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New York Folklore Vol. 18, Nos. 1-4, 2000
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NEW YORK FOLKLORE
Vol. 18, Nos. 1-4, 2000*
Through African-Centered Prisms
Guest Editor: Barbara L. Hampton
with editorial contributions by
John W. Suter, Karen Taussig-Lux, and Sally Atwater

“SOME HARD USAGE”: THE NEW YORK CITY SLAVE REVOLT OF 1712
by Thelma Wills Foote

NEW YORK CITY’S SLAVE REVOLT OF 1712 was the first armed uprising in British North America undertaken by more than twenty slaves (Genovese 1979:4; Aptheker 1987:172–173). This insurrection occurred during a relatively early stage in the Colony of New York’s development, a period when the importation and use of African slaves was an integral part of colony building. Like the revolts that occurred in the Caribbean basin before the close of the African slave trade in 1808, African newcomers led New York City’s revolt. But in addition to the African leaders, Spanish-speaking Indians from outside New York and creole blacks born in the colony also played critical roles in the rebellion. In this respect New York’s revolt bore a greater resemblance to the plot of 1776 in Hanover, Jamaica, which involved a cross-section of Jamaica’s slave population (e.g., native Africans, creole blacks, and other slaves) than to earlier revolts in the Caribbean basin, which involved mostly unacculturated Africans.

Eighteenth-century New York City was a densely populated port town, and its slave population was a melting pot of several African ethnic groups, as well as creole blacks, a few Indians, and mulattoes. The practical operations of exploiting a slave labor force, the lax and ill-organized machinery of slave control, and the resilience and ingenuity of the slaves themselves combined to open a field of independent action to the slaves. Like prisoners on parole, New York City’s slave labor force circulated from job site to job site about town, and the freedom of movement accorded to this debased segment of society meant that the slaves’ resentment was not always quarantined within fixed boundaries.....


*This volume was delayed in publication and published out of sequence.

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