Abolitionist Brooklyn (1828 – 1849)

Land speculation led to Brooklyn’s rapid urban transformation in the early nineteenth century. Following the Anti-Abolition Riot in Manhattan (1834), white abolitionists moved to the emerging city. While they focused on building a national campaign, black Brooklynites sustained the city’s anti-slavery movement by continuing to build strong communities.
By 1834, Brooklyn evolved from Manhattan’s agricultural neighbor to a flourishing urban center with a city charter. Land speculation fueled this change. Plots of farmland previously owned by slaveholders were systemically parceled and sold off to investors. Brooklyn was a city on the rise.

A new set of political activists fled to the emerging city. The abolitionists were a radical minority who had established the American Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia in 1833 with headquarters in Manhattan. It was the first movement in American history in which men and women, black and white, came together with mutual purpose – to end slavery immediately and demand political and legal equality for all Americans. In July 1834, anti-abolition riots flared across Manhattan. In response, a number of white abolitionists relocated to Brooklyn, where they joined a thriving anti-slavery movement led by black Brooklynites for over two decades.

The Panic of 1837 led to a decade-long economic depression that ended Brooklyn’s rapid growth. Reduced property prices enticed black New Yorkers to buy land. In doing so they confronted an 1821 amendment to New York State’s constitution which introduced a $250 property requirement for black men to vote while removing all qualifications for white men. Owning property became a political tool that allowed black men to be counted as full citizens with voting rights. The result was the mobilized community of Williamsburg and the vibrant village of Weeksville – where independence, safety, and economic prosperity thrived.