As this year marks 400 years since the first African slaves were brought to America, much attention has been paid to what that means and how to remember this solemn anniversary. The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission issued a story map highlighting landmarks of the abolitionist movement in New York City. Absent from the map were a number of incredibly important sites in Greenwich Village, the East Village, and Noho, which were a hotbed of abolitionist activity through the 19th century, as well as the home of the city’s largest African American community. Ahead, learn about 14 significant sites of the anti-slavery movement.
Screenshot of the map courtesy of the Landmarks Preservation Commission
For roughly 200 years, between 1626 and 1827, New York City was home to more enslaved Africans than almost every other city in the country. But after abolishing slavery nearly 40 years before the nation, the city became a major player of the national abolitionist movement, housing anti-slavery activists and organizations, as well as many stops on the Underground Railroad. Now 400 years after the first enslaved Africans arrived in the United States, the Landmarks Preservation Commission released this week an interactive story map highlighting designated city landmarks tied to the abolitionist movement.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the designation of the Greenwich Village Historic District. One of the city’s oldest and largest landmark districts, it’s a treasure trove of rich history, pioneering culture, and charming architecture. Village Preservation will be spending 2019 marking this anniversary with events, lectures, and new interactive online resources, including a celebration and district-wide weekend-long “Open House” starting on Saturday, April 13 in Washington Square. Check here for updates and more details. This is part of a series of posts about the Greenwich Village Historic District marking its golden anniversary.
It’s not that often you can pinpoint a time and place and say the course of history was forever changed as a result of it. It’s even less common for such a thing to happen over and over again in one small neighborhood. But from its earliest days, Greenwich Village is where history has been made, much of it within the Greenwich Village Historic District, which lies at its heart. Here are a baker’s dozen of such events located within those one hundred blocks, from the first free black settlement in North America and the birth of the modern LGBT rights movement to the first museum dedicated to contemporary American art and the publication of “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”
The history of Weeksville: When Crown Heights had the second-largest free black community in the U.S., Wed, July 18, 2018
Historic Hunterfly Road Houses via the Brooklyn Historical Society
It’s a mighty sounding moniker, but the name “King’s County” also speaks to Brooklyn’s less-than-democratic origins. At the turn of the 19th century, the city of Brooklyn was known as the “slaveholding capital” of New York State and was home to the highest concentration of enslaved people north of the Mason-Dixon Line. But, after New York State abolished slavery in 1827, free black professionals bought land in what is now Crown Heights and founded Weeksville, a self-supporting community of African American Freedman, which grew to become the second-largest free black community in Antebellum America. By 1855, over 520 free African Americans lived in Weeksville, including some of the leading activists in the Abolitionist and Equal Suffrage movements.
Photo of Harriet Tubman statue in Harlem via denisbin on Flickr
For over 200 years, and leading up to the Civil War, most of New York City favored slavery because the region’s cotton and sugar industries depended on slave labor. During the colonial era, 41 percent of NYC’s households had slaves, compared to just six percent in Philadelphia and two percent in Boston. Eventually, after the state abolished slavery in 1827, the city became a hotbed of anti-slavery activism and a critical participant of the Underground Railroad, the network of secret churches, safe houses and tunnels that helped fugitive slaves from the south reach freedom. While some of these Underground Railroad sites no longer exist or have relocated, a few of the original structures can be visited today, including Brooklyn’s Plymouth Church and the Staten Island home of staunch abolitionist Dr. Samuel Mackenzie Elliott. Ahead, travel along the Underground Railroad with 15 known stops in New York City.
Draft Riots in New York (1863) via NYPL
Typically seen as a beacon of freedom and diversity, New York also served as the capital of slavery in the United States for nearly 200 years. Before the American Revolution, more enslaved Africans lived in New York City than every city except South Carolina, with over 40 percent of the city’s households owning slaves. However, the state eventually became an epicenter for abolition efforts, as well as a destination for many slaves escaping enslavement in the south. To further the public’s understanding of New York’s relationship with slavery, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice has created a searchable database of slaves and their owners (h/t WNYC).
On this day in 1645, a freed slave became the first non-Native settler to own land in Greenwich Village, Fri, July 14, 2017
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.”
Map of freedmen’s farmland via Slavery in New York (L); Harper’s Magazine illustration of the New York City slave market in 1643 (R)
A stranger on horseback in 1650 riding up a road in Manhattan might have noticed black men working farmland near the Hudson River. It was not an unusual sight, and if he remarked on it at all to himself, he would have thought they were simply slaves working their masters’ land. But no–these were freedmen working land they personally owned and had owned for six years. It was land in what is now the Far West Village and it had been granted to eleven enslaved men along with their freedom in 1644.
In 1626, the year Manhattan was formally settled by the Dutch, these eleven African men had been rounded up in Angola and Congo and shipped to the New World to work as slaves clearing land and building fortifications. We know they were from there because the manifests of Dutch ships list them with names such as Emmanuel Angola and Simon Congo. Another of the eleven was named Willem Anthonys Portugies, suggesting that he may have been bought and sold in Portugal before reaching his final destination in New Amsterdam.
Behind all the banks, tall towers and tourists filling up FiDi is a dark past most of us know nothing about. Back in the 1700s, a corner of Wall Street at Pearl Street played host to the city’s official slave market. Though no real recognition has been given to those that suffered in the construction of Manhattan in its earliest days—rather, the area’s sordid past has for the better part been swept under the rug—WNYC reports that the city will finally pay tribute to these forgotten slaves, adding a historical marker to the site where the slave market once operated.