Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Notes on slavery on Long Island

The Dutch introduced slavery on Long Island in 1626. They had asked the Dutch East India Company for indentured servants, but were turned down. Instead, they chose to imitate the colonists of Virginia and use African slave labor. By 1700, the proportion of slaves to free people was greater on LI than in Virginia. A 1732 census showed 7,232 slaves to 40,048 white colonists. All slaves were highly valued. It became something of a status symbol to own slaves, even some Quakers engaged in the practice. The Quakers were the among the first on Long Island to call for slavery's abolition. Slavery on the island peaked around the time of the revolution, shortly after which the ideas of freedom pervaded throughout Long Island communities. Slavery was legally ended in New York in 1827, although it was carried out in secrecy by parts of the maritime community near Fire Island until the Civil War.

Indentured servants, mostly from England, were also used. They often worked and lived in harsher conditions than slaves and many did not survive their term of servitude. This was because their employers knew they would not be around for more than a few years and they had no motivation to ensure their health and well being.

Source: Bookbinder, Bernie. Long Island: People and Places, Past and Present. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1983 (Illustrations © 1983 Newsday)

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