In honor of Black history month, we thought we would take a look at some items from the library collections spanning the first four centuries of African-American history in New York; and where better to start than the beginning (just about)!
Conveyance of Judith Stuyvesant to Frans Bastiaensz, 24 September 1674. (BY NYC Deeds, MS 1972, p.23)
Shown here is a 1674 conveyance, in Dutch, made by Judith Stuyvesant transferring property (roughly in present-day Gramercy Park) to a Frans Bastiaensz. It’s interesting enough that this woman is the widow of former governor Peter Stuyvesant, but perhaps equally so is the background of the man to whom she is transferring the property. Bastiaensz was a free black and the offspring of one of the first free blacks in New Amsterdam, Sebastiaen de Britto, from Santo Domingo.
The elder was described as “captain of the Negroes”, presumably for having overseen the slaves’ work assignments. His efforts were rewarded with his freedom and his own 6-acre plot of land in 1647. Lest this seem a completely magnanimous gesture, the settling of free blacks such as de Britto north of the city was also a calculated plan by then-Governor William Kieft to insulate the city from potential Indian raids.
Interestingly, Bastiaenesz’s name reflects the Dutch convention of patronymics, wherein a father’s name provided the root for his son’s. Since Frans’ father’s name was Sebastiaen, his patronymic was Bastiaenesz, and his full name Frans Bastiaenesz.