I recently saw an announcement that New York City will publicly acknowledge for the first time that it sanctioned a huge slave market on Wall Street from 1711 to 1762, and that a memorial marker will be erected on the site. This made me curious so I decided to do a little research on the Internet. While I knew that slavery had once flourished in New York (at one time 40% of residents owned slaves) I quickly learned that the city did not just tolerate the buying and selling of slaves, it actually organized the market! The City received tax revenue from every slave sold and itself used slave labor for infrastructure work for many years, including, it is said, the building of City Hall. I also read that thousands of Africans who passed through the Wall Street slave market contributed to the prosperity of companies like Aetna, New York Life and JPMorgan Chase, to name a few (WNYC FM Radio, 4/14/15). So it is no wonder that the Underground Railroad needed to keep moving escaping slaves north, out of New York City where even freed slaves were not safe. I probably would have paid less attention to the timely acknowledgement of NYC’s slave market had I not been immersed in the wonderful stories of courage told in Eric Foner’s Gateway to Freedom. I’m so glad this wonderful book is available now.
You can listen to Jim O’Grady’s report for WYNC radio, “City to Acknowledge It Operated a Slave Market for More Than 50 Years.”
Harriet Hoffman is a consultant specializing in grant writing and helping people maximize their Medicare and social security benefits. She is the volunteer coordinator for the NYC Independence Clubs.