North America’s First Free Black Settlement In Our Neighborhoods
According to historian Christopher Moore, the first legally emancipated community of people of African descent in North America was found in Lower Manhattan, comprising much of present-day Greenwich Village, NoHo, and the South Village, and parts of the Lower East Side and East Village.
This settlement was comprised of individual landholdings, many of which belonged to former “company slaves” of the Dutch West India Company. These former enslaved people, both men and women, had been manumitted as early as within 20 years of the founding of New Amsterdam and their being brought to the colony as slaves. In some cases these free black settlers were among the very first Africans brought to New Amsterdam as slaves in 1626, two years after the colony’s founding. Several petitioned successfully for their freedom. They were granted parcels of land by the Council of New Amsterdam, under the condition that a portion of their farming proceeds go to the Company. Director General William Kieft granted land to manumitted slaves under the guise of a reward for years of loyal servitude. However, these particular parcels of land may have been granted by the Council, at least in part, for more calculated reasons. The farms lay between the settlement of New Amsterdam on the southern tip of Manhattan Island and areas controlled by Native Americans to the north. Native Americans sometimes raided or attacked the Dutch settlement, and the farms may have served as a buffer between the two. However, some scholars have noted that this area was also among the most desirable farmland in the vicinity, and the Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant established his own farm in this area in 1651, offering a different potential interpretation of the choice of this area for farmland for manumitted slaves.
This settlement’s status did not remain permanent, however. When the English captured the colony of New Amsterdam and renamed it New York in 1664, the newly established English government demoted free blacks from property owners to legal aliens, denying them landowning rights and privileges. Within twenty years, a vast majority of land owned by people of African descent was seized by wealthy white landowners who turned these former free black settlements into retreats, farms, and plantations.
The landowners in this first settlement of free people of African descent, in chronological order of their land grants, were:
1. Catalina Anthony: Catalina Anthony, widow of Jochim Anthony, was granted 8 acres of land by the Council of New Amsterdam on July 13, 1643. Her parcel of farmland was adjacent to that of Domingo Anthony, sitting directly above his settlement west of the Bowery and spanning downward from Hester Street to the area just below Canal.
2. Domingo Anthony: Domingo Anthony was granted 12 acres of land by the Council of New Amsterdam on July 13, 1643. His settlement sat just below that of Catalina Anthony near present day Canal Street, between Centre Street and the west side of the Bowery, and stretched downwards to Pell Street.
3. Cleyn (Little) Manuel: Cleyn (Little) Manuel was granted a 10-acre parcel of land by the Council of New Amsterdam following his manumission in December of 1643. His settlement neighbored the properties of Manuel Groot, Cleyn (Little) Anthony, and Anthony Portuguese. The northernmost point of Manuel’s settlement touched the equivalent of today’s West 3rd Street while its southernmost point reached where West Houston Street now runs, spanning across today’s Thompson Street east toward Mercer Street and encompassing a large portion of what is now Mercer Playground.
4. Manuel de Gerrit de Rues: Manuel de Gerrit de Rues was granted 12 acres of land in December of 1643. Prior to his manumission, he was one of eight slaves involved in the death of another slave and was charged with murder in 1641. Rather than choosing to execute all eight men, Dutch officials ordered them to draw straws. Drawing the shortest straw, Manuel de Gerrit de Rues was sentenced to death by hanging but survived the fall from the execution ladder. Witnesses begged officials not to attempt a second execution. Manuel de Gerrit de Rues was released and was granted farmland as a free man only two years later. His settlement was located west of today’s Bowery, stretching upwards from its southern boundary near today’s Bond Street toward East 8th Street and Astor Place.
5. Manuel Trumpeter: According to historian Christopher Moore, manumitted slave Manuel Trumpeter once held the designation of “Captain of the Blacks” and was perhaps considered the leader of the black militia in New Amsterdam. On December 12, 1643, Trumpeter was granted 18 acres of land situated near what is now Fifth Avenue and Washington Square. The northern end of Manuel Trumpeter’s settlement stretched east towards the present-day intersection of East 8th Street and Broadway, while the bottom corner of the parcel sat near today’s Great Jones Street.
6. Marycke: Widow Marycke was granted 6 acres of land by the Council of New Amsterdam on December 12, 1643. Her land was directly next to the land of Anthony Portuguese, at the western perimeter of what is now Washington Square.
7. Gracia d’Angola: After being granted 10 acres of farmland on December 15, 1644, Gracia d’Angola settled on a parcel of land which ran parallel to the closely neighboring property of fellow manumitted slave Cleyn (Little) Anthony. The northernmost point of Gracia’s farm was located near what is now the intersection of West Houston Street and Wooster Street, stretching downwards toward Spring Street and eastwards toward Mercer Street.
8. Simon Congo: Simon Congo was granted an 8-acre parcel of farmland by the Council of New Amsterdam on the 15th of December in 1644, which spanned the area between Charlton Street and Downing Street, crossing over West Houston Street. Simon Congo eventually came to own an additional parcel of land in an area further north, sitting at the intersection of West 16th Street and 5th Avenue.
9. Jan Francisco: Upon manumission, Jan Francisco was granted 8 acres of farmland by the Council of New Amsterdam on the December 15, 1644. Jan Francisco’s farmland neighbored that of his fellow manumitted slave Gracia D’Angola, nearly meeting his property at its easternmost boundary near Spring Street and Broadway and extending eastward towards Crosby Street and downward toward Canal before looping westward and upward to Broome Street.
10. Pieter San Tome: San Tome is among the original 11 enslaved men that petitioned to the Council of New Amsterdam for their freedom together in hopes of becoming free members of the New Amsterdam settlement. Upon his manumission, Pieter San Tome was granted a 6-acre parcel of farmland on December 15, 1644. His settlement, which neighbored land belonging to fellow manumitted slaves Paulo D’Angola and Simon Congo, spanned from Bleecker Street down to West Houston Street, and ran the width of today’s Sixth Avenue and Thompson Street.
11. Manuel Groot (Big Manuel): Manuel Groot, or Big Manuel, was among the first Angolan slaves ever owned by the Dutch West India Company. On the 21st of December in 1644, he was granted eight acres of land by the Council of New Amsterdam. His settlement stood adjacent to those of fellow manumitted slaves Manuel Trumpeter and Anthony Portuguese, with the northernmost corner of the parcel located near West 4th and Washington Square East, stretching down towards West 3rd Street and LaGuardia Place, and moving southwest toward Bleecker Street and Broadway.
12. Cleyn (Little) Anthony: Anthony was among the first enslaved people brought to New Amsterdam by the Dutch. He was granted six acres of farmland upon his manumission in December 1644. Anthony’s land stretched just north of Prince Street and the adjacent MacDougal, Spring, and Sullivan Streets. The eastern and southern borders of Anthony’s farmland touched the neighboring settlement of fellow manumitted slave, Gracia D’Angola.
13. Jan Fort Orange: Jan Fort Orange was granted approximately 10 acres of farmland by the Council of New Amsterdam in December 1644. This parcel of land neighbored the properties of fellow manumitted slaves Cleyn (Little) Manuel, Manuel Groot, and Gracia D’Angola. With its northwestern boundary beginning at the mid-section of what is now Mercer Playground, near Bleecker Street, his settlement stretched downward to West Houston Street with its southern boundary located mid-Wooster Street.
14. Paulo d’Angola: d’Angola was among the very first shipload of Africans brought to New Amsterdam as a slave in 1626. On July 14, 1645, d’Angola was granted a six acre plot of farmland on what is now present day Washington Square Park. The location of d’Angola’s farm in a sense makes him the very first non-Native American settler in the area now known as Greenwich Village.
15. Anthony Portuguese: On September 5, 1645, Anthony Portuguese was granted a 12-acre parcel of land by the Council of New Amsterdam and began farming on his new settlement that spanned present-day LaGuardia Place, Thompson Street, and Sullivan Street in Greenwich Village. His farmland encompassed much of what is now modern-day Washington Square Park, with its southern boundary sitting just below West 3rd Street and its northern boundary just before Waverly Place.
16. Anna d’Angola: Widow Anna d’Angola was granted a 6-acre parcel of land by the Council of New Amsterdam on February 8, 1647. Sitting adjacent to that of Domingo Anthony, d’Angola’s land spanned the present-day blocks of Hester, Canal, Walker, and White Streets, between Centre and Mulbery Streets.
17. Francisco d’Angola: Francisco d’Angola was granted a six acre parcel of land by the Council of New Amsterdam on March 25, 1647. This land sat directly east of the Bowery near today’s East Houston Street and spanned downward toward where Stanton Street now lies.
18. Anthony Congo: Anthony Congo was granted 6 acres of land by the Council of New Amsterdam on March 26, 1647. His settlement sat directly east of the Bowery, starting at a point between present day Houston and Stanton Streets and stretching southward to Rivington Street.
19. Bastiaen Negro: On March 26, 1647, Bastiaen Negro was granted 6 acres of land east of the Bowery near his neighbor Anthony Congo. Bastiaen’s settlement encompassed the area from the Bowery and Rivington Street eastward towards Allen St. and downward towards Broome Street.
20. Jan Negro: On March 26, 1647, Jan Negro was granted a six acre parcel of land by the Council of New Amsterdam. His settlement sat directly west of the Bowery, stretching southward from Spring Street toward Broome Street and over to the Bowery from Lafayette Street.
21. Manuel the Spaniard: Manuel “the Spaniard” was granted 4 acres of land on January 18, 1651. His settlement, which sat directly across from that of Anthony Congo, stretched west of the Bowery and encompassed the area from Prince Street to Spring Street. While most slaves freed earlier were freed by the Dutch West India Co., he was freed by a private citizen, Philip Jansz Ringo. Still, Manuel had to pay and work extensively for his freedom.
22. Mathias Anthony: On December 1, 1655, Mathias Anthony was granted 2 acres of land by the Council of New Amsterdam. Though the exact location of Mathias’ settlement is unknown, the land likely sat close to the settlements of his fellow manumitted neighbors near the west side of the Bowery.
23. Domingo Angola: Domingo Angola was granted 4 acres of land on December 2, 1658. His settlement sat west of the Bowery directly above Houston Street, stretching upward towards Bond Street.
24. Claes Negro: Claes Negro was granted a 2-acre parcel of land west of the Bowery on December 2, 1658. His settlement stretched from approximately what would be West 4th Street down the equivalent of about two blocks, neighboring the land of Manuel Sanders and Manuel de Gerrit de Rues.
25. Assento Angola: Assento Angola was granted a parcel west of the Bowery from approximately today’s Astor Place extending the equivalent of about two blocks west and south.
26. Francisco Cartagena: On December 2, 1658, Francisco Cartagena was granted two acres of land directly west of the Bowery. His settlement sat between that of Claes Negro and Assento Angola, spanning from West 6th Street down to West 4th Street.
27. Anthony of the Bowery: In 1658, Anthony of the Bowery was granted a two-acre parcel of land west of the Bowery, giving him this name. His settlement sat beneath Houston Street, stretching downward toward Prince Street.
28. Anthony the Blind Negro: In 1658, Anthony the Blind Negro was granted a two acre parcel of land on the west side of the Bowery, neighboring Manuel Trumpeter and Assento Angola near 8th Street.
29. Manuel Sanders: In March 1662, Manuel Sanders was granted a 4-acre parcel of land by the Council of New Amsterdam. His settlement neighbored Jan Fort Orange and Groot Manuel on the west side of the Bowery near Bleecker and Bond Streets.