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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: September 2020

3 - Reytory Angola, Seventeenth-Century Manhattan (US)

from Part I - Claiming Emancipation during the Rise of New World Slavery


Reytory von Angola was taken from the west coast of Africa and carried to the island of Manhattan, to the infant Dutch town of New Amsterdam sometime between 1626 and 1640. What awaited her there was a life of struggle, loss, and love. Her life demonstrates the challenges of claiming freedom for those with female bodies. Freedom required claiming family, claiming land, claiming human affections, claiming a role as a wife and a widow and a mother, and also claiming the most intimate parts of her own body. Freedom meant the ability to snatch children out of the maw of enslavement. She would never have a document that “gave” her freedom. Instead, freedom was something she made over the course of her life, which she bestowed on the generations that followed by building and defending a claim to the many aspects of herself. Marriage, motherhood, land ownership, and church membership all served as preludes to her final act of positioning her adopted son to acquire his freedom.