I've never been to New York City. It's on my bucket list, but if I never make it there, I won't be heartbroken. Big cities, crowds, and noise just aren't my thing. But just between you and me, as a history nerd, I would love to time-travel to New York City in the 1700s. Not live there, mind you, but take in all the sights and nuances before coming back to my modern comfy home with air conditioning, indoor plumbing, and wifi. One event from that time period, however, is something I would definitely not want to witness.
After England took over the colony of New Amsterdam from the Dutch in 1664, renaming it in honor of the Duke of York, they began importing more slaves directly from Africa rather than the West Indies. By 1712, the population of New York City was between 6,000 and 8,000 people, of whom approximately 1,000 were enslaved black people working as domestic servants, artisans, dock workers and various skilled laborers. Unlike the sprawling slave plantations of the south where slaves
On the evening of April 6, a group of more than twenty slaves gathered in an orchard on Maiden Lane (near Broadway) in the center of town. Armed with swords, knives, hatchets and guns, the group sought to inspire the city’s slaves to rise up against their masters by staging a dramatic revolt. To gain the attention of the white slave owners, an outhouse was set on fire at the home of Peter Van Tilburg. When the town's residents responded to fight the fire, they were confronted by twenty-three slaves (though reports ran as high as one hundred). They attacked, killing nine people and injuring another six. Some of the panic-stricken residents ran to the fort at Battery Park and alerted governor Robert Hunter who discharged the militia to scour the city for the rioters.
Many of the slaves ran north through a wooded swamp and escaped. Seventy people were rounded up near present day Canal Street and taken into custody, although it is not clear if all had participated in the riot or were simply innocent bystanders. While awaiting trial, six of the black rioters took matters into their own hands and committed suicide. Eventually forty slaves were brought to trial. Eighteen were acquitted, and a few more were pardoned, but the remaining captives suffered greatly for their rebellion. Four were burned alive at the stake. One was tortured and killed by a medieval breaking wheel. Another was chained and starved to death, and thirteen were hanged. Among those who were hanged was a pregnant woman. She was allowed to give birth before she was led to the gallows. Afterwards, harsh rules were enacted to control the black population including restrictions on gathering, gambling, owning weapons, and travel. A high tax was placed on anyone desiring to set his slave free – often much higher than what the slave would bring at auction. This almost guaranteed the perpetual enslavement of African Americans living in New York.
The American Revolution would take place sixty years later. American Patriots would fight for their freedom on the same streets as those brave enslaved men and women fought on in 1712. How very sad that the citizens of our country in those days didn't recognize the injustice of keeping men and women in bondage while at the same time declaring their own freedom and independence. It would be another 153 years before slavery was abolished in the United States.
Your turn: Have you ever been to New York City? What was your favorite thing to see and do? Did you visit any historical sites? Do tell!!
THE WIDOW OF ROSE HILL