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
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
No one knows when African Americans first settled at Baxtertown, but in 1848 the Zion Pilgrim Methodist Episcopal Church was built. The church burned and its roof collapsed in 1930; all that remains visible is a grove of trees on the property of Ron Greene.
Greene, a retired social worker, began researching the history of his land in 2010. “I’ve been hearing about a church here for years.” he said. What he discovered inspired him to lead the effort to get the site recognized as historically important. Continue reading
An interdisciplinary conference, Human Trafficking in Early America, will be held April 23-25, 2015 at the University of Pennsylvania. The Keynote Speaker will be Edward E. Baptist of Cornell University.
The United Nations defines “human trafficking” as the act of “recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them.” In early America, human trafficking took many forms, engaging and displacing native, African and European populations in every decade and in every colony and state. Continue reading
Questions about the authenticity and authorship of Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave have been raised in the past, and have resurfaced following the release of the recent film version of his book.
Though an expert on Solomon Northup, his book, the contemporary reactions to his book in the 1850s, and his later life (which included several years spent traveling to talk about his experiences), I am not a scholar of slave narratives. I have consulted some of them in connection with my work on Northup, as necessary. I leave it for others to draw detailed comparisons between Northup’s narrative and the others. Continue reading
Each week day there’s a consistent flow of visitors at the Harriet Tubman Home, with people anxious to find out more about Tubman, her life story, and see for themselves where Tubman lived and operated a haven for the aged at 180 South Street in Auburn.
Visitors pull into the parking lot to visit the property, museum exhibit, and take advantage of guided tours from the moment the doors open in the morning until closing at the end of the day. License plates on the travelers’ vehicles are from New York State and beyond. Continue reading
It’s the centennial year of abolitionist and suffragist Harriet Tubman’s death in 1913. Her Auburn, NY house, the home for the aged she founded on the property, and the museum attract considerable attention in upstate New York. We visited the Tubman historic site on the fifth day of our fall 2013 blogging tour of the “Cradle of the women’s rights movement in the US.” Continue reading