Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Andrea C. Mosterman's "Spaces of Enslavement"

Andrea C. Mosterman is Associate Professor of Atlantic History and Joseph Tregle Professor in Early American History at the University of New Orleans.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Spaces of Enslavement: A History of Slavery and Resistance in Dutch New York, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Dutch American painter Gerardus Duyckinck ordered Henry Rensselaer to sell one of his enslaved women with child “if you can get 60, or even 58 pounds in cash for them, or forty-eight pounds for her without the child.” Not surprisingly, Duyckinck did not direct Rensselaer to consult with the mother before doing so.

Many of these children would have remained in the same county, but there are also plenty of bills of sale that detail transactions in which children were sold to enslavers who lived far from their parents, thus creating long distances between family members. Elizabeth Boelen of New York City, for instance, sold the eleven-year-old Florah to Jacob Van Schaick of Albany in 1752, and in doing so Florah was taken to the upriver settlement far away from her friends and family in New York City. The family of Sare, an enslaved woman in Albany, had been spread out along the Hudson River with her daughter Mace living in Poughkeepsie and her son Bob in New York City. Their separate residencies made the chances that these family members would see each other again highly unlikely.
Page 99 certainly gives a good indication of the book's main idea: Slavery in (Dutch) New York was a brutal system, which in many ways resembled systems of enslavement elsewhere in the Americas. The page details forced family separation at the hands of Dutch American enslavers. Every day, children, some as young as one-year old, were taken away from their parents by the people who claimed to own them. Yet, New York slavery has often been presented as a system in which enslavers kept families together. In fact, some sources suggest that enslaved people were treated as members of the family, though surely Dutch American parents would not sell their own children. Such inaccurate and romanticized depictions of slavery in New York have significantly influenced how we think about slavery in this northern part of the United States. The book looks closely at the system of slavery in Dutch New York, and the experiences of the people who were enslaved through a close examination of spaces of enslavement. In doing so, it shows that just because enslaved New Yorkers often lived in the same home as their enslaver or worshipped in the same church that does not mean that slavery in New York was humane or benign. Page 99 shows this reality of slavery in the region through its discussion of family separation.
Visit Andrea C. Mosterman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue