Today is Juneteenth, a holiday that celebrates the official end of slavery on June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. The message of freedom for enslaved people came late to Texas - more likely on purpose than by chance. It was not until the Union Army arrived to announce - and enforce - the order that people were finally freed from bondage. Galveston, Texas was the first to celebrate that holiday, and today for the first time in American history it becomes a federal holiday.
Although descendants of enslaved people have celebrated the holiday for over a century, this may be the first time you are learning about it. And while Juneteenth is a celebration (one you can join at the events listed below), it is also a commemoration of time spent in unjust bondage and a call to reckon with the history of slavery in this country. To that end, we thought we would take time today to share some resources on slavery in the Hudson Valley, so that everyone can learn that yes, there was slavery in the North, even in your own backyard. Keep scrolling for events, books, documentary films, online exhibits, organizations, and more.
Hudson Valley Juneteenth Events
Harambee Juneteenth Celebration
Saturday, June 19, 2021 - 12:00 PM to 4:00 PM
Location: Pine St. African Burial Ground, Kingston, NY
Join us as celebrate Juneteenth- our African American Independence Day and the Grand Opening of the Pine St. African Burial Ground block party style with music, food, burial ground tours, children's activities and more.
FREE for all ages!
12:00 - Ubaka Hill & POOK – opening ceremony
12:20 – House Blessing by Pastor Hubbie (Pastor Doris Schyler)
12:25 – Burial Ground Ritual - Caru, Shambet, and Miss V; Libation by Rev. Evelyn Clarke
12:55 – Rev. Evelyn Clarke sings "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" by James Weldon Johnson)
1:00 – Welcome and Commemorations by Tyrone Wilson - CEO/Founder, Harambee; Julia Farr - Executive Director, Kingston Land Trust; Seth McKee - Executive Director, Scenic Hudson; Dignitaries: Congressman Antonio Delgado, NYS Senator Michelle Hinchey, Ulster County Executive Patrick Ryan, Ulster County District Attorney David Clegg, Ulster County Comptroller, March Gallagher, Ulster County Sheriff Juan Figueroa, Mayor Steve Noble
1:30 – The Saints of Swing feat. Miss Renee Bailey
1:55 – Sax legend Eric Person Jazz Quartet
2:15 – New Progressive Baptist Church Choir
2:20 – Vocal Phenom Christopher McDole Jazz Quartet
2:45 – Enchanting Vocalist Ms Marleen Merritt
3:00- Anthropologist Joe Diamond on the PSABG and Honoring Mr. Ed Ford
3:15 – Energy Dance Company
3:30 – POOK
3:55 – Oliver King as Frederick Douglas - “What to a Slave is Your Fourth of July?”
Juneteenth: Passion & Perseverance
Saturday, June 19, 2021 - 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM
Location: New Rochelle, NY
9am-11am- Ward Acres Community Garden – 300 Broadfield Road, New Rochelle, NY 10804
• T’ai Chi Workshop
• Councilmember Sara Kaye
• Councilmember Yadira Ramos-Herbert – Juneteenth History
• Historian Barbara Davis – Carpenter Cemetery African American Burial Ground – Presentation
• Thelma Thomas – Storyteller
• Bokandeye African American Dance Theater
• Coffee and Pastries
12 Noon-2pm – New Rochelle City Hall – 515 North Avenue, New Rochelle, NY 10801
• Bokandeye African American Dance Theater – Procession
• Juneteenth Flag Raising
• Lift Every Voice and Sing – Kay Boyd
• Welcome – Stuart Reid, President Board of Directors, The Lincoln Park Conservancy, Inc.
• Invocation – Minister Mark McLean, Pres. New Rochelle Branch NAACP and Pres., Interreligious Council of New Rochelle
Imam Mohamed Shaffieq Chace, Islamic Center of New Rochelle
• Remarks – State, County and Local Officials
• Councilmember Yadira Ramos-Herbert – Juneteenth History
• DJ Smithyboy (Maison Smith) – ALMS Student
• Juneteenth – A Narrative of Freedom – NRCA Rotunda Gallery Exhibit/Opening Reception
• Artist Richela Fabian Morgan – Juneteenth Quilt Workshop
• Solomon Darden and Darrin Greaves - NRHS Spoken Word Artists
• Martin Luther King Awards Ceremony – WestCOP Presentation
• Wayne Henderson Sextet
• Steven Vilsaint – Hip-Hop Dance Performance – Accent Dance NYC
• Lucia Jackson – Jazz Vocalist and Ron Jackson – Acoustic Jazz Musician with Dancers Sarita Apel and Andres Bravo – Accent Dance NYC
• Rocky Middleton Jazz Ensemble
• Benediction – Rev. Wallace Noble, St. Catherine A.M.E.Zion Church and
Rabbi Jessica Fisher, Beth El Synagogue
• Juneteenth Books will be on display at the New Rochelle Public Library
• Food Vendors, PPE Station
3pm – 9pm – Thomas Paine Cottage Museum and Thomas Paine Memorial Building – 20 Sicard Avenue, New Rochelle, NY 10804
Thomas Paine Cottage Museum Family Activities:
• Arts and Craft Workshop – Creating Juneteenth Flag
• Scavenger Hunt
• Capoeira – Luanda New Rochelle – Performance
• Juneteenth Videos for Kids
• Juneteenth Exhibit and Self-guided Tours
• Juneteenth Desserts
Thomas Paine Memorial Building Activities:
• Freedom Exhibit – Artists Fred Spinowitz and H. Lloyd Weston
• Thomas Paine’s Letter on Slavery – Presentation/Discussion
• The Crossing and the Ten Crucial Days – Songs from the Play
Thomas Paine events conclude with a screening of Soul Food
Information: email@example.com facebook.com/thelincolnparkconservancy
Juneteenth 2021 Celebrations in New Paltz
Saturday, June 19, 2021 - 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM
Location: Historic Huguenot Street
81 Huguenot StNew Paltz, NY, 12561
Join us on Saturday, June 19th the Elting Memorial Library and Historic Huguenot Street are teaming up to celebrate Juneteenth!
At 11am, June 19th, a kick off and benediction will be held at the Hasbrouck Park playground. This includes a placard dedication in honor of Julia Jackson, the last surviving enslaved woman to live in New Paltz and a revered historian, storyteller and beloved friend of the community. An important announcement will be made as well. Speakers will include: Mayor Tim Rogers, Rev. Jennifer Berry, New Paltz Town Historian Susan Stessin-Cohn, and Albert Cook with a performance by Resisterhood: New Paltz.
Next, join us at Huguenot Street 3 - 7 PM for live, local music and a family-friendly pot-luck or bring-your-own-picnic lunch on the lawn. Light refreshments will be provided.
Other Hudson Valley Programs Happening on Saturday, June 19, 2021
White Plains Juneteenth Heritage, Inc. - Virtual Juneteenth Celebration
The 2021 theme "Preserving Our Legacy", illustrates the historical commitment of those who came before us and our determination to continue to fulfill their legacy. With that imparted, it is of great importance that we achieve our desired objectives which are to better communicate the history and celebration of Juneteenth, gain greater participation from the overall community, educate our youth in the importance of this historical holiday and strengthen funding so that this celebration will continue to thrive.
This virtual program was held on June 12, 2021 and filmed. The program is available online at the White Plains Juneteenth Heritage, Inc. Facebook page.
Slavery in the Hudson Valley
There are lots of great books, articles, and exhibits to explore to learn more about slavery in the Hudson Valley. Links are to purchase. Check your local library collections to borrow.
Long Hammering: Essays of an African American Presence in the Hudson Valley to the 20th Century by A.J. Williams-Myers. Dr. Wiliams-Myers addresses the integral role that African Americans played in every aspect of Hudson Valley society, which historically is the embryo of New York history.
In Defiance: Runaways from Slavery in New York’s Hudson River Valley, 1735-1831 by Susan Stessin-Cohn and Ashley Hurlburt-Biagini. In Defiance documents 607 fugitives from slavery in the 18th and 19th-century Hudson River Valley region of New York State.
Freedom’s Gardener: James F. Brown, Horticulture, and the Hudson Valley in Antebellum America by Myra B. Young Armstead. James F. Brown escaped slavery in Maryland and became a gardener at Mount Gulian in Beacon, NY. Dr. Armstead uses his diary to illuminate his life and the history of slavery and freedom in the Hudson Valley.
Watch Myra Young Armstead's recorded lecture for the Newburgh Free Library.
Peekskill's African American History: A Hudson Valley Community's Untold Story by John C. Curran. Highlighting African American stories in Peekskill from the American Revolution through to Paul Robeson and the Peekskill Riots of 1949 and beyond.
Slavery and Freedom in the Mid-Hudson Valley by Michael E. Groth. Focusing on the struggle for freedom in the central Hudson Valley prior to the Civil War.
The Kidnapping Club: Wall Street, Slavery, and Resistance on the Eve of the Civil War by Jonathan Daniel Wells. In a rapidly changing New York, two forces battled for the city's soul: the pro-slavery New Yorkers who kept the illegal slave trade alive and well, and the abolitionists fighting for freedom.
Watch a recording of Jonathan Wells' lecture for HRMM.
The Last Slave Ships: New York and the End of the Middle Passage by John Harris outlines how even after the slave trade was made illegal, merchants based in the United States were still sending hundreds of illegal slave ships from American ports to the African coast.
Watch a recording of John Harris' lecture for HRMM.
"Where Slavery Died Hard," Cragsmoor Historical Society (2018)
Historic Hudson Valley has a whole host of videos on slavery in the North, but this video is a good place to start - "Introduction: Stories of Slavery in the Colonial North."
"Hidden History: Slavery in the Hudson Valley" short film by Vassar College.
The Library at the A.J. Williams-Myers African Roots Center works in the Ponckhockie neighborhood and throughout Kingston with community programs, children’s literacy and after school programs, and more, with hundreds of books available. The African Roots Library partners with the Hudson River Maritime Museum in co-hosting the Conference on Black History in the Hudson Valley. You can learn more and donate at africanrootslibrary.org.
The Underground Railroad Education Center in Albany, NY tells the story of Stephen and Harriet Meyers, the Underground Railroad in New York, and its connections to today. The Underground Railroad Education Center is a new partner in the Conference on Black History in the Hudson Valley. You can learn more and donate at undergroundrailroadhistory.org.
TMI Project: Black Stories Matter, also a conference partner – tmiproject.org/blackstoriesmatter
Harambee and the Pine Street African Burial Ground, also a conference partner – harambeekingstonny.org
The African American Historical Society of Rockland County – aahsmuseum.org
The Mid-Hudson Antislavery History Project – pages.vassar.edu/mhantislaveryhistoryproject
The Sadie Peterson Delaney African Roots Library in Poughkeepsie – africanrootslibrary.tripod.com
This is not a comprehensive list, but will hopefully give you a good foundation on the topic of slavery in the Hudson Valley. To contribute other resources to this list, please add to the History Alliance of Kingston's "Black History Collaborative Research Project." For Black history articles on the Hudson River Maritime Museum blog, explore our Black History category. And if you have a Black history story you would like to tell or research you would like to share, please send a proposal in to the Conference on Black History in the Hudson Valley, held this year on Saturday, October 2, 2021.
Editor's Notes: This article, "Mr. Fillmore and His Friends" was originally published on August 18, 1856 in the Albany Evening Journal. It is a stinging critique of Millard Fillmore and his support for the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Fillmore was born in 1800 in Moravia, New York and served in state politics before entering Congress as the Representative for NY's 32nd District. Winning the Vice-Presidency in 1848 on the Whig ticket, Fillmore became president in 1850 upon the death of President Zachary Taylor. Although he was not chosen as a candidate by any party during the election of 1852, he ran as a third party candidate in the election of 1856 under the Know Nothing party. This article was almost certainly in response to his candidacy. He ultimately lost to Democrat James Buchanan, a staunch proponent of state's rights who exacerbated tensions around slavery and made way for the four-way-split Presidential election of 1860, resulting in the victory of Abraham Lincoln.
The article also sharply critiques the Fugitive Slave Act. Passed by Congress in 1850 and signed into law by President Fillmore, the Act was a concession to Southern states in an effort to preserve the Union as part of the Compromise of 1850. Many Northern states had passed state or local ordinances requiring jury trials for fugitive slaves, denying use of jails or state officials in their retrieval, and otherwise attempting to protect fugitive slaves, or at least keep from getting involved. Tens of thousands of enslaved people made their way to freedom on the Underground Railroad in the 1830s and '40s, joining free Black communities in Northern states and building lives and families.
But Southern states were angry about the lack of cooperation from their Northern counterparts and the attrition of enslaved people to the North, especially in slaveholding states that bordered free states. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was designed to force compliance of state officials, overrule state and local laws, fine state officials who did not arrest fugitive slaves, and fine and imprison anyone who aided or abetted a fugitive slave - a clause specifically designed to target abolitionists. Because habeus corpus was suspended in fugitive slave cases, Black Americans had little recourse to dispute accusations, no matter how much evidence proved them false. Several cases found in lower courts for the accused were overturned by the Supreme Court as a violation of federal law. Disturbingly, the Act also provided rewards for officers who captured fugitive slaves, regardless of whether or not they were actually fugitives.
These clauses not only led to some of the unjust events outlined in the article below, but angered many Northerners and turned more to the abolitionist cause. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852 in response to the law. The novel went on to become one of the best-selling books of the century (surpassed only by the Bible). Although the Compromise of 1850 did temporarily hold the United States together, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was a concession to slaveholding states that only exacerbated the divisions over slavery, and helped inflame the tensions that would lead to the Civil War.
"Mr. Fillmore and His Friends"
Mr. Fillmore’s supporters in the present canvass endeavor to palliate his signing the Fugitive Slave Law, by alleging that he disapproved of many of the provisions of the act. His own course proves the contrary. If he objected to any details of the bill, it was his privilege and his constitutional duty to return it with a statement of those objections. Instead of so doing, instead of even hesitating, he signed it immediately upon its passage, endorsed it in his subsequent Messages and Proclamations, lauded it in his speeches, rewarded those who voted for it with Offices and Patronage, and was constantly urging during the whole time he remained in office, that it ought never to be repealed, but should stand forever, as a “finality.”
In his Message of Dec., 1850, he alludes to it thus: -
“I believe those acts to have been required by the circumstances and condition of the country. I believe they were necessary. By that adjustment we have a firm, distinct and legal ground to stand upon.”
In his Message of Dec., 1851, after having tried the working of the Law for a year, he said: -
“It is deeply to be regretted that in several instances officers of the Government, in attempting to execute the law for the rendition of fugitives from labor, have been openly resisted. Prosecutions have been instituted against the alleged offenders so far as they could be identified, and are still pending. I have regarded it my duty in these cases to give all aid legally in my power, to the enforcement of the law.
“* * The Act of Congress for the return of fugitives from labor is one required and demanded by the express words of the Constitution.”
A brief review of the “several instances” which he alludes to will show not only the character of the act, but the spirit in which the acting President viewed it.
On the 27th of September, 1850, the same month in which the Law was passed, JAMES HAMLET, a laborer in New York, was seized in the street, handcuffed, thrust into a coach, carried to the Marshal’s office, and in two hours time, without having witnesses, a Judge, or a Jury, was in the hands of his alleged “Master,” on his way South. This was the first instance of the “legal ground” “stood upon” by Mr. Fillmore.
On Oct. 12th, a man named ROSE, who had come North by his owner’s permission, under an agreement to pay $100 per annum for his freedom, and had actually paid it for the first year, was seized in Detroit, and consigned to Jail until he could be sent back to Tennessee. The “Scotch Guards” and the “Grayson Light Guards” were paraded with a hundred fixed bayonets around the Jail, to keep the negro in, and to exemplify the “reign of peace and quiet,” induced by Mr. Fillmore’s Law.
On the 24th of October, William Harris, his wife and child, who had escaped from South Carolina, were aboard a Canal Boat in this State. When at Lodi Lock, near Syracuse, word was given that the pursuers were upon them. They all jumped overboard. The man and his wife were caught again, but the child was drowned - its death having been, as Mr. Fillmore remarks, “required and demanded by the Constitution.”
On the 8th of November, Election Day, when the freemen of this Republic were turning out to exercise their highest privilege, those of them who lived near Beechwood, Ohio, were regaled by the spectacle of a bleeding Mulatto on horseback, flying before half a dozen other horsemen at full gallop, who fired five times at him, while running, with more or less success. A peaceable Quaker standing by had a pistol presented to his head with the information that if he refused to join the chase, his brains would be blown out. This, we presume, was also “required and demanded by the Constitution.”
Three days after (Nov. 11th) a perfectly white woman and her daughter, old and well known residents, were taken before the Commissioner at New Albany, Indiana, on a charge of being chattels of DENNIS FRAMEL of Arkansas, and only escaped sentence to plantation life, by paying the Arkansas swindler $600. But this was doubtless “required by the circumstances and condition of the country,” as Mr. Fillmore remarked.
On the 21st of December, ADAM GIRSON of Philadelphia, was hauled up before Commissioner Ingraham, on a charge of being the slave of one Knight of Cecil county, Maryland. He brought witnesses who conclusively proved him to be a freeman. Nevertheless the Commissioner, after a hasty examination, lasting only from noon till dusk, sent him under charge of a bodyguard of 25 policemen down to Cecil county, Md. When they got him there and delivered to Mr. Knight, that gentleman declared he had never seen him before, and that having no claim on him, he would not take him. Only by the honesty of this Marylander was Adam Gibson released from the malicious imprisonment put upon him by Mr. Fillmore’s Law, and Mr. Fillmore’s Commissioner.
On Christmas Day, when the bells of New York were pealing anthems in honor of the birth of Him who came to “break all bonds, and let the oppressed go free” - HENRY LONG, a waiter at the Pacific Hotel, was seized while at work in the Dining Room, carried before Commissioner Hall, and was sentenced to bonds for the remainder of his life.
During the same month, the Tennessee papers exultingly announced that “Mr. MARKWOOD of Greenville in that State, and his friend THOMAS CHESTER have returned from a tour in Michigan with seven slaves” caught there, by the assistance of Millard Fillmore.
The Memphis Eagle also boasted that “five fugitives had within a few weeks been brought back with as little trouble as would be had in recovering stray cows.” Rather less, in fact, for a man cannot recover his Cow without witnesses and a jury. But he can get a Slave without either.
On the 5th of January 1851, Daniel Fossbeuner of Baltimore, a member of the Methodist Church South, came into Court, and claimed a young man and two girls, free since their birth, on the ground that their mother had been his slave nineteen years before! She had been allowed the trouble and expense of bringing them up during these nineteen years, by Mr. F., and he now estimated their worth in the market at $1,800. As the Judge pronounced their doom of her children, the bereaved Mother fell in convulsions on the floor of the Court room. This too, says Mr. Fillmore, is “required and demanded by the circumstances and condition of the country.”
On the 12th of January, 1851, Hamilton Jackson, a colored barber in Cincinnati, born and bred a free man, was seized and taken to Jail on a charge of being a runaway Slave. The jailor, however, happened to have known him all his life, and to know him to be no fugitive. So he “escaped,” which was one of the “circumstances” “deeply regretted” by Mr. Fillmore.
On January 23d, a man known as William Baker, was arrested while sawing wood, and taken before Commissioner Ingraham. He was accused of being Stephen Bennet, slave of Capt. E. B. Gallup of Baltimore. Without time to prepare or make any defence, without time to see his wife and child, after an examination of only two hours, he was hurried off, whether rightfully or wrongfully, will never be known in this world. This also was “required and demanded” by Mr. Fillmore.
Need we go on to relate how the “Chivalry” in Maryland presented a Service of Plate to the captors of Henry Long? - how the captor of Adam Gibson was unluckily detected in kidnapping a white child named Joel Henry, and prevented from selling it into slavery in order to save this glorious Union? Need we tell how Helen and Dick, wife and son of a boatman on the Pennsylvania Canal, were, in the absence of the husband and father, dragged - the mother from her wash-tub, the boy from the hay-field - and consigned to slavery by Judge KANE, and put in custody of sixty officers, who marched with them to the Ferry lest the man should unexpectedly return and save them? Need we recall the case of Shadrach, when the whole military and civil force of Boston turned out to catch a single negro, and when Millard Fillmore caused to be arrested and imprisoned, for treason, his counsel, and several respectable Lawyers, Clergymen and Merchants of that city, because the negro slipped through the slave-catchers’ fingers?
Need we quote the Special Message, in which Millard Fillmore consoled the defeated pursuers and promised them better luck next time, assuring them “that, so far as depends on me, the law shall be faithfully executed, and all forcible opposition to it suppressed,” and “deeply lamenting that the Massachusetts law forbids Massachusetts officers and jails” to help in catching runaway negroes? Or his Proclamation of Feb. 18th, calling on “all well disposed citizens” to ally to the support of the “Fugitive Slave Law,” and to “assist the civil and military officers,” and “especially directing prosecutions to be commenced against all persons who have made themselves hiders and abettors” of runaways, and “commanding the District Attorney to prosecute and arrest all persons who shall be found to have harbored or concealed a fugitive?”
Such is a brief summary of only the first six months of Millard Fillmore’s “execution” of the Slave Law. During the other two years of his term, similar scenes increased and were multiplied ten fold. These are the acts of which he boasts in his Messages. These are the scenes he urged ought to endure as “finalities” for ever. These are the grounds upon which he now asks the suffrages of American citizens. No President before him ever could be found debased enough to sign an Act containing such atrocious provisions. No President before him ever summoned the officials of the Union and “all good citizens” to assist in such degrading offices. Still less did any President but him, ever deem such scenes as these “required and demanded by the Constitution,” or that it “was his duty to give them all aid legally in his power.”
This article was located and shared by Hudson River Maritime Museum volunteer researcher George A. Thompson and transcribed by Sarah Wassberg Johnson. All spelling, capitalization, quotations, and italics are reproduced here as in the original.
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Looking for holiday gifts? Need to build up your reading list for colder weather? We're listing some of our favorite Hudson River history books plus some new releases to tide you over until spring.
All of the following links to go Amazon. Just click on the book image or title to purchase. If you'd like to give the museum some extra support, shop at smile.amazon.com and select the Hudson River Maritime Museum as your charity. We'll get a small percentage of your purchase. Some of these books are also available in our museum store, so stop by to purchase in person! And as always, we have a large selection of rare and out of print maritime books in the store, perfect for browsing.
Hudson River Classics
The Hudson: America's River by Frances F. Dunwell
Fran Dunwell offers up a beautifully illustrated history of the Hudson River with this coffee table book. In particular, Dunwell frames the Hudson River and its importance in New York State and national history.
The Hudson: A History by Tom Lewis
This somewhat scholarly book nevertheless provides an excellent overview of the Hudson River, from First Contact through the twentieth century.
The Hudson: An Illustrated Guide to the Living River by Stephen P. Stanne with Roger G. Panetta, Brian E. Forist, and Maija Liisa Niemisto
The third edition of this classic book will be released in January, 2021, but you can pre-order before the holidays. Containing information about the Hudson's wildlife, flora, and environmental history, The Hudson: An Illustrated Guide to the Living River is essential reading for any Hudson River enthusiast.
The Hudson River Highlands by Frances F. Dunwell
This classic text has kept its relevance. The museum consulted it for our RiverWise journey through the Highlands just this year! With chapters on everything from geology to the American Revolution, Dunwell's book is an engaging and interesting read.
New Publications (2018-2020)
Embattled River: The Hudson and Modern American Environmentalism by David Schuyler (2018, paperback 2020)
Newly out in paperback, Embattled River tells the story of the Hudson River and its role in the formation of the environmental movement in America. The museum consulted this book as part of its Rescuing the River exhibit.
Sadly, David Schuyler passed away suddenly in July, 2020. We are grateful for his work and he will be missed.
In the Shadow of Genius: The Brooklyn Bridge and Its Creators by Barbara G. Mensch (2018)
Part coffee table book, part history, Barbara G. Mensch combines decades of her photography with archival images of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. Weaving together her personal experience of living in the shadow of the bridge with the lives of John and Emily Roebling, In the Shadow of Genius makes for fascinating reading - and looking.
Hudson River Lighthouses by the Hudson River Maritime Museum (2019)
Written by the Hudson River Maritime Museum, Hudson River Lighthouses chronicles all of the Hudson River's historic lighthouses, from Troy, NY to New York Harbor. Includes information about lost lighthouses and early manned navigational lights.
Also available for purchase in the Hudson River Maritime Museum store. All proceeds benefit HRMM.
The Last Pirate of New York: A Ghost Ship, a Killer, and the Birth of a Gangster Nation by Rich Cohen (2019)
An engrossing history of the life and times of Albert Hicks, infamously known as the "last pirate of New York," for his prosecution and execution for piracy in 1860. Rich Cohen links Hicks to the rise of gangsterism in New York City in the latter half of the 19th century.
The Kidnapping Club: Wall Street, Slavery, and Resistance on the Eve of the Civil War by Jonathan Daniel Wells (2020)
Although gradual manumission was implemented in New York starting in 1799, the story of slavery in the state doesn't end there. In this new book, historian Jonathan Daniel Wells chronicles the New York City officials who sought to circumvent antislavery laws from the 1830s to "the eve of the Civil War" and the small group of dedicated abolitionists who fought to stop them.
Enterprising Waters: The History and Art of New York's Erie Canal by Brad L. Utter (2020)
The companion publication to the New York State Museum exhibition by the same name, Enterprising Waters chronicles the history of the Erie Canal in New York State.
The Hudson Valley: The First 250 Million Years: A Mostly Chronological and Occasionally Personal History by David Levine (2020)
Journalist David Levine covers all 250 million years of Hudson Valley history (or thereabouts) in a series of short historical (and often humorous) essays, on topics from dinosaurs to the present.
The Last Slave Ships: New York and the End of the Middle Passage by John Harris (2020)
Published on November 24, 2020, this brand new history chronicles the role of New York City - particularly lower Manhattan - in the illegal slave trade. Harris outlines how the U.S. government turned a blind eye and even aided enslavers in their efforts, despite the illegality of the importation of enslaved Africans at the time.
Especially for Kids
The Christmas Tugboat: How the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Came to New York City by George Matteson.
This delightful children's book tells the story of real-life tugboat captain George Matteson and his daughter as they make their way down the Hudson River with the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in tow.
River of Dreams: The Story of the Hudson River by Hudson Talbott.
This beautifully illustrated children's book chronicles the history of the Hudson River from pre-contact Indigenous history all the way through the exciting 19th century, as told through the dreams of a boy named Hudson.
Picturing America: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Art by Hudson Talbott
In his follow-up to River of Dreams, Talbott chronicles the life of Thomas Cole and his relationship to the Catskills in this beautifully illustrated book about the birth of the Hudson River School of Art.
More to come in 2021!
There are a number of fascinating new history books being published in 2021, so keep your eyes peeled for another post with that list. In the meantime, Happy Holidays and happy reading!
If you enjoyed this post and would like to support more history blog content, please make a donation to the Hudson River Maritime Museum or become a member today!
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the Hudson River Maritime Museum's 2018 issue of the Pilot Log.
Most of the people who lived in the Hudson River Valley 200 years ago are hard to spot now; all the more so, the black men and women from the Valley, who were invisible even at the time. We know that Blacks worked on the sloops, steamboats and canal boats, because - well, because they must have. They must have travelled along the canals and on the river, too. But we have not found many indications that they did.
New York State passed gradual manumission laws in 1799 and 1817, which led to slavery winding down until it was abolished altogether in 1827. [Editor’s note: Slavery continued unchecked in other states until Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 abolished slavery for the entire nation.] During the years when it was still supported by law, there are advertisements for slaves who had freed themselves by escaping from their masters, or who were offered for sale. A $30 reward was offered in 1789 for Martineek, who was 19 and had been four seasons employed in a sloop between Albany and New York City. In 1794 an unnamed Negro man, 27, was offered for sale; he was an excellent hand for the slooping business, having been eight seasons employed on this river. In such cases, it is interesting, that the fugitive is richly, if briefly, described, while the owner, ironically is a blank, except for the name.
A warmer glimpse comes from a diary kept by an Englishman who travelled to Niagara Falls in 1800. The crew of the sloop he travelled on included Nicholas, a free Black acting as steward, cook, cabin-boy, &c. who had purchased his own freedom and that of his wife, hoping to soon buy his children; he "performs well on the violin, and is very smart. [3 days later] Went on shore; took with us Nicholas and his violin, the fiddle soon got the girls together; we kicked up a dance and kept it up till midnight. Treated with spruce-beer and gingerbread."1
Southern slave owners and their families fled the heat and diseases of the summer and headed to Ballston Spa and Saratoga. Naturally, they took with them their enslaved personal attendants. A striking glimpse of how oblivious the slave holders could be to the presence of their slaves is from one of a series of letters in a Boston newspaper about a trip along the Erie Canal, which shows a slave-holder from Tennessee discussing slavery in the hearing of his slaves with a Bostonian who hoped for the national abolition of slavery.
Arrived in Worcester at 9. In a few moments I was in the stage coach wheeling towards Northampton. There was a gentleman with his family in the coach from Vicksburg, and two colored servants or slaves. They, together with myself, constituted the whole load. We had a prolonged and full conversation upon slavery. *** He observed that he had conversed with one of these fanatical abolitionists the evening previous, who knew nothing at all about the subject; that his feelings had been much irritated, and that he finally dropped the subject by telling his opponent that if he would come down to Vicksburg, they would argue the case effectually for him with a piece of rope. *** Before the conversation closed, however, his feelings seemed very much changed and softened, and he declared that he was not only willing to stand to law and government, but that he believed the whole system of slavery to be wrong and evil -- that free labor would be much better, and that he should be entirely willing and even desirous of emancipating all his slaves upon his cotton plantation and substituting free labor, if any feasible means of accomplishing it could be devised.2
The abolitionist either didn’t notice or chose not to mention the efforts of the enslaved personal attendants to hide any sign of their interest in the discussion.
An English traveler on a steam-boat up the Hudson wrote of noticing a respectably dressed Black woman who had not joined the other passengers at dinner. The woman explained that "white people don't like to eat with colored people," and yet sleeping accommodations on the over-night steamboats and on the canal-boats were bunkhouse style, with a curtain dividing the cabin, women on one side and men on the other, so that white people would have to accept sleeping in the same room with the colored.
1. John Maude. Visit to the Falls of Niagara in 1800, London, 1826, 5, 16.
2. American Traveller (Boston, Massachusetts), September 20, 1836.
Editor's Note: Enslaved in a Free State
As northern states began to pass manumission laws in the early 19th century, slavery, once the law of the land, began to become legally complicated. Free Black communities dotted the landscape of New York State throughout its history, but even free people were never truly free. Solomon Northup was the free-born son of a freed slave and a free woman of color. He and his wife Anna were living in Saratoga, NY in 1841 when he was lured to Washington D.C. on the promise of a musician’s job (he was an accomplished violinist). When he arrived in the slaveholding city, he was drugged, kidnapped, and sold into slavery in New Orleans. His harrowing journey is recounted in his memoir, Twelve Years a Slave, published in 1853. He eventually returned to New York with the help of abolitionists, and was freed in 1853.
In 1857, Dred Scott v. Sanford came before the Supreme Court. Scott had been born into slavery in Virginia, but was moved to the free state of Illinois in 1830 and later to Wisconsin Territory (also free), where Scott was legally married to Harriet Robinson (also enslaved). At that time, slave marriages were not recognized by law. When the slave owner returned to Missouri, he left Scott in Wisconsin Territory and rented out his services, which was illegal under territorial law. When the slave owner died, his wife inherited the Scott family and continued to lease out their services. When they attempted to purchase their freedom, she refused, prompting Dred Scott to sue for his freedom. After ten years of litigation, the case made its way to the Supreme Court in 1857, where Scott argued that having spent time in a free state, he was legally entitled to freedom. Their decision is widely regarded as one of history’s great injustices. They ruled that no Black person, free or enslaved, could claim citizenship, and were therefore unable to petition the court for their freedom. Only two justices dissented.
In New York State, abolitionist sentiments were strong. The Erie Canal was used as part of the Underground Railroad and helped many enslaved people escape to Canada. Hudson River sloops were also frequently mentioned in runaway slave notices as avenues to freedom. Thanks in large part to the New York Manumission Society, which was founded in 1785, New York State passed gradual manumission in 1799. At that point, any child born after 1799 was legally free, but was instead required to serve as an indentured servant until age 28 for men and 25 for women. In 1817, another manumission law was passed which freed all enslaved people born before 1799 by 1827. Indentured children continued to serve out their terms until they were of age, meaning that people remained enslaved in New York until as late as the 1840s.
These famous accounts illustrate just a few of the problems Black communities, both free and enslaved, faced during the first half of the 19th century, even in free states.
George A. Thompson was a teacher and then a librarian, before he realized that what he really wanted was to be a harmless crackpot who goes time-travelling in 200-year-old newspapers. Being aware that our society values crackpots but doesn't reward them, he did not quit his day job, of course. Now that he is retired, he spends as little time as possible in the 21st century. One of the fruits of his travels was finding a paragraph in a newspaper from 1823 that reported on the earliest known baseball game in America -- it made him famous for about 72 hours.
This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
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