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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Slavery in New York

Instead of a postcard today, here's an ad James found when doing research for an article he's writing. Searching through a New-York Evening Post from February 1817, on a page mostly dedicated to selling dry goods and real estate, he stumbled upon this short ad:

FOR SALE, a coloured WOMAN, aged 20 years; sober and honest; a good cook, and capable of all kinds of house-work. Enquire at this office.
It is so easy to think that New York has always been a liberal, educated, progressive place--and then an ad like that pops up to remind us that this woman was being treated the same as a team of horses or a vacant lot on Bleecker Street.

As we write about in both Inside the Apple and Footprints in New York, New York's connection to slavery was deep. The Dutch first began importing enslaved Africans in the middle of the seventeenth century and despite the fact that gradual manumission began in 1799, New York was actually the second-to-last northern state to abolish slavery. (For the record, some enslaved people in New Jersey did not get their full freedom until the Civil War.)

The original Dutch Slave Market
In 1817, the same year this advertisement ran, New York's governor, Daniel Tompkins, finally announced that he'd given the state legislature a ten-year timetable for abolition. The legislature, fearing they'd be voted out of office by slave-holding New Yorkers, took the full decade, declaring July 4, 1827, to be emancipation day in the state of New York.

Yet, New York still thrived on the profits of slavery--so much so that when the Civil War started, Mayor Fernando Wood suggested the city secede from the Union so as to not lose its lucrative shipping contracts with southern planters.

A few years ago, the New-York Historical Society hosted a landmark exhibition on the history of slavery in the city and they've kept their very informative website going a resource for students and anyone interested in this sad chapter in the city's history:

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Explore more NYC history in

If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
you can order it from your favorite online retailers (AmazonBarnes and Nobleetc.) or

And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

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