Wall Street’s slave story

AUTODIDACT 17 | 2/4/2016, 10:49 a.m.
Wall Street's slave market was once a booming business for the nation's economy.

Special to the AmNews

How ironic is it that lower Manhattan’s Wall Street, the nucleus of this country’s, if not the world’s, capitalism system, was once an open market where enslaved Africans and so-called Indians were inhumanely bought and sold to high-bidding Caucasian slave makers?

“It’s much deeper than people realize,” explains historian Dr. Leonard Jeffries. “Capitalism, European nationalism and the exploitation and subjection of African colonialism comes out of this process in history.”

As early as 1625, the Dutch West India Company imported kidnapped Africans to clear foliage in what was then New Amsterdam to make way for the colonizers’ communities. They also built an earthen wall on the island’s southern area to ward off retaliating indigenous inhabitants who previously populated the area and were attempting to regain it. During the 1640s, a wooden picket and plank-fortified fence was erected, with a strengthened 12-foot-high wall soon following. By 1685, Wall Street was officially laid out.

“Since the founding of New York City and the establishment of a colony with a protective wall, the main objective was trade,” stated Jeffries. “They set up the wall to protect their colony, and it became the auction place for the indentured servants and enslaved Africans.”

On Dec. 13, 1711, the Common Council approved Wall Street as New York City’s first official slave market, passing a law stating, “That all [Black] and Indian slaves that are let out to hire within this city do take up their standing in order to be hired at the market house at the Wall Street Slip until 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.”

Other European countries eventually got involved, and for approximately two centuries, slave ships docked where South Street Seaport currently sits, unloading human cargo to be auctioned off at Wall Street’s slave market between Pearl and Water streets.

Many Africans arrived through this port from the Motherland and Caribbean only to be redistributed to other parts of North America. Numerous local businesses participated and profited royally from the bustling business of human trafficking. By the late 1700s, only Charleston, S.C.’s slave market was busier than New York City’s. On April 30, 1789, slave maker and plantation owner George Washington was sworn in as the country’s first president at Wall Street’s Federal Hall.

The imperialistic practice of auctioning kidnapped Africans continued through 1827, with the enormous proceeds gained heavily influencing the city’s economy, politics and socialization. Simultaneously, it established New York as the “Empire State” and propelled the country’s industrial revolution.

Analysts contend that many of the banking, insurance and shipping companies that profited enormously from their facilitation owe reparations to the descendants of those ancestors whose blood, sweat and tears laid down the foundation of their now multimillion-dollar corporations.

Jeffries concludes, “The role the Wall Street slave market played is essential to what the nation’s economy became. They’re the beginning of the capitalist corporations that later come out of the slave systems.”