Slaves in the early Dutch colonial era (circa 1625-1664) were treated rather better than those under English captivity, according to Ulster County historian Anne Gordon. Though quite restricted, they were allowed to marry, congregate, attend religious services with whites, and in some cases were able to buy their freedom and own property. There were instances of intermarriage.
Women under Dutch rule were treated almost as co-equals of men. They could inherit and own property and businesses. “There were many women in business in New Amsterdam,” Gordon said. Marriage was viewed as a partnership between equals.
That all changed when a fleet of English warships sailed into New Amsterdam harbor 350 years ago this week and took possession of the Dutch colony. Hardly a shot was fired, Gordon told an audience of about 60 persons at the 25th edition of Kingston’s Buried Treasures series at the Senate House Museum last Friday, Aug. 15.
Gordon said she had asked the state to recognize the anniversary of the English takeover of New York — Aug. 26, 1664 — what she called “one of the most important events in our history,” to no avail. “It has been shamefully neglected,” she said.
But not by Gordon, whom lecture host Paul O’Neill called “a one-woman speaking tour.”
While local militia manned the ramparts at the Battery, Dutch merchants quickly realized they had no chance against heavily armed English dragoons, possibly with reinforcement from the English colonies on Long Island and Connecticut. They petitioned their governor, the irascible and bellicose Peter Stuyvesant, to negotiate a surrender. Reluctantly, he did.
Dutch inhabitants were allowed to keep their property if they swore allegiance to the British crown. The colony was renamed New York after the king’s brother James, Duke of York, later King James II. James, who held vast estates in Ireland, was heavily involved in the slave trade.
According to Gordon, the invading fleet comprised four warships and about 100 soldiers landing in Manhattan. Another 300 troops were disembarked at Brooklyn.
Changes in status
For African-American slaves, English rule represented a transition to a different life of subjugation. The English afforded their slaves, considered “free labor,” none of the limited privileges permitted by the Dutch. In 1712, slaves comprised 15 percent of the population of New York, Gordon said. That was a higher proportion at that time than in any Southern state.