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A Slave's Walk in Colonial New York

By 1740, almost twenty percent of New York's population was African American and roughly half of white households owned at least one slave.  While slaves were forced to live and work alongside whites, they sought out the company of other African Americans. In narrow, bustling streets of the colonial city, enslaved people, especially men, walked great distances, conducted errands, and picked up news of the town.  White officials sought to control the slave population by passing laws that restricted their movements and actions.  But, as the following account shows, African Americans often risked punishment and resisted the laws. 

Consider this walk described by a slave named Pedro in 1741:

"last Fall he went out one Sunday Morning with Mrs. Carpenter's Negro Albany;...as they went along the Broad-Way, they met with Mr. Slydall's Jack, who was going to Comfort's for Tea-Water;...at the Market near Mr. DeLancey's House they met two other Negroes; and...Albany asked them all to go down to Hughson's and drink with them."

Pedro lived in the East Ward with his owner, the Dutch merchant Peter DePeyester. Albany probably lived near the Old Slip Market, a meat market at the bottom of Smith Street, because his owner, the butcher Elizabeth Carpenter, rented a stall there (the Old Slip was once known as the 'Great Flesh Market'). The DeLancey house, home of supreme court Chief Justice James DeLancey, was on Broadway between Little Queen and Little Stone Streets, just south of the Broadway Market, a forty-two- by twenty-five-foot market in the middle of Broadway, at Crown Street. If Pedro began his trip in the East Ward, he would have had to walk south down Queen Street or Little Dock Street to meet Albany near Carpenter's house; north up Smith Street to Wall Street, which he would have followed for three blocks, past the sugar refinery, past City Hall to Broadway, and from there northeast to the Broadway Market, to meet "two other Negroes"; and west to the river, down Crown or Cortlandt Street, which would put him and his three friends at the water pump in front of the Dutch cooper Gerardus Comfort's house, on the North (now Hudson) River, next door to the tavern of a cobbler named John Hughson—and that's without accounting for where they picked up Jack (Sleydall), whose residence in unknown.

Source | Jill Lepore, "The Tightening Vise: Slavery and Freedom in British New York," in Slavery in New York, eds. Ira Berlin and Leslie M. Harris (New York: New Press, 2005), 75-76.
Creator | Jill Lepore
Rights | Used by permission of the author.
Item Type | Book (excerpt)
Cite This document | Jill Lepore, “A Slave's Walk in Colonial New York,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed May 20, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/612.

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