The Metropolitan Chapter of the Victorian Society in America

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Slavery and Resistance in New York

November 16, 2020 @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm


Two New Books Shed Light on 19th-Century Complicity and Activism

Monday, November 16, 2020

6:00 PM – 7 PM EST on Zoom

Post-Event Update: A video recording of this lecture can be found here.

About this Event

Congress banned American participation in the transatlantic slave trade in 1808, but fifty years later the United States was still steeped in the traffic. By this stage, the trade’s home was no longer Charleston or New Orleans, the well-known slaving hubs of the South, but a booming northern metropolis: New York City.

New York City rose from the ashes of the Great Fire of 1835. But the many tales of Gotham’s growth rarely acknowledge the truth: that the city was not only built on the backs of slaves, but was essential in keeping slavery and the slave trade alive.

The scale of the illegal slave trade through New York was stunning. In the years leading up to and during the Civil War, hundreds of slave ships embarked from Gotham’s wharfs for the African coast. Around 200,000 men, women, and children would be packed aboard these vessels, shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to the deadly sugar plantations of Cuba.

John Harris, a professor at Erskine College, will recount this stunning and little-understood history, drawing on his new book, The Last Slave Ships: New York and the End of the Middle Passage. His talk will reveal who ran the illegal slave trade, why they got away with it, and how Abraham Lincoln’s administration final squashed the trade during the Civil War.

In The Kidnapping Club, University of Michigan historian Jonathan Daniel Wells tells the story of the powerful network of judges, lawyers, and police officers who circumvented anti-slavery laws by sanctioning the kidnapping of free and fugitive African Americans. Nicknamed “The New York Kidnapping Club,” the group had the tacit support of institutions from Wall Street to Tammany Hall whose wealth depended on the Southern slave and cotton trade. But a small cohort of abolitionists, including Black journalist David Ruggles, organized tirelessly for the rights of Black New Yorkers, often risking their lives in the process.

Taking readers into the bustling streets and ports of America’s great northern metropolis, The Kidnapping Club is a dramatic account of the ties between slavery and capitalism, the deeply corrupt roots of policing, and the strength of Black activism.

Reserve Your Tickets Here

Buy The Last Slave Ships

Buy The Kidnapping Club


November 16, 2020
6:00 pm - 7:00 pm