On this day in 1645, a freed slave became the first non-Native settler to own land in Greenwich Village
Plan of New York map courtesy of Curriculum Concepts International
In 1626, the Dutch West India Company imported 11 African slaves to New Amsterdam, beginning New York’s 200 year-period of slavery. One man in this group, Paolo d’Angola, would become the city’s first non-Native settler of Greenwich Village. As the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) discovered, and added to their Civil Rights and Social Justice Map, as a recently freed slave, d’Angola was granted land around today’s Washington Square Park for a farm. While this seems like a generous gesture from a slave owner, d’Angola’s land actually served as an intermediary spot between the European colonists and the American Indians, who sometimes raided settlements. This area, in addition to Chinatown, Little Italy, and SoHo, was known as the “Land of the Blacks.”
Paolo d’Angola was born in the early 1600s in Angola, Africa, which was then a Portuguese colony. He first arrived at the New Amsterdam harbor from a ship of the Dutch West India Company, along with seven other men. Simon Congo, Anthony Portuguese and John Francisco were part of this group, and they later would be given their own land near present East Houston Street. This first group of slaves was originally captured by the Portuguese along the West African coast and on the island in the Gulf of Guinea.
Slavery in Dutch colonies differed a bit from other colonies. They were given tasks by the company to clear land and construct buildings and roads, as well as other public work projects. These original slaves had some basic rights, like the right to marry, have children and work for wages during free time. Plus, slaves could own “moveable property” like pots, pans and clothes but not any real estate. They could even sue white colonists and testify against them in court.
The Dutch had a system to leave slavery through three stages: slavery, half-slave and freedmen. In 1644, these 11 slaves presented the director of the West India Company, Willem Kieft, a petition that demanded an end to their enslavement. They were granted partial and then full freedom, a reward for serving the company for 18 or 19 years. On July 14, 1645, d’Angola was granted this land with the understanding that a portion of proceeds would go back to the corporation. In addition to this annual tribute back to the company, the freedmen had to work for the company on demand and their children were owned by the company.
By 1664, about 30 free and half-free black landowners and their families lived in present Greenwich Village. Learn more about d’Angola and other historic figures of New York City with GVSHP‘s interactive map below.