Black Life in New Amsterdam, 1609-1664

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.