December 2016 - April 2017

In Their Words: Teen Reactions to 18th Century Slavery

The first enslaved African Americans were brought to Manhattan by the Dutch West India Company in 1626, performing laborious tasks during the growth of New Amsterdam. After rule of the Colony shifted from Dutch to British control in 1664, the practice continued well into the early Republic, and New York’s enslaved population eventually grew to be the second largest in the entire country. The Mansion, known as Mt. Morris at the time, was itself home to numerous enslaved servants – both the Morris family (1765-1776) and George Washington (September – October, 1776) were owners of enslaved people. During the American Revolution, many enslaved people in New York joined the fight on both sides, drawn by the promise of emancipation for their service.

Through the New York City Department of Education’s Teen Thursday program, students from PS 149 Sojourner Truth undertook a seven-week collaboration with the museum to study the roles of various enslaved African Americans in Colonial New York. Together, students interacted with the museum’s collection, specifically objects which would have been used by the enslaved servants. Students examined these artifacts, discovering the unwritten history behind them and the skills required for their use. The culminating activity was for students to create an exhibition, focusing on the objects’ connections to enslaved people and factual information surrounding the objects. The reflections presented represented the students’ authentic reactions to, and their personal journey through the difficult topic of slavery in 18th century New York.