I had crossed the line. I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land.
– Harriet Tubman
New York City has a history that it doesn’t like to talk about–much.
Back in 1992, I caught wind of an African Burial ground in Manhattan.
This was HUGE back in the day to know, since the conditions of slavery has been treated to be only a southern thing.
Of course we know that slavery existed in the North, but we never really paid attention or asked how deep was it rooted in making New York City the city it is today.
Here are a few random facts about Slavery in New York City:
- The first slave auction in the city took place in 1655 at Pearl and Wall Street-then on the East River.
- In 1703, 42 percent of New York’s households had slaves, much more than Philadelphia and Boston combined.
- In 1653, slaves built a Wall (known as Wall Street today) to protect the Dutch from Indian raids.
- In New York, slavery remained economically important. Emancipation came grudgingly, and not completely until 1827.
That is just the tip of the iceberg too!
When I first found out these things, I was amazed. Never before had I really put it together that the conditions in New York City was just as harsh as the conditions in the Southern States.
As for the African Burial Ground that is located in Manhattan, it was a burial ground for many freed and the enslaved Africans. Over half the people buried at the site were children under 12, so that gives us the idea of the mortality rate.
Another activity that I did after I found this information was head over to the Brooklyn Museum. There, I found paintings of Brooklyn when it was mainly farm land. Looking closer at the paintings, I was able to see that slaves were drawn and painted into the picture as well.
This gave a visual context to the conditions as well as what Brooklyn looked like a long time ago.
It’s a truly an experience to connect the dots and fully understand how huge slavery really was in New York City, and how much this city depended on it.
To know more information about the African Burial Ground, you can check out their website located here.
Excerpt from the National Park Services:
From about the 1690s until 1794, both free and enslaved Africans were buried in a 6.6-acre burial ground in Lower Manhattan, outside the boundaries of the settlement of New Amsterdam, later known as New York. Lost to history due to landfill and development, the grounds were rediscovered in 1991 as a consequence of the planned construction of a Federal office building.
Have you heard of the African Burial Ground in New York City? How about slavery in New York City?