans and not the fear of intelligence being acquired by the French. This Law provides an unimpeachable example of governmental complicity in the administration of enslavement in New York State. This state policy is further exemplified by the fact that in 1715, after the war with the French (as stated in the legislation), this law was “revived” because the 1705 law had served the City and County of Albany so well.[59] If its purpose was to eliminate the potential for intelligence being acquired by the French during the war, what is the need for “reviving” it after the war? Several scholars would have us believe that the fear and paranoia of the French by the colonists is, in fact, the reason for the revival of this legislation.
Nevertheless, the Legislation clearly states that the 1712 law “is Expired by its own Limitation, being only in force during the War with the French.”[60] Given this explicit language, what logical reason would remain for “reviving” this law? Granted, the French were a constant threat, but then so were runaways. Economics seemed to motivate every other aspect of colonial life, so why not this?
This law served as the standard for other violations committed by enslaved Africans. “An Act for Preventing the Conspiracy of Slaves,” passed in 1708, speaks to the circumstances surrounding the murders of the William Hallet, Jr. family of New Town in Queens County. It appears that the family was attacked and killed by a group of their enslaved or other enslaved Africans. The Colonial Assembly passed this law to deter future acts against white citizens. If an enslaved African were to murder or attempt to murder any White citizen or Enslaver, their punishment would be death. This act was another reversal in the legal status of Blacks. It was the first decree in New York that made the murder or attempted murder of Blacks not a crime.[61] Interestingly enough, Chapter 149 of the Laws of 1705, mentioned above, is referenced in this law with respect to compensating the enslaver or enslavers for the loss of their enslaved African or Africans by execution. This compensation was legislated not to exceed twenty-five pounds.[62]

It should be noted that these “Slave Codes” were not restricted to the city of New York. Upstate towns and villages actively participated in regulating the lives of their enslaved Africans, as well. In Albany, it seems that keeping Africans off the street was a serious problem for the town fathers. In 1686, an ordinance was passed that banned the driving of carts by Africans within the city limits. This ban did not apply to beer wagons. In 1733, the Common Council of Albany passed an ordinance “to prevent Negroes, Indians, and enslaved Africans from appearing in the streets after eight at night without a lantern and lighted candle in it.”[63] Further, the Common Council twice passed an ordinance which stipulated:

“And be it further ordained by the Authority aforesaid that no Negro or Indian slaves above the number of three do assemble to meet together on the Lord’s day or any other time, at any place from their slaveowner’s service, within the city and the liberties thereof, and that no such slave to go armed at any time with gun, sword, club or any other kind of weapon whatsoever penalty being whipt at the public whipping post fifteen lashes unless the slaveowner of such slave will pay six shillings to excuse the slave.”[64]

Under British control, enslavement in New York and the other colonies grew at a tremendous and unprecedented rate. In 1698, there were 2,170 enslaved Africans in the New York Colony. By 1723, the African enslaved population by way of internal population and importations reached 6,171. Of this total, 2,395 were imported from Africa and the West Indies.[65] By 1746, this number had grown to over 9,000 adults – the largest enslaved force in any English colony north of Maryland.[66] In New York City, the enslaved population had grown to an all-time high of 20.9 percent of the city’s total population.[67] “In 1746, Africans in Ulster County alone accounted for one of every five inhabitants.”[68]With this growth of enslavement in all the British colonies, lawmakers turned their attention to the regulation of the lives of the enslaved. The resulting “Slave Codes” routinely forbade teaching the enslaved to read and write, outlawed group gatherings outside of church and contact with free Blacks, and required the enslaved to carry passes.[69] In addition, the British enacted numerous laws that restricted where Africans could be employed and how they could be freed. Laws were passed to prevent free Africans from aiding runaways. “The New York ‘Slave Codes’ grew so numerous that they are seen as a major cause of the 1712 Revolt.”[70]


In this highly chronicled revolt, enslaved Africans and Native Americans gathered in an orchard on Maiden Lane with hatchets, guns, knives, and hoes and set out to burn and destroy property in the area. The sequence of events follows: The men set fire to a building in the middle of town, and the fire spread. While white colonists gathered to extinguish the blaze, the enslaved Africans attacked and then ran off. Nine whites were killed during the “revolt.” Twenty-one enslaved Africans were executed, and six were reported to have committed suicide.[71] The result was the enactment of stricter laws. No longer could more than two or three enslaved Africans gather together. A salaried “Whipper” could be hired to mete out punishments to any enslaved person caught gambling in public and any enslaved African handling a firearm; various other assorted violations would receive similar punishments.[72]

More specifically, involvement in a conspiracy to kill would result in execution, as would a rape. Restrictions and fines were placed on the socialization of “freemen” and enslaved Africans. There was even a law that discouraged enslavers from freeing enslaved Africans. Enslavers could free an enslaved African, but only after posting a bond of 200 [pounds]. This money would be paid to the formally enslaved African (that enslaved African could not support himself/ herself. This law was enacted due to the colonial’s belief that “the free Negroes of this Colony are an Idle slothful people and prove very often a charge on the place where they are.” More than twenty-eight statutes were included in a massive document entitled; “An Act for Preventing Suppressing and Punishing the Conspiracy and Insurrection of Negroes and Slaves.” The Colonial Assembly passed it on December 10, 1712 [73]

The congregation of large numbers of “free and enslaved Blacks in the cities of the North would, however, “nurture movements and agitation for Black rights.”[74] An otherwise forgotten fact concerning the demographics of New York City during the colonial period was that “New York was a biracial city from the outset. Social life and cultural norms reflected African as well as European influences.”[75] This dynamic would appear to have laid the groundwork for resistance. A thorough knowledge of existing norms and culture juxtaposed with their unique means of communication and survival techniques would seem to place the Africans of New York City in an advantageous position for conspiracy. It has been documented that the harbor of New York City was ripe with roving bands of displaced Africans, “gangs” as they were called by the locals, both in the day and night. This backdrop would seem to inspire rebellion. Unless, of course, your reasoning is clouded by the oft-believed stereotypes of the docile and ignorant Black.

Another well-documented example of African resistance and the true colonial attitude towards preserving the institution of enslavement occurred in New York City in 1741. By this date, approximately one in every five of Manhattan’s eleven thousand residents (11,000) was Black and, with rare exceptions, enslaved. In the entire province of New York, of the sixty thousand (60,000) residents, roughly nine thousand (9,000) were of African descent.[76] A panic was caused that year when authorities heard that “enslaved and free” African descendants, as well as whites, were accused of planning to burn the city and kill all other whites. Calling it the ‘Great Negro Plot,’ city leaders arrested 154 Blacks and 24 whites, accusing them of conspiracy. Thirty-one Africans were executed for being part of a revolutionary plot, thirteen were burned at the stake, seventeen were hanged, and two white men and two white women were also hanged.[77] Some scholars make a comparison between the “Salem witch hunt hysteria” and the actions of the city government and citizens of New York City during the trial and immediately preceding and including the initial investigation.[78]

It has been conjectured by several writers that the “Revolts” of both 1712 and 1741 were attributed to the presence of “Spanish Negroes.” ‘These African sailors were formally considered “free” in the West Indies. However, after they were captured in raids on the high seas, they were sold as “ordinary” African enslaved Africans, and no quarter existed with respect to the nationality or status of Africans and their descendants in Colonial America or the new Republic, for that matter. Skin color dictated status and position in this New World culture. These “Spanish Negroes” petitioned continuously for their freedom as subjects of the King of Spain. However, the only evidence was their word, and as an enslaved African, it alone had no value.[79]

“Free” and enslaved Africans were also used in the various state militias to seek out and capture escaped Africans who resisted the institution of enslavement by becoming “maroons” and preying on the white settlers. These incidents and other acts of organized resistance[80] demonstrated that Africans held in bondage had their own definition of emancipation, and it further illustrates the fact that New Yorkers were acutely aware of the dangers inherent in the forced bondage of human beings. Escaped Africans were such a concern that even early colonists passed ordinances that decreed that no more than one meal or one night’s lodging could be given to a stranger without notifying the Director.[81] A truce, if you will, existed among all European countries in the New World with respect to returning runaways to their “rightful” enslavers. Oscar Williams, in his book African Americans and Colonial Legislation in the Middle Colonies, describes this understanding between colonists succinctly:


“In colonial America, European nationalistic spirit disappeared when it came to returning runaways. The necessity to return fugitives was the first American consensus involving Blacks.”[82]


Africans also chose a less documented approach to resisting enslavement and reducing the personal devastations that enslavement placed on them and their families. African descendants, many of them formerly enslaved themselves, held other enslaved Africans in New Amsterdam and New York City from the first documentation of the practice until its end after 1830.[83] Research chronicles the fact that African descendants bought wives, children, and other relatives to release them from the bondage of whites and to keep families together. Their acquisition of enslaved Africans was the result of various factors. Many African descendants bought relatives who were enslaved to white enslavers. Quite often, when marriages occurred between free African descendants and the enslaved, the free spouse attempted to buy the freedom of the enslaved spouse and children. In addition, marriages between the enslaved occasionally saw one spouse emancipated while the other remained in bondage. Consequently, those formerly enslaved tried to obtain the liberty of loved ones in servitude.[84]

Sherrill D. Wilson, 
in his book, New York City's African Slaveowners: A Social and Material Culture History, illustrates that in these instances, family preservation was the motive of these “free” African descendants and that “there is no evidence that they used the enslaved for commercial purposes.”[85] Carter G. Woodson terms this type of enslavement as “benevolent enslavement” when he states, “the majority of Negro owners of slaves were such from the point of philanthropy.”[86]

“The entire pattern of African descendent slaveowners across the centuries (1600-1800) in New York may be termed “benevolent” in that clearly more than 97% of the cases involve free males purchasing relatives.[87]


Africans and their descendants also engaged in a “nationalist” approach to emancipation. In several communities in upstate New York and northern New Jersey, Africans and their descendants established entire communities (cities). One such community in upstate New York near Mt. Storm and Stormville in the second half of the eighteenth century was Freemanville. This community, also referred to as “Guinea,” was settled entirely by Africans. It was unique in its ability to establish a distinctive African heritage, separate and apart from the surrounding “European” communities.[88]

Though Whites may have become uneasy over the prospect of the Black Revolution, real or imagined, few were moved to denounce enslavement publicly. It is widely contended that one of the motivations of early American laws was “a desire to justify to the civilized world the glaring incongruity of legal enslavement existing in a land which boasted that ‘all men were created equal.”[89]However, deep-rooted white prejudices, the fear of large numbers of free Negroes, the impossibility of assimilating them into white society, and the need for a large and cheap servile labor force had combined to frustrate and defeat any plan for gradual abolition or immediate emancipation for that matter.[90]The truth of the matter is that for the vast majority of enslavers in New York, the enslaved were not simply servants but an economic investment. In addition, many homesteaders, particularly along the Hudson, were dependent upon enslaved labor to eke out a modest standard of living.



New York's huge seaport made it the focal point for trading the enslaved on the Eastern seaboard.[91] New York City was the center of the heaviest enslaved holding region north of the Mason-Dixon line. According to the first US Census, the number of enslaved people in New York State grew to some 21,324 by 1790 — a figure only some seven thousand below Georgia’s total enslaved population during the same period. In fact, through most of the 18th century, New York City ranked second to Charlestown in the number of enslaved human beings owned by its inhabitants.[92] In Richmond and Queens Counties, twenty percent of the population were enslaved. Even more strikingly, one in every three residents of Kings County was enslaved, a ratio that would not have been out of place in the South. “In the counties of Columbia, Albany, Orange, Ulster, and Dutchess, there were 12,303 Africans, both free and enslaved.”[93]Enslavement was as strictly maintained in New York State as it was in Virginia.[94]


The lifestyle of the Africans enslaved in these regions of New York before the nineteenth century can best be described as different only in degrees from that of their counterparts in the southern regions of the eastern seaboard.[95]

Additionally, in New York City, of the 3,092 African Americans listed in the 1790 census, about two-thirds were enslaved, with about one in every five households in the city owning at least one enslaved human being.[96] This fact would help illustrate the extent of the practice of enslavement in New York City when compared to the fact that in 1790, one out of every nine families in Boston owned an enslaved human being. The incidences of enslavement were so pervasive in New York City that enslavement was considerably more evenly distributed than wealth. The bottom fifty percent (50%) of the population owned 6.6% of the assessable wealth yet owned 12.1% of the enslaved population. This figure in 1789 was 17.6 percent, three times that of Boston and Philadelphia.[97] In addition, 13 percent of New York enslavers were women. 

In Upstate New York by 1771, the enslaved population of the Hudson Valley was a little over one-third that of the entire enslaved population of the colony, which then stood at 17,500 (Albany County’s African population was 3,877 of this number.) By 1790, the enslaved population of the Hudson Valley was 15,000 (Albany County’s African descendent population was 4,099 or 5.4 percent.)[98]

In the rural communities surrounding New York City and in upstate, enslavement persisted more tenaciously. The refusal to part with property was by no means restricted to land; enslavement, too, died hard in New York’s hinterland. Even as late as 1810, a decade after the passage of the Gradual Abolition Act, more than one in three rural households still owned enslaved Africans.[99]

During this early period, the number of white immigrant workers was insufficient to majorly impact the labor market. African descendants (free and enslaved) held most skilled, semi-skilled, and manual labor employment. However, the period from 1820-1850 would produce a devastating restructuring in the status of African descendants in New York State.

Organized protests and petitions to the government for relief by white workers, primarily in New York City, were based on the proficiency and quantity of skilled African descendent artisans and workers both “free and enslaved.”[100] The enslaver’s influence kept the Colonial Assembly from enacting the restrictive legislation on African-descent workers encouraged by the petitions of these white workers. This “lobbying” action on the part of enslavers was an effort based purely on profit motive. The “wage-free” income recouped by entrepreneurial enslavers for day(s), week(s), and yearly hires served to enhance their profit margins and considerably reduce their operating expenses and overhead. In most instances, the clothing, feeding, and housing of the weekly or longer hired enslaved Africans was the responsibility of the employer/hirer. The scope of this “hiring” system was considerable. Its financial potential was profitable to enslavers and hirers alike. It also proved a direct attack on the financial stability of white immigrant workers. The enslaved could be “hired” by employers at rates approaching one-half of what a white worker would cost, and it provided a source of income for enslavers during lags in their work schedules[101].

“Urban slavery centered very much on the hiring of slaves. The black movement went untracked since hiring of Blacks naturally would require the mitigating of slave codes, which restricted the number of Blacks assembling. To combat this, The Common Council of New York City passed a law appointing a place for the more convenient hiring of slaves: that all Negro, Mulatto, and Indian slaves that are let out to hire within the city do take up their standing, in order to be hired, whereby all persons may know where to hire slaves as their occasion shall require, and also owners of slaves discovered when their slaves are hired.”[102]

This “Hire” system spurred a new economy in New York. The involvement of insurers, lawyers, clerks, and newspapers, were all actively engaged in the establishment and operation of this new vendue[103], the “Hire Market” in New York City. This market’s operation involved the participation of all these professionals through direct performance through contracts, advertisements, and risk management. Their participation assisted in elevating this fundamental need for skilled and unskilled labor to a new level of “investment management.” In 1804, the duty on sales at vendue amounted to $56,322.69 in revenue to the State of New York, almost equal to the State’s interest payments on the debt due from the Bank of New York.[104] (At this time, it is difficult to ascertain what percentage of these collected duties were directly related to the enslaved due to the lack of specificity in the Budget documents themselves.) 

In the New York colonial system of enslavement, enslaved “human property” was often used by enslavers to pay debts of every kind; stood as security for the purchase of land and other commodities; was taxed and branded, like other property; and they were even given as wedding gifts and willed to assorted family members upon the death of the enslaver.[105]

Historians say that enslavement was so central to the economy in the early days of America that almost every business benefited from it. "The entire economy of this country was based on enslavement, North as well as South," said Eric Foner, a professor of history at Columbia University.

"New York had a stranglehold on the cotton trade, which made up half the total value of U.S. exports in 1850. Brooks Brothers supplied a lot of clothing to plantation slaveowners. Merchants, manufacturers, everyone felt the economic ripples."[106]


The status of “free” African descendants in New York State was their relegation to second-class citizenship. This status can be attributed to the fact that under enslavement, they were “trained to pursue a great variety of crafts and occupations while under the status of freedom, they were virtually abandoned and systematically pauperized.”[107] It was also directly related to the massive influx of white immigrants into New York State during the nineteenth century. McManus speaks to the issue of white resentment towards these third and sometimes fourth-generation African Americans when he states, “As the working class grew and the wage rate fell, necrophobia became the anodyne of lower class [white] frustration.[108]

Free Negroes were brutalized by ruffians and excluded from skilled employment by the hostility of white workers. Indeed, free Negroes in the nineteenth century remained as much a class apart as in the days of slavery.[109]

Life for the enslaved or “free” African descendants, for that matter, in the North, was not an uplifting experience. A U.S. Senator from South Carolina, Robert Young Hayne, in the Webster – Hayne debate of 1830, describes the life of a runaway to the North as someone being treated as an outcast and assigned to “the dark and narrow lanes and obscure recesses of the cities’‘[110] He further states about the northern African-American population, “there does not exist on the face of the earth, a population so poor, so wretched, so vile, so loathsome, so utterly destitute of all the comforts, conveniences, and decencies of life, as the unfortunate Blacks of Philadelphia and New York and Boston.”[111] This description, of course, is, at the most, a slanted piece of Southern propaganda; however, its content does have a historical basis. 

In New York City from 1648-1801, the “Freemanship Laws” required local residency and enabled citizens in New York to protect their occupations against ‘outsiders’‘ In New York, outsiders included the enslaved and “free” African descendants who were excluded from the privileges of citizenship. “Free” African descendants continued to be excluded from all but the most menial trades, but white applicants easily found work.[112]

Before the mass immigration of whites from Ireland, Germany, French Canada, and Europe, African descendants monopolized jobs like coachmen, barbers, white-washers, washerwomen, and other generally defined domestic positions. In the decades before the civil war, whites began to move into the so-called “Negro” jobs. By the Reconstruction period, there had been a wholesale displacement of Blacks.[113] African descendants soon became excluded from industrial jobs, and white inclusion and Black exclusion became the reality of New York State’s employment landscape.

African descendants in the North also faced protests from white workers, a ban on the ownership of private property, land, and homes, segregation in public accommodations, segregated schools, economic discrimination, poverty, disease, and horrendous living conditions,[114] as well as varying degrees of disenfranchisement. New York State, in 1800, instituted a property qualification of $250 for Black voters. At the same time, it eliminated all such requirements for whites. This law passed in 1821 by the State of New York denied Africans and their descendants the right to vote unless they owned land worth $250. “Prior to this act, a single qualification for voting (owning property valued at $100) had applied equally to men of both races.”[115]

This action, in effect and intention, eliminated the ability of Africans and their descendants to exercise their franchise in New York State. Our curiosity as to the purposes of these legislative actions on the part of the white majority tends to become jaded after a period, especially when we discuss these outright actions of institutional racism. The fact that the State of New York effectively abolished enslavement in 1827 serves as the foundation for many such laws.
It is refreshing to know that not all state citizens did not toe the “party line” concerning this obvious attempt at disenfranchisement. In her article, “They Called it Timbucto,” Katherine Butler Jones chronicles an “ingenious plan” developed and implemented by Gerrit Smith in 1846 to circumvent this law and, at the same time, provide African descendants with a potential means of self-sufficiency and pride. Mr. Smith, a wealthy landowner and reformer, “believed that every man who desired a farm should own one,” regardless of race.

After paying the tax debts on his land (estimated at 750,000 acres), he embarked on a plan to rid himself of what he considered excessive land holdings by giving away tracts of land to “upstanding African Americans.” It is recorded that Mr. Smith not only believed that everyone who wanted a farm should have one, but he was also of the opinion that “no person should own more than one farm” ‘

“To identify and distribute land to worthy African American men, Gerrit Smith requested help from his friend. The Reverend Henry Highland Garnet- purported grandson of a Mandingo chieftain, minister of the Liberty Street Presbyterian Church in Troy [N.Y.] …Through their efforts, in 1846, 3,000 parcels of his land were set aside for distribution in Franklin, Delaware, Oneida, Essex, Madison, Hamilton, and Ulster counties – 120,000 acres in all, a vast archipelago of land stretching from the Canadian border south to Long Island Sound. His land grants would provide many African American men with plots of land, each worth $250 – the precise amount the enactment required a Black man to own to vote.”[117]


About a dozen such families settled in an area in the Adirondack Mountains in a settlement called ‘Timbucto.’ ‘The land, although rocky and not especially suited for farming, was settled by some twelve families who managed to scrape out a living “growing rye, potatoes, oats, and other crops.” [118]

“Timbucto proved to be a difficult home for many of these families, having no prior experience in farming. But a few did well and stuck it out on the land – for it was the land that ensured them the precious, all-important right to vote.”[119]

Even with these sporadic humanitarian efforts, “By 1840, ninety-three percent (93%) of the “free” African American population of the United States was disenfranchised.”[120]



“Therefore we, the Director and Council do release, for the term of their natural lives, the above named and their wives from Slavery, hereby setting them free and at liberty, on the same footing as other free people here in New Netherlands, where they shall be able to earn their livelihood by Agriculture, on the land shown and granted to them, on condition that they, the above named Negroes, shall be bound to pay for the freedom they receive each man for himself annually, as long as he lives, to the West India Company or its Deputy here, thirty skepels (barn baskets- 22 ½ bushels) of Maize, or Wheat, Pease or Beans. And one Fat Hog, valued at twenty guilders, which thirty skepels and the hog they, the Negroes, each for himself, promises to pay annually, beginning from the date hereof, on pain, if anyone of them shall fail to pay the yearly tribute, he shall forfeit his freedom and return into the said Company’s slavery.”[121]


In 1644, the Dutch West India Company granted "conditional freedom" to enslaved Africans on condition that they make an annual fixed payment of farm produce[122]. However, the children of these "conditionally freed" people, born and unborn, remained the property of the Company forever. The reasoning inherent in the implementation of this practice is obvious. It allowed the company to retain an effective and replenishing supply of enslaved labor. Another reason for this practice may relate to a Dutch custom of giving children their own enslaved African child once they reached the age of six or eight; usually, these enslaved children were of a similar age to their youthful enslavers.[123]

Whatever the reasoning, this practice of the Dutch of enslaving children would raise its “dark head” once again when the issue of emancipation was debated and legislated in the eventual State of New York. Most of the families received grants to lands they had been farming before becoming "free." At the time, the area was generally undesirable swampland, frequently referred to as the “Black ooze.” Today, most of the area is in Greenwich Village.[124]

During the Dutch period (1624-1664), at least twenty-four enslaved Africans were manumitted at either a “half free” or full freedom status. Almost all these manumissions involved some conditions imposed upon the freed Africans. Half freedom benefited the enslavers as much as the enslaved, for in some cases, it was a more efficient system of labor than chattel enslavement. Half freedom provided the Dutch West Indies Company with an “on-call” workforce, which would be used on fortifications and other public works whenever needed.

On 25 February 1644, twenty men were manumitted, eleven of whom received “half freedom” status. These men were the first enslaved Africans brought to New Amsterdam in 1626. The enslaved men: Paulo Angola, Big Manuel, Little Manuel, Manuel de Gerrit de Reus, Simon Congo, Anthony Portuguese, Garcia, Peter Santomee, Jan Francisco, Little Anthony, and Jan Fort Orange served for eighteen - nineteen years as the labor force in New Amsterdam.[125] It was the opinion of the company that these men would be unable to support their wives and numerous children if they remained in the service of the company. Each man received one to twenty acres of land, and they were freed on the condition that they pay back to the Company annually “22 ½ bushels of maize, wheat, or corn and one fat hog to the company or be re-enslaved.”[126] These men, therefore, became totally free when the British overtook New Netherlands. It should be noted that this manumission act and its eventual manumission of these enslaved Africans resulted from the continued petitioning and protest of these Africans and some whites. By doing so, and with the help of some New Netherlands citizens, the Company grudgingly gave in to their demands.

Between 1635 and 1665, the Company gave approximately 150 and 200 acres of land to those recently “freed”. These grant lands ran from Hudson Street along the south and east sides to Astor Place (Sand Hill Road) in New Amsterdam.[127] Henry Lanier in Greenwich Village suggests that this generosity by acknowledged enslavers was wholly out of character. Based on West India Company annals, the Dutch had thousands of acres of land on Manhattan alone, and he surmises that this land grant practice was based on a scheme to keep all the profits recovered from raids upon other nations' ships. The standard practice of the Company was for everyone on board a ship to share in the profits of the privateers. It seems that the Company realized that it could make a substantial profit and keep all of the proceeds by offering the enslaved sailors freedom and some land considered worthless.”[128] Irrespective of the motivations attributed to “conditional freedom,” this and other Dutch policies were later eliminated by the British, as summarized earlier and substituted with legalized oppression. Under English rule, additions to the city’s [New York] free Black population were very few. 

“Between 1664 and 1712, when a restrictive manumission law was enacted, probably not more than a dozen slaves were freed, either in wills or through instruments of manumission.”[129]




During the Revolutionary War, enslaved Africans became a very viable “commodity” to both the British and the Colonists. Various efforts and offers were presented to ensure the services of the enslaved but, more importantly, to ensure that the enemy did not acquire their services first. In 1775, Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, promised freedom to all enslaved men belonging to rebels who would join “His Majesty’s Troops.” Some 800 enslaved Africans were enlisted in the British forces.

The events of the American Revolution had a greater effect on enslavement in New York than in any other state; desertion from enslavers was encouraged officially by the British and led to the absconding of a number of these enslaved Africans to the British lines. In New York City, British commander and chief Guy Carleton determined that African descendants who responded to the British proclamations before 1782 were free. Between 3,000-4,000 African descendants were under his protection and were transported to Nova Scotia. Approximately one thousand of those who escaped were shipped to Freetown, Sierra Leone, Africa, in 1793 at the expense of the British government.[130]However, there were several instances where many African descendants fell victim to British treachery and were sold into enslavement in the West Indies. Or, as was the case at Yorktown, where some 5,000 escaped Africans, who had sought the protection and promise of freedom from General Cornwallis, were forced to flee the fort into the “no man’s” land between the oncoming Colonial and French armies and the fort’s walls. All of this took place after these escaped Africans had been used to rebuild the fort’s fortifications.

The Colonial offers for required services were as enslaved labor and not as soldiers. New York State was one of the few states that discouraged enslaved enlistments. The New York Militia Act of 1775 stipulated, “all bought servants during their servitude shall be free from being listed in any Troop or Company within this Colony.”[131] The Colonial Army, on the other hand, after 1777, was faced with the difficulty of raising white volunteers and began recruiting enslaved men to meet their military needs. It became obvious, as historian Benjamin Quarles wrote, “that the best way to prevent the Negro from going over to the British was to give him sufficient inducement to fight for America.”[132] In 1781, the Legislature of New York passed a law that manumitted any enslaved Africans who had served with the state militia during the Revolutionary War.[133]

Four years later, in 1785, both Houses of the New York Legislature passed a gradual abolition act. This legislation followed a recurring theme in northern abolition laws of the period. It allowed for the “freedom of those enslaved after a period of what amounted to “indentured servitude.” It also denied “freedmen” the right to vote, hold public office, intermarry with white persons, and testify against white defendants in court. The Council of Revision[134], however, rejected (vetoed) the bill after review because of the last clause, which prohibited those freed from exercising the right of franchise “in any case whatsoever.”

The Council concluded the following: 1- Because the bill enacted the disenfranchisement of Negroes, mulattoes, and mustees, it excluded Africans of this description from all share in the Legislature and those offices in which a vote may be necessary; 2- Because it holds up a doctrine that is repugnant to the principles on which the United States justify their separation from Great Britain; 3- Because this class of disenfranchised and discontented citizens, who at some period may be both numerous and wealthy, may, under the direction of ambitious and factious leaders, become dangerous to the state and effect the ruin of the Constitution whose benefits they are not able to enjoy; 4- Because the creation of an order of citizens who are to have no legislative or representative share in the government, necessarily lays the foundation of an aristocracy of the most dangerous and malignant kind. Rendering power permanent and hereditary in the hands of those persons who deduce their origin through white ancestors, only; and, 5- Because the last clause of the bill, being general, deprives those Black, mulatto, and mustee citizens who have heretofore been entitled to a vote. The Constitution does not support the idea that the Legislature may arbitrarily dispose of the dearest rights of their constituents.[135] The legislature failed to override the veto by the Council, and abolition was delayed in New York.[136] They did, however, enact a law that banned the importation of enslaved Africans to New York.[137]

The year 1788 saw the enactment by New York State of “An Act concerning the Slaves allowing slaveowners to free an enslaved African if that African could become self-supporting. Provisions were made for the registration of “freed” Africans and the posting of a “security.” No records exist regarding the overall effect of this legislative action.[138]


The most definitive action with respect to legalized Abolition occurred in 1799 when the New York State Legislature passed “An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery.” This law stipulated that any child born of an enslaved woman within the state after July 4, 1799, should be “deemed and adjudged to be born free.” However, the law also stipulated that these same children shall be the servants of the legal enslaver of his or her mother until such child if a male reaches the age of twenty-eight years and if a female reaches the age of twenty-five.[139] This mandate for the “bondage of children” to their mother’s enslaver was a compromise reached between the legislature's abolitionist and enslaver factions over compensating enslavers for the loss of their “property” to abolition. Most of the enslavers influencing this debate were Dutch, who could accurately be described as “property rights advocates.”[140] In his Journal of a Tour of the United States of America 1794-1795, William Strickland observed that in the 1790s, “many of the old Dutch farmers…. have 20-30 slaves to their care and management everything is left.”[141]

Although these children were not technically or legally enslaved, they were given to their mother's enslaver as “indentured servants” for a period of 25 or 28 years. This form of “indentured servitude” is considerably different from the European system, which required between 4 and 7 years of service, depending on the circumstance under which the person was bound. In addition, the European system made some provisions for the servant to purchase his or her freedom.

Under the Law of 1799, the enslaver of the mother of the enslaved child(ren) was required to register each child with the town clerk under the penalty of a fine. In addition, should the enslaver of the mother choose to abandon his/her rights to the child’s service, he /she was required to notify the town clerk. The town clerk would declare the child a pauper, thus allowing the Overseer of the Poor in that town to bind out the child to any interested parties. The Overseer was compensated $3.50 per month per child for maintenance by the Comptroller and Treasurer of New York State until the child was contracted/bonded out to another “enslaver.”[142] Once bound to an enslaver by the town official, the enslaver was entitled to receive the state-allocated maintenance payment. This unusual form of subsidy by the State of New York for the express purpose of the “bondage of children” is, at the very least, documented complicity on the part of the state in the exploitation and subjugation of African people. In 1801, the total cost of this “maintenance fee” was $1,359; however, by 1804, this “maintenance fee” totaled more than $20,000 per year in expenditures to the State of New York. In 1805, this expenditure totaled $19,261.22, a substantial sum when we compare it to the total of $20,700 for the salaries of the Governor, Chancellor, Judges of the Supreme Court, and the Attorney General.[143]

As is usually the case when the government attempts to protect the interests of certain entrepreneurial endeavors, this maintenance system is corrupted. In many instances, the original enslavers, after “abandoning” their rights to these children, were the recipients of the services (bondage) of the children as well as the compensation from the state for their maintenance. Enslavers were now registered and subsidized by the State of New York. This example of public policy is similar to other established governmental policies over the years, which reward or otherwise subsidize entrepreneurial enterprises in an attempt to establish an unfair advantage or further and/or encourage a misguided “public good,” e.g., farmers who are subsidized for not growing certain crops.

“Because the Overseer of the Poor would be inclined to bind out the child to the slaveowners of the child’s mother, slaveowners could expect to derive a lucrative income from abandonments,” wrote historian Arthur Zilversmit. “This abandonment clause was, therefore, a disguised scheme for compensated abolition, and it undoubtedly served to make gradual abolition more acceptable to slaveowners conscious of their property rights.”[144]

This system proved to be “a far cry from freedom.” Further, this law also contained a clause that allowed enslavers to manumit their enslaved Africans after the passage of this law. It would be interesting to research just how many of the more than 21,000 enslaved Africans who lived in New York during this period were freed. Harry P. Yoshpe, in the Journal of Negro History, documents the manumission of only twenty-three (23) enslaved Africans during the period 1796-1800 in the County of New York and seventy-six (76) total manumitted in the state between 1783 and 1800.[145]It is more likely that the enslavers saw this provision as an opportunity to relieve themselves of the expenses inherent in the upkeep of older and sickly enslaved Africans.[146]

To help alleviate the financial burden placed on both the state and enslavers, the Legislature passed an Act in 1804 which provided that the enslaver entitled to the services of these African descendent children could abandon his/her responsibility for those children if certified by the Overseer of the Poor that the child or young adult could support her/himself. The law stipulated that this abandonment process could occur once the young adult reached the “age of abandonment, “males, the age of twenty-one, and females, the age of eighteen years.”[147]

The reality is that New York State was the largest “slave-owning” state north of the Mason-Dixon line during the two centuries that it practiced this inhumane system of enslavement and the bondage of children. The profits and labor of this system served to make New York State the “Empire State” and the financial capital of the world that we know today. New York enslavers were not allowed to sell their enslaved to out-of-state buyers, only to New York State residents. However, these buyers found ways to circumvent these restrictions by becoming temporary citizens of New York. To keep the cornerstone of its economy from being usurped by other states and to counter the enslaver’s attempts to take their profit-making “human property” elsewhere (the South), the Legislature passed in 1807, “An Act to amend the Act, entitled “An Act concerning Slaves and Servants.” The motivating factor behind this law was the state’s unwillingness to lose its free labor force and significant profits to the booming plantation economy of the South. This law’s provisions severely restricted the travel of enslavers with their enslaved outside of the state. Licenses were required to travel, and the law prohibited enslavers from removing their enslaved permanently from the state.[148]

In another attempt to keep its “free” labor force intact, legislators made a guised attempt to protect New York's “free” African descendent residents from being kidnapped a “second time” and sold to the South with the passage in 1808 of the "Act to Prevent the Kidnaping of Free People of Colour." The penalty for the first kidnapping offense was a fine and/or imprisonment for not more than fourteen years. A second offense could result in hard labor or solitude in prison for their natural life. We will learn later in this work that New York’s avaricious enslavers also found a way to circumvent this law.[149]

The War of 1812 presented another abolition scheme on the part of the state. Much like during the Revolutionary War, this abolition effort was extended to African descendants due to the catastrophic progress of the war. The state chose to recruit desperately needed troops by re-enacting the old Revolutionary War Act, calling for raising African Regiments. This Law: “An Act to authorize the raising of two Regiments of Color,” was passed by the Legislature in 1814.[150]Again, those enslaved had to receive the permission of their enslavers, and the enslavers would receive a bounty. After serving three years, these enslaved Africans were declared “free.”


As New York’s abolition movement progressed, not all New Yorkers supported the emancipation of the population of African descent in New York. In 1816, opponents of immediate emancipation established the American Colonization Society (ACS) in Washington, DC. They sought a type of compromise of the enslavement question and a remedy to what they believed was a threat from the growing free Black population in cities such as New York. Their solution was to export/deport African descendants to Liberia in West Africa. Some New Yorkers supported the ACS plan, believing the relocation, especially with the prospect of bringing Christianity to Africa, was a reasonable alternative to total emancipation.[151]

Ironically, among its members was former New York State Governor John Jay, who, in 1785, became the first president of the New York Manumission Society and who, as Governor, signed into law “The Gradual Abolition of Slavery Act” of 1799. In the late 1700s, he personally owned five enslaved Africans.[152] Another member was Henry Clay, a southern congressman, and sympathizer of the plight of free Blacks, who believed that because of "unconquerable prejudice resulting from their color, they never could amalgamate with the free whites of this country."[153] Other prominent Americans who were members of this Society included former presidents James Monroe, James Madison, Andrew Jackson[154], Abraham Lincoln, US Supreme Court Justice Bushrod Washington, Francis Scott Key, and Daniel Webster, to name a few.

In 1819, the United States Congress authorized President Monroe to provide $100,000 to the ACS effort to purchase a suitable location in Africa for the colonization of America's free Blacks.[155] During the 1850s, the society also received several thousands of dollars from the New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Maryland, and Virginia legislatures.)[156] Of the 7,836 Africans and African descendants sent to Africa by the American Colonization Society from 1817 to 1852, two hundred and four had purchased their freedom before departure.[157]

The colonization endeavor evoked strong Black protest, including dissent from John B. Russwurm, co-editor of New York City's Freedom's Journal (1827-29), the first Black newspaper published in the United States. William Wells Brown, a formerly enslaved man, at one of their meetings, branded “the United States as a willful liar, a shameless hypocrite, and the deadliest enemy of the human race.”[158] White abolitionists also voiced criticism of the ACS. James Boardman in America and the Americans are critical of the ACS for being used to remove only those few enslaved that the enslavers found “convenient to emancipate” while the majority remained in bondage.[159]

Simultaneously, during this period of impending abolition (1817-1827), more nefarious schemes were taking place led by New York State enslavers. They wanted to recover at least potential financial losses that would be imminent with the imposition of abolition and emancipation. New York enslavers began to sell their enslaved to the markets in the South[160], where the demand was high, and the fear of abolition was minimal. The South had developed, in its sugar and cotton plantations, the most innovative economic unit of its time in terms of labor management and organization. They had anticipated the assembly line and the factory system in relationship to supervision and division of tasks. Their requirements for a larger enslaved workforce were considerable and profitable to both enslavers and sellers of “human property” alike.

The actual documentation of this practice of selling the enslaved to the South is inconclusive. However, scholars, including Edgar J. McManus, concur with its existence as well as the kidnapping and selling of “free Blacks” to southern states. In A History of Negro Slavery in New York, McManus, through the analysis of census data, documents the sharp decline in the growth rate of New York’s Black population after 1800. McManus further states,

“The conclusion is inescapable that the exodus was largely the work of kidnappers and illegal traders who dealt in human misery.”


Sojourner Truth recounts her experience with this practice when one of her five children is sold off by the John I. Dumont family of Ulster Park. She uses this act of betrayal as grounds to flee the Dumonts in 1827.[161]

Further evidence of selling the enslaved before they were freed is “For Sale” advertisements in several newspapers, including the Suffolk Gazette, Long Island, NY, on 13 May 1805. In this ad, a 25-year-old “Negro” woman is offered for sale with or without her four-year-old daughter.[162]



 “A new vision is needed wherein Africans and African descendants may be understood not solely as victims in the American economic and social systems of slavery, but also as survivors utilizing a number of strategies for the purpose of gaining controlling interests of their lives and actions.”[163]

African Americans played an extremely active role in the abolition of enslavement in New York Stare. In many instances, this role was played under the threat of death or re-enslavement in the South. African descendants publicly supported immediate abolition. Their efforts were principally undertaken through their churches but also in voluntary associations such as literary societies and anti-enslavement organizations. Among the organizations and societies against enslavement in New York (just to name a few) were: The New York Manumission Society (est.1785), The New York Anti-Slavery Society with affiliates in numerous New York cities and towns, The Negro Anti-Slavery Society of Rochester, The Roger Williams Baptist Anti-Slavery Society in New York City, as well as the formation of “Negro” juvenile anti-enslavement societies in cities like Troy, NY. The African descendent anti-enslavement movement in New York also established sixteen “colored library societies.”[164]

It should be noted that all-African American, all-white, and integrated memberships constituted anti-enslavement organizations and societies. However, there were several instances of anti-enslavement societies barring African descendant membership or segregating their meetings. Likewise, in some cases, social interaction between African descendants and whites was discouraged or banned.[165]

The ultimate result was a split in the anti-enslavement/abolitionist movement. This split included re-establishing all-African descendant organizations for reasons best articulated by Martin R. Delany, an outspoken Pan-African Nationalist. He asserted that the anti-enslavement societies always,

“…presumed to think for, dictate to, and know better what suited colored people than they know for themselves.”[166]

African American churches played a major role in the anti-enslavement movement in New York and nationally. For me, the most significant and interesting aspect of this resistance to enslavement was the role played by New York and other northern African American newspapers. Their involvement was both enormous and dangerous. Their participation in this cause extended well beyond the abolition of enslavement in New York State. Their efforts continued until the last vestiges of this inhumane system were stricken from the political and social landscape of America. One African descendant newspaperman was Rev. Jeremiah R. B. Smith[167], my Great-Great-Great Grandfather. Jeremiah Smith was a well-published newspaper reporter and the founder, editor, and principal writer of a New York State newspaper called The Echo, a newspaper dedicated to the advancement of people of African descent in New York State.

It has been the opinion of many historians, including Benjamin Quarles, that the abolitionist movement of the Federalist era must be viewed as a failure. The reality is that “the Northern states had all but abandoned enslavement, it is true, but the chief reason had been the availability of a free labor supply which made bonded labor unprofitable. The early abolitionists created no general sentiment against enslavement”[168]. Its participants were the wealthy (socialite) land owners and a political minority, not most of the lower and middle-class Americans in the North. The Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society itself concurred. While addressing the National Anti-Slavery Society, it admitted, “Those actively engaged in the cause of the oppressed Africans are very small.”[169]

Ironically, one of the fateful compromises made at the United States Constitutional Convention of 1787 played a significant role in the issue of enslavement, its abolition, and the Civil War. The compromise was directly responsible for the forthright rejection of the idea of "one man, one vote," contrary to the myth of American democracy, at the Convention that eventually produced the document ratified by nine of the thirteen colonies in 1788, one of the last issues to be resolved was how to elect a president, according to Roger A. Bruns's "Introduction" to A More Perfect Union: The Creation of the United States Constitution, published for the National Archives Trust Fund Board.

While southerners did not want enslaved people of African descent to vote, the southern delegates wanted to count the enslaved with their population, increasing the region's political clout and voice in choosing the presidency due to increased numbers in the Electoral College. The northern states objected to this because they would have been outnumbered. Hence the Great Compromise, the notorious "three-fifths of a man" clause that permitted enslavement to continue and struck an unhappy medium between “slave” and “non-slave” states by permitting the enslaved and people of color to be counted as three-fifths of a white person when setting the number of members of the House of Representatives due each state.

The compromise was instrumental in giving the southern states an advantage in their representation in Congress. 

“By 1850, a growing number of northerners were convinced that slavery posed an intolerable threat to free labor and civil liberties. Many believed that an aggressive Slave Power had seized control of the federal government, incited revolution in Texas and war with Mexico, and was engaged in a systematic plan to extend slavery into the western territories.”[170]


Regarding the abolition of enslavement in New York, the State Legislature passed in 1817 “An Act relative to slaves and servants.” This law is New York State’s emancipation law, and it became effective on 4 July 1827. It extended enslaved emancipation to those born before July 4, 1799, who were not covered under the Gradual Abolition Law in 1799. The Law stipulated that these enslaved Africans would become “free” as of July 4, 1827. (It should be noted that the effective date of this law in 1827, exactly 28 years after the Law of 1799, was no coincidence. This effective date would allow enslavers to receive a full 28 years of service from male enslaved children born in 1799.) This law also allowed for the enslaved to continue as such unless state law mandated the enslaved be freed. Curiously, it also legitimized the fact that baptizing the enslaved would not constitute manumission.[171]

This “baptism clause” represents an interesting paradox within the systematic structure of enslavement in New York State. Enslavers fully understood that the Church of England and the Duke’s Law of March 1674[172] had promulgated rules banning the enslavement of Christians. They were also acutely aware of the circumstances surrounding English Law equating civil status with religion.[173] These actions and directives meant that enslavers in America were faced with the dilemma of upholding their churches’ religious principles while at the same time ensuring the continuation of enslavement and their economic survival. This writer contends that enslavers “lobbied” for the inclusion of this provision in this and all other laws relative to the emancipation/abolition of enslavement to circumvent any religious attempts to abolish enslavement on purely moral grounds. Enslavers, with full knowledge of their deceit, chose instead the option of providing religious instruction to their enslaved and the elimination of baptisms.[174]

It has been documented that very few, if any, converted Africans were participants or leaders in the Insurrections of 1712 and 1741 in New York City. New York City officials undertook extensive investigations to attempt to prove a connection between conversion/baptism and organized resistance on the part of the newly ‘Christianized’ enslaved.[175] These investigations failed to prove these allegations. Of the enslaved persons involved in the 1741 “Great Negro Plot,” only one was confirmed as a converted Christian.[176] Ironically, in the later 19th century, enslavers, particularly in the South, adopted the view that Christianity would make those enslaved more submissive, orderly, and conscientious.

Those enslaved in the North were sophisticated enough to realize the contradiction in their enslaver’s approach to religious instruction. Unlike their counterparts in the South, northern African descendants were not as willing to accept Christianity at face value. They did not respond as favorably to the conversion to Christianity as those in the South because of their discontent with the secular facets of Christianity. They realized that conversion provided little chance for them to improve their condition.[177]

“Blacks resisted the church and its doctrine, especially those Blacks born in Africa. Black rejection of the Christian doctrine centered around the fact that Christianity only increased the mental burden of the slaves. In conclusion, church records show that Blacks became disenchanted with Christianity when conversion did not produce automatic freedom.”[178]


However, other Christian factions in New York did allow baptisms, e.g., Quakers. Thus, this “baptism provision” in the 1817 Law was intended to address these “uncontrollable” religious freedom practices that might prove detrimental to their economic and social self-interests.

It should also be noted that the passage of this law abolishing enslavement was accompanied by the emergence of a virulent form of racial prejudice and violence. African descendants in New York demonstrated a remarkable sense of political acumen by choosing not to celebrate “their emancipation” on the 4th of July in conjunction with Independence Day after the first few years due to their conflict with “the disparity between rhetoric and the reality, between their country’s high professions of liberty and equality and the existence of slavery and the high wall of color.”[179] Instead, they chose to later celebrate on the 5th of July or August 1st, the anniversary of the unconditional freedom of those enslaved in the British West Indies as their “Emancipation Day.”


“Whether slavery is characterized as “mild” … or “harsh” … the modern institution rests on economic and political assumptions that deny not merely the equality but indeed the humanity of the slave.”[180]


The Historical Background

The preceding documentation and testimony chronicle the involvement of state and local government in the organization, administration, and fiscal support of chattel enslavement and the forced bondage of children of African descent, and the implementation of a system of institutional racial discrimination in New York State. Additionally, it clearly and unequivocally illustrates to any discerning reader that enslavement and its institutionalized hybrid, gradual abolition, were not haphazard occurrences, regardless of where they were practiced in the United States, whether North or South. Enslavement was a calculated, government-initiated, and/or government-supported action on the part of Western “civilized” nations designed to gain a worldwide economic advantage. At the same time, this work exposes both Europe and America’s efforts to consciously institute a racial system of inferiority and subjugation that would result in the goal of implementing a “New World Order.” This paradigm was accomplished by establishing a monopoly on trade and the execution of the colonization of Africa and the New World. The result of these policies and actions was the inevitable destruction of and the forced subjugation of the ancient and extraordinary culture and resource-rich civilizations in Africa and the New World.

Corporate development, economic superiority, and world dominance were the byproducts of the institutions of the “slave trade” and enslavement. However, the birth of the United States and the elevation of New York City and New York State to their status as the centerpiece of the New World economy were undeniably the results of calculated and ruthlessly evil acts and crimes perpetrated against people of African descent.

Enslavement in New York State could not have existed for as long as it did, nor could it have sustained or benefited the state as much as it did without the full and complete involvement and active participation of its public and private governing bodies. The preceding documentation and testimony have proven these governmental entities' culpability beyond any reasonable doubt.

Much has been discussed and written, for that matter, of the horror and depravity of enslavement in the southern United States, and yet, as we now know, New York State implemented and benefited immeasurably from the exact same system of institutional enslavement and racial discrimination. “Slave codes,” whippings, murders, the breakup and separation of families, disenfranchisement, and brutality were all aspects of New York State enslavement and its hybrid bondage during gradual abolition. Likewise, the fact that financial support was appropriated by local, state, and federal governments to perpetuate the bondage of men, women, and children is inescapable.

In addition, it has been established that public policy in New York State was designed and manipulated in a conscious effort to benefit the enslaver and aristocratic classes. New York State enslavers were granted reimbursement by the state for their “human property” losses from the executions of rebellious and runaways. Additionally, they were allocated taxpayer-generated dollars for the implementation and subsistence of a legalized program of bondage called gradual abolition that legally enslaved Africans and their descendants and provided maintenance for the support of African descendant children (compensated emancipation).[181]

The Results of Gradual Abolition 

During this period of the forced bondage of African descendant children, the New York State Legislature affirmed its financial responsibility for the maintenance of thousands of abandoned enslaved children beginning in 1799 and continuing through 1827, when it passed its final abolition law.[182] The real cost of gradual abolition, however, was the effect that it had on the African descendant babies, children, mothers, and families. Under the guise of protecting “property rights,” a devastatingly destructive and unprecedented plan of “de jure” enslavement was inflicted on innocent African descendant children and families. The fact remains that African descendant children were summarily ripped from the arms of their mothers without regard to human rights or adherence to any standards of human decency and placed in a system of state-sponsored and state-funded human bondage.

Under this Act, families were forced to give up their children within a year of birth and legally barred from developing any type of family bond. These “abandoned” children, abandoned not by their mother’s choice but through the power of the state, were sentenced by this Act to provide free labor to designated enslavers. They were also forced to live in separate households, often far removed from the care and nurturing of their family members. As late as 1820, almost half of the African descendant children in the state under the age of fourteen lived in these white households. After the advent of “Final Abolition” in 1827, which “freed” their parents and other relatives, these children remained in human bondage until their legally established sentence of bondage was completed.

In practice, New York State had created its own legal hell for African descendants during the 1800s. Not quite enslavement, but certainly not the “freedom” promised in the Gradual Abolition Act, which stated in 1799 that any child born of an enslaved mother within the state after July 4, 1799, should be “deemed and adjudged to be born free.” The cost of these legalized actions of institutional enslavement upon the future development and prosperity of these children and the African descendant community, in general, was the devastation and destruction of the African descendant family. The broader cost is still being calculated to this very day.

Through the legislative authority of the Gradual Abolition Act, the State of New York never allowed these children who were “freed” by statute to experience any semblance of a secure and protected childhood. They were placed in the custody of local Overseers of the Poor at the age of one year and were subsequently bonded out by the age of four to white enslavers as “free labor” until they reached adulthood.

It is understandable how these children would suffer from both despair and an insidiously high mortality rate. The fact that their “unexpired” sentence could be sold from one enslaver to another at any time had also contributed to a constant state of fear and vulnerability. Most assuredly, the greatest harm caused to the African descendant family by this Act was that it was self-perpetuating. Once taken from their families and forced to provide free labor for others until adulthood, these children, now adults, were faced with the same difficulties of establishing a stable family as their enslaved parents had experienced in New York State. Still under the forced obligation of bondage, if they chose to marry, they would be forced to live in separate residences if their partner was “free.” Unable to control their own destiny, they would always have to face the possibility that they could be resold by their enslavers away from their marriage and children. These legally designated enslavers had complete control over every aspect of their lives, personal and otherwise, and complete control of their freedom of movement from one day to the next.

Employment opportunities that presented themselves to the “free” partner meant the breakup of the marriage or prolonged separation. Children of these unions would also be forced to experience a life of bondage, constantly under the threat of the hiring out of their bonded parent. This vicious cycle continued, but this time, it was created and financed by the State of New York.

The history of New York State is replete with examples of artificially created circumstances that either led to or were designed to ensure the constant instability of African descendants and their families. These instances of private or public subjugation inspired conditions not of these families' choosing but conditions imposed on them by private greed and public protectionism. Whether imposed by the institution of enslavement or the legal mandates of gradual abolition, the survival of the African and African descendant family was a consequence of factors outside of their control. This statement can be applied to the period when Africans and African descendants “resided” in New York beginning in 1625 with the introduction of the first enslaved Africans to New Amsterdam.

Consider the fact that it was not until the mid-1870s in New York State (when bonded women born shortly before July 4, 1827, ended their childrearing years) that an entire generation of African descendants began to be born, none of whose parents had ever been the victims of enslavement or the mandates of gradual abolition’s legalized bondage in their youth.[183]

Poverty and illiteracy, despair and hopelessness, disease and deprivation, high infant and adult mortality, dysfunctional and displaced families, this is the baggage that African descendant families were forced to carry into the twentieth century. This cruel and unusual form of government-subsidized bondage provided for in the Gradual Abolition Act of 1799 was designed for the express purpose of the “bondage of children.” At the very least, its enactment and the continued existence of the institution of chattel enslavement in New York State provide testament to and further demonstrates the complicity on the part of the State of New York in the exploitation and subjugation of men, women, and children of African descent.

New York’s Continuing Acts Exposing Its Crimes Against Humanity

Although New York had given men of African descent the right to vote in 1827, it retained property requirements. It included new restrictions on the right to vote for those accused of committing crimes to maintain a continuous system of disenfranchisement. Following the Civil War, conditions for Black Americans in New York remained poor. Segregation became particularly common in both education and housing. The New York Court of Appeals upheld the segregation of schools in Kings County. Research has shown that up to the present day, New York still is the most segregated state for Black students. Discrimination in housing has also been a persistent and constant issue in New York since the Civil War. In addition to the housing inequality that came with wealth inequality, landlords have engaged in discriminatory housing practices.

This pattern of geographic isolation would continue to impact Americans of African descent in New York continuously throughout the decades, including through the state-sanctioned discriminatory "redlining" practices in the 1930s and in the segregationist urban planning implemented by officials like Robert Moses in later decades. Importantly, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), an institution that refused to insure mortgages in or near African American neighborhoods, subsidized builders who were creating subdivisions and developments in the suburbs, with the proviso that none of the homes be sold to African Americans.

The consequences of enslavement in New York State are not an echo of the past but can still be observed in present-day daily life. Systemic and institutional racism has cemented a legacy of generational poverty, and we still see today instances of voter suppression, housing discrimination, biased policing, food apartheid, and disproportionate rates of incarceration. 

The use of the “Stop and Frisk" tactic by the New York City Police Department has had disparate impacts: at the policy's peak in 2011, an estimated 685,724 people were stopped, with fifty-three percent of those being Black, even though only twenty-six percent of New York City's population was Black.

Enslavement has built and shaped New York State's status as an economic and cultural hub of the world. The contributions of enslaved Africans have provided the resources upon which trade and commerce in New York were built. Some of our most prestigious institutions and infrastructure were built with these contributions.

However, New York State also has the largest income disparity in the country, and that large disparity is, in large part, the legacy of our system of enslavement.

The Remedy Available to African Descendants

We all should learn through the study of history, one of life’s truer lessons, that ignoring the facts does not change the facts! This work’s purpose has been to demonstrate New York State’s complicity in and direct responsibility for the extended duration of enslavement through the legalized bondage of gradual abolition and its continued practices and policies of institutional racial discrimination. In addition, the State of New York has been found both legally and morally culpable for the subjugation, bondage, and enslavement of Africans and African descendants by means of both public policy and financial (taxpayer) support.

Therefore, by virtue of its callous and inhumane policies and laws, New York State is thereby charged with committing “crimes against humanity” during its history on this continent. This determination is based on the premise that since enslavement and the legalized bondage of children have been labeled and repudiated by numerous worldwide sanctioning bodies, including the Nuremberg Tribunal and the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance (WCAR) as “crimes against humanity.”

The Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal defines “crimes against humanity” as:

“…murder, extermination, slavery, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population…. whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.”[184]


The World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR), having met in Durban, South Africa, from 31 August to 8 September 2001, declared that:


“We acknowledge that slavery and the slave trade, including the transatlantic slave trade, were appalling tragedies in the history of humanity not only because of their abhorrent barbarism but also in terms of their magnitude, organized nature, and especially their negation of the essence of the victims, and further acknowledge that slavery and the slave trade are a crime against humanity and should always have been so, especially the transatlantic slave trade and are among the major sources and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance and that Africans and people of African descent, Asians and people of Asian descent and indigenous peoples were victims of these acts and continue to be victims of their consequences.”[185]


These two world-sanctioned assemblies, even though occurring over a half-century apart, arrived at the same conclusions - that “enslavement” and “bondage” are internationally recognized as “crimes against humanity. In this context, the atrocities of gradual abolition perpetuated by the State of New York would constitute a profound “crime against humanity.”

The enactment of the policies of gradual abolition by the State of New York, as documented throughout this work, would also support litigation for recovery against New York State for these “crimes against humanity.” This “recovery” would assume the form of restitution and/or reparations” as outlined in the WCAR Report. The WCAR urges as a remedy for past “crimes against humanity” that states be required to:

“Reinforce protection against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance by ensuring that all persons have access to effective and adequate remedies and enjoy the right to seek from competent national tribunals and other national institutions just and adequate reparation and satisfaction for any damage as a result of such discrimination.”[186]



These revelations are an aspect of New York State history that should shock and horrify any civilized citizenry. At the very least, it should provoke a new awareness and understanding of the efforts now being undertaken by Africans and people of African descent to advocate for reparations for these “crimes against humanity” perpetrated by the United States, in general, and the State of New York, in particular. When a government participates in “crimes against humanity” and benefits from them, then it is obliged to make the victims whole. This is now a recognized principle of international law, the Law of State Responsibility, under which a state may be liable for certain harmful acts.

The issues elaborated on and detailed in this work would justifiably set the groundwork for a “Case for Reparations against the State of New York.” This effort would be in keeping with the WCAR Report that stipulates:

“We acknowledge and profoundly regret the untold suffering and evils inflicted on millions of men, women, and children as a result of slavery, the slave trade, the transatlantic slave trade, apartheid, genocide, and past tragedies.  We further note that some States have taken the initiative to apologize and have paid reparation, where appropriate, for grave and massive violations committed.”[187]








[1] H. Arthur Bankoff, Christopher Ricciardi, and Alyssa Loorya, “Remembering Africa Under the Eaves,” Archaeology Magazine, vol. 54 no. 3, May/June 2001; Theola S. Labbe, “Enslaveds’ graves thought to be on farm”, Times Union Newspaper, 4 Sept. 2001, pg. B1              


[3] Oscar Williams, African Americans and Colonial Legislation in the Middle Colonies, 1998, Garland Publishing, pg. 3

[4] IBID

[5] New Netherland was a Dutch colony in North America along the Hudson and lower Delaware rivers. The first settlement was made at Fort Orange (now Albany, NY) in 1624, although the colony centered on New Amsterdam at the tip of Manhattan Island after 1625-1626. New Netherlands was annexed by the English and renamed New York in 1664.

[6] Williams, pg.4

[7] See: Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade, 1997, Touchstone; Oliver A. Rink, Holland on the Hudson: An Economic and Social History of Dutch New York, 1986, Cornell; Dennis J. Maika, Commerce and Community: Manhattan Merchants in the Seventeenth Century, 1995, NYU; John Franklin Jameson, Narratives of New Netherland, 1609-1664, 1909, Scribner

 [8] IBID

[9] E. B. O’Callaghan, ed., Voyage of the Enslavers St. John and Arms of Amsterdam, 1867, J. Munsell, pg. xiii; also see Oscar Williams, African Americans and Colonial Legislation in the Middle Colonies, see “An Act of the Director and Council of New Netherlands” passed 25 February 1644.

[10] E.B. O’Callaghan, Colonial Records of New York, Vol.I, pg.99

[11] IBID, pg. 154, 364

[12] Henry Wysham Lanier, Greenwich Village: Today and Yesterday, Harper and Brothers, 1949, pg. 79

[13] IBID

[14] E. B. O’Callaghan, pg. 101-102

[15] Graham Russell Hodges, Slavery, Freedom & Culture, 1998, M. E. Sharpe, Inc., pg. 32

[16]Curtis P. Nettels, The Roots of American Civilization, 1963, Appleton-Century-Crofts, pg. 200-201; also see Oliver A. Rink; Dennis J. Maika; John Franklin Jameson

[17] Edgar J. McManus, A History of Negro Slavery in New York, 1966, Syracuse University Press, pg. 4

[18] See Williams, African Americans and Colonial Legislation in the Middle Colonies, pg. 14

[19] Lanier, pg. 80

[20] African Burial Grounds, History Statement, General Services Administration,, hereafter referred to as: African Burial Grounds; McManus, pg. 6, 

[21] See: Oliver A. Rink, Holland on the Hudson: An Economic and Social History of Dutch New York, 1986, Cornell; Dennis J. Maika,Commerce and Community: Manhattan Merchants in the Seventeenth Century, 1995, NYU; John Franklin Jameson, Narratives of New Netherland, 1609-1664, 1909, Scribner

[22] IBID 

[23] Evanrt Greene and Virginia Harrington, American Population before the Federal Census of 1790, 1932, Columbia University Press, pg. 95, 100-101

[24] E. Wilder Spaulding, New York in the Critical Period, 1932, New York, pg. 45; also see McManus, Lanier

[25] McManus, pg. xii; Ulrich B. Phillips, American Negro Slavery, New York, 1918, pgs. 98-114

[26] McManus, pg. xi – xii; Arthur Zilversmit, The First Emancipation: The Abolition of Slavery in the North, 1967, The University of Chicago Press, pg. 34

[27] McManus, pg. 197-200

[28] Oliver A. Rink, Holland on the Hudson, pg. 7, 212-213; Lanier, pg. 79

[29] Joyce D. Goodfriend, Before the Melting Pot, 1992, Princeton University Press, pg. 8

[30] Maritime History of New York, Federal Writer’s Project: Philadelphia, 1937, Doubleday, Doran & 

[31] Joyce D. Goodfriend, pg. 9

[32] IBID

[33] See C. H. Wilson, Profit and Power, 1957; P. Geyl, Orange and Stuart1641-1672, 1970

[34] McManus, pg. 11-19

[35] Chapter 160 of the Laws of 1706 of the Colony of New York stated that, “be it declar’d and Enacted by the Governor, Council & Assembly and by the Authority of the same, That all and every Negro, Indian Mulatto and Mestee Bastard Child & Children who is, are and shall be born of any Negro, Indian, Mulatto or Mestee, shall follow ye State and Condition of the Mother & be esteemed reputed taken & adjudged a Enslaved & Enslavers to all intents & purposes whatsoever.” ; also see Sherrill D. Wilson, New York City's African Slaveowners: A Social and Material Culture History, 1994, Garland Publishing, pg. 38

[36] Williams, pg. 20

[37] McManus, pg. 23

[38] E. B. O’Callaghan, pg. 202

[39] African Burial Grounds

[40]    Stanley M. Elkins, Slavery, 1968, University of Chicago Press, pg. 96-979

[41]   Elkins, pg. 94-95; Phillips, pg. 98-114, McManus, pg. 47-48; also see New York Gazette and Weekly Post Boy, March 26, 1749 and July 20, 1747; White, pg. 10-12, A. J. Williams-Myers, Long Hammering, 1994, Black World Press, pg. 7, Goodfriend, pg. 118-119

[42]   Zilversmit, pg. 31; See also McManus

[43]   See The Origins and Nature of New World Slavery, Hypertext History: Critical Issues of American History, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, 2001

[44]    McManus, pg. 54

[45]   A. J. Williams-Myers, pg. 49

[46]   John R. Spears, The American Slave Trade, 1901, Scribner’s Sons, pg. 90-9110

[47]  Chapter 624 of the Laws of 1734 of the Colony of New York

[48] Sydney Ernest Hammersly, The History of Waterford, 1957, Published by Col. Sydney E. Hammersley, Waterford, NY, pg.195 

[49] Matthew T. Mellon, Early American Views on Negro Slavery, 1969, Bergman Publishers, New York, pg. 165

[50] IBID; also see McManus, pg. 3

[51]    Williams, pg.17

[52]   Over a third of the advertisements in local newspapers indicated that enslaved fugitives left their enslavers to visit a spouse, a child, or other relatives.

[53]  Benjamin Quarles, Black Abolitionists, 1969, Oxford University Press; McManus, pg. 139-140; White pg. 49

[54]  Williams, pg. 46

[55] Mellon, pg. 166-167, also see pg. 32, 89; Herbert Aptheker, American Negro Slave Revolts, 1969, International Publishers, Co., pg. 18-52  

[56] Chapter 149 of the Laws of 1705 of the Colony of New York

[57]  IBID

[58]   IBID; Similar policies existed in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, see Edward R. Turner, The Negro in Pennsylvania, 1911, Washington, D.C., pg. 26-29

[59] Chapter 308 of the Laws of 1715 of the Colony of New York

[60] IBID 

[61]  Williams, pg. 49

[62] Chapter 181 of the Laws of 1708

[63]    Williams, pg. 74

[64]   IBID

[65]   Williams-Myers, pg. 21

[66]   Greene and Harrison, pg. 92, 95-102; McManus, pg. 25

[67]   Thomas J. Davis, A Rumor of Revolt: The ‘Great Negro Plot’ in Colonial New York, 1985, Free Press, NYC, (Macmillan Inc.), pg. 252

[68]  A. J. Williams-Myers, “Long Hammering”, 1994, Africa World Press, Inc., pg. 3 

[69]  Jonathan Earle, “The Routledge Atlas of African American History,” 2000, Routledge, New York, pg. 26; McManus, pg. 123

[70] African Burial Grounds 

[71]  Benjamin Quarles, Black Abolitionists, 1969, Oxford University Press; Herbert Aptheker, American Negro Slave Revolts, International Publishers, Co., pg. 172; Africans in America, Narrative- The Growth of Slavery in North America,; Kenneth Scott, “The Slave Insurrection in New York in 1712”, New York Historical Quarterly, 1961, XLV, pg. 45; Herbert Aptheker, Essays on the History of the Negro, 1945, NY: International Publishers, pg. 19; Thomas J. Davis, A Rumor of Revolt: The “Great Negro Plot” in Colonial New York. 1985, Free Press MacMillian Inc., NYC, pg. 54-55

[72]   Edgar Mayhew Bacon, Chronicles of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, G.P. Putmans’s Sons, 1897, pg. 142

[73] Chapter 250 of the Laws of 1712 of the Colony of New York

[74] Earle, pg. 27

[75]    Joyce D. Goodfriend, Before the Melting Pot, 1992, Princeton University Press, Introduction, pg. 6 

[76]    Thomas J. Davis, pg. ix

[77]   Earle, pg. 27; T. Wood Clarke, “The Negro Plot of 1741”, New York History, 1944, pg. 167-181, Thomas J. Davis, pg. ix; George Ellis, The Puritan Age and Rule in the Colony of Massachusetts Bay 1629-1685, 3rd ed. Boston, Houghton, Mifflin, 1891, pg. 563; Mrs. John King Van Rensselaer, The Goede Vrouw of Mana-ha-ta at Home and in Society, 1609-1760, 1898, Charles Scribner’s Sons, Chapter XXalso see William smith, The History of the Province of New York, ed. Michael Kammen, 1972, Harvard University Press

[78]    See Thomas J. Davis, A Rumor of Revolt: The ‘Great Negro Plot’ in Colonial New York, 1985, Free Press, NYC, (Macmillan Inc.)

[79]    Williams, note 45, pg. 79

[80]   Five other enslaved conspiracies were uncovered in New York State in the 18th century. The first conspiracy was in 1708; it involved a enslaved uprising in Long Island. One in 1761 in Schenectady, that mirrored the 1741 plot and the other was uncovered in Ulster County, its objective was a mass break for freedom to Canada. In Kingston in 1775, a foiled enslaved conspiracy to kill the inhabitants and burn the town of Kingston. In addition, in Albany in November of 1793, The “Black Arson” involved the burning of enslaver’s property. See McManus, pg. 139 and A. J. Williams-Myers, pg.6, 56-60

[81]   O’Callaghan, Laws of New Netherlands, pg. 7 

[82]   Williams, pg. 20

[83]   The year 1830 represents the U.S. Federal Census’ cutoff date that this is the last year in which there is documentation, which lists Africans as enslavers of Africans in New York City. Also See Sherrill D. Wilson, New York City's African Slaveowners: A Social and Material Culture History, 1994, Garland Publishing, pg. xi; also see 1830 Federal census; Carter G. Woodson; Eichholz and Rose, NY State Manumissions, Yosphe, for more information on this practice of African American slaveholders, and Goodfriend, Before the Melting Pot, pg. 117

[84]   See Larry Kroger, Black Slaveowners: Free Black Masters in South Carolina, 1985

[85] See Sherrill D. Wilson, New York City's African Slaveowners: A Social and Material Culture History, 1994, Garland Publishing

[86]  Carter G. Woodson, 1924, pg. v

[87]  Wilson, pg. 28

[88]  Williams-Myers, pg. 5                                           

[89] Mellon, pg. 167

[90]   See Quarles 

[91]   Richard Morris, Forward, The History of Negro Slavery in New York by Edgar J. McManus; Kenneth M. Stampp, The Peculiar Institution, 1956, Vintage Books, pg. 271-272; Richard C. Wade, Slavery in the Cities 1964, Oxford University Press, pg. 6

[92]    Shane White, Somewhat more independent: the end of slavery in New York City, 1770-1810, Athens Press-University of Georgia, 1991, pg. 1 and pg. 16; Thomas J. White, pg. ix

[93]    Williams-Myers, pg. 3

[94]    White, pg. 19 

[95]    Williams-Myers, pg. 3

[96]    White pg. 5-6

[97]    IBID

[98]    Greene and Harrington, pg. 105 

[99]   White, pg. 52

[100] The efforts of petitioning and protest on the part of organized White workers and tradesmen, however, recalls disturbing similarities to present day efforts of New York State Trade Unions to secure “Project Labor Agreements” in both the public and private sectors of New York State’s construction industry, to assure work and maximize profit for their members. Its resulting effect is the limitation and/or elimination of non-union, e.g., African American contractors, participation in major construction projects. 

[101] McManus, pg. 53, Williams-Myers, pg.3

[102]  Williams quoting NY City Common Council Ordinance of 1731

[103]     Note: Webster’s defines ‘vendue’ as: Auction, a public sale of anything by outcry to the highest bidder. 

[104]    Journal of the Assembly of the State of New York, 1804, pg. 39-45

[105]   Sherrill D. Wilson, New York City African Slaveowners: A social and material culture history, 1994, Garland Publishing, pg. ix; A. J. F. Van Laer, Early records of the City and County of Albany and Colony of Rensselaerswyck, 1916-1919, Albany: University of the State of new York, pg. 149

[106]   Eric Foner quoted in “Honoring Slaves: Calls for Slavery Restitution Getting Louder”,

[107] Morris, Foreword, A History of Negro Slavery in New York, pg. ix; also see Thomas Archdeacon, New York City, 1664-1710, Conquest and Change, 1976, Cornell University Press

[108]    A. J. Williams-Myers, pg. 139-141.

[109]     IBID 

[110]   Leon F. Litwack, North of Slavery, 1961, The University of Chicago Press, pg. 39

[111] IBID; Austin Steward, Twenty-Two Years A Slave and Forty Years a Freeman Rochester: Wm. Alling, 1857, pg. 125, 167

[112]    Graham Russell Hodges, pg. 5-6

[113]    Williams-Myers, pg. 142-143

[114]   Narrative of Sojourner Truth, 1850, Boston, pg. 14-15; Liwack, pg. 97

[115]  Jones, Katherine Butler, “They called it Timbucto”Orion Magazine, Winter 1998, pg. 29 

[116]   Jones, pg. 30

[117]   IBID

[118]  IBID

[119]  Jones, pg. 31

[120]  Earle, pg. 38                                                              

[121]    O’Callaghan, Laws of New Netherland, pg. 36-37

[122]    Lanier, pg. 24

[123]   James Fenimore Cooper, Satanstoe or the Littlepage Manuscripts, 1890, W. A. Townsend and Company, NY, pg. 8-81

[124]   Lanier, pg. 43; African Burial Grounds                                                                                   

[125]    Sherrill D. Wilson, New York City's African Slaveowners: A Social and Material Culture History, 1994, Garland Publishing, pg. 37, Williams, pg. 15

[126]   Lanier, pg. 24, also see Edward Abdy, Journal of a Residence and Tour in the United States of North America, from April, 1833 to Oct., 1834, London: J. Murray, 1835; Wilson, pg. 39; Williams, pg. 15; Condon; McManus; Ottley; also see Ashbury, 1977; Blackmar, 1989; and Stokes, 1915-1928

[127]   Lanier, pg. 83

[128]    Lanier, pg. 84

[129]    Goodfriend, pg. 116                                                

[130]    T. Watson Smith, “The Slave in Canada”, Nova Scotia Historical Society Collections, Vol. X, Pg. 23; Gail Buckley, American Patriots, 2001, Random House, pg. 35; Graham Russell Hodges, pg. 47

[131]   Chapter 1700 of the Laws of 1775 of the Colony of New York; Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the American Revolution, 1961, Chapel Hill Books, pg. 17

[132]  Quarles, pg. 140

[133]  Chapter of the Laws of 1781 of New York State; W.E. Hartgrove, “The Negro Soldier in the American Revolution”, Journal of Negro History, 1916, vol. 1, pgs. 113-119; Edgar J. Mc Manus, “Anti-slavery Legislation in New York”, The Journal of Negro History, vol. XLVI, October, 1961, pg. 208

[134]    The Council of Revision was established in 1777, it was created to ensure that laws inconsistent with the Constitution did not become law. The Council was composed of the Governor, any two of the following: the Chancellor and Judges of the State Supreme Court. Their charge was to review all the bills that passed the NY State Senate and Assembly before the bills became law. If they considered a bill to be improper, it was sent back to its House of origination and reconsidered. The negative actions of the Council constituted a veto of the legislation and required two-thirds of both Houses to become law. The veto powers of the Council of Revision are now vested in the Governor, alone, after the Council’s abolishment in 1821. This restructuring can be attributed to the Council vetoes of previous proposed legislation that denied enfranchisement to African Americans, See Alfred B. Street, The Council of Revision of the State of New York…., 1859, Wm. Gould, Publisher, pg. 5-6

[135] Street, pg. 268-269 

[136]  Street, pg. 269; Liwack, pg. 8; Zilversmit, pg. 147-150; McManus, Journal of Negro History, pg. 209-210; 

[137] Chapter 68 of the Laws of 1785 of New York State

[138] Chapter 40 of the Laws of 1788 of New York State 

[139] Chapter 62 of the Laws of 1799 of New York State      

[140]   Zilversmit, pg. 182; White, pg. 20-23, 54-55

[141] William Strickland, Journal of a Tour of the United States of America 1794-1795, ed. J.E. Strickland, 1971, New York Historical Society, pg. 163-164

[142] This “Maintenance fee” was reduced by Chapter 188 of the Laws of 1801 to $3.00 and again reduced by Chapter 52 of the Laws of 1802 to $2.00 per child per month.


Note: The New York State Archives contains extensive records with respect to these transactions, however, due to age a good portion of these records are barely legible. 


[143]  Journal of the Assembly of the State of New York, 1804 and 1805, pg. 56 

[144] Zilversmit, pg. 182


 NOTE: The Gradual Abolition Act proved to be the precursor for the future enacted “Foster Care System” in NY and other northern states.


[145] Chapter 62 of the Laws of 1799 of New York State; Harry P. Yoshpe, “Records of Enslaved Manumission in New York During the Colonial and Early National Periods”, Journal of Negro History, vol. XXVI, 1941, pgs. 78-104, Also see Eichholz and Rose, New York Manumissions, 1977, pg. 221-222; White, pg. 28-29


[146]  Zilversmit, pg. 213

[147]   Chapter of the Laws of New York State of 1804         

[148] Chapter 77 of the Laws of 1807 of New York State

[149] Chapter 906 of the Laws of 1808 of New York State

[150]  Chapter188  of the Laws of 1814 of New York State         

[151] Sample Entries Abolitionism, The Encyclopedia of New York State,

[152]    White, pg. 10

[153] The American Colonization Society, 

[154]    See A Brief Account of General Jackson’s Dealings in Negroes, in a Series of Letters and Documents by His Own Neighbors, a campaign document issued in 1828 by the National Republicans of New York State. It depicts candidate Jackson as an abuser of his enslaved Africans. Connecticut Historical Society Collections (African American Resources) 

[155]    See American Colonization Society, Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth edition, 2001; American Colonization Society,; The American Colonization Society website,

[156]   See The Encyclopedia of New York State, The American Colonization Society website,; Also see: McManus, Zilversmit, Litwack and Quarles.           

[157]   See Herbert Aptheker and Carter C. Woodson 

[158] Quarles, pg. 15

[159]   James Boardman, America, and the Americans…. By a Citizen of the World, 1833, Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, & Longman, pg. 244-249; 

[160]   Roi Ottley and William J. Weatherby, eds. The Negro in New York: An Informal Social History, 1967, Oceana Publications, pg. 59-60

[161]  A. J. Williams-Myers, Long Hammering, 1994, Africa World Press, pg. 55                                         

[162] McManus, A History of Negro Slavery in New York, pg. 170-177; Litwack, pg. 216-223; White, pg. 38


NOTE: For a more in-depth accounting of the kidnapping of free people of African descent - for sale to the south, see 12 Years a Slave, Solomon Northrup’s memoir and narrative, 1853.                                                                 

[163]    Sherrill D. Wilson, Foreword, pg. vii

[164]   Quarles, pg. 23-41

[165] Litwack, pg. 216-223; also see Quarles, Black Abolitionists

[166]   Martin R. Delany, The Condition, Elevation, Emigration and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States Politically Considered, (Philadelphia, published by the author, 1852). Reprinted by Arno Press, 1968, pgs. 10, 24-25, 27

[167] Rev. Jeremiah R. B. Smith was born in Brooklyn April 19, 1846. After his father’s death he became a pupil in the Model Grammar School and Upper Canada College at Toronto, Canada. He became a writer at the Toronto Globe at the age of thirteen, and afterward was a contributor to the Anglo-African, a newspaper printed in the interests of the Negro race. After the war in 1866, he became a correspondent of the Democrat and Chronicle 

of Rochester, whereupon he became editor and proprietor of the Western Echo at Bath, N.Y. The Echo was the organ of the colored men of the state, and after being moved to Utica for a time, it moved to Brooklyn in 1881. 

[168] Quarles, Black Abolitionists, also see Zilversmit

[169] An Historical Memoir of the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery; Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage and for Improving the Conditions of the African Race, 1848, by Edward Needles – pg. 64 as quoted in Quarles, pg. 13; McManus, pgs.182-184

[170]   See Gilder Lehrman, The Origins and Nature of New World Slavery, Abolition

[171]  Chapter 188 of the Laws of 1817 of New York


Note: C. E. Pierre in his article, “The Work of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel

          in Foreign Parts (SPG) among the Negroes in the Colonies”, The Journal of Negro 

          History, Vol. 1, 1916, pg. 349-360; suggests that the difficulty that the (SPG)

          Encountered with respect to the conversion of slaves in the Colonies came from the 

           enslavers and not from the enslaved, themselves. He states “that the missionaries of 

           that colony were frustrated by the slaveowners who would by no means permit their 

           Negroes to be baptized, having a false notion that a christened slave is by law free”


[172]    Edwin Vernon Morgan, “Slavery in New York: The Status of the Slave under the English Colonial Government,” “Harvard Historical Review” 5, January 1925, pg. 338, also see A. J. Williams-Myers, pg. 43


Note: This amended version of the 1664 Duke’s Law further stated that this law “shall not set at liberty any Negro or Indian slave, who shall have turned Christian after they had been bought by any person.


[173]    See Zilversmit, McManus and C. E. Pierre

[174]   Zilversmit, pg. 8-9; Graham Russell Hodges, pg. 35-39; also see McManus; Pierre


Note: In 1706, the Colony of New York passed a law “An Act to Incourage the Baptizing of Negro, Indian and Mulatto Slaves”, it was meant to reassure slaveowners that if they baptized their slaves they would not “become free and ought to be sett at Liberty.” 


[175]   C. E. Pierre, pg. 357; see “Special Report of United States Commission on Education”, 1871, pg. 362; also see Zilversmit; McManus 

[176]   IBID                                                                 

177   McManus, pg. 76; David Humphreys, Account of the Endeavors Used by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts to Instruct the Negro Slaveowners in New York, 1730, London

[178]   Williams, pg. 18

[179] Quarles, pg. 122 

[180]   Hodges, Enslavedry and Freedom, xii

[181]  NOTE: This practice was not restricted to New York State. In Washington, D.C. in 1862, Congress abolished enslavement in the district and paid cash compensations to the holders of enenslavedd Africans who established claims within a specified period. See Wilson, 18

[182]  Chapter 188 of the Laws of 1817 of New York

[183]   Kruger, 865

[184]    Charter of the International Military Tribunal, Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Vol. 1; II. JURISDICTION AND GENERAL PRINCIPLES Article 6

[185] Report of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance; Sources, causes, forms and contemporary manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intoleranceDurban, 31 August - 8 September 2001; hereafter referred to as WCAR Report.

[186]   Ibid

[186]   WCAR Report, “Provisions of effective remedies, recourse, redress, and compensatory and other measures at the national, regional and international levels”, #100, 21







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