The New York Times
Of all the commodities traded over time on Wall Street, the one that goes discreetly unmentioned in historical markers is human beings — the anxious throngs of kidnapped slaves that the New York City government routinely rented and auctioned off across half a century at the end of Wall Street at the East River.
This omission seems particularly egregious on a street where the excellent Museum of American Finance currently presents all manner of economic history and profit-building commodities, from railroads to cotton.
But no spotlight at all on slaves, even though they were pioneer Wall Streeters — their labor built much of the city’s infrastructure, including the early City Hall, stretches of Broadway and the signature wall that first defined Wall Street. The city is finally rectifying this with plans for a 16-by-24-inch memorial sign whose wording has not been set but will acknowledge that the city did indeed run a profitable slave market, rivaled only by Charleston, S.C., as a hub for the American slave traffic.
The sign will be installed near where the open-air slave market was erected in 1711, when the municipal government decided to centralize the traffic in the slave trade. These were years when as many as 20 percent of New Yorkers were slaves, their labor making life so much easier for about 40 percent of the city’s households. “The blacks we rule over with such arbitrary sway,” was the way George Washington, the nation’s slaveholding patriarch, described them.