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New York City Ran a Slave Market

New marker will acknowledge the bustling slave trade that helped build New York

(Cameron Davidson/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

In New York’s busy Financial District, money trades hands day in and day out, and fortunes are made. It was that way in the 1700s, too—but the trade included human cargo. Now, a new marker will commemorate the New York slave market and the city’s role in the brutal trafficking and enslavement of thousands.

It will be the first time the city has posted a sign acknowledging its role in the 1700s slave trade, Jim O’Grady reports for WNYC. The marker, which will be posted at the corner of Wall and Water Streets, will acknowledge a slave market that was the city’s “official location for buying, selling, and renting human beings.”

O’Grady writes that at least 750 of the city’s 5,000 residents in 1700 were slaves—and that number grew along with the city. By 1711, at least 40 percent of white households included a slave, and that year the city passed a charter establishing “a place for the more convenient hiring of slaves.” The market traded slaves who literally helped build Manhattan, constructing the wall that would give Wall Street its name, clearing land and even building the port and New York’s first City Hall.

The city is in the final stages of preparing the marker for its likely June 19, unveiling. O’Grady reports that it will be located about a block from where the original market stood.

“The…plaque will bear witness to the reality of those lives,” testified Judy Tate, co-founder of the American Slavery Project, at a hearing about the proposed marker last year. “People are surprised to learn that there were enslaved people in New York…It is only fitting that we have a plaque that recognizes the origins of Wall Street and denotes exactly what the most important commodity being traded there was; human beings.”

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