Meeting in the same Central New York church that hosted the state’s first Anti-Slavery convention in 1835, a group of Underground Railroad-related organizations (museums, churches, and associations) assembled on November 13th to formalize a statewide network to better promote this key part of New York’s heritage.
Twenty different vetted organizations were represented, from Long Island to Jamestown, and Elmira to the northern shores of Lake Champlain. Hosted by Dot Willsey, president of the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum, located in the Peterboro church were the NYS Anti-Slavery Society met 179 years ago, this month’s conference resolved on the need for a statewide consortium to share programs and projects, enhance efforts to publicize resources available around the state, and communicate with educators, public officials and the traveling public. Continue reading
Special Delivery: From One Stop to Another on the Underground Railroad (North Country Books, 2014), is Rose O’Keefe’s latest effort to show what daily life was like in the 1850s, and what life was like in Rochester for families active on the Underground Railroad.
This historical fiction is a companion book to O’Keefe’s recent book Frederick and Anna Douglass in Rochester NY: Their Home Was Open to All (History Press, 2013). O’Keefe’s newest book is the story of eleven-year-old Lewis Douglass, who gives a very personal take on the Douglass family’s move from one house to another in Rochester in 1852. Continue reading
Back-to-school time perhaps brings back, for adults, the memory of a favorite teacher. But of those who are so warmly remembered, how many can elicit this wish by a former student of a 19th century teacher?
“If I could be permitted, how gladly would I again fill up the wood-box in your room and kindle the fire on your hearth…”
Those words came from the prestigious African American preacher, Rev. Daniel Webster Shaw (who, interestingly, was the son of a former slave, Harriet Shaw, with whom Solomon Northup was acquainted in Louisiana). “If I have done anything, or come to anything worth while, it is all mainly due to your timely helpfulness and godly admonition,” Shaw wrote. “I think of the school days on the Tache [Teche, a bayou in Louisiana], and all the kind ways in which you helped me to start out in life.” Continue reading
Imagine the stories that would be told if houses wrote autobiographies.
This stately structure on South Highland Avenue in Nyack could tell us if slaves were hidden here during the abolition movement. We would know about the political maneuverings and legal strategies of the successive generations of lawyers who called this place home. Or learn the downside of having a neighbor who owns a private zoo. The garden could share the secrets of what makes her bloom. But alas, buildings and garden beds don’t write books.
Fortunately for us, this house has a biographer, and her name is Judy Martin. Continue reading
As the 1830′s drew to a close and the 1840′s began, committees were formed in some cities in the north to protect freedom seekers from re-enslavement, and to assist them in their flight to freedom in the north or in Canada. As slave catchers sought freedom seekers, these “vigilance” committees provided legal assistance, food, clothing, money, employment, and temporary shelter.
Such a committee formed in Albany in the early 1840’s, and one continued to exist up to the time of the Civil War. Albany’s anti-slavery newspaper, Tocsin of Liberty, identifies ten people, Blacks and whites, as members of the executive body of the local Vigilance Committee in 1842. Some are familiar names from the city’s history, such as Thomas Paul and Revolutionary War veteran Benjamin Lattimore. Continue reading
In November 2013 when Melissa Howell, descendent of Solomon Northup was asked to speak at the 2014 Peterboro Emancipation Days, little did anyone suspect that her great, great, great grandfather’s 160 year old biographical book Twelve Years a Slave would win the 2014 Academy Award for Best Motion Picture of the Year.
With five producers, including Steve McQueen and Brad Pitt (who also acted in the film) the film, and people associated with it, won many other awards, scooping up members of the current Northup family in the momentum. At 2 p.m. Saturday, August 2 at the Smithfield Community Center (5255 Pleasant Valley Road, Peterboro NY) Howell, her mother Shirley Howell, and her aunt Irene Northup-Zahos will discuss the film, the effects it had on the Northup family, and other experiences and opportunities that have come forth from the film. Howell will proudly display the University of Southern California Scripter Award conferred on Northup as the author of the written work upon which the Academy Award winning screenplay was based. Howell is also the founder of The Solomon Northup Legacy 1808. Continue reading
After six years of research Alethea “Lee” Connolly has published her book on “forgotten trailblazers” in early 19th Century Central New York. Connolly will present her research on her book The Seceders: Religious Conviction & the Abolitionist Movement in the Town of Manlius, 1834-1844 at 2 p.m. Saturday, July 26, 2014 at the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum at 5255 Pleasant Valley Road, Peterboro NY 13134.
As Barbara S. Rivette, Manlius Town Historian, states “The network of families and church affiliations involved in The Seceders spread through Canastota, Clockville, and Peterboro.” Seceders, like early Manlius settler Elijah Bailey, “believed the church had veered off the simple path of Bible religion into pride and folly.” Continue reading
The 16th annual Solomon Northup Day, an afternoon of activities inspired by a powerful memoir of enslavement and eventual freedom, will take place on Saturday, July 19, from 12:30 to 6 pm in Filene Recital Hall at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY.
The story of Solomon Northup, an African-American man abducted into slavery in 1841 and transported to Louisiana, is now known internationally thanks to the acclaimed 2013 film based on Northup’s autobiography, Twelve Years a Slave. But a grassroots effort to raise awareness of this compelling story has been going on for the past 15 years, in particular through Solomon Northup Day, an annual event launched in 1999 by Saratoga Springs resident and Skidmore College alumna Renee Moore. Continue reading
While New Yorkers often pride themselves on their July 4, 1799 law abolishing slavery, most do not realize that its elaborate provisions actually kept slavery alive for another 28 years.
In 1831, even abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, once an advocate of gradual abolition, made a full and unequivocal recantation of the law. Continue reading
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
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
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
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
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
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
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