Slavery in America first began in New Amsterdam, which is now New York City, in 1627.
A dozen African slaves were sent by the Dutch West India Company to build the infrastructure of the infant city. In 1991, a very old cemetery was discovered during construction in Manhattan containing 419 slaves in a mass burial. It is estimated at least 20,000 more are buried under nearby buildings.
In 1681, laws were passed forbidding slaves to leave their master's house without permission, could not own weapons, could not gather in groups of more than four, could not be invited into white homes, be sold liquor or be given goods or money. Blacks who became free in New York City after 1712 could not own a house or pass belongings to their children. In 1773, white residents were required to take any slave found in the streets after dark to be whipped.
During the colonial period, 41 percent of all households in New York City owned slaves, more than any other city in America. That compares to 6 percent of households in Philadelphia and 2 percent in Boston. Slaves accounted for 20 percent of the population of New York City.
Slaves built Trinity Church, Frauncescq Tavern, the wall on Wall Street, the first city hall, Fort Amsterdam in Battery Park and many other New York City landmarks. Many New York and New England landmarks were built by slaves decades before slavery moved down South.
Slavery was finally abolished in New York state on July 4, 1827, but the economy of the city was still tied to the slave trade in the South and the Caribbean until the end of the Civil War in 1865.
Harry Joe King