Museum Hosts Author for Virtual Lecture
Spies, Enslavement and the American Revolution Feature in New Book
KINGSTON, N.Y. – The Hudson River Maritime Museum is pleased to announce the upcoming lecture “Espionage and Enslavement in the Revolution: The True Story of Robert Townsend and Elizabeth,” held virtually on Wednesday, March 16, 2022 at 7:00 PM.
The American Revolution has a new story to tell. Join historian and author Claire Bellerjeau for a talk about her new book, Espionage and Enslavement in the Revolution: The True Story of Robert Townsend and Elizabeth and discover the story of Elizabeth, or Liss, enslaved by the Townsend family whose son was Washington's spy in Manhattan as part of the Culper Spy Ring.
As Robert and Elizabeth’s story unfolds, prominent figures from history cross their path, including Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Jupiter Hammon, Benedict Arnold, John André, and John Adams, as well as participants in the Boston Massacre, the Sons of Liberty, the Battle of Long Island, Franklin’s Paris negotiations, and the Benedict Arnold treason plot. Her escape with the British, re-enslavement, and struggle for freedom gives a new perspective to the country's founding, from the point of view of an enslaved Black woman seeking personal liberty in a country fighting for its own.
The book was written with encouragement from singer Vanessa Williams, whose own family history can be traced back to Oyster Bay, Long Island, where many of the events of the book took place. Williams writes, “At a time when historically marginalized voices and stories are at last being brought to the forefront, it’s exciting to learn about a true story explaining details of the Revolutionary War on Long Island, African American history in New York, and the valiant fight for independence in a world full of loss, heartache, and eventual triumph. Claire’s research and commitment bring history to life and reveal a new African American female hero . . . Liss.”
Claire Bellerjeau is the author of Espionage and Enslavement in the Revolution: The True Story of Robert Townsend and Elizabeth. Until recently she served as historian and director of education at Raynham Hall Museum in Oyster Bay, New York, and has been researching the Townsend family and those they enslaved for over sixteen years, including curating a yearlong exhibit on the Townsend “Slave Bible” in 2005. In 2015, during a research visit to the New York Historical Society, she discovered what may be one of the earliest poems ever written by Jupiter Hammon, America’s first published African American writer. She has developed educational programs about slavery in Oyster Bay and is currently establishing a non-profit organization called Remember Liss, developing new programs to educate students and the community about the life and times of Liss.
Tickets are $7 for the general public and free for Hudson River Maritime Museum members. To register, visit www.hrmm.org/lecture-series.
About the Follow the River Lecture Series
For more than a decade the Hudson River Maritime Museum's "Follow the River Lecture Series" has hosted historians, authors, and maritime experts for engaging illustrated talks on a variety of regional history and maritime subjects. In recent years, many of the lectures have also been recorded and are available on YouTube. For more information about upcoming lectures and to access recordings of past lectures, visit www.hrmm.org/lecture-series. The series is sponsored by Rondout Savings Bank.
The Hudson River Maritime Museum is dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the maritime history of the Hudson River, its tributaries and related communities. In addition to extensive collections documenting maritime transportation, industry, recreation, and natural science, the museum offers classes and programs at its Wooden Boat School, Sailing and Rowing School, and aboard its floating classroom, Solaris. The museum is located along the historic Rondout waterfront in downtown Kingston. Visit www.hrmm.org for more information.
History in the United States is largely recorded from a white perspective. Black stories and histories can be hard to find because what was saved from the past does not reflect the whole picture. At the Hudson River Maritime Museum we are working to add more Black history resources to our collection and partner with organizations in our region that are expanding access to the knowledge of the way in which Africans and their descendants have profoundly shaped American history, including the maritime history of the Hudson River.
Museums play a unique role in shaping the narrative and connecting communities to resources that help everyone better understand local and national histories. To that end, here are some of the organizations working in the Hudson Valley, as well as some local and national resources, that show how Black history is American history.
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.
Other local Black history organizations to seek out and support include:
For information on Africans and African Americans in the Hudson Valley:
For information on Black maritime history:
Several organizations have also collected readings lists about Black history and addressing racism with children, including:
To learn more about race relations today, how to become anti-racist, and the history of racism in the United States:
We encourage you to use your local library or local independent booksellers when sourcing the books listed here.
This list was compiled by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff with assistance from our community partners. Please let us know of other sources and organizations. Email us at email@example.com and we’ll add them to this post.
Hudson River Maritime Museum
50 Rondout Landing
Kingston, NY 12401
The Hudson River Maritime Museum is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the maritime history of the Hudson River, its tributaries, and related industries.
Become a member and receive benefits like unlimited free museum admission, discounts on classes, programs, and in the museum store, plus invitations to members-only events.
The Hudson River Maritime Museum receives no federal, state, or municipal funding except through competitive, project-based grants. Your donation helps support our mission of education and preservation.