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African Burial Ground National Monument
Photo by NatalieMaynor
African Burial Ground National Monument is a monument at Duane Street and African Burial Ground Way (Elk Street) in the Civic Center section of Lower Manhattan, New York City. Its main building is the Ted Weiss Federal Building at 290 Broadway. The site contains the remains of more than 419 Africans buried during the late 17th and 18th centuries in a portion of what was the largest colonial-era cemetery for people of African descent, some free, most enslaved. Historians estimate there may have been as many as 10,000–20,000 burials in what was called the "Negroes Burial Ground" in the 1700s. The five to six acre site's excavation and study was called "the most important historic urban archaeological project in the United States." The Burial Ground site is New York's earliest known African-American "cemetery"; studies show an estimated 15,000 African American people were buried here.
The discovery highlighted the forgotten history of enslaved Africans in colonial and federal New York City, who were integral to its development. By the American Revolutionary War, they constituted nearly a quarter of the population in the city. New York had the second-largest number of enslaved Africans in the nation after Charleston, South Carolina. Scholars and African-American civic activists joined to publicize the importance of the site and lobby for its preservation. The site was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1993 and a National Monument in 2006 by President George W. Bush.
In 2003 Congress appropriated funds for a memorial at the site and directed redesign of the federal courthouse to allow for this. A design competition attracted more than 60 proposals for a design. The memorial was dedicated in 2007 to commemorate the role of Africans and African Americans in colonial and federal New York City, and in United States history. Several pieces of public art were also commissioned for the site. A visitor center opened in 2010 to provide interpretation of the site and African-American history in New York.
Early History of Slavery in New York City
Slavery in the New York City area was introduced by the Dutch West India Company in New Netherland in about 1626 with the arrival of Paul D'Angola, Simon Congo, Lewis Guinea, Jan Guinea, Ascento Angola, and six other men. Their names denote their place of origin- Angola, the Congo, and Guinea. Two years after their arrival three female Angolan slaves arrived. These two groups heralded the beginning of slavery in what would become New York City, and which would continue for two hundred years.
The first slave auction in the city took place in 1655 at Pearl Street and Wall Street - then on the East River. Although the Dutch imported Africans as slaves, it was possible for some to gain freedom or "half-freedom" during the time of Dutch rule. In 1643, Paul D'Angola and his companions petitioned the Dutch West India Company for their freedom. Their request was granted, resulting in their acquisition of land on which to build their own houses and farm. By the mid-17th century, farms of free blacks covered 130 acres where Washington Square Park later appeared. Enslaved Africans were granted certain rights and afforded protections such as the prohibition against arbitrary physical punishment.
The English seized New Amsterdam in 1664, and renamed the fledgling settlement to New York (after the Duke of York). The new city administration changed the rules governing slavery in the colony. At the time of the seizure, some forty percent of the small population of New Amsterdam were enslaved Africans. The new rules regarding slavery were more restrictive than those of the Dutch, and rescinded many of the former rights and protections of enslaved residents, such as the prohibition against arbitrary physical punishment.
In 1697 Trinity Church gained control of the burial grounds in the city and passed an ordinance excluding blacks from the right to be buried in churchyards. When Trinity took control of the municipal burial ground, now its northern graveyard, it barred Africans from burials within the city limits. Through much of the 18th century, the African burying ground was beyond the northern boundary of the city, which was just beyond what is today Chambers Street.
As the city population increased, so did the number of residents who held slaves. "In 1703, 42 percent of New York's households had slaves, much more than Philadelphia and Boston combined." Most slaveholding households had only a few slaves, used primarily for domestic work. By the 1740s, 20 percent of the population of New York were slaves, totaling about 2,500 people. Enslaved residents also worked as skilled artisans and craftsmen associated with shipping, construction, and other trades, as well as laborers. By 1775, New York City had the largest number of enslaved residents of any settlement in the Thirteen Colonies excepted Charles Town, South Carolina, and had the highest proportion of Africans to Europeans of any settlement in the Northern colonies.