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A transcript of the ordinance from the Director and Council of New Netherland granting “half freedom” to a group of enslaved men, 1644.

This ruling by colony director Willem Kieft (spelled William Kiefe in this document) offers an example of “half freedom” in New Netherland. It grants the freedom to farm and work independently to a group of formerly enslaved Africans including Paulo Angola, Big Manuel, Little Manuel, Manuel Gerrit de Reus, Simon Congo, Anthony Portugies, Gracia, Peter Santomee, Jan Francisco, Little Anthony, Jan Fort Orange, and their wives. However, their status is referred to as “half freedom” because there were conditions to their freedom. They had to pay the West India Company annually for their freedom and serve the company if called upon. Also, their children would remain enslaved to the company.

Slavery was practiced throughout New Netherland as early as the 1620s. The system in New Netherland was different in some ways from the system that existed later in the British colony of New York. For example, enslaved men and women generally had equal access to protections of the courts and a select number of enslaved people were granted degrees of freedom, including “half freedom” and full freedom.