Tag Archives: Abolition

Emancipation Anniversary: A Grassroots Victory


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Almost lost in the depressing “Fiscal Cliff” spectacle was the anniversary marking one of the major positive milestones of our history — President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

On January 1, 1863, some 3 million people held as slaves in the Confederate states were declared to be “forever free.” Of course, it wasn’t that simple. Most of those 3 million people were still subjugated until the Union Army swept away the final Confederate opposition more than two years later. And slavery was not abolished in the entire United States until after the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution passed in 1865. Continue reading

American Experience’s Abolitionist Map of America


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Producers of the PBS series American Experience have announced the launch of The Abolitionist Map of America, an interactive website that explores events, characters and locations connected to the anti-slavery movement, one of the most important civil rights crusade in American history.

The map engages communities around their local history, connecting the stories told in The Abolitionists, premiering Tuesdays, January 8-22, 2013 on PBS, to real geographic locations, bringing events from the past to life and integrating them into present-day American cities. Continue reading

Emancipation Weekend in the Adirondacks


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January 1, 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, and students, educators, and general public across the North Country will have the opportunity to support a New Proclamation of Freedom for the 21st century.

On Friday 30 November and Saturday 1 December, modern-day abolitionists will gather with students, teachers and the general public concerned about human freedom and human trafficking at various venues in Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. Activities will include an art exhibition, a screening of the popular Civil War film Glory, workshops, lectures, and a closing reception following historian David Blight’s keynote address on Saturday night. (Full schedule follows.) Continue reading

Lincoln Scholar to Speak at NYS Museum


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Abraham Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer will present a lecture during the evening of Nov. 9 as part of an event highlighting a two-day exhibition of Lincoln’s preliminary Emancipation Proclamation at the New York State Museum.

Holzer will speak at 8 p.m. in the Clark Auditorium about “Lincoln and Liberty: Re-assessing the Preliminary Proclamation in the Age of Spielberg.” Author of the new book “Emancipating Lincoln,” Holzer will explore the ever-changing reputation of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation from controversial and revolutionary order, to talismanic trophy, to maligned and misunderstood fraud — and back again to icon. The talk will come at the moment of the release of Steven Spielberg’s movie, “Lincoln,” which explores Lincoln’s concurrent roles as politician, peacemaker, and liberator. Continue reading

Manumission Document Tells Story Emancipation in NY


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The Jay Heritage Center (JHC) has announce the gift of an original manumission document for its African American History collection. The word “manumission” means to emancipate or free from bondage.

Manumission documents like this one issued by a New York slaveholder are rare. In this instance, the signatory freeing a slave known only by the name of “Lewis,” is identified as Richard Hatfield, Jr. Hatfield was the son of a leading lawyer, Richard Hatfield, Sr. (1750 -1813) a delegate to the NY State Convention that ratified the constitution. It is recorded that he inherited land (and presumably slaves) that stretched “from the Scarsdale or “Indian Line of Marked Trees” to, or almost to, the then Road to Rye Neck, (now Old Mamaroneck Road, Gedney Way and Mamaroneck Avenue). His property would have passed to his son, Richard Hatfield, Jr. who was an attorney as well.

Instruments like this one were often recorded in the Libers of Conveyances in the Recorder’s Office of the City of New York, usually at the request of the freed slave as an added protection. Another signature on the paper that merits interest is that of Richard Riker (1773-1842) who served as NY Recorder, prior to and after John Jay’s eldest son, Peter Augustus Jay.

But unlike Jay and Jay’s fellow members of the NY Manumission Society who actively fought to end slave trafficking, Riker is rumored to have been complicit in the kidnapping of freed blacks for purposes of selling them back into slavery. This document helps vividly narrate a chapter in African American history when freedom was not only hard won but also uncertain to last; even elected officials could not be trusted to abide by legal writs.

The document was donated by Carol Ubosi nee Smith of the Purdy, Bell and Potter families who have resided in Westchester County since the 1700s. It was found in the 1980s by Ms. Ubosi’s mother, May Potter Smith, amongst several nineteenth century items in the attic of their family home in Harrison. Although this important story was carefully preserved in a family bible, it is still not known how “Lewis” was connected to the Purdy/Bell family of Harrison. A search for further information and context is ongoing.

Last fall, after contacting JHC president Suzanne Clary for research help about the historic African Cemetery in Rye where her ancestors are buried, Ubosi expressed her interest in making the gift to JHC where it could be made available to area schools and scholars. Ubosi grew up in Mamaroneck and New Rochelle and lives in Silver Spring, Maryland. She attended Central State University in Ohio and has taught in White Plains and Silver Spring. She is presently working on a book about the genealogy of her family with Alesia McFadden, a historian of African American History. As an educator, Ubosi hopes this manumission document will shed some light on the rich history of African-Americans living in Westchester and inspire others to explore and share their own family heritage

The Jay Heritage Center is equally delighted that this primary source will be shared with the many middle school history classes who regularly come through its doors to learn about African American History in New York and Westchester. “When students ask us, ‘What does manumission mean?’ says Clary, “this remarkable document will tangibly show them one man’s transition from servitude to freedom almost 200 years ago. The mere fact of its existence demonstrates how precious this paper was to its owner and his descendants. For those families who will see it firsthand at our site it will prompt the necessary questions that are central to an ongoing discussion about the evolution of social justice in our country.” The Jay Heritage Center has been a member site of the African American Heritage Trail since 2004; John Jay and his family played active roles in abolishing slavery in New York.

Marking John Brown’s Struggle For Human Rights


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One hundred and fifty-three years ago this week John Brown led an anti-slavery raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, part of the radical movement of tens of thousands of Americans struggling to undermine the institution of slavery in America before the Civil War.

It’s often said that just one thing secured Brown’s place in the hearts of millions of Americans – his execution and martyrdom. But there is another more important reason to celebrate the life of John Brown – his courage in standing against unjust state and federal laws, the press, and popular culture in the cause of basic human rights. Continue reading

New John Brown Portrait Unveiling, Education Event Set


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John Brown Lives! and North Country Community College have announced that Maine artist Robert Shetterly will be present for the unveiling of his portrait of abolitionist John Brown during Freedom Now, Freedom Then: The Long History of Emancipation, a two-day program designed for students, educators and the general public on November 30-December 1, 2012. The events will take place in Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, New York.

Brown is one of the newest additions to the Americans Who Tell the Truth project that Shetterly began 10 years ago using portraits of contemporary and historical figures and their own words to offer a “link between a community of people who struggled for justice in our past and a community of people who are doing it now.”

With this portrait, Brown joins Shetterly’s pantheon of more than 180 Truth Tellers that includes Abraham Lincoln, Sojourner Truth and Mark Twain from the nation’s past, and Bill McKibben, James Baldwin, Michelle Alexander, and Jonathan Kozol who are addressing some of humanity’s gravest concerns today.

Shetterly’s portraits have been exhibited across the country. His painting of Brown will be unveiled on Friday 30 November at North Country Community College, Saranac Lake campus, at the opening program of “Freedom Now, Freedom Then: The Long History of Emancipation”. Several other Shetterly paintings will also be exhibited at the college and at the other venues where events will be taking place.

Geared for area high school and college students, their teachers and professors, the Friday program of “Freedom Now, Freedom Then” will also feature independent scholar Amy Godine and Kenneth Morris, Jr., the great-great-great grandson of Frederick Douglass.

Godine will talk about young men and women with North Country roots who have heeded the call for human freedman, including slain civil rights worker Andrew Goodman and criminal justice reformer Alice Green. A poster including Goodman, Green and four other civil rights champions done by Lake Placid artist Nip Rogers will also be on display.

Following in his forebear’s footsteps, Morris will talk with students about slavery in Douglass’ time and today, when more people are trafficked and held in slavery than at any other time in human history. Twenty-seven million people are enslaved in nearly every country on Earth, including the United States where State Department estimates that 15,000 women, men and children are trafficked each year. Morris will also discuss service-learning opportunities for students to join the 21st century abolitionist movement to end slavery once and for all.

Glory, the Edward Zwick film starring Denzel Washington and Matthew Broderick, will be shown on Friday night (venue to be determined). Civil War Memory blogger Kevin Levin will lead a discussion immediately following the screening.

A cornerstone of John Brown Lives!’ work is to provide teachers in and outside of the classroom with high-caliber opportunities to engage with historians, scholars, anti-slavery activists and artists in an intimate setting. Heaven Hill Farm in Lake Placid will be the venue for a full day of workshops, presentations and conversations on the complex history of emancipation for educators, librarians, and the general public and will feature: Dr. Gloria Marshall-Browne on freedom and the Founding Documents; Dr. Margaret Washington on women and emancipation; Civil War Memory blogger Kevin Levin on film and emancipation; Magpie, the folk duo, on emancipation in song; Artist Robert Shetterly on art to promote courageous citizenship; Kenneth Morris, President of the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation, on engaging youth, congregations and communities in emancipation today; and Dr. Franny Nudelman on emancipation our texts and textbooks.

David W. Blight, preeminent scholar on the U.S. Civil War, will give the closing keynote address, “The Historical Memory of the Civil War and Emancipation at 150” on Saturday night in Lake Placid (venue to be determined). Dr. Blight is the Director of the Center for Slavery, Resistance and Abolition at Yale University and the author of numerous award-winning books and publications including American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era; A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Narratives of Emancipation; and Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory.

For more information, presenter bios, and a complete schedule of workshops, film and music programs, visit John Brown Lives! on Facebook or contact either Martha Swan, Executive Director John Brown Lives!, or Cammy Sheridan, Assistant Professor of Social Sciences at North Country Community College. Swan may be reached at 518-962-4798 or info@johnbrownlives.org. Sheridan is available at 518-891-2915, ext. 1271 or csheridan@nccc.edu.

William Seward Biographer Visting Seward’s Hometown


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Walter Stahr, author of a new biography on one of America’s greatest statesmen, William Henry Seward, will be visiting Florida, NY (Orange County) on October 14. The visit will include a lecture and book signing at the school founded by William Henry’s father, Samuel Sweezy Seward, which today still bears his name, the SS Seward Institute.

This will be Stahr’s third visit to Florida. His first two visits took place while he was researching his latest book, Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man, which took four years to complete. The biography, released in September, has already received highly favorable reviews. Continue reading

State Historian to Speak at Abolition Hall of Fame Dinner


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Robert Weible, State Historian of New York and Chief Curator of the New York State Museum will provide the keynote address at the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum (NAHOF) annual dinner at 4:45 p.m. Saturday, October 20 in the Hall of Presidents at Colgate University in Hamilton NY.

Weible’s presentation “The Irrepressible Conflict: The Civil War in New York” will describe the large exhibit by the same name that opens September 22 at the state museum. The history of New York’s involvement in the Civil War – the state’s role leading up to war, during the war and Reconstruction – and the lasting impact the war had on New Yorkers – is told through four major themes: The Coming of War, The Battlefield, The Home Front, and Reconstruction and Legacy. The importance of the abolition activities in Central New York – including the acquisition of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation and Gerrit Smith – will be included. Continue reading

Underground Railroad Conference Call for Proposals


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For more than ten years a group of community volunteers has been convening an Annual Underground Railroad Public History Conference sponsored by Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region (URHPCR).

The theme of this year’s conference will be, “Milestones to Freedom: Emancipation Proclamation, Harriet Tubman, and the March on Washington – a Legacy and a Future.”  The year 2013 is the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the 100th anniversary of the death of Harriet Tubman and the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. These, and other key anniversary events, are milestones along the road to achieving Martin Luther King’s vision articulated in his “I Have a Dream” speech.

This 12th annual conference on the Underground Railroad seeks to connect the Underground Railroad, these key events and present day struggles for freedom and justice. Toward this end the committee solicits proposals that elaborate, analyze and articulate these stories, connections within them and their relationship to the present.

Proposals are invited that address reinterpretations, teaching, new research, and that illustrate how such research can be used to celebrate the story historically and contemporarily, as well as other proposals related to the Underground Railroad in the past and its relationship with us today.

This year conference will be held April 12-14, 2013 at Russell Sage College in Troy and Albany, NY. Details are available at www.UndergroundRailroadHistory.org or by calling 518-432-4432.

Honoring Harriet Tubman in 2013


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Kate Clifford Larson Ph.D will share her research, the development of Harriet Tubman sites, and announce plans for Honoring Tubman in 2013 at the 11:30 a.m. National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum luncheon on Saturday, October 20, 2012 at the Hall of Presidents, Colgate University in Hamilton NY.

Born a slave in Maryland, Tubman’s birth date is unknown. Therefore Tubman’s death date March 10, 1913 has been observed as Tubman’s day of honor. Special tributes and projects are planned for 2013, the centennial of her death year. Persons involved in special Tubman tributes and programs are encouraged to participate with information, exhibits, and announcements at the luncheon with Larson.
Larson presented the lecture on Harriet Tubman at Tubman’s induction to the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum (NAHOF) in October 2005. Tubman was one of the five abolitionists to be inducted in the first class at the Peterboro Hall of Fame.

Kate Clifford Larson is Adjunct Faculty in the Department of History at Simmons College. A Simmons alumna, she earned her PhD at the University of New Hampshire and is the author of Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero (2004). Larson is also the consulting historian and curator for the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and Visitor Center and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway and All American Road. Eastern Shore, Maryland. Larson will be introduced by Milton C. Sernett Ph.D, author of Harriet Tubman: Myth, Memory, and History.

The Colgate University Upstate Institute afternoon symposia on inductees Abby Kelley Foster, Jermain Wesley Loguen, and George Gavin Ritchie will follow the luncheon. Robert Weible, State Historian of New York and Chief Curator of the New York State Museum, will present The Irrepressible Conflict: New York State in the Civil War, the keynote address for the annual NAHOF dinner. The commemoration ceremonies of the three inductees to the Hall of Fame will follow dinner.

The Hutchinson Family Singers will provide a 19th C. anti-slavery concert at the First Baptist Church in Hamilton Friday, October 19 at 7 p.m. Panel presentations, exhibits, and tours are available during the three day event. These programs are supported by a grant from the New York Council for the Humanities and with funds from the New York State Council on the Arts Decentralization Grant Program, a state agency, and the Cultural Resources Council, a regional arts council.

The public is encouraged to attend the programs. Reservations are required for lunch and dinner by October 10 and can be purchased as single events or in a NAHOF package for the October 19 – 21 conference at mercantile.gerritsmith.org or with a registration form at www. National AbolitionHallofFameandMusuem.org or at National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum, 5255 Pleasant Valley Road, Peterboro NY 13035. For more information: nahofm1835@gmail.com 315-366-8101 315-684-3262

Abolition Hall of Fame Induction Events, Symposia


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The National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum will honor its three 2011 inductees at commemoration ceremonies October 19 – 21, 2012. Abby Kelley Foster, Jermain Wesley Loguen, and George Gavin Ritchie will be honored with a variety of programs during the three days of the event.

The commemoration weekend opens at 3 p.m. Friday, October 19 at the Women’s Studies Center at Colgate University with a panel presentation on Abby Kelley Foster facilitated by Judith Wellman PhD. Friday evening at 7 pm performers from Milford NY will present an antislavery concert Songs and Stories of the Hutchinson Family Singers.On Saturday, October 20 at 10:00 a.m. an exhibit on George Gavin Ritchie arranged by Colgate Library Special Collections opens at the Case Library. Kate Clifford Larson PhD keynotes the buffet luncheon at 11:30 in the Hall of Presidents at Colgate. Dr. Larson will speak on Harriet Tubman and upcoming events in 2013 for the Tubman centennial. The Upstate Institute Abolition Symposia begins at 1 p.m. in Golden Auditorium at Colgate. Programs on Foster, Loguen and Ritchie will be presented during the afternoon symposia.

At 4:45 p.m. Robert Weible, State Historian of New York and Chief Curator of the New York State Museum, will present the keynote An Irrepressible Conflict: New York State in the Civil War at the annual dinner catered by the Colgate Inn. After living portrayals and dramatic presentations at 7 p.m., family members, scholars, and association representatives will unveil the honoree banners to hang in the Hall of Fame.

On Sunday, October 21, the Deli on the Green in Peterboro will open at 8:00 for breakfast. Exhibits at the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark and the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum in Peterboro will open at 9 a.m. An exhibit on Jermain Wesley Loguen will open at 11:00 a.m. at the Onondaga Historical Association (OHA) in Syracuse. At 2 p.m. the OHA will conduct a walking tour of abolition sites in Syracuse. (Reserve at 315-428-1864 by October 16)

These programs are supported by a grant from the New York Council for the Humanities, Abolition Agitation in New York State Sparks the War for Liberty and Justice, and with funds from the New York Council on the Arts Decentralization Grant Program, a state agency, and the Cultural Resources Council, a regional arts council.

The public of all ages is encouraged to participate in all or parts of this annual event to learn of the important role that Central New York played in the ignition of the Civil War. For more information: www.nationalabolitionhalloffameandmuseum.org, nahofm1835@gmail.com, 315-366-8101, 315-684-3262. Reservations for lunch, dinner, and conference packages by October 10 at mercantile.gerritsmith.org or to National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum, 5255 Pleasant Valley Road, Peterboro NY 13035.

NYS Museum Opens Civil War Exhibit


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The exhibit “An Irrepressible Conflict: The Empire State in the Civil War” has opened at the New York State Museum, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

The pivotal role New York State played in the war is the focus of the 7,000-square-foot exhibition. As the wealthiest and most populous state, the Empire State led all others in supplying men, money, and materiel to the causes of unity and freedom. New York’s experience provides significant insight into the reasons why the war was fought and the meaning that the Civil War holds today. An Irrepressible Conflict will be open through September 22, 2013 in Exhibition Hall. Continue reading

Jay Heritage Center Presents:Alan Taylor’s ‘The Slave War of 1812′


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The Jay Heritage Center will offer its third program commemorating the Bicentennial of the War of 1812 this year on Thursday, September 6th with a new talk and book signing by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alan Taylor previewing his latest book project about the Slave War of 1812.

During the War of 1812, more than 3,000 slaves escaped from Virginia and Maryland by stealing boats to reach British warships in Chesapeake Bay, where they were taken on board and employed.

Alan Taylor, professor of history at the University of California, Davis, and the Robert C. Ritchie Distinguished Fellow, will discuss how their help proved essential to the British coastal raids, particularly the capture of Washington, D.C. Taylor’s previous books include William Cooper’s Town (Knopf, 1996), which won the Bancroft and Pulitzer prizes for American history. The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, and Indian Allies (Knopf, 2010), was called “the most illuminating and original history of the conflict ever written.” Pulitzer-winning historian Gordon Wood, writing in The New York Review of Books, called it “remarkable and deeply researched,” adding, “Taylor masterfully captures the strangeness of this war.” Copies of Taylor’s books will be available for purchase and signing. Refreshments will be served.

The event, which is part of Jay Heritage Center’s 2012 Annual Meeting will be held on Thursday, September 6, 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM, at at the 1907 Van Norden Carriage House, Jay Heritage Center, 210 Boston Post Road, in Rye, Westchester County, NY.

The Annual Meeting will also include the President’s Report, the re-election of Trustees for the Class of 2015 (Emma Hanratty, Michael A. Kovner, and Thomas R. Mercein) and the Election of Trustees of the Class of 2015 (Samuel W. Croll III, Lauren Lambert, and Cathy Rosenstock).

Those who are unable to attend can sign and mail a proxy, or submit a proxy by e-mail. Contact jayhc@earthlink.net for more information.

2012 Peterboro Emancipation Day August 4th


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This is a family event to celebrate the history of freedom seekers who came to Peterboro with the aid of abolitionist Gerrit Smith. The morning program begins with a reception and refreshments, tent meeting, annual group photo, procession to Peterboro Cemetery, wreath ceremony to honor Gerrit Smith and a memorial dedication of a stone for a freedom seeker who is buried in the Peterboro Cemetery. 
The afternoon program will include a tour of the estate, games and contests for children, and a talk by guest speaker Hugh Humphreys at the Smithfield Community Center on Pleasant Valley Road in Peterboro at 2:00 PM.
Humphreys’ presentation titled “Dr. King and the Mighty Stream of Righteousness; a Journey from Peterboro to Montgomery.” will explore the history and influences of early reform on the Civil Rights movement. The 2012 celebration marks the 3rd year the event has been revived in Peterboro from its early beginnings in the 19th century. A $5 donation at admission is suggested and the event is open to the public. For more information: 315-280-8828 and info@gerritsmith.org
Morning registration will take place at the Gerrit Smith Estate at 5304 Oxbow Road in Peterboro, NY at 10:00 AM. Parking is free.  No lunch will be served, but there will be a break for families to picnic. 

The Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark (GSENHL) is on the state and national Underground Railroad trails. The GSENHL is open in 2012 on Saturdays and Sundays from 1 – 5 pm from May 19 to September 23, by appointment, and for special events. Admission is $3 for adults and free for students. For more information: 315-280-8828 or www.gerritsmith.org.

Photo: Jim Corpin, one of the organizers of the 21st C. Peterboro Emancipation Days examines a family genealogy chart brought to the 2011 Peterboro Emancipation Day. Photo provided.

Event Commemorating Ithaca African American Families Set


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On the Fifth of July, there will be a ceremony in the Ithaca City Cemetery to remember and rededicate the grave sites of two African American families. The Tompkins County Civil War Commission and the Sons of Union Veterans collaborated to clean the grave of Daniel Jackson, who was called “Faithful.”

Jackson was slave in Maryland before fleeing to Ithaca, where he joined others he had known from the South. He was a reliable worker in E. S. Esty’s tannery and at the end of the Civil War he returned to his birthplace to bring his elderly mother North to live with him. The two died in 1889 five days apart: he was 75 and she was thought to be 103. A stone has been placed to mark her resting place and the plot has been landscaped. Continue reading

A Black American’s View on the Fourth of July


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160 years ago the former slave Frederick Douglass was asked to give a speech on the Fourth of July. Douglass refused to speak on July 4, but did deliver a powerfulspeech the day after Independence Day. He asked the audience “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” “What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us?” “The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you. Not me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. The Fourth of July is yours, not mine.”

On July 1, 2012 at 2 p.m. at the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum (NAHOF) to which Frederick Douglass was the first inductee, David A. Anderson Ph.D. Visiting Scholar at Nazareth College of Rochester will present an oration of Douglass’ speech asking what Independence Day meant to the American slave. 

A founding member of Akwaaba: the Heritage Associates, Anderson is an interpreter of living history through reenactments that evoke Frederick Douglass, Austin Steward, unheralded escapees, et al. Often the theme addresses the essential role African American Union soldiers played in freeing a people and preserving the Union. He has presented such recreations at symposia in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and in other venues.

Anderson chairs Rochester-Monroe County Freedom Trail Commission, which in 2003, took the lead in staging, “Men of Color, to Arms!” a conference illuminating Frederick Douglass’ role in overturning policies barring African Americans from the Union Army. In 2007, with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center inCincinnati, the Commission co-sponsored the Frederick Douglass International Underground Railroad Conference. In June 2009, Anderson joined other honorees at the National Mall in Washington in “Giving Voice: The Power of Words in African American Culture,” an exploration of the expressive power of the creative African American oral traditions in the shaping of American culture.

Douglass spoke at anti-slavery conventions in Peterboro and in the Free Church of Peterboro which Gerrit Smith had established. Douglass worked with Smith in organizing the 1850 Anti-Fugitive Slave Law Convention in Cazenovia, New York. Smith made large and regular donations of money to Douglass in order to keep solvent Douglass’ anti-slavery efforts through his newspapers The North Star and Frederick Douglass’ paper. Douglass dedicated the second edition of his autobiography to Gerrit Smith whom he considered a great man because of his practical efforts to implement universal human rights. Douglass’ relationship with Smith was also on a very personal level. He visited Peterboro often, bringing with him colleagues and other members of his family for extended visits as early as 1835. Following the two o’clock program, Norman K. Dann PhD, a Gerrit Smith biographer, will conduct a tour of Douglass’ steps at the Gerrit Smith Estate describing the relationship between the two men.

This program is supported by a grant from the New York Council for the Humanities for the Abolition Agitation in New York Sparks War for Liberty and Justice for All2012 NAHOF project. Admission to the program and to the exhibits at the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum, 5255 Pleasant Valley Road in Peterboro is three dollars and free to students. 

The National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum is included in the Madison County Cultural Heritage Passport with its companion heritage site the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark. Both sites are open Saturdays and Sundays form 1 – 5 from May 19 to September 23, by appointment,and for special events. For more information info@abolitionhof.org and 315-366-8101

North Star Underground RR Museum Opens for Season


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New York’s newest Underground Railroad museum kicked off its second season last week and will present a series of presentations this year entitled “Hot Spots of Anti-Slavery Activity in the North Country,” supported in part by a grant from the Arts Council of the Northern Adirondacks.

This Saturday and Sunday, June 2 and 3, there will be tours of Underground Railroad sites in Peru and Keeseville at 9:30, both led by Don Papson.  There is a $10 fee; call 834-5180 to pre-register. Also, historic re-enactor Barbara Wass will portray Catherine Keese, the committed Peru abolitionist at 10 a.m. on Saturday and 1:30 on Sunday.  Those events are free.


On June 2, during Museum Day festivities, the Museum will present, “The War Before the War,” about the radical abolition movement that responded to the Fugitive Slave Law and other pro-slavery leanings by the federal government leading up to the Civil War.

Jane Williamson, director of the Rokeby Farm museum in Vermont, will illuminate the organizing efforts that mushroomed in Vermont and Northern New York.

The North Star Museum first opened in May 2010, and drew over 4,000 visitors to the restored stone house overlooking Ausable Chasm, just a few miles from Lake Champlain. Education programs are offered for school children, both at the museum and in schools, and the museum shop boasts an extensive collection of books on slavery, abolition, the underground railroad and related topics. For further information, visit: www.northcountryundergroundrailroad.com.

New York’s Jehudi Ashmun, Founder of Liberia


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Thursday, April 21, marked the birthday of one of the most famous men you never heard of, and surely the least known of all North Country figures who once graced the world stage. It is also appropriate to recall his story at this time for two other reasons. It has ties to slavery and the Civil War as we mark the 150th anniversary of America’s darkest period. And, in relation to recent world news, it involves fighting for change in Africa.

If you’re well familiar with the work of Jehudi Ashmun, you’re in a very small minority. Even in his hometown, little has been done to mark his achievements other than a single roadside historical marker. And yet, if you look, you’ll find him in dozens of encyclopedias and reference books as an important part of African and Liberian history.

Jehudi Ashmun was born in Champlain, a small village in the northeastern corner of New York State, just a mile from the Canadian border. Early on, he proved capable of advanced learning, and after schooling in Champlain, he attended Middlebury College in Vermont at the age of 16, preparing for life as a Christian minister.

Ill health, a problem throughout his life, found Jehudi back home in Champlain during the War of 1812. On healthier days, despite his young age, he preached in the local church and organized a military company to protect the village from British attackers threatening from Canada.

After returning to schooling at Middlebury, he entered the University of Vermont. Graduating from UVM in August, 1816, Ashmun gave the salutatory address and presented “An English Oration upon the Philosophy of the Mind.”

Jehudi soon found employment as school principal and Professor of Classical Literature at the Maine Charity School, one of the first educational societies in the country. Guided by a strong Christian belief, he published extensively, including sermons, lectures, and essays.

Ashmun’s opinionated persona was not always well received, and six months after marrying Catherine Gray in October 1818, he resigned from the school and moved to Washington, D.C. There, he linked with the Episcopal Church for three years, studying religion, continuing to publish, and becoming alarmingly aware of the plight of slaves in nearby Virginia.

Christian doctrine deplored slavery, and the more Ashmun (a white northerner) learned, the more he felt compelled to act. He became an active participant in the American Colonization Society (ACS), a group that many supported with the best of intentions, but an organization that attracted a pro-slavery element as well.

To understand that dichotomy, it is necessary to at least somewhat grasp the situation in America around 1820. As a young nation proudly touting “all men are created equal,” the US was embarrassed by other countries pointing out in newspaper editorials the great hypocrisy of allowing slavery to exist for any reason within America’s borders.

By 1808, the importation of slaves had been strictly forbidden by federal law, but some southern states claimed the feds had overstepped their bounds. Still, a very powerful anti-slavery movement existed in America. The problem was—what constituted a solution?

Groups like the American Colonization Society faced an unusual number of arguments for and against their efforts. Many leaders, both black and white, believed all citizens should remain in the US and battle for full equal rights for all. Others, including many black leaders, felt that blacks would never be treated justly or be free of discrimination in America, and thus favored the establishment of a colony where they could flourish.

Some said that promoting colonization was simply a cover for the goal of ridding America of blacks. Others saw great promise in black colonists succeeding, and helping to spread the Christian faith across Africa. Many slave owners supported the society because they feared that freed blacks would urge those in slavery to rise together in rebellion. By sending them to colonies, the owners were removing rabble-rousers from their midst.

At the time, the idea of going to Africa did seem sensible to some blacks since that was their place of origin. However, by that time, many had been in America long enough to have children born here and had established roots. A great number preferred to stay in the US and face the devil they knew, rather than the uncertainties of life (the devil they didn’t know) in Africa.

At various times, plans were made for colonies in Canada, Mexico, Africa, the Caribbean, and in several Central American countries. Finally, a real effort to settle on Africa’s west coast was tried, but it failed. Another similar attempt was made within two years.

The second opportunity arose when the Georgia state legislature authorized its governor to sell about 40 slaves who had been brought to the state illegally. Money from the sale was destined for state coffers, but by law, before selling the slaves, the state had to allow anyone the opportunity to purchase freedom for the slaves or assume the expense of taking them to a colony.

In stepped the ACS, and it was 18 of those slaves who formed the bulk of the colonization effort in Africa. The leader of the expedition was Jehudi Ashmun, who avoided many debts by leaving the country, but whose devotion to the cause was beyond reproach. He also saw the opportunity to establish trade and perhaps find a way to pay his own financial commitments.

Throughout his life, Ashmun had been a deep thinker and an activist, but was frequently beset with periods of strong self-doubt. With that in mind, it’s hard to imagine his thoughts when, arriving on Africa’s west coast on August 9, 1822, he found wretched living conditions and violent conflicts involving several regional tribes.

Adjacent to the British colony of Sierra Leone, he gained permission to land and establish a community. He managed interactions and informal agreements with several local tribes, but it soon became clear that they intended to set upon Ashmun’s group and destroy them.

Jehudi’s settlers were suffering badly from illness, and were certainly in no condition to defend themselves. Their position on the peninsula of Cape Montserado provided at least some natural protection, but their sickness was disabling, and the meager rations they shared were barely enough to sustain life. The future looked bleak for this fledgling enterprise.

Ashmun himself seemed near death at times, but feared more for his wife, who was dreadfully ill. She finally succumbed on September 15, barely a month after their arrival from America. Jehudi was devastated. There was great doubt that he could survive and carry on the mission.

Next week―the conclusion: A battle for the ages … twice! and one of the greatest all-time underdog stories.

Photos―Top: Jehudi Ashmun, native of Champlain, New York. Bottom: Ashmun’s Liberian settlement at Cape Montserado.

The Jehudi Ashmun story is one of 51 original North Country history pieces appearing in Adirondack Gold: 50+ New & True Stories You’re Sure to Love (352 pp.), a recent release by author Lawrence Gooley, owner of Bloated Toe Publishing.