Tag Archives: Underground Railroad

New Underground RR Book Offers 1st Person Accounts

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Secret Lives of the Underground RailroadThe new book, Secret Lives of the Underground Railroad in New York City (McFarland, 2015), offers first person accounts of the clandestine efforts to help escaping slaves. Drawing on never-before-published Record of Fugitives kept by newspaper editor and abolitionist Sydney Howard Gay, the book provides vivid detail of the lives of Underground Railroad agents, and the harrowing journey that African-Americans undertook to free themselves from slavery.

The co-authors are steeped in this history. Don Papson was founding president of the North Star Underground Railroad Museum in Ausable Chasm, responsible for much of the research that brought the Champlain Line of the freedom trail to light. Tom Calarco is author of three other books on the topic, including The Underground Railroad in the Adirondack Region. Continue reading

Statewide Underground Railroad Group Forming

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NY-UNderground-Railroad-RoutesMeeting 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: Traveling the Underground Railroad

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Special Delivery Front CoverSpecial 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

A Nyack Sketch: The Historic Towt House

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NSL154_Towt_Featured-imageImagine 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

Underground Railroad History: Vigilance Committees

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The Vigilance Committee Flyer courtesy of American Antiquarian SocietyAs 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

Solomon Northup Day Planned For Saturday, July 19th

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Solomon Northup in a Sketch from Twelve Years a SlaveThe 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

The Search for the Underground Railroad in Upstate NY

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Underground RR in Upstate NYAs 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

Paul Stewart: Albany’s Underground Railroad History

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NY UNderground Railroad RoutesAlbany 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 the Underground Railroad Conference Set

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Underground Railroad ConferenceThe 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

Peter Feinman: Resurrecting the NY Freedom Trail

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freedur1The 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