Secrets of New York City


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.

Secrets of New York City

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?

{References: 1, 2, 3}

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AndreaKalleyC (JessicaRabiaNellie Recent comment authors
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Thanks so much for sharing this. I didn’t know it existed. I’ll make sure we visit the next time we’re in the city.

Cam Bibs and Baubles

This is fascinating. It’s really disturbing that most of the graves were those of children. Truly disturbing.


I knew about slavery in new york. Because contrary to popular opinion, slavery was everywhere in the beginning. I am facinated with the history of this. What were the slaves working conditions? Were there more slaves than free? How did the free and slaves interact? DId they? I love history, so I’m going to research this myself. I find it facinating that “wall street” was built by slaves.


I always thought making up North was like the goal of slaves. Thanks for sharing this. I too would have never known.


Wow, I had no idea! Thanks for sharing this! I’ll have to check this out the next time I’m in the city.


I remember learning about this WAY back in the day but it was totally awesome to read a refresher. Thanks for sharing this important info!


I never knew that. Like you, I always think of slavery being a Southern thing. It’s amazing the new things you can learn with a little bit of research!


Yes, I have. It’s amazing how little most Americans know about slavery in New York and the other Northern states for that matter. I focused on slavery and slave narratives in my graduate work, so that was really the only way that I was fortunate to learn of that history. It’s assumed, I assumed, that slavery was a Southern thing, but as I learned, and as others learn, it’s not. While the lives of slaves in the two places (North and South) may have varied a bit, their conditions, their livelihoods, their freedoms were in many ways very similar. It’s… Read more »


You are so right – people rarely discuss slavery outside of the south. It was only recently that I learned about how deep slavery was in Jamaica. I had no idea about the NY burial ground. Good stuff here. Thanks for sharing.