Thursday, 15 January 2009


Slaves being brought ashore from New York Harbour
Most New Yorkers, including many who have grown up or lived in the city most of their lives, don't realize slavery existed here. It could be said, in fact, that from the time of the Dutch, when it was called Amsterdam, virtually until the end of the American Revolution, New York City was the slavery capital of Colonial America.

In 1641 some Dutch West India Company slaves had murdered another slave, Jan Premero in Lower Manhattan, and nine suspects were arrested and threatened with torture unless they revealed who had been the killer. A cunning plan was hatched and all nine confessed, figuring that the company wouldn't want to lose nine valuable pieces of property.

Govenor Willem Kieft (above) ordered them to to draw straws to determine which one should be hanged, and an enormous man named Manuel Gerrit lost. This was to be New York City's first public hanging and the entire town and some rubbernecking Indians turned out in Hanover Square (below) to see the spectacle. Two ropes were placed around Gerrit's neck and a ladder was pulled away; as Gerrit plunged to his death, the ropes broke and Gerrit writhed in pain on the ground. The scene had been too awful for the onlookers, and many people began to sob and begged Govenor Kieft to set Gerrit free.

Gerrit was turned loose and told to stay out of trouble. Three years later, he was one of 11 black men emancipated in recognition of their service to the company and later Gerrit became one of the earliest landowners in Greenwich. Funny old world 'innit?

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