One tends to think of slavery as an evil that gripped the American South, but New York City is getting ready to acknowledge its own past in the human trade: For more than half of the 18th century, the Big Apple was home to a slave market, a fact the city will mark with a sign in a small park just a block from where the market once stood at Wall and Pearl streets, reports WNYC. The freestanding marker is expected to be unveiled on Juneteenth. "The slaves of that time and place helped build City Hall," one city councilman says. "Their lives should be celebrated and their deaths should be mourned." New York Life and JPMorgan Chase are among the many companies that profited from the city's slave trade, which dates back to 1626—two years after Dutch settlers first arrived.
When the city's population reached 5,000 in 1700, roughly 750 were slaves, and over the next 50 years thousands of slaves helped build the port, major roads, and even the wall after which Wall Street is named. One estimate suggests there was a slave in at least 40% of the city's white households, reports Smithsonian. The slave market itself opened in 1711 and ran for 51 years; it's believed that thousands of men, women, and children passed through, with the market able to hold roughly 50 men at a time. It was an "ugly experience," according to one historian: "Some of the male slaves were asked to flex in various ways to show how sturdy they were. And the females were touched in private places." The slave market dissolved before the abolition of slavery; by blocking river views it was bringing down local real-estate values. (Think slavery is a relic of a bygone era? Think again.)