New York: multiethnic, liberal, progressive—and a nexus of slavery in North America.
Occasioned by the discovery of what is now called the African Burial Ground, alongside what is now New York’s City Hall (but well beyond the original city limits), these 12 essays from authorities on African-American history address the fact that “for nearly three hundred years, slavery was an intimate part of the lives of all New Yorkers, black and white.” No sooner had the Dutch arrived than were slaves with names such as Big Manuel and Simon Congo at work clearing land throughout the Hudson Valley, though they soon, as historian Christopher Moore notes, “undertook what certainly was one of the first organized job actions by workers in North America,” successfully petitioning for wages. Conditions would not improve when rule of New York fell to the British; the rule of law would extend to Africans and African-Americans, but almost always to control behavior rather than protect their persons or interests. Colonial governor Robert Hunter was appalled when, after a slave uprising in 1712, New York authorities executed 24 men (and one woman) for their actions, remarking that in the West Indies, “where their laws against their slaves are most severe,” a handful would have been killed as an example to others. Laws were remade to uphold and strengthen slavery in New York in the early days of American independence, and New York was far slower than its neighbors to move toward abolition; in the years preceding the Civil War, its economy was so bound up with the South’s that, wrote one journalist, it was “almost as dependent upon Southern slavery as Charleston itself.” Illustrated with reproduced documents, artwork and photographs, the volume concludes with a consideration of African-American life in New York after the war until the turn of the century.
A fine work of scholarship, offering a view of the metropolis that few today know.