When Dutch and English settlers migrated to Long Island, they often brought African slaves along with them. The first slaves in Suffolk County arrived in 1654 with their owner Nathaniel Sylvester, after he decided to move from Barbados to Shelter Island.1
Labor was always at a premium throughout the Colonial period, and the British government encouraged the importation of slaves to do the hard work required to build the economy of the colonies. The New York colony had more slaves than New England, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania combined. About 20% of the population of Suffolk County in 1698 was African and most of them were slaves. Except for a few instances of wealthy families such as the Sylvesters on Shelter Island and the Floyds in Mastic, most slave owners had one or two, rarely more. Travel for a slave was often proscribed to a mile from home, so socializing and maintaining links to one’s religion, culture, and language was virtually impossible.2
Long Island’s African slave population was highly multi-occupational. Besides agriculture, slaves also worked in secondary industries such as tailoring and whaling.1 African females were often assigned roles as domestic servants with tasks ranging from cooking to caring for their owners’ children.3 African slaves, along with the occasional Native American slave, often worked alongside free African workers, European indentured servants, paid European workers, and even the slave owners themselves.
In 1799, New York State began a long process which would lead to the ending of slavery on July 4, 1827. Slaves freed from bondage during this quarter century were to be educated and provided with skills to earn a living. This usually did not happen and as a nation we remain poorer for it.2
It was not until March 31, 1817 that the New York legislature ended two centuries of slavery within its borders, setting July 4, 1827 as the date of final emancipation and making New York the first state to pass a law for the total abolition of legal slavery.4
The 13th Amendment abolishing slavery in the United States.
Passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified on December 6, 1865, the 13th amendment abolished slavery in the United States and provides that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”5
- George DeWan. “The Rise of Slavery.” Newsday 2007.
- Richard Shannon Moss. Slavery on Long Island: A study in local institutional and early African-American communal
life. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1993. 14.
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