NYC revolt: 24 slaves rebelled 309 years ago on April 7, state militia burned, killed them on breaking wheel

In one of the oldest Black uprisings in 1712, a group of more than twenty Black slaves armed with guns, hatchets, and swords, gathered and set fire to a building on Maiden Lane near Broadway, NY


                            NYC revolt: 24 slaves rebelled 309 years ago on April 7, state militia burned, killed them on breaking wheel
Reenactors retrace the route of the 1811 uprising of slaves, one of the largest slave rebellions in US history on November 09, 2019, in New Orleans, Louisiana. An even older slave uprising occurred on April 7, 1712, in New York (Getty Images)

April 7, 2021, marks the 309th anniversary of the violent insurrection of slaves in New York City. The riot of 1712 saw 24 enslaved Africans, including two women, killing nine Whites and injuring another six before they were stopped. What followed was the brutal suppression of the slave insurrection, violating all human rights. 

The state militia was called out to capture the rebels. Out of those jailed, 21 slaves were sentenced to die of whom six committed suicide. The aftermath of the revolt also saw authorities arresting seventy Blacks and jailing them. Here is a deep dive into one of the oldest Black uprisings and the brute force used by the authorities at the time. 

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An engraving shows the arrival of a Dutch slave ship with a group of African slaves for sale, Jamestown, Virginia, 1619 (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Events leading up to the revolt

It was the early 18th century and slavery in New York did not resemble the situation in the southern states. Instead of providing manual labor on plantations like in the South, slaves worked as domestic servants, artisans, dock workers, and a variety of such work that required skilled labor in a city like New York. At the same time, New York City also had free Black people. 

Several speculations are made about the direct factors contributing to the revolt. The most prominent one being the deterioration in societal conditions. When the English took over the colony from the Dutch, they imposed new laws and restrictions on the slaves. Under Dutch rule, the city had been part of New Netherland where freed slaves had certain legal rights, such as the right to own land and to marry.

However, after the English took over, they snatched what little rights they had. The colonial government required enslaved Black people at the time to carry a pass if traveling more than a mile (1.6 km) from home; authorities discouraged marriage among them; prohibiting gatherings in groups of more than three persons, and even requiring them to sit in separate galleries at church services. 

Portrait of Civil War 'contrabands,' fugitive slaves who were emancipated upon reaching the North, sitting outside a house, possible in Freedman's Village in Arlington, Virginia, mid 1860s. Up to 1100 former slaves at a time were housed in the government established Freedman's Village in the thirty years in which it served as a temporary shelter for runaway and liberated slaves (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

April 7, 1712 

On the night of April 6, 1712, a group of more than twenty Black slaves armed with guns, hatchets, and swords, gathered and set fire to a building on Maiden Lane near Broadway. As White colonists tried to extinguish the blaze, they were attacked by the slaves, who then ran off. At least nine Whites had been shot, stabbed, or beaten to death while another six were wounded.

In order to curb the uprising, militia units from New York and Westchester were summoned. Soldiers from a nearby fort also joined them. A total of 70 slaves were arrested of whom 27 were tried. Of these, 21 were convicted and sentenced to death including a woman with a child. Six of those convicted committed suicide while the rest were executed. Most of them were burned alive while one was executed on a breaking wheel. 

Repercussions

The aftermath of the incident saw even stricter laws governing Black slaves. Enslaved Black slaves were not permitted to gather in groups of more than three, they were forbidden to carry firearms, and gambling was outlawed.

Crimes of property damage, rape, and conspiracy to kill qualified for an immediate death penalty. In order to discourage owners from freeing slaves, owners had to pay 200 pounds for each slave -- this was equivalent to several years of wages.

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