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Plaque remembering the Wall Street Slave Market (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic unless noted)

Whether under Dutch, British, or American control, New York’s early development was supported by slavery. The Municipal Slave Market on present-day Wall Street between Water and Pearl streets operated from 1711 to 1762, and over three centuries since it was founded this history is finally recognized on an official city plaque.

The New York City slave market in New Amsterdam in 1655 (illustration by Howard Pyle from 1917, via Wikimedia) (click to enlarge)

The marker at Wall Street and Water Street was dedicated on Saturday, June 27, by Mayor Bill de Blasio. It was initially conceived back in 2011 during the activism of Occupy Wall Street, when Brooklyn-based artist and writer Chris Cobb began to research the site. Reaching out to places like the African Burial Ground National Monument which coordinated tours of Lower Manhattan including sites lacking markers, and Christopher Moore, former director of research at the Schomburg Center for Black Culture, Cobb helped develop the background information and advocate for the marker.

“The slave market was known about, but people really did not know too much about it,” Cobb told Hyperallergic. One gap was a visual of the place. “When I was researching it, I also realized that there must be some image of it somewhere, but it took me several years of hunting to find the only documented eyewitness drawing of it,” he explained. That moment finally came at the New York Public Library, with a 1716 map by William Burgis where he’d drawn every building on Manhattan’s East River shore. When the five-foot wide map is reproduced, the slave market is usually tiny, and as the center point it often gets caught in a book’s spine.

“I made an appointment with the rare books division at the New York Public Library and they brought out the map, and I saw it immediately at the foot of Wall Street with Trinity Church in the background,” Cobb stated. “It was an amazing moment. There it was. The invisible suddenly became visible again. So I photographed it and in Photoshop removed the ship that obstructed the market. That clear view of the market, unobstructed, is what is on the marker.”

Detail of the plaque with the Burgis map image of the Wall Street Slave Market

The marker is nestled between some slender trees in the canyon of skyscrapers on Wall Street, a street named for a wall that was partly built through slavery. The text alongside the Burgis map image, prepared by Moore of the Schomburg Center and the Parks Department and Landmarks Preservation Commission, states in part: “Slavery was introduced to Manhattan in 1626. By the mid-18th century approximately one in five people living in New York City was enslaved and almost half of Manhattan households included at least one slave.” It adds that although slavery was abolished by New York State in 1827, it wasn’t until 1841 that all enslaved people were freed due to enduring rights for non-resident slave owners.

At the dedication, Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver stated: “Caring for our city means understanding its history — including its darkest periods.” Despite the numerous historic plaques in the city, with over 500 in New York City parks alone, much of this dark history goes overlooked. For example, just down the street from the new slave market marker are scars on the J. P. Morgan building from a 1920 bombing that killed 39, something only touched on in an informational plaque further down the street. The city’s history of slavery, which finally got major recognition with the unearthing of the African Burial Ground in 1990, remains significantly under recognized, such as the Second African Burial Ground which is without any sort of memorial beneath Sara D. Roosevelt Park.

“The market was the most significant to me because it was a metaphor for a lot of what is wrong with modernity in general, that linear narratives always favor the storyteller,” Cobb said.

Plaque remembering the Wall Street Slave Market installed at Wall Street and Water Street

View west on Wall Street from the site of the plaque

The marker for the Wall Street Slave Market is located at Wall Street and Water Street in Lower Manhattan. 

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...

23 replies on “Wall Street’s 18th-Century Slave Market Finally Recognized with Historic Marker”

  1. America must move past it’s past. We have learned many of the truths that our human mistakes have shown us. Racism is a human trait and has existed since we began to walk upright. Animals do not show the trait. Most people are actually very open to other races and beliefs. It appears that some political and media folks use the issue to further their agenda. I think that many Americans are beginning to ‘wise up’ to this. If you observe the large metro areas that have been in the control of liberal polititcians for decades (Chicago, Detroit, etc.) you can see the social and economic decay. The blame for this is regularly placed on ‘The Wealthy’.

    In fact, the problem is the result of liberal progressive policies that produce an entitlement mentality which in turn, produces social and economic malaise. Slavery was as much a part of daily life in those times as social media is today. This doesn’t make it right but it was a fact. It was the people who ended the practice and it will have to be We The People who must end the use of the issue to divide us.

    Racism, slavery, and climate change are all generating revenue for some and are dividing us as a nation in the process.

    1. I get what you’re trying to say, but you can’t just forget or ignore slavery, that’s like forgetting the Holocaust. Its part of our history and we need to remember history so we don’t repeat it.

    2. You have the right name ” JOKER JIM” ..you are indeed just another white joker in AmeriKKKKa… just another white benificiary of slavery and your forefathers crimes against humanity. Of course you want to forget about slavery and other crimes against humanity that your poeople perpetuated. I am sure sure John Gotti’s kids wants us to forget about how many people John Gotti had murdered so they can have that big house and that money making TV show.

      I guess its Liberals not 400 years of slavery and Jim Crow and white racism that created AmeriKKKa’s racial and economic divide. Its Liberals who made white people leave Detroit taking the jobs and tax base with them. Its Liberals who make sure all new Auto Plants are established in White areas of the State. Its Liberals who funnel trillions of dollars in government military spending to white own companies located in white areas across AmeriKKKa to prop up white AmerikKKKa. Its Liberals who made sure only white people received trillions of dollars i n government backed mortgages so you can build your white suburbs.

      Either you are ignorant of your past or you must have convenient amnesia Mr. Joker.

      The great writer William Faulkner wrote….”The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”. No truer words have been written.

      1. Yes, and it was also white men like my great great grandfather who fought for the north in the civil war so that you may speak your mind today.

        1. LOL.. Your Irish ancestors did not fight to FREE the black man, The Irish fighting in the Union Army sure as hell was not fighting so that the black man can speak freely and enjoy the fruits of liberty. Ever heard of the Irish Draft Riots in NYC 1863?? when your Irish ancestors angered by Abe Lincoln’s pursuit of the War against their white racist kin folk in the South carried out pogroms against defenseless black men, women and children lynching and butchering thousands in good ole New York New York?, abetted and aided by new York’s finest.. NYPD???. the Irish are not exactly famous for their fondness of Black people… On Judgment Day you Irish have a lot to answer too…. for your crimes against God’s chosen people!

          1. My GG Grandfather fought in the civil war and I have his original discharge papers. Whether he fought to free the black man or not, I wouldn’t know but that was the result,wasn’t it?
            And who prey tell are god’s chosen people?

          2. Well .. that’s better ..You dont know.. to assert that he fought so I can speak freely today is quite a stretch.. Also keep in mind British took steps free black people in 1793, Lord John Graves Simcoe took steps to free black people in Upper Canada- Ontario 1793 and UK in 1807 taking full effect in 1834. The black Haitians wipe Napoleon’s @$$ in Haiti seizing power in 1804. So it was not like the blackman was sitting around waiting for Massa to FREE him. All over the Americas He had Massa Neanderthal shitting bricks day and night wondering when the Homo Sapien- black man/victim will bring him to justice with a swift cut of the machete. Sooner or later we would have freed our selves…..thats da blackman fo ya!!. Plus another 100 years of Jim Crow after Abe’s Emancipation Proclamation..I am not sure which was worse Jim Crow ‘s white terrorism or slavery? Plus the War on Black people has never been over in AmeriKKKa..never will be..it will last until white AmeriKKKa is no more,….. that’s when it will end. Its in White AmeriKKKa DNA to hate black people.. ONLY God knows why they hate Gods people so much. ..White AmeriKKKa is the Land of the Depraved..I guess that is why they hate God’s chosen people so much. they talk about Christianity..but they practice KKKristianity,…. big difference old chap.. and yes the Black man is God’s chosen people just read the Bible which is the history of the black race and it will open your eyes so you can see …. just like in Amazing Grace!!

          3. Well that’s better! Who the fuck do you think you are? And no, it isn’t quite a stretch!
            And god has nothing to do with it!
            Equality has not happened yet, I like to think it can but I don’t know that any more than you do.
            The greatest leader of the 20th century, MLK was cut down before he could help complete his work. You need to find a new leader as charismatic as King.
            This conversation has ended.

          4. I am the ghost of Denmark Vessey and Kunte Kinte …and I say it was a big stretch…. so go f..ck yo self.

            Please dont go Massa!! ..I want to conversate some mo!

          5. I’m not sure what you mean. Are you saying only “white people” are racist because its in our DNA? What is white AmeriKKKa? Are you saying that the KKK is in charge?

            Also, there are no chosen people.

          6. Yes I am saying that recent genomic sequencing has confirmed that white people ( Caucazoids) have up 9% Neanderthal DNA and are fully Homo Sapiens, therefore white people are not fully human and are hardwired to be “racists” or predisposed to lack “Human” empathy which separates from animals or beast.

            White AmeriKKKa is the 70% of white people who voted against Barack Obama, its the RepublikKKKan Party. Yes The KKK/ White supremacy exists in ALL of your institutions , your Police, Judiciary, Military, Wall Street, Political Parties, .Sports, Hollywood, …Every dam thing white people do is designed to undermine black people and institutionalize white supremacy.

            Trust me Black People are God’s Chosen people…if we were NOT the white man would have wipe us of the planet earth hundred of years ago like he did the Caribs,, Arawaks, Aboriginals all over the Americas and almost in Australia. Genocide is your modus operandi, but the black man is the “Original” Copy so you cant destroy us.

            Go to Ethiopia…..The Ark of the Covenant resides in the Black man’s hands and as long as it does we will survive War on Black people and in due course turn the War around in our favour. The black man has been on earth for million of years, our current situation is just a milli-second in the scheme of things and time. The White man came from us, how can a defective photocopy be better that the original copy? Its impossible!!. The Black gene is dominant even on genetic level.. I have no doubt ….we will right the ship in due course.

            I am not saying ALL white people are defective, because one can never generalze against an entire race of people, but there is no doubt the majority are hardwired to hate black people because of the Neanderthal DNA hardwired into them. That’s how I see it bud!

          7. Racism resides within every human population and group and there is not one study that explains your “conclusion” that 70% of “white people” are racists. Humans have racist tendencies (in every population – including Africans – which includes the entire humankind) because every population has survived better when they feared the other (typically neighboring tribes). Obviously as an individual now for example, you trust your family more than you trust another individual unrelated to you who you do not know. This is a fact in any part of the world. This is also partially where racism probably comes from. Religion is justifiably one of the reasons (Abrahamic religions) why racism continued for so long (i.e. slavery justified, and a quote from PBS “The official rationale for enslaving Africans was that they were heathens, but slave traders and slave owners sometimes interpreted a passage in the book of Genesis as their justification. Ham, they maintained, committed a sin against his father Noah that condemned his supposedly black descendants to be “servants unto servants.”)

            Your conclusion that whites are racist because they have a percentage of Neanderthal DNA is ridiculous and there is no scientific evidence that concludes that, nor any other kind of evidence. Your conclusions are merely your own, and your dislike for white individuals appears to be clearly the side effect of our societies faults (i.e. racial profiling, slavery…) and other constant discriminations you have faced, but you’re not the only one to have faced discrimination by a larger group. I have as well (and I’m “white”) I have experienced racism from other groups other than my own before (no where near as badly as other groups) by blacks, Asians, and Arabs. For you to conclude that “whites are racists” or a majority are is to include a racial bias of your own. (i.e. https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/user/agg/blindspot/indexrk.htm)

            You can see it how you want, but it doesn’t make it right, and judging by your comments above, a white person cannot stand up for equal rights without some hidden agenda.

  2. Yes the past is past. But until white people recognize that all of our privilege comes at the cost of other’s enslavement and domination we won’t get past the past. It will keep haunting us and daunting our progress as humans. It is only through our liberal policies that we try to make it right again. The wealthy “own” us. Wake up to the fact that the 1% make the policies and wheels that turn in our government. Joker, you may be a 1%er. We don’t live in a democracy any more

    1. I’m not wealthy. I’ve lived 64 years and experienced the cultural changes (good and bad) that have brought us to the place we are now. And for the record, America is a republic. Greece is a democracy and you can see where it’s taking them.

    2. SlaveMarket

      Come, lie by my side, on the ground, under this tree
      Look skyward, thru the branches,
      See separate the universe from thee.

      Appreciate the memory of good, and too, of the bad
      Think in terms of what you now have,
      And never will ever have had.

      Now blow in the wind, Fly on imagined wing
      Listen to the beauty
      Of the living as they sing.

      Where the rebuilt resembles past
      Construct obstructed, deconstruction seen as habit
      Future stands always, to beckon aghast.

      Repeated weakness, seemingly in different forms
      Yet still very much the same,
      Always the human condition, noted here now as norms.

      And pains remembered tomorrow, for a first time, again,
      Again,
      And still yet again.

      Michael Albert
      July 6, 2015

    3. Annah Haa I completely agree with everything you said except one little bit about your wording by saying “…until white people recognize…” privilege comes at the cost of others. This is a very biased position in that you’re saying white individuals are the only ones who don’t realize that we’re reaping benefits over the sufferings of a majority. First, if you live in the united states and you purchase anything from practically any store, you are part of the problem (i.e. you’re supporting the markets that make money from peoples misery – i.e. child labor, slavery of a different kind (i.e. forced labor in Uzbekistan cotton picking), your cellphone built by slaves working for 15-50 cents an hour in other countries). That is not to say you’re not trying to avoid buying those items.

      But to say that white people need to realize this is absurd because every race in this country seems to join this fucked up system of capitalistic gains from goods made so cheaply they never stop to think why. Now, obviously, the majority so far are white, but you’re ignoring the world is comprised of people from every nationality out there who gain from these systems. The American economy just benefits from it the most. If it wouldn’t be America it would be some other country. I agree with you people should recognize (everyone should recognize this…) that we are a very privileged few. Think of it this way right now, we’re all in this together.

      Right at this moment, 67 billionaires of the world own as much wealth as 3.5 billion people on earth. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesinsights/2014/03/25/the-67-people-as-wealthy-as-the-worlds-poorest-3-5-billion/)

      This is very bad news for all of us. I agree with your response to Joker Jim’s bullshit response above for the most part. But he is right, we live in a republic, but not one single system is perfect, which is why we should be borrowing more from multiple systems (i.e. like it is now… Socialism and Capitalism – imho slightly less from capitalism).

  3. Go African Americans, people still struggling with this history, Hyperallergic, and Chris Cobb!!

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