Browse Exhibits (2 total)
Under Dutch rule, New Amsterdam flourished in racial and cultural diversity because of its ideal location on New York Harbor, creating a center for a growing population of people from across the world living or doing business in the colony. Because of this, there is evidence of cultural exchange between different racial and cultural groups, making the social, economic, and political identities of the colony's Black denizens more complex than the general, American understanding of the institution of slavery. According to Dennis J. Maika, "...slavery based on race was not a foregone conclusion. In seventeenth-century Manhattan, free Africans often lived side by side with enslaved Africans. Native Americans, a diverse ethnic group of Africans, and many Europeans were all bound to labor as indentured servants" (1).
According to Peter R. Christoph, enslaved people had privileges and responsibilities comparable to other "non-citizens, such as resident aliens" (157). They can bring lawsuits to court, get married, take care of their own children, own "moveable property," and were permitted to raise their own crops on Company land as well as hire themselves out for wages elsewhere when not at work for the Company.
This exhibit is meant to recreate a slice of colonial life and highlight the complex aspects of Black life and slavery in New Amsterdam in order to gain more understanding of race relationships under Dutch rule, in comparison to the later on British rule.
Maika, Dennis J. New Amsterdam History Center, July 2010. American History Workshop Doc. 541.DJM.2. Appendix II, Part B: A Historical Background Summary: "Justice for the Enslaved?"
Christoph, Peter R., "The Freedmen of New Amsterdam." Selected Rennesselaerwicjk Papers, New York State Library. 1991.
Thelma Wills Foote described the English colonial period in New York as the time of change in racialization within the colony and outward aggression and alienation towards the Black population and Black life in the colony, "Whereas before a deep cleavage existed between the English rulers and the broader settler population, which was divided within itself by confessional, linguistic, natal, and social distinctions, solidarity prevailed between the English colonial authorities and the settlers and, importantly, within the settler community. Whereas the colonial state was once broadly perceived as the tyrannical foe that had commited the crime of judicial murder against respected member of the settler community, it was now widely regarded as the vigilant protector that exercised the legitimate use of violence against the city's Black population, a dangerous and alien presence that for the most part had not converted to Christianity and, though living in close physical proximity to the settlers, remained strangers in their midst."
Under English rule, the colony began policing and restricting the freedoms and physical movements of Black New Yorkers. While the colony's Black population consists of people from the global diaspora of Blackness, from the African continent to the Caribbean islands and Iberian territories, this time was also a time of increased generalization of all variant forms of Blackness to be treated as alien to the white colonists within social relations of the colony. This was the moment in the city's history when widespread restrictions and violent ramifications were encouraged by the governing authority against Black New Yorkers, mainly on the basis of oppression of the race. The legal allowance of this oppression based on race serves as the starting point in New York's long history of racism, structural or encrypted, against its Black denizens.
(1) Foote, Thelma Wills, Black and White Manhattan: The History of Racial Formation in Colonial New York City. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004. 124.