Sojourner Truth - Advocate for Abolitionism and Women's Rights

Slavery in the Early American Republic

The Tontine Coffee House in New York City was an important meeting place for merchants and traders to conduct business.

The Early American Republic


  • What do you see when you look at this painting?
  • What details stand out to you about the people?
  • What do you notice about the setting?
  • What impression of New York City do you get from looking at this scene?

Background Information:

This image depicts the intersection of Wall Street and Water Street in New York City in 1797. On the left side of the canvas is the Tontine Coffee House (the building with the flag on top). On the right, diagonally across from the Tontine Coffee House is the Merchant’s Coffee House. The view extends all the way to the East River in the background.

Outside of the two coffee houses is a busy scene. Workers handle barrels, bales, and boxes from ships and get them ready to load onto ships. Two African-American men work in the center of the scene. New York’s population included both enslaved and free Black people at the time.

Coffee houses were important meeting places for workers, professionals, and political groups. The Tontine Coffee House was a marketplace for goods and ideas. People sold and traded ships, horses, real estate, rum, and more at the coffee house, including enslaved men, women, and children. In this image, a group of men are gathered on the porch. They appear to be members of the upper classes, based upon the clothing they are wearing.

Slavery in New York


  • What did you learn about the Early American Republic from this painting and this information?
  • This was the New York Sojourner Truth moved to in 1828 after freeing herself from slavery. How might her life have been affected by spaces like the Tontine Coffee House?

Background Information:

This painting was created in 1797, around the same year Sojourner Truth was born into slavery in upstate New York. New York took its first step toward ending slavery in 1799, issuing an act that declared the children of enslaved people born on or after the 4th of July free. This act required those children to work for their mother’s owner until they were in their 20s.

New York took a second step towards abolishing slavery in 1817, when the state agreed to abolish slavery on July 4, 1827. However, shipping companies located in New York City continued to profit off of the slave trade. Slavery remained a central part of New York’s economy for decades, until the Civil War.

Learn more about this painting by clicking "Object Info" below!