Simon Congo (approx 1600/1608 – 1667/1668) was one of the first African men to be brought to New Amsterdam. He was born in the Congo and brought over with Paul d’ Angola, Anthony Portuguese, John Francisco, and seven other males in 1626. Their names indicate that they may have been slaves on Portuguese or Spanish ships captured at sea.
Mr. Congo, along with the other men, served the Dutch West India Company in New Amsterdam for around 22 years. The Company released these slaves on a “half‑freedom” plan which gave the Company the produce and periodic labor that it required without the responsibility of superintending and maintaining the slaves. Simon chose to become a farmer for himself and was given land in the area we know as Greenwich Village.
His “freedom” was granted “on condition that they . . . shall be bound to pay for the freedom they receive . . . annually . . . to the [Dutch] West India Company . . . thirty skepels of Maize or Wheat, Pease or Beans, and one Fat hog, valued at twenty guilders.” If the tribute were not paid, their freedom was forfeited. They were also obligated to work for the Company for wages whenever their services were required.
Unfortunately, any children the men had would be required to serve the company as slaves for 35 years before “freed”. This became a very controversial caveat in the community. Many families bought the freedom of their children when possible.