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