THE HISTORY OF SLAVERY in theGrandfather's backyard.
Many Americans, (as well as people in general) are not aware of the fact that slavery existed and thrived in Brooklyn, because so often a person thinks of slavery as an institution peculiar to the southern region of the United States.
There were three periods of slavery in Brooklyn; under the Dutch, from 1628 - 1661; under the English, 1664 - 1776 and under he newly formed American Government, 1783 - 1827.
The Dutch: 1614 - 1664
To understand slavery in Brooklyn in the early seventeenth century, it is necessary to examine the institution from it's inception in New Netherlands (Manhattan).
The Dutch came to New Netherlands not to colonize, but to earn fortunes with which they hoped to return to Holland.
Most of the ships that landed in New Netherlands had more fur trappers, than permanent settlers on board. The Dutch West India Company, was not equipped to found permanent settlements. However, the land was rich and the climate mild enough for farming; the major problem was a scarcity of agricultural labor.
New Netherlands became a slave colony in 1626, when it imported parcels of slaves to work on the farms, public buildings and military works. In addition to the importation of slaves, the Dutch West India Company decided to start a farming community on the western tip of Long Island, which later became the borough of Brooklyn.
There were five Dutch towns, and one English town settled by the Dutch boers in the early to mid-seventeenth century-Breuckelen (Brooklyn) Vlacke Bosch, (Flatbush) Nieuw Amersterdam (Harlem) Boswyck, (Bushwick) Nieuw Utrecht (Brighton-Coney Island) and Gravesend.
These towns by the end of the seventeenth century were granted legal patents and formed what is today called Kings County. Even though the Dutch were experts in field culture, they still needed a labor system to help cultivate the land.
White labor scarcely met the needs of the Dutch farmers. Subsequently, Black slaves were obtained to supplement the labor supply in the six towns. The Dutch West India Company introduced and encouraged the system despite protest from the settlers.
After slaves were subjected to the hardening process in the West Indies, they were introduced to the Dutch culture and expectations of the slave masters.
Tobacco plantations sprang up mainly in Breuckelen and Vlacke Bosch during the 1640's under the patroon system. The patroon system would pay for the transportation of settlers to the newly formed area. Provide the new settler with cattle, tools, and buildings. The settlers would then have to pay the patroon an agreed upon amount of money and live under his rulings.
The Dutch pioneer was a feudal dependent of a wealthy landlord. During the period of slavery Blacks were not the only people in bondage.
Indians were enslaved and thousands of whites were indentured servants.
Indians had been used as slaves on Long Island from the beginning of the European settlement.
In 1679 Governor Andros prohibited the enslavement of Indians. However, indentured servitude remained for Indians, while slavery was still reserved for Blacks. These two forms of bondage provided the labor essential for economic progress and development in Kings County.
Dutch slavery was not such a brutal institution to the Dutch, because they regarded it as economically expedient. Enslavement was not equated with race control, and slaves were well treated (even though the slaves hated being enslaved in the first place) to insure their economic investment, yet discrimination did exist in Dutch religious edicts. Jews could not join the militia, but Blacks were accepted. Jews could not own property, but Blacks could obtain property.
Blacks inter-married with whites, and owned white indentured servants. Slave and master worked together in the field, and lived together in the same house.
They celebrated holidays in unison. In the town of Breuckelen on market day, Blacks celebrated their annual "Pinkster" holiday, which corresponded to their master's "Passp" festival.
Despite these common religious observations, Blacks were not allowed to become members of the Dutch Reformed Church.
The casual attitude of the master class, together with the ill-defined legal status of the slaves, tempered the system to the extent that it resembled indentured servitude. Laws did not restrict the movement of slaves. The Dutch were concerned with the everyday operation of the system, not it's theoretical consistency.
The Dutch West India Company launched the system of half-freedom as a means of rewarding slaves for long or meritorius service. Slaves that received half-freedom enjoyed full personal liberty, but they had to pay a tribute to the company and promise to forfeit their labor at any time.