|July 17, 2012
Alan Singer Social studies educator, Hofstra University GET UPDATES FROM Alan Singer Like 192 Wall Street Was a Slave Market Before It Was a Financial Center
History of Wall Street is actually much older and darker. December 13, 2011 was the three hundredth anniversary of the law passed by the New York City Common Council that made Wall Street the city's official slave market for the sale and rental of enslaved Africans.
1711 Law Appointing a Place for the More Convenient Hiring of Slaves Source: Minutes of the Common Council of the City of New York, vol. II, 458, December 13, 1711
Be it Ordained by the Mayor Recorder Aldermen and Assistants of the City of New York Convened in Common Council and it is hereby Ordained by the Authority of the same That all Negro and Indian slaves that are lett out to hire within this City do take up their Standing in Order to be hired at the Markett house at the Wall Street Slip untill Such time as they are hired, whereby all Persons may Know where to hire slaves as their Occasions Shall require and also Masters discover when their Slaves are so hired and all the Inhabitants of this City are to take Notice hereof Accordingly.
The predecessor bank of Citibank, which has offices at 111 Wall Street, was actually founded by a banker and sugar trader deeply involved in financing the illegal slave trade bringing Africans into Cuba in the 19th century. When Moses Taylor died in 1882, he was one of the wealthiest men of that century with an estate reportedly worth $70 million, or about $1.6 billion in today's dollars.
There is now an online petition addressed to Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council calling for a historical marker at the site of the Wall Street slave market detailing its role in the history of New York City. I signed the petition and welcome others to join the campaign. The letter reads:
December 13th is the 300th anniversary of the law establishing the first slave market in New York. That market was located at the end of Wall Street where present day Water Street is. Yet there is not a single sign, plaque, marker, statue, memorial or monument with any reference to slavery or the slave trade in Lower Manhattan (with the exception of the African Burial Ground memorial).
Even after the discovery of a massive, 6.6 acre burial ground where Africans -- free and enslaved -- were buried, with thousands of individuals possibly still in the ground, their contribution to New York is and has been completely invisible. After 300 years it is finally time to tell their story.
The fact is that New York's first City Hall was built with slave labor. The first Congress passed the Bill of Rights there and George Washington gave his inaugural speech there. Slaves helped build the wall that Wall Street is named for. Slavery was such a big part of early New York that during the colonial era one in five people living in New York was an enslaved African. One in five. Yet there are no permanent signs acknowledging the role slaves played in early New York.