Root & Branch: African Americans in New York and East Jersey

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Root & Branch: African Americans in New York and East Jersey

Root & Branch weaves together an account of African American life in early New York and New Jersey that contains discussion of various social, cultural, and political events from earliest European contact to the end of the Civil War. The material on the Dutch is an excellent introduction to the research and writing on New Netherland that has occurred since the 1970s. For example, the author informs us that Jan Rodriques, a black sailor, was left on Manhattan Island in 1613. A member of the Dutch ship, Jonge Tobias, Rodrigues's status, free or slave, is difficult to determine because although left behind, he remained in possession of both musket and sword. Rodriques's ambiguous status, plus his West Indian and African roots, and his presence on a Dutch ship anticipates the multiracial, multicultural character of the community that will eventually form at the base of Manhattan Island by the middle of the 17th Century. As more people of African descent arrive, the foundation of that community can be discerned by 1628. Although the majority of Africans entered New Netherland as slaves, most were later emancipated. The same pattern was present in New Jersey. However, the introduction of British colonial practices following the Dutch defeat in 1664 slowed the rate of emancipation.

The Articles of Capitulation (August 27, 1664) established British control over the Dutch possessions in North America. Defeat, and the sudden influx of Barbadian planters and slaves into the area, accelerated the curtailment of civil liberties for Africans and their descendants. Hodges provides ample information on the rapid slide of New York colony blacks into lifetime bondage. Starting with, "An Act for Regulating Negro, Indian and Mallato [sic] Slaves," both New Jersey and New York constructed legal apparatuses that severely hampered persons of African descent. In addition, the British began importing many more Africans than West Indians after 1710. This had mixed results for as Orlando Patterson has argued, the presence of significant numbers of newly arrived "raw Africans" tended to increase the possibility of slave revolt. Hodges provides evidence to support Patterson by recounting the slave rebellions of 1712 and 1741, along with the emergence of roving bands of slaves who operated in rural New York and New Jersey. Unfortunately, the author does not explore whether or not these "rogues" had established maroon communities in the manner of Africans living in the southern British colonies.

Presenting the cultural impact of African immigration on the region is another important contribution of Hodges's synthesis. …