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Africans in America

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For 400 years, the enslavement of Africans and their descendants filled the labor needs of Europeans in the new world. Their presence in the colonies of New Netherland and New York appeared at every level of society. Despite this prevalence, information on the cultures from which they came continues to be shrouded in the lies created in the period to support their enslavement.  

Throughout the period of the transatlantic slave trade, the majority of the people from Africa bound in servitude came from the kingdoms of Kongo and Angola. As the years progressed, others from the Island of Madagascar and various West African countries such as Senegambia, Nigeria, the Bight of Benin, and more, joined them. Early in the colonial period, Africans who had served first in the Caribbean and West Indies were preferred by enslavers in New Netherland. However, as the years progressed, importation from the continent brought a significant number of people directly into New York.

Portuguese Caravela

Beginning in the late 14th century, long before the transatlantic slave trade thrived, the Kingdom of Kongo had regular contact with Portugal. Historic documents indicate a mutually beneficial relationship that lasted over 150 years. When European expansion increased into the “New World,” however, the relationship shifted. The colonial powers of Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, and Britain began to exploit Africans to build their version of Europe in North America.

The Bansa or Residence of the King of Kongo

Archaeological remains in New York tell the story of the religious and cultural practices that enslaved Kongolese and Angolans carried with them. Historic newspaper articles document the use of African languages, music, and other cultural elements in New York, especially during Pinkster celebrations. Kongolese “Africanism” is deeply woven into American culture today. Yet, many people still dismiss historic Africa as a “dark” continent, not on par with Europe at all.

We invite you to explore the resources below shared below. Discover the rich cultures of Central and West Africa and the Africanisms that are part of American culture today.  Re-think the lives and contributions of those enslaved in New York, including the people here at Philipse Manor Hall.



Kongo: Power and Majesty (past exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Kimpa Vita of the Kingdom of Kongo (New York Public Library)

Africa's Great Civilizations (PBS)


LaGamma, Alisa, Kongo: Power and Majesty, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015,ISBN-10 1588395758

Holloway, Joseph, Africanisms in American Culture, Indiana University Press, 2005, ISBN-10 0253217490

Vlach, John Michael, The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts, University of Georgia Press,1990, ISBN-10 0820312339