Clio Logo

In the modern era, Wall Street is known as the financial center of New York City. However, many people do not realize that the location of the financial center of New York City was also once a place where slaves were sold. From the 18th century to the first half of the 19th century, New York City was an important player in the Triangular Trade as Charleston, South Carolina. As such, there was a huge slave population in New York City, with nearly one slave for every six people living in the city. This increase in slaves eventually led to the establishment of the New York City Slave Market in 1711.


  • New York's Municipal Slave Market plaque
  • Mannahatta Park, where the plaque resides
  • Learn more about slavery and abolition in New York City with Eric Foner's recent best-seller, available below.
  • This book from Bancroft Prize winner Ira Berlin includes images from the New York Historical Society's acclaimed exhibit, "Slavery and the Making of New York."

Most people, even those living in New York City, are unaware that a slave market used to exist at the heart of Wall Street.  The arrival of slaves began around the time that the Dutch founded the city they called New Amsterdam.  During the 1700s, the city’s dependency on slave labor began to wane, and slaves were increasingly found on the streets of New York City, looking for work.  The white citizens of the city begin to protest the mingling of white people and slaves, arguing that this could result in a slave uprising.  In response to the protest, on December 13, 1711, the Common Council, an earlier version of the present city council, passed a law that opened the city's first slave market at the intersection of what is currently Wall Street and Water Street.  The market was to be a place where people could hire, buy, and sell African Americans and captured Indians.  The law was passed to keep order, and to create a source of revenue by taxing the sale of every slave that entered the market.

The market, which operated from 1711 to 1762, stood a few blocks away from the East River waterfront, where ships would unload the slaves at wooden piers and then Europeans would march the slaves to the market.  During these years, the market sold men, women, and children.  Most female slaves performed domestic tasks, while the male slaves that remained in New York City were forced to work on the construction of roads and buildings such as City Hall.  By 1726, the market was renamed the Meal Market because it was the only place to sell corn, grain, and meal.  Eventually, the building was torn down like many other buildings because it was blocking a good view of the East River and lowering the value of real estate.

Recently, the city decided to officially acknowledge the existence of a slave market in lower Manhattan.  As part of the commemoration effort to the contributions that the African Americans made, a marker was unveiled on June 19, 2015.  This day is also known as Freedom Day, and dates back to when the African Americans were emancipated both in Texas and in the Confederate states.  

"MAAP | Mapping the African American Past." MAAP | Place Detail: Slave Market. Accessed April 07, 2017. http://maap.columnbia.edu/place/22 http://www.wnyc.org/story/nyc-acknowledge-its-slave-market-more-50-years/.
0