Albany was a busy port city throughout the nineteenth century. During its most active Underground Railroad days, the city was occupied by lumber and other businesses at the riverfront and numerous retail establishments along Market Street (our current Broadway), Pearl Street, and corresponding cross streets. Although it was the state capital (since 1797) Albany truly began to expand only after the completion in 1825 of the Erie Canal, which enhanced the city as a destination for riverboat shipping and traffic.
Commerce along the Hudson and Erie Canal system, and new forms of transportation such as the steamboat and the railroad, greatly increased the opportunities for people, including fugitives from slavery, to travel from port to port, and city to city. The new transportation systems, as well as burgeoning social movements of the antebellum period, such as Sunday School, temperance and women’s rights movements, provided abundant opportunities for the sort of networking that facilitated Underground Railroad efforts. Continue reading
Slavery and New York State have a long history together. Indeed, the history of slavery in New York predates the birth of New York as an English and originates in the days of New Netherland, part of the extensive international slave trade.
As we are regularly reminded by events today, slavery has not disappeared. The current issue of Time includes an article on the worldwide continuance of slavery today, especially targeting young women and girls.
What does this have to do with New York history today? Continue reading
Dr. Travis Jackson often quotes this African proverb: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
As one of the 49 children at the center of a successful desegregation case in Rockland County in 1943, Dr. Jackson will be a special guest at a ceremony in Hillburn, New York on Saturday, May 17. The event commemorates the 60th anniversary of a subsequent legal decision, the landmark Brown V. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The program will also remember the lawyer who was on the winning side in both cases, Thurgood Marshall. As an eyewitness to this epic hunt for equality, Jackson has become the historian for the lions. Continue reading
The Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark and the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum (NAHOF) in Peterboro, Madison County, N.Y. will open for the 2014 season on Saturday, May 17 and will be open from 1 – 5 pm seven days per week until Sunday, August 17. The sites will then be open on weekends until September 21 from 1 – 5 pm.
The Gerrit Smith Estate has interior and exterior exhibits on freedom seekers, Gerrit Smith, Smith’s wealth, philanthropy and family, and the Underground Railroad. This site is on the national, state, and county Underground Railroad Trail. NAHOF has the Abolition Hall of Fame exhibit and the chronology of American Abolition from the Colonial Period to Reconstruction. An exhibit on women in the anti-slavery movement was added to the NAHOF museum in 2013. Continue reading
The amazing, and fortuitous, rescue of Solomon Northup was made possible by a New York statute that was signed into law, and became effective, on May 14, 1840.
Following the 1808 ban on importation of slaves into the U.S., enacted by Congress, the kidnapping of free blacks for sale as slaves became a larger problem. The ban reduced the “supply” of slaves, and with “demand” unchanged, prices rose, along with the potential profit for kidnappers. In 1817, in a description of a kidnapping case, the City Hall Recorder noted that, after 1808: “the practice of kidnapping was commenced, and has been carried to an alarming height.” Continue reading
Cemeteries were segregated in America until the mid-20th century. Even black veterans of America’s armed conflicts were dishonored when buried. Today, Mount Moor Cemetery stands as a monument to the twisted logic of racial discrimination. But the cemetery of approximately 90 veterans and civilians also serves as a symbol of perseverance and defiance.
The gravestones at Mount Moor endure, despite the initial efforts of the developers of the Palisades Mall to obliterate the burial ground. Continue reading
Launching John Brown Day 2014, students from high schools across the Adirondacks will attend special screenings of 12 Years a Slave, the Academy award-winning film based on the autobiography of Solomon Northup, a free Black Adirondacker who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the mid-1800s.
Born in Minerva in 1808, Northup lived many of his early years in the region, married and made a home with his wife and their three children in Saratoga Springs. It was there in 1841 where his harrowing entrapment and subsequent enslavement on a Louisiana cotton plantation began.
Eighteen years later in October 1859 John Brown’s raid on the federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, lit the spark that ignited the war that ended the chattel slavery that Northup and millions of other people of African descent endured in the United States. Continue reading
May 14th is the opening day of Crailo State Historic Site’s 2014 season. Crailo’s exhibit “‘A Sweet and Alien Land': Colony of the Dutch in the Hudson River Valley,” uses archaeological finds from Crailo, Fort Orange, Schuyler Flatts, and other Dutch sites to tell the story of the colonists of New Netherland more than 350 years ago.
In addition, tours this year will include the enslaved people brought to the colony by the Dutch as part of Crailo’s ongoing effort to highlight the diverse people of New Netherland. This new research and interpretation is in conjunction with the Gilder Lehrman Center and Yale Public History Institute. Continue reading
In this 50th anniversary year of the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a new book by Vanity Fair editor and Politico senior writer Todd Purdum, An Idea Whose Time Has Come (Henry Holt & Co., 2014) recounts the dramatic political battle to pass this important law that in many ways helped create modern America.
Pardum’s book revisits a turbulent time in America, a time of sit-ins, freedom rides, and the March on Washington. During this time, John F. Kennedy sent Congress a bill to bar racial discrimination in employment, education and public accommodations. Continue reading
The New-York Historical Society has announced the winners of its recent scholarship contest, which invited high school students to submit original essays, videos or photographs on the theme of breaking barriers in sports and making history.
The contest was held in conjunction with New-York Historical’s exhibition on pioneering African American basketball players—The Black Fives—on view now through July 20, 2014. Continue reading
Solomon Northup of Saratoga was lured into slavery in 1841, and was a slave in Louisiana for 12 years before being rescued. What impact did Northup’s kidnapping have on his wife and family? In Solomon’s absence, the Northup family became a one-income household.
At 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 10, 2014, David Fiske will offer a presentation that describes how his wife Anne carried on and saw to the needs of their children. Information on her later life will also be provided. Continue reading
Black Americans have a long and distinguished history of military service. They participated in every colonial war from 1690 through the French and Indian War (1754-1763) as soldiers, sailors, laborers, scouts, and spies. Blacks generally served in integrated units and earned the same pay as whites. Even slaves served in the army and were paid although their enlistment compelled them to surrender some portion of this money to their owners.
In the early Revolutionary War battles of Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, free and enslaved Blacks fought shoulder to shoulder with white patriots. However, by the summer of 1775, under pressure from Southern plantation owners, General George Washington and the Continental Congress opposed the further enlistment of free blacks and slaves. Historians James and Lois Horton state that southern planters were “well aware of African-Americans desire for freedom, and most feared insurrection should slaves gain access to guns.” Continue reading
On April 11 at 7 p.m., Gospel Jubilee is coming to Proctors Theatre in Schenectady, NY. Gospel Jubilee is third annual celebration of soulful music, and features national recording artist and BET Sunday Best winner Crystal Aikin, along with a diverse line-up of gospel luminaries. The event will have a special tribute to Artis Kitchen. Kitchen was a gospel promoter and producer in the Capital District who passed away in 1986 and who played a prominent role in Albany for the gospel community.
Kitchen first brought his gospel ministry to a large regional audience with the airing of his “Spiritual Time” radio show on WABY. He later became famous for his television show “Spiritual Time with Bro. Artis Kitchen” on WTEN. Continue reading
On the 12th day of August in 1857, a young girl was brought before Judge William H. Robertson in his chambers at Katonah in Westchester County, New York. Over 30 years after slavery had been legally banned in the state, the matter before the judge was whether she should be set at liberty.
Local constable Zeno Hoyt had found the 5-year-old girl, named Ellen, at the home of David A. Griffin in Ossining, where she was in the charge of two ladies. One of them, Louisa Kerr, was present at the hearing, which came about because Ellen’s grandfather, with the assistance of attorney John Jay, had instituted proceedings to have her placed in his custody. Continue reading
The wheel is about to be reinvented. In response to an earlier post on the State Tourism Advisory Council, Rosemary Vietor wrote the following comment:
Peter – Perhaps you saw the article in yesterday’s WSJ NY section on the underground railroad (not precise title) tourism sites proposed for Manhattan. It is an effort to link those sites (most of which no longer exist) into a walking tour. There has been for a number of years a similar effort in Flushing, the Flushing Freedom Mile. It links sites such as the Quaker Meeting House, Bowne House and others. There are markers so one can do this tour. Here is a great example of what might be done to increase history tourism – link both sites and others around the city. Why is this not done? It’s so obvious. As for Mystic Seaport, I can tell you from involvement there that CT has long recognized the importance of history and tourism and has devoted substantial funds to those efforts. New York seems indifferent at best. NY Culture. Continue reading
Stewards for the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark (the Gerrit Smith Estate) invite the public to the annual Gerrit Smith birthday party at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 8, 2014 to learn about Peterboro in 1864.
Born in Utica March 6, 1797, Smith came to Peterboro when nine years old and, with the exception of his years at college and in Congress, spent his life in Peterboro managing his land business in order to support his reform initiatives. Smith’s influence connected Peterboro to national issues. Continue reading
Residents of antebellum New York State assumed a large responsibility for sheltering slaves fleeing to Canada. It’s rare that we hear how families dealt with the challenge of concealing a fugitive, a crime for which they could pay high fines or even jail terms. The following account of Martha and David Wright’s experience reveals some of the complications involved when a family with young children offered lodging to runaways.
Martha and David Wright offered their Auburn, New York home as a station on the Underground Railroad from its early years. In letters to her sister, Lucretia Mott, Martha described the stories and challenges that boarding fugitive slaves presented to her and her family. One of those stories happened in January, 1843. Continue reading
I wrote an article about early black musicians in New York State back in December, but I decided to omit Joe Pell from that piece for two reasons. He seemed never to have been a full-time musician (as were the other performers in the article), and, in December, nearly all the information I had on Pell came from his obituary, and obituaries are not always the best place to locate objective, unbiased information about a person.
I have since been able to confirm much of what was written upon his passing, and I present here an annotated obituary of this talented and beloved black performer. My annotations appear within square brackets. Continue reading
On Saturday, February 22nd from 11:00am-4:00pm Crailo in Rensselaer, NY will explore the lesser-known world of those who were enslaved by the Van Rensselaers and the history of slavery in New Netherland and New York.
Crailo will be open for special open-house style tours, featuring new interpretation of the cellar kitchen focusing on the role that enslaved people played at Crailo. Continue reading
Vermonters have always been proud that their state was the first to outlaw slavery in its constitution—but is that what really happened?
In a new book, The Problem of Slavery in Early Vermont, 1777-1810 (Vermont Historical Society, 2014), historian Harvey Amani Whitfield challenges this myth by showing that the enslavement of African Americans continued in Vermont for another 30 years, even as anti-slavery sentiment continued to swell.
The Problem of Slavery in Early Vermont, 1777-1810 will be enlightening to Vermont teachers and students, scholars of the early national and antebellum periods of U.S. history, and anyone interested in the history of Vermont. The book can be purchased at the website of the Vermont Historical Society. Continue reading