Tag Archives: Underground Railroad

A Fugitive Slave Rescued: Paintings of Charles Nalle


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150 years ago, on April 26, 1860, escaped slave Charles Nalle was kidnapped from a Troy bakery and taken to the District Circuit Court at State and First Streets, in Troy where he was to be sent back to Virginia under the Fugitive Slave Act. Hundreds of people, including Harriet Tubman, rushed to the site where a riot ensued, allowing Nalle to escape across the Hudson to West Troy and ultimately to freedom.

On February 27, 2010 from 5-8 pm, the Rensselaer County Historical Society opens a major new exhibit, A Fugitive Slave Rescued: Paintings of Charles Nalle by Mark Priest, which will kick off an examination of this nationally important event. Artist and University of Louisville professor Mark Priest worked with RCHS staff to research the history of the Nalle rescue. His dramatic narrative paintings and drawings depict the events of April 26, 1860, immersing viewers in the emotions and issues of the day. This exhibit is presented in partnership with the Sage Colleges, which also host part of the exhibit through April 26, 2010.

Mark Priest is an Associate Professor of Art at the University of Louisville. He received his MFA in painting from Yale University and has exhibited his work at museums and galleries throughout the United States and internationally. His Underground Railroad series developed from an interest in Harriet Tubman:

“I began my research in 2003 and in May of 2004 I followed the routes on which Tubman took passengers to freedom. Forever etched in my memory are an infinite number of untold stories of individuals who toiled tirelessly to attain freedom. Many events were recounted to me by noted historians, genealogists and descendants while I traveled through, Maryland, Delaware, New York, and Canada; retracing the steps of many who went before me on this route to freedom. The wealth of personal experiences and detailed information I obtained is the foundation of this series or artworks. I strive to create dramatic compositions to portray the intensity of each moment. The life Tubman chose was one of uncertainty. Every moment could have been her last. She carried on undaunted and these are the ideas that I strive to portray in this series. Figures are tugging and heaving, hoisting and dragging. Figures depict the mental, emotional, and physical prowess needed to succeed on the UGRR. Every muscle is strained to the limit. Vibrant color and light are used to lead your eye through the composition.”

Exhibition-Related Events:

Russell Sage College Reception with Mark Priest
Thursday, February 25, 2010, 4-6pm
Schacht Fine Arts Center Gallery
Division & Front Streets, Troy
Free & Open to the Public
(518) 244-2248

High School Student Artist Gallery Talk with Mark Priest

How does Mark Priest get inspired to create his art? What is the life of a professional artist like? High School artists are invited to attend a free workshop and gallery talk with artist Mark Priest and get answers to these questions and more. This workshop is offered as part of the 2010 Art of History Competition, however students need not be preparing work for the competition to participate in the student workshop. Pre-registration is required – call or email Mari Shopsis at 272-7232, x17 / mshopsis@rchsonline.org or register online at http://artofhistory.eventbrite.com/ .

Thursday, February 25, 2010, 5-7 pm
Rensselaer County Historical Society
57 Second Street, Troy
(518) 272-7232, x17

Exhibition Opening & Book Signing
Saturday February 27, 2010; 5-8 pm, remarks at 6 pm
Rensselaer County Historical Society

Join RCHS and the Underground Railroad History Conference attendees for a reception at RCHS celebrating the exhibit of artist Mark Priest’s Charles Nalle paintings and the release of author Scott Christianson’s new book, Freeing Charles, The Struggle to Free a Slave on the Eve of the Civil War. Freeing Charles is the culmination of 18 years of research into Nalle’s life, escape from slavery, and the operation of the Underground Railroad. In this book, Christianson follows Nalle from his enslavement in Virginia through his escape via the Underground Railroad to his experiences in the North on the eve of the Civil War. Christianson also presents a richly detailed look at slavery culture in antebellum Virginia, and probes the deepest political and psychological aspects of this epic tale. His account underscores fundamental questions about racial inequality, the rule of law, civil disobedience, and violent resistance to slavery in the antebellum North and South. Both Scott Christianson and Mark Priest will speak briefly at 6pm and will be available for discussion and book signing afterwards. Light refreshments served.

Photo: “The Altruist,” Mark Priest, 2008, Acrylic on canvas, 7.5’ x 7.5’ – shows Charles Nalle struggling to break free from a mob at the corner of Second and Congress Streets, Troy. Portions of what is today the Russell Sage campus are visible in the background.

Plattsburgh’s Anti-Slavery Interpretive Panel Unveiling


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Plattsburgh’s first interpretive panel celebrating the Anti-Slavery movement will be dedicated at 5 pm on February 16, 2010. The unveiling will take place in front of the main entrance to the First Presbyterian Church at 34 Brinkerhoff Street. Interim pastor Virginia Murray and North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association president, Don Papson, will be joined by members of the church and the association.

The distinctive panel is one of a series of state funded markers on New York’s Underground Railroad Heritage Trail. The North Country has three others-at the John Brown Farm in North Elba, the Essex County Courthouse, and the First Congregational Church in Malone.

Plattsburgh’s First Presbyterian Church played a pivotal role in the early stages of the area’s anti slavery movement. It was a moment of change in the fall of 1837 when the Clinton County Anti-Slavery Society convened for its first annual meeting in the original edifice constructed on the site. Among First Presbyterian’s founding members were some of Clinton County’s wealthiest and most influential citizens. Several owned slaves before New York abolished slavery in 1827.

Agitating for the nation to end slavery was a divisive issue by 1837. In the spring of that year, First Presbyterian Trustee, General Benjamin Mooers, circulated a petition against the immediate abolitionists meeting anywhere in Plattsburgh; their activities would destroy the nation. The abolitionists were denied use of widow Sperry’s Meeting Hall on Broad Street, the Methodist Church, and the Presbyterian Church. When several wagon loads of non violent Quakers and Methodists arrived from the village of Peru and attempted to convene in the County Court House, a name calling, egg throwing mob stopped them. General Mooers’ son-in-law, attorney John B.L. Skinner Esq., entreated the angry, unruly protesters to desist. The delegates were then allowed to quietly adjourn to Beekmantown’s Old Stone Methodist Church where they were warmly welcomed. Champlain Presbyterian Noadiah Moore presided at their historic convention.

By August of 1837, antagonism against the abolitionists had subsided to a degree in Plattsburgh, and they were allowed to hold their first annual meeting in the First Presbyterian Church. Nonetheless, they were subjected to annoyances-the doorway to the building had been tarred in the night, two boys sang out “Jim Crow!” beneath the windows, and retired judge Caleb Nichols told them slavery should be perpetual.

Then, on April 25, 1838-precisely one year to the day the riotous mob of men had barred the abolitionists from meeting in the County Court House-John Townsend Addoms, the son of former slave owner, Major John Addoms-“respectively” invited the “Citizens of Plattsbugh” to gather in the Court House and organize a “Town Anti-Slavery Society.”

John Townsend Addoms and the principal organizers of the Clinton County-Anti-Slavery Society, Noadiah Moore and Samuel Keese, would become leading Underground agents, secreting an untold number of fugitives from slavery and aiding them on their arduous journey to freedom in Canada.

Following the unveiling of the interpretive panel, members of the Board and Steering Committee of he North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association will convene in the church for their regular monthly meeting. First Presbyterian has graciously hosted the association for the last five years and will do so until the grand opening later this year of the Town of Chesterfield Heritage Center and North Star Underground Railroad Museum at Ausable Chasm. The public is invited to the unveiling of the interpretive panel and the meeting.

B&Bs With Underground Railroad Connections


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Throughout January and February, Americans celebrate the history and accomplishments of African-Americans with Martin Luther King’s birthday in January and Black History Month in February. In recognition, BedandBreakfast.com has described Bed & Breakfasts that were once associated with the Underground Railroad, the informal network of secret routes and safe houses used by slaves to escape to free states, Canada, Mexico, and other countries with the aid of abolitionists.

Here’s a list of those in New York State:

Escape Guest House, Brooklyn, NY: This B&B is just a short stroll from Plymouth Church, the “Grand Central Depot” of New York’s Underground Railroad. According to church history, slaves traveling to Canada were hidden in the tunnel-like basement beneath the church sanctuary; you can still visit there today. The church’s first pastor, Henry Ward Beecher, was a dedicated abolitionist and younger brother to Harriet Beecher Stowe, famous author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Merritt Hill Manor, Penn Yan, NY: One of the first houses built in Jerusalem Township, the land where this B&B sits now was deeded from the Seneca Indians in the Gorham/Phelps purchase. It was once used as a stop on the Underground Railroad for escaped slaves, heading north to freedom in Canada.

Saratoga Farmstead, Saratoga Springs, NY: Former owners and abolitionists Clarissa and Benjamin Dyer used the farmstead to connect to the Underground Railroad. According to some, a young black boy and his enslaved mother died while hiding in the attic. Legend tells that for many years thereafter, each time someone tried to climb the attic stairs, the boy’s ghost put an arm out, tripping the intruder and protecting his mother. During a session with a visiting expert on the paranormal, these ghosts were released to “the next level,” and visitors can now navigate the stairs safely.

NYC Landmarks Commission Designates Underground Railroad Site


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The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission has voted to designate the Lamartine Historic District in West Chelsea [pdf]. This short stretch of 12 row houses on West 29th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues possess a rare connection to the history of New York and American civil liberties. More recently, the Gibbons-Hopper House at 339 West 29th Street has been the site of an attempt by the landlord to build (illegally according to the the Historic Districts Council) a penthouse addition. A grassroots advocacy organization, Friends of the Gibbons UGGR Site and Lamartine Place, convinced the City to act to preserve the block and revoke the building permits.

Here is a description of the property provided by the Historic Districts Council:

Originally constructed between 1846 and 1847, no. 337 West 29th street was acquired in 1851 by James S. Gibbons, a banker and writer, and husband of renowned abolitionist Abigail Hopper Gibbons. It was at No. 337 that Isaac T. Hopper, father of Abigail and a staunch abolitionist widely acknowledged as a father of the Underground Railroad, died in May 1852. The Gibbons family occupied the house for two years before acquiring the house next door at 339 West 29th Street in 1853. In his memoirs, the American lawyer and diplomat Joseph Hodges Choate, who was also a friend of the Gibbons family recollects dining with the Gibbons and a fugitive slave at No. 339 in 1855, citing the residence as a stop on the Underground Railroad. This is the best-documented evidence of a still-extant site serving as a “station” in the Underground Railroad in New York City.

Abigail Gibbons later invited black and white guests to stay at the house during the 1856 Anti Slavery Convention, and she also later met with abolitionist John Brown there. The building was attacked by mobs in 1862 during unrest around the Emancipation Proclamation and again in 1863 during the New York City Civil War Draft Riots, when the Gibbons’ daughters were forced to escape the angry mob by climbing over rooftops to their uncle’s home at 335 West 29th Street.

Photo: Historic Lamartine Place, now West 29th Street. Courtesy HDC.

Capital Region Underground Railroad Conference


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The Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region will hold its ninth annual conference at Russell Sage College in Troy in February. Considered “the gold standard of Underground Railroad conferences” the conference brings together a wide spectrum of scholars, authors and interested laymen. This year’s keynote speaker will be Rhonda Y. Williams, Associate Professor at Case Western Reserve University and a History News Network “Top Young Historian.”

Each year the conference attracts over 300 attendees each year and features presentations by academic and nonacademic speakers providing a unique opportunity for younger scholars to take part.

The call for papers is here in pdf, and the stated deadline for proposals is October 1st, but word has it that proposals will be accepted after that date.

Underground Railroad Educational and Cultural Grants


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The purpose of the Underground Railroad Educational and Cultural (URR) Program is to help preserve the Underground Railroad’s legacy and to help demonstrate how the Underground Railroad’s widespread operations network transformed our Nation. In addition, the URR also promotes the formation of public- private partnerships to help disseminate information regarding the Underground Railroad throughout the United States, including lessons to be drawn from the history of the Underground Railroad. Applications are due by July 30, 2009.

Eligible Applicants: Nonprofit educational organizations that are established to research, display, interpret, and collect artifacts relating to the history of the Underground Railroad. Other: Each nonprofit educational organization awarded a grant under this competition must create an endowment to fund any and all shortfalls in the costs of the on-going operations of the facility.

Grantees must establish a network of satellite centers throughout the United States to help disseminate information regarding the Underground Railroad. These satellite centers must raise 80 percent of the funds required to establish the satellite centers from non-Federal public and private sources. In addition, grantees must establish the capability to electronically link the facility with other local and regional facilities that have collections and programs that interpret the history of the Underground Railroad.

Applications for grants under the Underground Railroad Educational and Cultural Program–CFDA number 84.345A–must be submitted electronically using e-Application, accessible through the Department’s e-Grants Web site at: http://e-grants.ed.gov/. While completing your electronic application, you will be entering data online that will be saved into a database. You may not e-mail an electronic copy of a grant application to us.

As part of the application process, applicants will be required to document their ability to create an endowment, establish satellite centers, and establish the electronic capability described above. For specific requirements on reporting, please go to Reporting Forms

Document Type: Grants Notice
Funding Opportunity Number: ED-GRANTS-061509-001
Opportunity Category: Discretionary
Posted Date: Jun 15, 2009
Creation Date: Jun 15, 2009
Original Closing Date for Applications: Jul 30, 2009
Current Closing Date for Applications: Jul 30, 2009 Applications Available: June 15, 2009. Deadline for Transmittal of Applications: July 30, 2009.
Archive Date: Aug 29, 2009
Funding Instrument Type: Grant
Category of Funding Activity: Education
Category Explanation:
Expected Number of Awards: 2
Estimated Total Program Funding: $1,945,000
Award Ceiling:
Award Floor:
CFDA Number(s): 84.345 — Underground Railroad Educational and Cultural Program
Cost Sharing or Matching Requirement: Yes

Full Announcement [pdf]

Underground RR Audio Tour at NY Historical Society


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The New-York Historical Society is presenting an audio tour exploring the Underground Railroad during the time of the Civil War, highlighting how issues of slavery and freedom influenced national politics and the actions of Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885), commander of the Union armies, and of Robert E. Lee (1807–1870), commander of the Confederate forces. The Run for Your Life audio tour adds a layer of interpretation to the current exhibition Grant and Lee in War and Peace and can be accessed when you visit the gallery and at nyhistory.org or on iTunesU.

Over the past five years, the New-York Historical Society has showcased documents, art and artifacts relating to the abolitionist movement and network known as the “Underground Railroad” by publishing the papers of the African Free School in print and on the Web and through the exhibitions on Alexander Hamilton; Slavery in New York; New York Divided: Slavery and the Civil War; and French Founding Father: Lafayette’s Return to Washington’s America.

This year, the N-YHS takes the story of the abolitionist movement and Underground Railroad through the Civil War, focusing significant attention on its role in the turbulent 1850’s through the time that the resources of the Underground Railroad were drawn on to assist four million freed people to participate in a new, unified democracy.

These activities, including the Run For Your Life audio tour, are developed with grant funds from the U.S. Department of Education Underground Railroad Educational and Cultural (URR) Program.

The tour is comprised of seven thematic stops:

Introduction

When Grant and Lee attended West Point, no men of color were allowed to enlist in the US Army, however by the close of the Civil War over 180,000 African Americans had fought for the Union – many of them recently escaped from slavery. The larger saga of escaping slaves and relentless political struggle show how the African American quest for freedom held the country accountable to the principles so forcefully stated in the Declaration of Independence.

Black Seminoles Flee South

As enslaved people in Georgia and Florida sought sanctuary with the Seminole tribe, the U.S. government became more and more determined to conquer (in three different wars) the various Seminole groups who received these fugitives. Some bands became known as Black Seminoles because of the massive influx of African Americans and subsequent intermarriage.

John Brown: Escapes and Revolt

Abolitionist John Brown not only fought pro-slavery militias in Kansas in the mid-1850s, he led a band of fugitive slaves openly through the territories up to Canada, trying to prove that the Fugitive Slave Law was blatantly defied by antislavery citizens. Fulfilling the nightmare that haunted the South, he then tried to spark a general slave uprising, after capturing arms at Harper’s Ferry. When Brown was sentenced to death he gave a farewell address in which he linked his Underground Railroad expedition to Canada with his attempted insurrection.

Lee at Arlington – Wesley Norris

Right before the Civil War, Lee inherited a large number of slaves at the Arlington estate through his wealthy wife. By the terms of her father’s will, the Arlington slaves were to be freed upon his death. Lee’s slowness in doing this, and his policy of breaking up families by hiring people out to distant plantations angered Mary Custis Lee’s slaves. Some fled, since they considered themselves already free. One such fugitive slave ended up living as a freedman on the very Arlington estate where he used to work.

Grant and the Davis Plantation

The story of Isaiah Montgomery is a startling window into the chaotic period of the war when the newly freed and the newly fleeing joined together to improvise new lives. From the beginning of the war thousands of enslaved people liberated themselves and fled to Union lines, as Federal forces secured pockets of Southern territory. Grant settled them in contraband camps or arranged for their protection on plantations of their former owners seized as punishment for supporting the Confederacy. The most notable of these were the properties of Jefferson and Joseph Davis in the Mississippi River, where the former slaves took control and successfully planted cotton and ran their own schools. Benjamin and Isaiah Montgomery, slaves only two years before, turned a profit of $160,000 in 1865 on the plantation of their former owners.

Lincoln, McClellan and Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass, the leading black statesman, condemned Lincoln’s policy of returning fugitive slaves and refusing to allow them to enlist in Union forces: “We are striking the guilty rebels with our soft white hand, when we should be striking with the iron hand of the black man, which we keep chained behind us. We have been catching slaves, instead of arming them… Slavery has been, and is yet the shield and helmet of this accursed rebellion.” Soon, however, Lincoln declared that slave labor was supporting the Rebel war effort. Then some of his more openly abolitionist generals, such as Benjamin Butler, could treat the escaping people as “legitimate contraband of war” seized from the enemy to prevent aid to the Rebel cause. The flight of thousands of slaves is called by some the Last Chapter of the Underground Railroad, as African American southerners added their efforts to the Union side, and subtracted their labor from the rebels.

About the New-York Historical Society

Established in 1804, the New-York Historical Society (N-YHS) comprises New York’s oldest museum and a nationally renowned research library. N-YHS collects, preserves and interprets American history and art; its mission is to make these collections accessible to the broadest public and increase understanding of American history through exhibitions, public programs, and research that reveal the dynamism of history and its impact on the world today. N-YHS holdings cover four centuries of American history and comprise one of the world’s greatest collections of historical artifacts, American art, and other materials documenting the history of the United States as seen through the prism of New York City and State.

Call for Proposals: Underground Railroad History Conference


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The Planning Committee of the Eighth Underground Railroad (UGR) History Conference is soliciting brief proposals for presentations, panels, and workshops that address the theme “The Underground Railroad, Its Legacies, and Our Communities.” Proposals should be made for a 60-minute workshop session, for a poster session or exhibition, or for a cultural/artistic activity.

According to the announcement, conference organizers “ask that all proposals allow for significant audience interaction. And, while we urge that proposals focus on the conference theme, we also invite proposals on other important topics concerning Underground Railroad history. See the full call for proposals pdf here.

The Eighth Annual UGR History Conference will be held at College Park, Union College, Schenectady, NY, on February 27-28, 2009. It is sponsored by the Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region, Inc.

For more information, consult the web site at http://www.ugrworkshop.com/

Proposals should be submitted to the planning committee by September 30, 2008 by mail at URHPCR, PO Box 10851, Albany NY 12201 or via e-mail at urhpcr [AT] localnet [DOT] com

Underground Railroad Site Travel Grants to AASLH


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If you represent an underground railroad related site or organization, the New York State Underground Railroad Heritage Trail is offering Travel Grants to support attendance at this year’s AASLH Annual Meeting in Rochester.

The Underground Railroad Heritage Trail Travel Grants will provide museum staff members and volunteers, from URHT sites, the opportunity to expand their horizons by participating in the American Association of State and Local History Annual Meeting.

Organizations may apply for travel grants of up to $350. This travel grant can be used towards conference registration fees, travel expenses and accommodation fees associated with attendance at the 2008 AASLH Annual Meeting. For further information on the AASLH Annual Meeting visit: www.aaslh.org/anmeeting.htm

Applications for URHT Travel grants to attend the AASLH Annual Meeting must be postmarked by August 3, 2008. Applicants will be notified within 30 days of receipt. To apply, contact Catherine Gilbert directorATupstatehistoryDOTorg at the Upstate History Alliance for an application form.

According to New York State’s Underground Heritage Trail website:

New York State was at the forefront of the Underground Railroad movement. It was a major destination for freedom-seekers for four main reasons:

Destination & Gateway
New York was a gateway to liberation for freedom-seekers (often referred to as escaped slaves). Its prime location, with access to Canada and major water routes, made it the destination of choice for many Africans fleeing slavery along the eastern seaboard.

Safe Haven
Freedom-seekers knew they would be protected in New York’s many black communities as well as Quaker and other progressive white and mixed race communities. A large and vocal free black population was present after the manumission (freeing) of slaves in New York State in 1827.

Powerful Anti-Slavery Movement
Anti-slavery organizations were abundant in New York State – more than any other state. The reform politics and the progressive nature of the state gave rise to many active anti-slavery organizations.

Strong Underground Railroad Leaders
Many nationally-known and locally influential black and white abolitionists chose to make their homes in New York. Among them were: Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Gerrit Smith, Henry Ward Beecher, Sojourner Truth and John Brown.