First slave auction in New Amsterdam. Illustration by Howard Pyle, 1895.
The Invisible Man
The dominant historiography in the United States either omits the Negro people or presents them as a people without a past, as a people who have been docile, passive, parasitic, imitative. This picture is a lie. – Herbert Aptheker, 1951
From Benin came Aka and Yoruba. The Gold Coast and the Senegambia lost sons and daughters of the Kwa, Ewe, and Fanti communities of Mandingo, Fula, Wolof and Jola. Those sold by Angolan and Congolese dealers were Kasanje, Mbondo, Mbailundu. For countless others, the origins and histories were unknown. Some appeared in the historical record in stubs and pieces, wearing their scars, their special talents or attributes, the clothes they ran away in. For àll of them, the ancestral memories were broken and defiled in the tragedy of slavery.
The first person with African blood in the Hudson River Valley was a free man, Juan Rodrigues, a West Indies mulatto left behind in 1613 to carry on the trade when the feuding white traders returned to Holland. Rodrigues settled among the Indians, learned the language, became a broker for returning ship captains, and disappeared from the record after 1614.
A “parcel” of eleven male prisoners arrived as slaves in 1625 or 1626, bearing names coined for their captors’ convenience–Paul d’Angola, Simon Congo, Anthony Portuguese, John Francisco–their original identities lost in the evil of the trade. Unnamed women were brought in two years after the parcel of eleven arrived; nothing more was known of them. The male Africans were the swarten who built a storehouse, residences, company farms and outbuildings, and were hired out to plantation owners to build their farms. The first farm in Harlem was a product of the swarten and their werkbaas (boss).
Although the Dutch were the first to sell slaves in North America and the West Indies Company by 1641 was the trade’s biggest profiteer, no statutory precedent for slavery existed in Holland, where doubts lingered about its morality throughout the century. The first slave ship bound solely for New Netherland was the Amandaré in 1649; its cargo was sold for pork and peas. Africans were nothing but commodities, abstracted like the Indians yet held in less contempt.
Some slaves given to Fort Orange settlers by the West Indies Company received early childhood training similar to their master’s children, including baptism and religious instruction. Twenty-six African couples were married in the Dutch church between 1639 and 1664. At least sixty-one children were baptized, although this habit was curtailed after 1655 when the clergy suspected that conversion was pursued only as a means to emancipation. Africans advanced their own cause, but not without pain. Susanna Anthony Robberts, a free black woman, entered into an apprenticeship agreement for three years so her younger brother, Jochim Anthony, could learn to read and write.
The number of free black men and women never became large in the Dutch Hudson Valley. As few as seventy-five among eight hundred Africans in the colony were manumitted by 1664, yet examples of slave considerations survived. Judith Stuyvesant, the director’s wife, had a condescending compassion for the Africans living in family units on her husband’s bouwerie and (unsuccessfully) sought the return of children who were mistakenly shipped out for sale in Curacao during the second Esopus War. Skilled black laborers, if freemen, could live relatively normal yet segregated lives in Manhattan, albeit contending with a daily fear of kidnapping and shipment off to the West Indies for sale into bondage.
– Vernon Benjamin / The History of the Hudson River Valley: From Wilderness to the Civil War