The New York Slave Rebellions You Never Learned About In School

According to the New Netherland Institute, New York was originally settled by the Dutch as New Amsterdam in the early 1600s. There were few slaves in New Amsterdam and not a lot of racial tension. Slaves sued and beat whites in several court cases, and some of them were manumitted and given land in the colony. According to the institute, New Amsterdam records did not indicate prominent racial discrimination.

However, in 1664 when the British took control and renamed it New York, they enacted strict slave codes. As shown by the New York Historical Society’s fact sheet, slavery vastly expanded under the British, and soon there were more slaves in New York than any other American city besides Charleston, South Carolina. As part of their harsh rule, the British curtailed how slaves could act and even who they could spend time around.

In their book, “Slavery in New York,” Ira Berlin and Leslie Harris show how brutal life could be for slaves in 18th-century New York. The female mortality rate was horrific, and the majority of female slaves died by the time they reached 40 years old. Slave marriages were illegal until the early 19th century, in contrast to the New Amsterdam period when interracial marriage was legal and recognized. Despite their often fragmented and fractured lives, family ties were still strong, and most family members actually lived relatively close to each other within the city.

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