Now an anonymous condominium, the building stands on a site of one of the financial building blocks of New York City, and one of its greatest shames: the slave trade.
Originating with 11 West African captives brought to New Amsterdam in irons in 1626, the New York slave trade grew over the following 150 years to be one of the most essential cogs in the triangle trade. 74 Wall Street, on the lot bounded by Water and Pearl Streets, is the most widely accepted address of this auction block.
The original 11 slaves were immediately tasked with constructing defenses for the small Dutch colony in the form of a wall across the town’s northern frontier. Years later, the wall would be taken down and its fragments used to level the roads and expand the island as landfill: all done by slaves.
At the start of the 18th century, the corner of Wall and Pearl Street was an open-air market, where slaves were unloaded from ships in the nearby East River. The river at that time was much closer at Water Street, which would mean that the sale of slaves would occur right under the shadow of their floating prisons. Later improvement brought a sheltered complex, city oversight and, of course, tax revenue. Slaves were sold throughout the city and surrounding region. In a wider scope, New York positioned itself as the port city where agricultural goods grown by slaves in the South were financed, refined, packaged and shipped around the world. The New York Stock Exchange, just up the street, owes its startup capital to the slave economy.
No evidence remains of the New York Slave Market. In June of 2015, the City of New York unveiled a small plaque in the beer garden adjacent to the modern day 74 Wall Street.
The small plaque memorializing the many thousands of slaves who were abducted and sold on what is now 74 Wall St. is roughly the size of a plaque across the street at 74 Wall Street honoring the Livingston family, who owed their political prominence to the wealth they generated from the slave trade.
The United States currently has no significant national memorial to slavery.
Know Before You Go
74 Wall Street between Pearl and William Streets.