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Decades before the hypocritical signing of the Declaration of Independence, Africans enslaved in New York City rose up against White colonists, and those who survived were burned alive.

Despite socially progressive label Northern states have today, New York was a major hub for the trade of Africans and Native Americans during the 18th Century. Much of the city was built using enslaved African labor, including the original wall that Wall Street is named after. In fact, slave traders in the colony of New York enjoyed access to a city-run slave market, which was established in 1711, according to a report shared by the Smithsonian.

Unlike in the South, the densely populated city of New York required White colonists and enslaved Africans to work in close proximity to each other. Yet, like in the South, the brutal condition of forced servitude was too much to bear, leading a clutch of enslaved Africans to light the fire of freedom.

New York Slave Revolt: A bloody ordeal

Between midnight and 1 a.m. on April 6, 1712, over two dozen enslaved Africans gathered in an orchard on Maiden Lane in Manhattan, reportedly armed with swords, knives, hatchets and guns.

Manhattan had a population of roughly 6,000 people at the time, and nearly 15% of them were enslaved Africans, according to Columbia University. The densely populated environment allowed for the revolutionaries to communicate, and they took advantage of every moment.

A June 1712 report from the Colonial Governor of New York recounts what happened next.

The Black rebels started by setting fire to a building in the center of town. The entire city only spanned 20 blocks long by 10 blocks wide, and White colonists quickly came to see what was ablaze.

“The noise of the fire spreading through the town, the people began to flock to it. Upon the approach of several, the slaves fired and killed them,” Governor Robert Hunter recounted.

The torch of Black resistance continued to burn

The rebels eventually retreated into the woods before they were captured by the state militia. The Governor claimed six of the rebels took their own lives, while ” the rest were forthwith brought to their tryal before ye Justices of this place.”

Twenty-seven were reportedly imprisoned, and 20 were executed, except for a woman and her child.

“Some were burnt, others hanged, one broke on the wheel, and one hung alive in chains in the town, so that there has been the most exemplary punishment inflicted that could be possibly thought of,” the Governor wrote.

Ultimately, following the failed effort for Black liberation, New York created even harsher laws, forbidding enslaved Africans from meeting in groups or reading. The new laws also allowed for slaveholders to whip their captives to near-death.

Yet, the spirit of Black resistance couldn’t be contained, as more revolts transpired in the decades before New York finally ended the practice, with the last enslaved Africans being recorded as recently as 1830.

Deon Osborne was born in Minneapolis, MN and raised in Lawton, OK before moving to Norman where he attended the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Media and has...