The Empire State of Slavery

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In New York and Slavery: Time to Teach The Truth, Professor Alan Singer of Hofstra University explores the largely untold history of slavery in New York City. African enslavement commenced soon after the Dutch landed here in 1609 and gradually increased until it was abolished (somewhat) in the early 19th century. According to Professor Singer, slaves were largely responsible for building the city’s first homes, harvesting its first crops, transforming a forgotten Indian path into Broadway, and erecting the walls at Wall Street.

When New York became a British colony, the corporate elite turned the slave trade into such a lucrative enterprise that the city became its leading port. Slavery was a lucrative business in the Big Apple in the late 18th/ early 19 centuries; the number of slave-owning households in New York City surpassed those in the entire state of South Carolina. When the New York Stock Exchange opened in 1792, all of its 177 stockholders were slave-owners; in fact, Africans were among the first “commodities” on the auction block. It’s easy to see that slavery wasn’t merely a “Southern thing” when one considers the forced labor that helped build the Empire State.

At the same time, New York City was quickly becoming a leading center for abolitionism and other reform movements.  While many New Yorkers profited from the spoils of human captivity, many others vehemently denounced it; an “irrepressible conflict” for New Yorkers and all Americans that would only culminate in unprecedented warfare.

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