A drawing of New York City’s slave market at the corner of Wall & Pearl Streets, ca. 1740s.
While New York slaves were forced to live and work alongside whites, they sought out other black people for news, companionship, love, which they found all over the city. In the small, crowded, bustling town that was colonial New York City, most people spent a good deal of time walking the streets, conducting errands, and picking up bits of news. But enslaved people, especially men, walked greater distances, conducted more errands, and picked up news earlier in the morning and later at night. Consider this walk described by a slave named Pedro in 1741: “last Fall we went out one Sunday Morning with Mrs. Carpenter’s Negro Albany; . . . as they went along Broad-Way, they met with Mr. Slydall’s Jack, who was going to Comfort’s for Tea-Water; . . . at the Market near Mr. DeLancey’s House they met two other Negroes; . . . and . . . Albany asked them all to go down to Hughson’s and drink with them.” Pedro lived in the East Ward with his owner, the Dutch merchant Peter DePeyester. Albany probably lived near the Old Slip Market, a meat market at the bottom of Smith Street, because his owner, the butcher Elizabeth Carpenter, rented a stall there (the Old Slip was once known as the “Great Flesh Market”). The DeLancey house, home of supreme court Chief Justice James DeLancey, was on Broadway between Little Queen and Little Stone Streets, just south of the Broadway market, a forty-two- by twenty-five-foot market in the middle of Broadway, at Crown Street. If Pedro began his trip in the East Ward, he would have had to walk south down Queen Street or Little Dock Street to meet Albany near Carpenter’s house; north up Smith Street to Wall Street, which he would have followed for three blocks, past the sugar refinery, past City Hall to Broadway, and from there northeast to the Broadway Market, to meet “two other Negroes”; and west to the river, down Crown or Cortlandt Street, which would put him and his three friends at the water pump in front of the Dutch cooper Gerard’s Comfort’s house, on the North (now Hudson) River, next door to the tavern of a cobbler named John Hughson—and that’s without accounting for where they picked up Jack (Sleydall), whose residence is unknown.
Pedro’s walk was an ordinary one, the kind of walk he took every day. Yet, as ordinary as that walk was, it violated several laws, including a 1730 act stipulating that “it shall not hereafter be lawful for above three Slaves to meet together att any one time, nor att any other place, than when it shall happen they meet in some servile Imploym’t for their Master’s or Mistress’s profit, and by the Master or Mistress consent, upon penalty of being whipt upon the naked back, at discretion of any Justice of the peace, not exceeding fforty Lashes.” Of Pedro and his three companions, only Jack (Sleydall) was “in some servile Imploym’t”: fetching water.
— (Excerpt) The Tightening Vice: Slavery and Freedom in British New York – Jill Lepore
From the book: Slavery in New York – Edited by Ira Berlin and Leslie M. Harris