As the Civil War loomed and politicians from the North and South debated the fate of slavery, brave New Yorkers risked their lives to help fugitive slaves escape bondage. Because of its clandestine nature, much of the history of the Underground Railroad remains shrouded in secrecy—so much so that some historians have even doubted its importance.
After decades of research, Tom Calarco recounts his experiences compiling evidence to give credence to the legend’s oral history in a new book The Search for the Underground Railroad in Upstate New York (History Press, 2014). Continue reading
Late spring of 1845 found , a leader of the Liberty Party, touring the North Country in search of disaffected “Whigs and Democrats, whose intelligence and Christian integrity will not permit them to remain longer in their pro-slavery connections.”
Smith, from Peterboro, in Madison County, traveled from Saratoga Springs, through Glens Falls and then into Essex and Clinton counties on his quest to build a credible third party, a devoted anti-slavery party. His report, printed in the Albany Patriot in late June, details the villages his visited, the people he met, and the difficulties he faced. Continue reading
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
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
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
The Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region will present the 13th Public History Conference on the Underground Railroad Movement on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, April 11-13, 2014 at Russell Sage College and the Rensselaer County Historical Society in Troy, NY.
For thirteen years, the Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region has been contributing to awareness and historical understanding of abolitionists and freedom seekers and their activity, emphasizing the participation of African American abolitionists and relating the movement to our experiences today. 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
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
Rochester is the epicenter of a great deal that’s related to Susan B. Anthony in New York State. When you enter the city, it’s an exhilarating experience to drive over the Frederick Douglass-Susan B. Anthony Memorial Bridge to reach downtown.
Rochester residents are well aware of where Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) once lived. Get lost on any city street and say you’re trying to find the National Susan B. Anthony Museum and House at 17 Madison Street in the section of the city known as the Susan B. Anthony Preservation District. Many local residents are even willing to escort you there personally. Continue reading
The film “12 Years a Slave” is raising global awareness of Solomon Northup’s story of being kidnapped and sold into slavery before the Civil War. Northup’s victimization was not unique, however, and there were numerous cases–in New York State alone–of free blacks being kidnapped for the purpose of being sold as slaves.
Some of these crimes were committed prior to Northup’s kidnapping in 1841, and others after his rescue and the publication of his narrative in 1853. Apparently public awareness of the existence of kidnapping did not diminish its occurrence. Continue reading
The Irvington HIstorical Society will present a lecture by 2012 New Netherland Institute Senior Scholar Dr. Dennis Maika on understanding slavery in colonial New York on Sunday, February 9 at 3:00 pm at the Irvington Public Library.
When most Americans imagine their country’s experience with slavery, their perceptions are typically influenced by an understanding of the 19th century American South in the decades before the Civil War. Less well known is the long history of slavery in Colonial New York which began in the early days of seventeenth century New Netherland and ended officially in the decades after the Revolution. Continue reading
New York State offers a special window into African American history and American culture. It was a center for 19th century anti-slavery organizations, and home to Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and many other Abolitionist and Underground Railroad leaders.
Nevertheless, anti-black discrimination remained an issue well into the 20th century, and the National Association of Colored People (NAACP) actually has its roots in the Niagara Movement, whose first meeting in 1905 took place on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls because members were turned away from hotels on the U.S. side. Continue reading
After six years research, retired genealogist, one-time teacher, and journalist Alethea “Lee” Connolly has published The Seceders: Religious Conviction & the Abolitionist Movement in the Town of Manlius, 1834-1844 (2013). The book makes a significant contribution to our knowledge of the very early abolitionist movement in Onondaga County, and its interactions with similar movements in Madison, Cayuga, and Oneida counties.
Motivated by deep religious values of justice and human dignity, the men and women covered in this book defied local resistance and social pressures. They refused to be silenced in their anti-slavery beliefs. Town of Manlius Historian, Barbara S. Rivette, has called the book “an amazing feat of research.” Continue reading
In the 1800s, free blacks were sometimes lured from the safety of their hometowns, abducted, and sold into slavery. This happened to Solomon Northup, whose story is told in the film “12 Years a Slave.”
But several other black New Yorkers, from various parts of the state, were also kidnapped. Once they were taken to a slave state, their chances of returning home were small. But some victims, like Northup, were rescued from slavery, and their kidnappers were held accountable for their deeds. This presentation will tell their stories. Continue reading
Many books have been written about Frederick Douglass’ early life and later accomplishments as a famous abolitionist and orator, but Frederick and Anna Douglass in Rochester New York: Their Home Was Open To All (History Press, 2013), by local historian Rose O’Keefe, is the first book to bring Frederick and Anna’s family side to life. O’Keefe traces the Douglass family’s journey to the rural homestead in what is now the edge of Highland Park in the City of Rochester.
Frederick Douglass – author, orator and former slave – spent twenty-five years with his family in Rochester beginning in 1848. Despite living through some of our nation’s most bitter and terrifying times, Frederick and his wife, Anna, raised five children in a loving home with flower, fruit and vegetable gardens. Continue reading
Retired Navy Commander Owen Corpin of Peterboro will lead the Peterboro commemoration of Watch Night for Emancipation at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, December 31, 2013. During the night of December 31, 1862, African Americans congregated in homes, meeting halls, and churches in the North and in secret locations in the Confederacy to “watch” for the coming of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 which would deliver them from slavery.
On that first day of 1863 President Abraham Lincoln did present the Emancipation Proclamation. The preliminary draft of that document in Lincoln’s handwriting was briefly owned by Gerrit Smith of Peterboro and is now a treasured document in the New York State Museum in Albany. Continue reading
These days, no one likes a radical, especially one who makes unpopular statements or questions the government. The same can be said for our 19th-century counterparts. They, too, did not like a trouble-maker, particularly William Lloyd Garrison, who was born 208 years ago today, on December 12, 1805. A familiar figure to the women’s rights leaders and daughters I have studied, this Newburyport, Massachusetts native became the most outspoken abolitionist in America. At a time when North and South alike still tolerated the great evil of slavery, he called for immediate and complete abolition.
What is less known about Garrison is his staunch defense of women’s rights. He became the inspiration that led many New Yorkers to insist on women’s as well as slaves’ rights. We could view four periods of Garrison’s life through four New York women, each of whom saw him from a different vantage point. Continue reading