Author: Parnella Baul Associate Professor of Accounting, Monroe County Community College

Slavery is the foundation of American capitalism. Many Americans don’t know the role Wall Street played during the slave trade and that Wall Street was built by enslaved people. Ironically, the wall was built by enslaved people to protect Dutch settlers against raids by the native people of the country.
How Wall Street Got Started
New York City officials declared that all “Negro or Indian slaves that are available for hire…be hired at The Market House at the Wall Street Slip” in 1711. (Miles 2019, 2019). It was the first slave market in New York, even before Wall Street was a financial district.
US banks funded the expansion and operation of slave-run plantations by using enslaved persons as collateral for mortgages. They were effectively made into commodities. Nearly 4 million slaves lived in the US just before the Civil War. Their market value was between $3.1 billion and $3.6 billion (Bourne 2008).
A History of Profiting
Slavery was a lucrative business for major corporations, who were able to rent slaves from their masters and also acquired ownership as collateral on defaulted loans.
Slave insurance policies, which covered enslaved persons from their journey to America and while they were in America, made a lot of money for insurance companies. Slave owners were more valuable due to the 1807 act that prohibited the importation of slaves. This resulted in a significant rise in the sales of slave insurance policies. Slave owners received compensation if their slaves ran away, were injured, or were killed.
The System After Abolishment
Is it possible to make a case for reparations? Consider this: In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation that ended slavery and provided emancipation compensation for slave owners in the District of Columbia.
On average, slave owners received $300 per freed slave. This is equivalent to $7657.34 today. The slave owners received nothing, which meant they couldn’t build on it or pass it down to their descendants.
“The enslaved were America’s biggest financial asset and were forced to export the most important commodity. The US became a world leader in cotton exports thanks to its profits” (Lockhart 2019, 2019).
Although slavery was abolished by 1865, Africans were forced to work for their freedom through peonage and convict leasing. Many were literally killed by the cheap labor of leased convicts. This practice continued until the 1940s. It is interesting that while the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution abolished slavery, it does not exempt persons who are charged with a crime.
How can descendants of enslaved people be compensated or made whole again?
Activities to enhance your classroom discussion
For a better understanding of the effects on enslaved persons, see The Slave Auction
Discuss this 1619 Project interview with Nikole Hannah Jones discussing slavery’s legacy in America
Ask students to research other companies that profited in the slave trade. Discuss possible compensations for descendants of enslaved persons.
Discuss the topic and policy “Why We Need Reparation for Black Americans” and have your say
Search the New York Slavery Records Index to find enslaved people and slave owners

Refer to
Robert Whaples edited Jenny Bourne, “Slavery In The United States,” EH.Net Encyclopedia March 26, 2008.
PR Lockhart. Vox, August 16, 2019, “How Slavery Became America‚Äôs First Big Business,” Vox.
Miles, T., Miles, “Municipal Bonds”: How Slavery Built Wall Street, 1619 Project, p.40, August 18, 2019.