Slave Shackles, ca. 1866

Slave Shackles, ca. 1866

Steel
New-York Historical Society Museum, Gift of Mrs. Carroll Beckwith, 1921.20

Slavery was an integral part of American society. In 1787 one out of every five Americans was an African slave. The shackles here were one of many ways used to control slaves.

Although the economies of the southern states depended more heavily on slaves than northern states, New Yorkers owned over 21,000 slaves, half by yeoman farmers in the Hudson River Valley. The slave trade was debated in the first federal Congress under the Constitution. It was agreed that the African slave trade could not be prohibited by Congress before 1808, but Congress decided that it could regulate the trade to make conditions less barbaric than the description of the Brooks slave ship. Congress, however, passed no legislation moderating the condition of slaves being transported from Africa to America.