A First Rebellion
The layers of history run deep through Lower Manhattan. This Black History Month we will be looking at those places in our neighborhood that illuminate the stories of the African diaspora in New York. Kamau Ware, founder of the Black Gotham Experience, is authoring a series to help show us exactly what ground we stand upon.
The first recorded militarized Black rebellion on the island of Manhattan took place at Broadway and Maiden Lane on April 6, 1712. Over two-dozen armed enslaved Black people carried out a plot to set a fire that would lead to an ambush. This act of rebellion doesn’t have a name like the Stono Rebellion or Shay’s Rebellion, and the site is unmarked. The rebels planned and carried out this attack less than five months after the Common Council established a slave market on Pearl Street and Wall Street. In a report from Governor Robert Hunter to the Lords of Trade in London, “hard usage” was one of the reasons given by the rebels for their actions. To put it another way, a challenge to tyranny, an exhale for freedom and a violent protest to selling bodies at a market. One of the women involved in the rebellion was pregnant, so she sat in jail after her trial and was executed like the others after giving birth.
Many European New Yorkers looked past the oppression of slavery as a legitimate cause of the rebellion and looked for fault elsewhere. They largely blamed Elias Neau, a French Hogenot, because he convinced the authorities to allow him to Christianize the enslaved. Elias was warned that religion would make the Blacks want freedom. Attention quickly turned toward the laws — increasing restrictions on both free and enslaved Black people, but the fire for freedom did not dim.
Previously: The Slave Market At Pearl Street And Wall Street