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
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
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
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