Studying the history of ‘Slavery in New York’ and particularly the Dutch period in the early 17th Century, is a complex and at times frustrating, because there are so many gaps in the historical records both archived in the U.S. and in the Netherlands that is akin to piecing together fragments of a puzzle.
By now we all should know that ‘Black History’ did not begin with slavery! However, we can’t talk about the origins of the colonial period in North America or any of the territories colonized by Europe without understanding how enslavement of African people influenced its development.
Fact Sheet: New Netherland was the territory granted to the Dutch West India Company in 1621 by the government of Holland. It stretched from Manhattan to Albany along both sides of the Hudson, then called the North River. New Amsterdam was the main settlement in the colony and was located at the tip of Manhattan Island. In 1655, New Netherland gained territory along the Delaware River.
The first enslaved Africans arrived in New Amsterdam around 1627. Some sources say that they came as a distinct group of 11 men, but recent scholarship suggests a less precise beginning. By comparison, the first “20 and odd” blacks arrived in Jamestown Colony in Virginia in 1619 and were then sold into slavery. Many of the early enslaved had Spanish or Portuguese names and may have been Christians. Later they came from areas of Africa where many people were Muslim.
By the late 1630s, there were 100 enslaved men and women in New Amsterdam, amounting to one-third of the population. Other northern colonies held slaves, too, but there were many more in New Amsterdam. In the early years of New Amsterdam, the enslaved worked for the Dutch West India Company, not for individual residents of the colony. On 27 June 2015, a plaque marking the site of New York City’s main 18th-century slave market was unveiled in Lower Manhattan by Mayor Bill de Blasio. Reflecting on 300 years of local history, he drew a comparison between black life then and now: “It was true two, three centuries ago, even though it was never acknowledged. It was true then, it is true today. It will be true tomorrow. Black lives matter.” The recognition of black New Yorkers’ vital role in the history of the city was long overdue [Source article: New York City’s Slave Market]
Without ‘slave labor’, New Amsterdam might not have survived. The enslaved sawed down trees, turned the soil so it could be farmed, built roads, and constructed important buildings. Wall Street today runs along what was once the wall of the fort, built by the enslaved. Africans in New Netherland and New Amsterdam wore Dutch clothing, learned the Dutch language, and adopted the Dutch Pentecost holiday of Pinkster as their own. The impact and influence of slavery in the Dutch Empire is explored in an exhibit entitled A Dishonorable Trade at Crailo State Historic Site in Rensselaer N.Y. http://nysparks.com/historic-sites/30/details.aspx
The Dutch West India Company began to grant partial freedom, referred to by historians as half-freedom, in the 1640s. These former enslaved owed a tax to the Company; white colonists did not. They also had to work for the colony whenever they were needed, and their children were automatically enslaved. However, these blacks no longer lived the life of the enslaved. They were able to farm their own lands, sell their produce, and keep the profits beyond what they owed in tax. They also created the first black community in Manhattan, on farms granted them in the Land of the Blacks, located where Washington Square is now. [Reprinted from the ‘Slavery In New York – Fact Sheet’: Slavery in New York Fact Sheet].
Several state and city historic sites interpret the complex history of ‘Slavery in New York’ including sites in upstate NY. Namely, in Albany, NY (Harriet and Stephen Myers Residence), a historic site that was part of the Underground Railroad and Schuyler Mansion State Historic; Crailo State Historic Site in Rensselaer in Brooklyn (Old Stone House), Harlem (Morris-Jumel Mansion), and in upper Manhattan (Inwood), the Dyckman Farmhouse. to name a few.