New York is properly referred to as a former slave State — slaveholding there did not end until the late 1820’s, though the children of slaves remained in bondage for many years after. Rather than lose their investment, New Yorkers sold their chattel to plantations in the South before the deadline. Additionally, the small free-black population which remained in New York found themselves proscribed by Jim Crow laws which erected a minimum property ownership in order to vote, which effectively disenfranchised them.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
New York Slaveholding Brought Comfort and Prestige
“New York was slow in drawing white settlers until after mid [18th] century, and the shortage of labor led to a considerable use of slaves; indeed it is possible that in the early Dutch days it was slave labor that enabled the colony to survive. Most of the first slaves were not from Africa but were re-imported from Curacao in the Dutch West Indies.
It was a profitable system: in the 1640’s it cost only a little more to buy a slave than to pay a free worker’s wage for a year. After the English took control of New Netherland in 1664, a brisk and highly profitable trade in skilled slaves was carried on. Most slaveholders in the province were flourishing small farmers or small artisans who, in the absence of an adequate supply of free labor, needed moderately skilled help, and were able to pay the rising prices for slaves.
A partial census of 1755 showed a widely diffused slave population, most owners having only one or two slaves, only seven New Yorkers owning ten or more. Among the largest lots held were those of the elder Lewis Morris with 66 slaves on his large estate and the first Frederick Philipse, an affluent landowner, with about 40.
Such men could work gangs of slaves on their manors, but slaves were also sought by other wealthy men for the comfort and prestige a substantial staff of domestic servants would bring. William Smith, for example, was reputed to keep a domestic staff of 12 or more to run his New York City household, and other leading citizens travelled with Negro footmen.
From the first the competition of black labor was resented by whites. Competition in the labor market was intensified by the slave owners’ widespread practice of putting out their slaves for hire, under-cutting white laborers who were paid twice the slaves’ wages.
Slave controls, reflecting persistent nervousness in the white population, were quite rigid. Aside from private punishments that could be administered by masters, such public controls were meant to put sharp limits on the temptations slaves would face. After 1702, flogging was prescribed if three slaves gathered together on their own time . . . nor could they engage in trade without their master’s consent.”
(America at 1750, a Social Portrait, Richard Hofstadter, Vintage Books, 1973, excerpt, pp. 99-101)