Slavery in Oneida County, New York.
Slavery could be Oneida County's best-kept secret. Many people who are particularly knowledgeable of local history, such as town historians and life-long residents, are completely unaware that the region witnessed the struggle of bondage. Few realize that at its peak there were at least 84 enslaved African Americans and 55 slaveholders in Oneida County. This article examines the history of slavery in Oneida County: how it began, flourished, and ended; who were the slaves and the slaveholders; what happened to the slaves after emancipation; and how slavery affected African Americans in Oneida County.
This study grows out of an effort to learn why Black Oneidans, especially those living in Utica, have remained particularly poor and socially isolated in the late 20th century. In 1990, 56% of Oneida County's African American households were headed by females; only 2 out of 5 children had 2 parents. Seven out of 10 black children were impoverished. Oneida County's African Americans faced greater rates of single-female families, poverty, and unemployment than the nation's black population in general. (2) My initial hypothesis was that past discrimination rooted in slavery created the conditions that left so many Black Oneidans living in impoverished single-mother families. I now conclude that my hypothesis is partly supported. While slavery and its racist ideology seriously sabotaged the efforts of New York's black people to achieve economic prosperity, slavery did not undermine Oneida County's black families or their drive to participate in the larger society. Published accounts provide very little information about local slavery, the documentary evidence is very thin, and the events themselves took place in so short a time period that they have been easily overlooked thereafter. Nonetheless, the hidden history of slavery and its consequences in Oneida County can finally be told.
It is easy to understand why so little is known about slavery in Oneida County. For instance, the many Oneida County and Utica histories that have been compiled for 150 years are the standard sources of local information, and they pay slavery only anecdotal attention. These accounts, taken from the earliest to the most recently written histories of Oneida County, are typical:
Francis Dana .... owned a colored woman, who, through fear of being sold, jumped into the river with her child, and both were drowned.... Slave sales, which once had not been uncommon in Utica, were no longer announced in the papers, an issue of the year 1817 containing the last of such announcements that the writer has met with. (3) When (General William Floyd) removed from Long Island, he brought with him a considerable number of slaves of both sexes. He was a kind and good master and provided everything for their comfort. When the law for the abolition of slavery in this State went into effect, these slaves became free, and many of them and their descendants yet remain in the town. (4) One might assume that Oneida County's first black resident was a slave to some wealthy merchant. Although there were 50 slaves enumerated in the census of 1800 for Oneida County, there were 73 "other [than white] free persons listed." (5)
Similarly, the literature concerning prominent Oneida County slaveholders virtually ignores their slaveholding, General William Floyd being the significant exception, as we shall see. (6) Most of Oneida County's 26 towns and 2 cities have their own written histories and all of them overlook the slaves of their forefathers. (7) An exhaustive review of the local literature leaves little understanding that slavery had once prevailed here.
Another reason for the lack of information is the small size of the enslaved and free black population. Oneida County's non-Indian population has always been overwhelmingly white and this was even truer when slaves first arrived. Free and enslaved Black Oneidans represented only .5% of the county's population in 1800, and the proportion did not rise above 1% until 1950. Slaves soon became the smaller portion of the black population. In 1800, barely half of all Black Oneidans were enslaved; by 1810, 61% were free; and by 1820, more than 97%. Black Oneidans were usually rural and were widely scattered across the county, rendering them even less visible. Local historians have focused on who and what "made things happen" in shaping their towns: the Europeans and the Iroquois Confederacy, the colonial wars, the American Revolution, the Erie Canal, religious revivalism, the abolition movement, the hundreds of thousands of white immigrants, the growth of a commercial and industrial economy, the rise of the cities of Utica and Rome, the Civil War, etc. It is understandable that they have ignored slavery. To be sure, slavery did not actually thrive here and it disappeared as suddenly as it appeared. But to read these accounts would suggest that slavery was of no consequence at all.
There were fewer slaves here than elsewhere in New York, even in neighboring Herkimer County. The village of Utica had very few slaves, unlike, say, Albany or New York City. Slavery lasted only 37 years, from 1790-1827. In contrast, slavery had been economically significant in the Hudson Valley, Long Island, and New York City since the mid 17th Century, and as far west as Herkimer County since the mid 18th Century. Contemporary images of Southern slavery included plantations, landed gentry, slave drivers, slave gangs, auction blocks, slave patrols, etc.; few of these characteristics of a slave society were present in New York by the time of the Revolution and none of them existed in Oneida County. Indeed, it may well have been difficult for local whites to distinguish between slaves and poor freedmen at the time. There were so few slaves that their status was often confused with that of free blacks. Local slavery was less dramatic than elsewhere and apparently did not draw much attention; there were no uprisings and no public record of cruelty. Other than a few anecdotes relating to William Floyd, local lore has little to say about the matter.
Thus the region's culture was not profoundly influenced by slavery and its aftermath, as was the case in the South. Regional art and literature were not inspired by slavery and did not acknowledge it. No slaves rose to prominence in the area, although prominent former slaves spent time here, such as Jermain Loguen and Henry Highland Garnet who attended Oneida Institute. Local slaves did not preserve their history after emancipation, and their experiences were not recorded by whites. They left few traces behind. Even members of the only local family that can trace their continuous presence in Oneida County from the enslavement of their ancestors are unaware of their slave heritage. Many people, such as historian Edgar McManus, have pointed out that enslaved African Americans left few traces of their individuality. (8)
Another important reason behind this gap in Oneida County history is the weak documentary evidence of slavery. Local records have been poorly preserved. All of the county's town clerks claim their records begin much later than the end of slavery in 1827. Not a single town has records of Overseers of the Poor before 1830, relevant vital statistics, property tax assessments, Certificates of Emancipation, Certificates of Freedom, or records of slave sales. Many early town records have been destroyed by fire. New York did not require records to be kept until long after slavery had ended. Record-keeping in a frontier society such as Oneida County during the post-Revolutionary War period were apparently casual. Some historical material may have been given away to long-forgotten recipients. (9)
Public documents such as the United States Census, the single most important source of data available, do not reveal much about slaves as people. (10) Moreover, the history of local slavery has been kept invisible by the scarcity of official records documenting slavery in Oneida County, which stands in sharp contrast to the wealth of documents concerning slavery in downstate New York in the New York State Archives, the Schomburg Museum, and the New York State Library. Virtually nothing in these collections concerns Oneida County. Vivienne Kruger's (11) substantial work on New York slavery draws on a wealth of original documents, none of which have survived in Oneida County.
This study attempts to document the rise and decline of slavery, the social character of the slaveholders and the slaves, and the aftermath of slavery in Oneida County, New York. This helps to complete an important part of Oneida County history and contributes to our understanding of the long-ignored experiences of African Americans in upstate New York.
THE EMERGENCE AND DECLINE OF SLAVERY
New York's system of slavery had evolved for nearly 150 years before slaves arrived in Oneida County after the American Revolution. Slavery was already on the decline throughout New York by the time it had begun to take root here. The number of slaves and slaveholders grew quickly and then disappeared just as fast.
Slavery was already thriving in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam when the English seized control in 1664. Under the Articles of Capitulation the English recognized the legitimacy of Dutch slaveholding. The number of slaves rapidly increased, largely because of influence of the Duke of York, brother of King Charles II who gave the province to him. The Duke was one of leading officials of the English Royal African Company, which dealt exclusively in the African slave trade. By 1698 there were 2,170 slaves in New York colony. Under the English, slavery was well regulated by law, legitimized by cultural values, and supported by a political ideology. There were over 9,000 adult slaves in New York by 1746, more than any northern colony; 12% of New York's population was African American, and most were enslaved. (12)
Slavery did not increase in the upper Hudson Valley until the 1760s and 70s, although it already extended as far west as Herkimer County before the Revolutionary War. There were European settlers in the area before the Revolution but no permanent European settlement, and apparently no slaves lived in Oneida County until the War's end. (13) Once Oneida Indian resistance had dissolved, the Mohawk Valley was opened to European settlers. Many were veterans being rewarded with land and some brought their slaves.
The 1790 US Census provides the first documentary evidence of slavery in Oneida County. It shows the distribution of slavery in what was then Montgomery County, which included most of New York State west of Albany. Whitestown was the only town in Montgomery County that is still part of Oneida County today, and in 1790 it included much more territory than today's Oneida County.
Slavery was concentrated along the lower Hudson River and New York City and along the Mohawk River east of Oneida County in 1790. The town of Mohawk registered 111 slaves and 8 free blacks. Whitestown, only 25 miles to the west and including a vastly bigger territory than today's Oneida County, counted only 7 slaves and 3 free blacks. This was probably because of the earlier settlement and greater density of Dutch inhabitants to the east. (15) Moreover, the character of settlement in the Mohawk Valley was small farmsteads rather than manorial estates (efforts to do just that quickly failed). There was no large plantation-scale cash crop to exploit. Slaves were not economical for most farmers, craftsmen, professionals, or tradesmen.
The first documentary evidence of slavery in Oneida County beyond the US Census is the Abstract of Valuations Made for State Taxes in 1799. This document lists the assessed value of taxable property, including real estate, bulls, cows, horses, phaetons, clocks, watches, and slaves 12 to 50 years old. In 1799 the state of New York determined that such slaves were worth $100 apiece for assessment purposes. (16)
This document shows that slavery was spreading in Oneida County nine years after the first 7 slaves were counted in what is now Oneida County. There were at least 18 "assessable" slaves as well as an unknown number of younger and older slaves. One year later, there were at least 33 slaves in the county. Slavery had begun its quick ascent.
The number of slaves stood at 33 in 1800, nearly 500% more than 1790. But slaves were an insignificant part of the population. The number of white residents had increased to more than 19,000. Slaves were scattered over a wide area, but slavery was hardly widespread. While there was an average of 3 slaves per town, most (28) lived in the town of Whitestown where the villages of Whitestown and Utica were located. Most towns counted no slaves (9 of 14); indeed, six towns (43%) included no African Americans at all. Black Oneidans lived together in many towns as free and enslaved. We do not know if these free Black Oneidans had moved here on their own or had been brought here as slaves and then emancipated. Nor do we know how many free blacks were actually indentured servants, just one step away from slavery itself. One way or another, the balance had quickly and clearly begun to tip in favor of a free black population.
By 1810 the number of enslaved Black Oneidans had risen to 84, the largest documented population of slaves Oneida County would ever see, larger even than Herkimer County at the time. The increase of 270% in 10 years outstripped the overall population increase (174%), suggesting that owning slaves was becoming popular.
The free black population had also increased from 32 to 130, a 401% growth, changing the balance of free and black dramatically. Most Black Oneidans were now free, 61%. African Americans were a still a tiny portion of the overall population, .6%. But just as soon as slavery seemed to be ascendant, it began a rapid decline.
The Oneida County Census of Owners of Land of 1814 (20) shows how quickly this decline was happening. This document lists the value of "tax assessable property", which included 37 slaves worth $2,252. Six of the 27 slaveholders owned more than one slave, and 78% owned but one. Abraham Varick of Whitestown was the largest slaveholder with 5 slaves, valued at $245, less than $50 apiece. Amos Gay of Whitestown estimated his slave's value at $25. The average value of each slave was about $61. At this time a healthy male with the promise of a lifetime of service was valued at about $250. (21) But only 1 owner claimed a slave worth that much, Peter Van Slyke of Vernon. They were probably undervalued to escape higher taxes. But perhaps the value of slaves was dropping as well. After all, the decade 1810-1820 was the period when most New York manumissions occurred, and the same process also occurred in Oneida County. The document reveals the sudden decline in the number of slaves, coming just 4 years after 84 slaves had been counted in the US Census.
Six years later, the 1820 Census revealed the precipitous drop in the number of slaves in the county, fully 7 years before the 1827 legislated deadline for the termination of slavery in New York State. By 1820 nearly all (98%) of the county's 377 African Americans were free. The 9 remaining slaves were clustered in only 3 of the 21 towns (Utica and Rome were not yet incorporated cities) and belonged to 4 slaveholders. Most towns had at least a couple of free black residents, with significant clusters found in Whitestown, Utica, Augusta, and Paris. There were more free Black Oneidans than ever, 377, a 57% increase over 1810. This surely represents a migration of free blacks rather than emancipation of local slaves. Whatever happened to those who had been counted as slaves in 1814 and 1810 is not known. Some were likely taken from the area by their owners, some perhaps were sold out of the county (but not out of state, by law), and some had been emancipated. Although it would be 7 years before the legal end of bondage, slavery had already virtually disappeared from Oneida County.
THE END OF SLAVERY
Slavery's rapid decline in Oneida County was due in part to the state-legislated emancipation process that had begun just as slavery arrived in the Oneida County. New Yorkers were disposing of their slaves even before the legal deadline of 1827 through sales and private emancipation. The sudden drop in local slavery followed the overall demise of New York slavery.
By 1790 the population of slaves in New York was nearly at its all-time peak, but the proportion of slaves had fallen from 14% of the population in the early decades of 18th century to less than 7%. Before the Revolution the overseas slave trade in New York had already begun a steady decline, generally due to prohibitively high prices and because the slave trade was eventually prohibited. The Revolution itself had severely disrupted the system of slavery. Thousands of New York slaves had fled with the British or had been freed after serving in the armed forces (slaves serving in the American army were freed by New York law in 1781). The doubling of the white population after the Revolution meant there were more free white workers, which lowered the cost of free labor and diminished the economic benefits of slavery. Moreover, the Revolution's egalitarian ideology had begun to spread and there was increasing antislavery agitation by Quakers and to a lesser extent the Methodists, Congregationalists and Baptists. Finally, the New York Manumission Society, established in 1785, had begun a direct challenge to slavery. (22) Slavery was becoming an obsolete and expensive system of labor by 1800 when the number of slaves began its decline across the state and its rise in Oneida County.
By 1784 all states from Pennsylvania northward had already provided effectively for the eventual abolition of slavery, except for New York and New Jersey. In 1785 the New York State legislature liberalized provisions for private manumissions. Between 1712 and 1785 manumission law had been designed to prevent the spread of private emancipations and to ensure that any African Americans who were freed would not be supported by society. The difficulty of manumission before 1785 meant that almost all slaves spent their entire lives in servitude. The new provision removed all surety-bond requirements for manumission. The slave could be freed either by action or by will, providing that the Overseers of the Poor and two justices of the peace certified that the slave in question was able to provide for himself.
One practical effect of the abolition law was to render it easier for a slaveholder to relinquish slave property upon his or her death, since the manumission of a slave was now less of a sacrifice, financial or otherwise, than it had been previously. Indeed, after 1799, almost seven of ten testators who mentioned slaves in their wills authorized the emancipation of at least a portion of their slave property ... however, the practice of gradual manumission was common well before the passage of the 1799 act. Indeed, the gradual abolition law not only reaffirmed legislative precedents already adopted by other states in the North, but also reflected common practices of individual slave owners. (24)
In 1799 New York began to legislate the abolition of slavery through gradual manumissions. The state freed all children born to slave women after July 4, 1799, after serving their owners for a stipulated period of time. Female children who were properly registered were to be held as bond servants until they reached the age of 25 years, and for males, 28 years. Slave owners were required to register all slave births within nine months, and failure to do so would result in automatic emancipation. Those born before 1799 would remain slaves for life. Town Overseers of the Poor certified slaves and consented to their manumission. The Overseer of the Poor served as a "vehicle for reform" by replacing the 200 pound bond and support requirements. A poor certificate provided financial benefits to slaveholders, since a slave could be freed without future expense to the owner. Owners could legally abandon any slave they wanted for one year after the 1799 manumission law was passed, and they could abandon their slave children freely. They would then receive $3.50 a month to board them ($2 a month after 1804). "This abandonment clause was, therefore, a disguised scheme for compensated abolition, and it undoubtedly served to make gradual abolition more acceptable to slaveholders conscious of their property rights." (25) Between 1802 and 1825 New York State spent $92,055.12 on payments to Overseers of the Poor for boarding abandoned children. The compensation program was eventually repealed. The lives of parents and children were often disrupted by varying dates of emancipation, abandonment, and legal servitude. (26)
The law of 1817 finally set an emancipation deadline for all slaves. Every slave born before July 4, 1799, would be freed as of July 4, 1827. Non-residents could enter New York state with their slaves for up to 9 months, a provision which was repealed in 1841. As of 1817 masters had to teach children who owed service to read by 18 or give 4 quarters of schooling between 10 and 18. Failure to comply meant forfeitures of service at age 18. Children born to slave mothers between July 4, 1799 and March 31, 1817 would still be retained as servants until 25 (females) or 28 (males). Those born between July 4, 1817 and 1827 owed service for 21 years. (27)
Owners privately freed almost all slaves between 1785 and 1827 and their bound servants between 1799 and 1848. More than 85% of New York's slaves were freed voluntarily, although some blacks were free while others were in varying degrees of servitude. Females were freed more readily than males because of the lower value of their labor. Across New York, 1810-1819 were the heaviest years of voluntary manumission. Emancipations in Oneida County followed the statewide pattern except that by 1820 Black Oneidans were more likely to be free than almost anywhere in New York. Slavery ended more abruptly here than almost anywhere else.
Oneida County manumissions had outstripped those further downstate by 1820. In 1820 Kings County, 50.1% of all blacks were free, in Richmond County it was 12.8%, and New York County was 95.2%, but it was 97.6% in Oneida County. (29) The number of slaves in Oneida County went from 33 in 1800 to a peak of 84 in 1810, and then plummeted to 9 by 1820.
It is not clear how many Black Oneidans were granted freedom before 1827. The free African American population of the county may have immigrated here and enslaved Black Oneidans may have been sold or transported away. Moreover, no town clerk records survive to document local manumissions. There is no reason to assume that Oneida County manumissions were of a different character than elsewhere, especially given the rapid decline in slavery. Probably some were freed but kept in mandatory indenture and others were freed outright. Surely this decline represents decisions by dozens of slaveholders to abandon slavery voluntarily (with the 1827 deadline ever in mind, of course). The pattern of slaveholding suggests that many slaveholders did not find slavery particularly rewarding.
Oneida County's slaveholders did not form a slaveholding class, although they included some of the most prominent men in the area. Few held more than 1 slave and most did so for a short time only. There is some evidence to suggest that their attitudes towards slavery were condescending and even scornful, but not abusive. There is no evidence that any slaveholder provided land, money, or tools to their former slaves. And at least one slaveholder publicly denounced slavery soon after it disappeared.
According to the 1790 US Census three of the 7 slaves in Montgomery County lived in what is now Oneida County. The first known slaveholders in the county included Nathan Townsend, a former Revolutionary War soldier who lived with at least 1 slave in what is now Westmoreland in 1789; the others were Zenas Gibbs and Charles Putnam.
Ten years later the 1800 Census showed a growth in the number of slaves and slaveholders alike. The distribution of slaves among the 20 owners reflects a pattern common throughout New York. Few (3) owned more than 2 slaves, and most (12) owned only 1. The average was 1.6 slaves per owner. Most slaveholders lived in Whitestown, a much larger area than today, and the commercial and judicial center of the County with the prosperous villages of Rome, Utica, and Whitesboro. The 1800 Census shows how transient the status of slaveholder was becoming. None of the slaveholders of 1790 owned slaves in Oneida County in 1800, when slavery began its rapid growth. Ten years later in 1810, 13 of these 20 slaveholders were still here, but only 6 still owned slaves.
There were more slaveholders than ever in 1810: 55 slaveholders held 84 slaves among them, the largest number of slave owners and slaves ever counted in Oneida County. There were 1.5 slaves per owner; 39, or 71%, owned 1 slave only. The biggest slaveholders were John Bellinger (4 slaves), J. Van Renselar (5), and William Floyd (6). There was little continuity in the ranks of slaveholders. Nearly half (22) had resided in Oneida County in 1800 but had not owned slaves. They had acquired their slaves since that time. Of the 55 slaveholders of 1810, 28 had resided in Oneida County in 1800 but only 6 had owned slaves at that time. Although slavery had grown more widespread, slaves were not concentrated on the estates of a wealthy few. Rather, they were widely scattered about the county. Although most males probably were agricultural workers, many others enslaved men and women, perhaps most, were house servants to prosperous whites.
By 1810 emancipation had become a trend across New York. Evidence of the process of emancipation can be found in the 8 households that held both free and enslaved Black Oneidans.
No doubt the liberalized manumission law of 1799 had encouraged some slaveholders to free their least valuable slaves: women, children, the very old, and the infirm. Doubtless some of these slaveholders received compensation from their respective town Overseers of the Poor for caring for the freed children of enslaved women. Perhaps this explains how William Floyd had lost half of his slaves by 1810; his household included 6 slaves and 4 free blacks, some of whom may have been former slaves. He was the largest slaveholder in Oneida County.
There seems to have been a flurry of buying, selling, and importing of slaves up to 1810, as suggested by the turnover of slaveholders. Slaveholders acquired and disposed of slaves, most owned but one slave, and most soon quit slaveholding forever. The turnover of slaveholders is revealed in the 1814 Oneida County Census of Owners of Land. Here are identified 27 slaveholders (including the "heirs of Justin Little") holding 37 slaves worth $2,252. In four years the number of slaveholders dropped sharply from 55 to 27. About half of the 1814 slave owners (14) had owned slaves 4 years earlier. Of the 20 people who had owned slaves in 1800, 6 were still slaveholders in 1810, and 3 were still slaveholders in 1814. There were 13 new slaveholders in Oneida County in 1814. Three quarters of the slaveholders of just 4 years earlier no longer owned slaves. Some probably had left the area while others had sold or manumitted them. The number of slaves had fallen sharply from 84 to 37, a dramatic 227% decline in just four years. Slaveholding seems to have been not only economically marginal but probably an increasingly risky proposition as well. Runaways, the imminence of legal emancipation, the decline in their market value, the opportunity for remuneration for their freed children, and the growth of anti-slavery sentiment may have discouraged some of them. By 1820, slavery had all but disappeared. There were only 4 slaveholders and 9 slaves out of a total population of 51,000 people, including 368 free Black Oneidans.
In 1820 the aging William Floyd (he was 86) remained the largest slaveholder with 6 slaves. The other three were John Ellis, John Schuyler, and Daniel Ferguson, none of whom had been counted as slaveholders before. Floyd was the only person who had been counted as a slaveholder in the past. In addition 2 free black residents lived in his household. The free female was 14-25 years old and likely had been emancipated while her mother remained enslaved in the household. The other free black was a male older than 45. Perhaps he was married to the enslaved female over 45 in the household, as such arrangements were not uncommon among New York slaves. Daniel Ferguson's Whitestown household included a female slave, age 14-25, 1 free black male under 14, and 1 free black female under 14 (perhaps the daughter of the female slave). John Ellis held 1 female slave 14-25; and John Schuyler held 1 female slave 14-25. Slavery had virtually ended in Oneida County. We can only speculate that most of the county's slaves had been freed privately, as was happening across the state; more than 85% of New York's slaves were freed voluntarily.
It is striking how many slaveholders were businessmen, professionals (doctors and lawyers), and large landowners. They were among the most highly esteemed European settlers of the area. Many of their names appeared in area newspapers of the day reporting their legal and commercial activities. They were politically well connected as well, both locally and statewide. Many of their slaves served their households as servants and housemaids, rather than field hands. Some, like Floyd and Van Rensselaer, who together accounted for 11 slaves in 1810, had arrived with slaves during that period. Indeed, Floyd is reported to have brought at least a dozen and as many as 21 slaves with him, although he had apparently had freed or sold most of them by 1810. The social standing of the slaveholders is evident from these brief biographical sketches. (31)
John Bellinger owned 4 slaves in 1810 making him one of the county's largest slaveholders. He fought in the American Revolutionary War at the Battle of Oriskany where he reportedly stood by the wounded General Herkimer. He served in the Revolution as a private and later served in the New York State Militia as a Major. He arrived in old Fort Schuyler (now Utica) in 1788 where, among other things, he was a tavern keeper. He was Director of the Manhattan Bank of New York, and wealthy enough to donate land for the First Utica Presbyterian Church in 1807. When Bellinger died in 1815 his will mentioned no slaves.
Arthur Breese owned 2 slaves in 1800 and 1 in 1810. A graduate of Princeton, he was the surrogate judge of Whitesboro and the first surrogate judge of Oneida County. In 1801 he was appointed Inspector and Brigade Major, 2nd Brigade Cavalry of New York State Militia. He was a charter member of the first academy of Utica. He was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1796 and again served until 1808. He was one of first trustees of United Presbyterian Society of Whitestown and Old Fort Schuyler. He married Catherine Livingstone (whose sister was wife of Jonas Platt, another slaveholder and his business partner) and had 15 children.
Pascal DeAngelis owned 1 slave in 1800. He served in the American navy in the Revolutionary War and was captured. Later he operated his own merchant ship before he arrived in Trenton in 1797 where he built a sawmill and gristmill on Nine Mile Creek. The DeAngelis tavern was the first in the village of Whitesboro, built in 1800 on the site of the present Whitesboro village library.
James S. Kip owned 1 slave in 1800, 2 in 1810, and 1 in 1814. "Long a conspicuous member of society," (32) he arrived in Utica in 1794, bought 400 acres, built a store on Main Street, and later built a potashery. He served as Justice of Peace of Oneida County, was one of the original directors of the Manhattan Bank of New York in Utica and first president of Utica Bank. He was a Presidential Elector in 1812.
Jonas Platt owned 3 slaves in 1800, 3 in 1810, and 1 in 1814 (worth only $25). He was "a finished gentleman, who dispensed for many years a graceful hospitality at his home in Whitesboro." (33) He was educated in a French academy in Montreal, passed the New York bar, and moved to Whitesboro in 1791. He was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1799 and thereby became the first US Congressman to reside in Oneida County. He served as first Clerk of Oneida County, a State Senator, a judge of the New York Supreme Court, and ran as a Federalist candidate for governor. He served on the Committee of Resolutions that started the United Presbyterian Society of Whitesboro and Old Fort Schuyler and served as a Trustee of the Presbyterian Church. He was a Captain in the Oneida County Militia and later Brigadier General of the 2nd Cavalry Brigade.
Benjamin Walker and his wife, "the undisputed leaders of Utica society," (34) owned 2 slaves in 1800. Walker was born in England of a "genteel family" and "warmly espoused the American cause in the Revolution," rising to the rank of Colonel and serving as an aide to both Baron-General von Steuben and George Washington. (35) He helped found Trinity Church and owned stock in Seneca Road Company 1800. He built a house in Utica near Catherine Street, "with large farm acreage tended by three black slaves and four paid farm hands." (36) His body is interred in Forest Hill Cemetery in Utica in a plot consecrated to the Revolutionary Fathers. He mentioned no slaves in his will.
Daniel White owned 4 slaves in 1800. He was the son of Judge Hugh White and fathered the first white female child born in Oneida County, Esther, March 15, 1785. When he died in 1800, his probated will mentioned no slaves.
Slaveholders constituted the social and economic elite of Oneida County. Their ownership made slavery seem not only legal but a symbol of high status as well. But purchasing and selling slaves was not essential to their economic enterprises and it is doubtful if most of them benefited economically from the labor of their bondsmen. Certainly their labor value was in decline after 1810, as suggested by the 1814 Property Assessment discussed earlier.
Many slaveholders acquired their slaves through announced sales published in newspapers. An exhaustive search has uncovered only a few copies of the many newspapers that once circulated in the area. Therefore this is not a representative sample of newspapers nor of slave notices. But these 13 notices (there was also one offer to buy young slaves) provide a glimpse into the local public slave market and the demise of slavery. Using 1810 as the peak of slavery, 4 advertisements appear before that date (1803-1809) and 10 appear after (1814-1818). The following are typical of these announcements:
For Sale, A young Black woman. She is healthy and active, and is accustomed to all kinds of house work. For further particulars enquire of R. W. MADDOCK, Whitestown, October 21, 1805. (37) Negro Wench for Sale: A strong, healthy WENCH, about 24 years of age, capable of any kind of work and is an excellent cook--will be dispersed of on moderate terms. Apply at this office. A credit will be given if required, or approved security. Utica, October 27, 1806. (38) A Servant for Sale: An active Black BOY, 12 years old, acquainted with House work etc. will be disposed of reasonably--Enquire at this office. Utica, October 24, 1809. (39) For Sale, a BLACK MAN, who is a slave for life, 24 years of age, he is healthy, strong and active, has been bred a farmer and is an excellent hand with horses, for particulars enquire of the printer. June 25, 1814. (40)
During the 1803-1809 period, we would expect to see an active market since 33 slaves had increased to 84. Slavery was on the rise in the county. While 28 slaveholders had resided in Oneida County in 1800, only 6 had owned slaves at that time. They had acquired their slaves since then. Perhaps they had left the area to purchase slaves. Perhaps the arrival of a few large slaveholders who disposed of their slaves furnished the market (Floyd arrived with at least 12 slaves and had only 6 in 1810). Perhaps many slave owners arrived with a few slaves each (most owned 1) and then sold them informally. The only owner identified through these early announcements, R. W. Maddock of Whitestown, does not appear on any list of slaveholders. There must have been many others who were not identified in the census. I could find only 4 notices during this 7 year period, or .57 per year.
The social identities of these pre-1810 slaves are suggestive. There were no adult males for sale, only 3 adult females and a boy of 12. The advertisements emphasize the females as domestic workers; even the boy was "acquainted with House work." This suggests that women's and children's labor had less cash value to the owners, perhaps making them extravagant expenses. Perhaps males could contribute more tangibly to the owners' incomes. One slave had less than 4 years of service remaining, but this is not because of legal emancipation since the announcement was published in 1804; she was born before 1799 and legally had the rest of her life to serve. Possibly she had negotiated a contract with the owner or a stipulation in an owner's will provided for her eventual freedom.
There was much more advertising activity between 1814 and 1818. During this 5 year period there were 9 sale notices, or 1.8 per year, three times the volume of earlier period. The year 1814 is the year slavery is first seen to decline in the county, so we know that the process was well under way by then. There were fewer slaveholders by 1814 (55 had shrunk to 27) and it appears that the remaining slaves were being disposed of in quick order. There were fewer slaveholders selling more slaves publicly during this period of slavery's decline. If informal sales had driven the market before 1810, public notices were needed to dispose of slaves in a declining market. There were too many slaves and too few buyers for the informal system to accommodate. Moreover, slaveholders could not legally sell their slaves south for more profit. The legislation of 1817 that would free all slaves born before 1799 does not seem to have caused the "sell-off," since most announcements (7 out of 9) appeared before the law was passed. Indeed, two announcements emphasized the value of lifetime labor rather than for a limited term, i.e. "Black Girl 18 will be sold for life" in March, 1817; later that year this would change as all slaves born before 1799 would be free as of July 4, 1827. One 16-year-old "Black Girl for Sale" would be free after nine more years of service, another "BLACK woman" still had 7 years to serve, and another announcement noted the "unexpired service of a likely, smart, active WENCH." Perhaps slaves born after 1799 were becoming hard to sell.
The lower profitability of women is reflected in the sex ratio. Only 1 adult male was offered for sale, compared with 7 adult females (16 and older) and a boy. Women were advertised as house servants. Even the 8 year old boy is touted as a "house waiter". Only the wealthiest could afford to spend $150 or more for such a luxury. Most female slaves would bring in no income although they would certainly relieve a lot of drudgery. The male was a skilled worker whose lifetime service was noted as well as his skill: "has been bred a farmer and is an excellent hand with horses." None of the three slaveholders that were identified in these announcements (John Young, Micah Pinckney, and Rufus Pettibone) appear in any listing of slaveholders, another indication of the volatility of slaveholding.
Few and unrepresentative as they are, these announcements reveal something about the decline of slavery in Oneida County. Most owners owned but one slave. Most probably used their slaves as servants rather than producers for the market. The swift decline in slaves must have glutted the market, and the least profitable slaves were the first to be sold. The local newspapers stand against the background of a general decline in slavery across the state.
Three slaveholders offer insights into the social character of slaveholding. William Floyd owned 6 slaves in 1810, 3 in 1814, and 6 in 1820 (along with 4 free blacks who lived in his household). He was the most distinguished of all of the slaveholders and also the largest slaveholder in Oneida County. He was the 1st delegate from New York to sign the Declaration of Independence. He headed the American militia in a battle with the British on Long Island. In 1783 he was appointed major general of the Long Island Militia. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress for eight years and was elected to the New York State Senate for 5 terms. He was elected to the 1st US Congress in 1789, was a delegate to New York State's Constitution Convention, and a President elector for 4 terms. He was an original Director for the Utica branch of the Manhattan Bank of New York. He moved at the age of 69 from Long Island to the town of Western in 1803 where part of his grant of 10,000 acres lay (altogether he owned 40,000 acres of upstate land). He brought with him 12 to as many as 21 slaves (41) (some of whom may have been indentured servants and hired craftsmen). Apparently he had already begun the process of emancipation before the 1810 Census, by which time he held only 6 slaves. The four free blacks in his household may have been freed children, indentured servants, or hired workers. By the time of his death in 1821 he had apparently freed most of the rest of his slaves, for he mentioned only 2 in his will and did not emancipate them or anybody else. Floyd exemplifies the plantation model of slaveholding. He built the colonial mansion which still stands on the main street of Westernville and spent the last 17 years of his life there. His relations with his slaves seem benignly patriarchal, according to anecdotes that have survived:
He also had a very tall man, named Tom, who from his height received the descriptive sobriquet of Long Tom. Tom was a great fox hunter, and his persecutions of poor reynard were carried on in the two-fold capacity of hunter and trapper. In the season of the year when their fur was valuable, many of their stuffed skins hung in the lofts of the buildings as witnesses of Long Tom's skill and prowess in the destruction of these wily lovers of poultry. This, of itself, speaks much for the indulgent kindness of the General to his people. Upon slaughtering his hogs one year, the General found that his best porker, weighing between three and four hundred pounds, was so diseased with measles as to be entirely worthless. The General therefore told Tom that he might have it to bait foxes, and at night the rest of the pork was taken into the house, but the diseased carcass was suffered to hang where it was dressed. After dark, Tom, without revealing to anyone his plans, harnessed a team and took his present to Brayton's store and sold it. Being large and well fattened, it bought the highest price.... The next morning Mr. Brayton discovering the utter worthlessness of his purchase, at once called upon the General for an explanation, how he came to palm on him in the evening such an article. "What," says the General, "that negro has not sold you that measly hog! Well, I will call the rascal, and we will see what he will say for himself." So Tom was called, and the General asked him if he received directions to sell the hog. "No, Massa," was the reply. "And what did I tell you?" "Massa Floyd gave me the hog." "I know," says the General "that I gave it you, but how did I tell you to use it?" Poor darkey with the utmost sang-froid replied, "Massa Floyd gave me the measly pig to bait foxes--and I have caught the biggest fox in town with it." The effect of the Negro's wit upon the risibilities of the General and Mr. Brayton can well be imagined. Composure being restored, the General took the money from his pocket and paid back the price of the hog, leaving Tom to keep the pelt, not exactly acquired by peltry, but by successful fox baiting. (42)
Several stories about William Floyd have survived and they offer a rare glimpse into the character of slavery. For instance, we know the names of 7 of Floyd's slaves (Pomp, Bill, Tom, Henry Howard, Lansom Frank, Phillis, and Jamima) and a little about 2 others ("a very short little wife," and "Pomp's wife"). Floyd is cast in the image of a benevolent owner who tolerates petty misdeeds because of his deeper understanding of his slaves. He seems to have lived the life of a country squire. His slaves (and probably free blacks as well) worked his land, stabled his horses, and served the household. When he died he bequeathed 2 slaves and "one servant girl" to his wife:
Also (to his wife) two carpets which they may choose, also the looking glasses and other furniture which she had when I married her, also one set of teacups and saucers, half dozen silver tablespoons, half dozen teaspoons, also one half of the bed linen and table linen that I may have at the time of my decease, also a female servant named Jamima and one named Phillis, also one thousand dollars .... and also a privilege for my said Wife and her Niece Nancy Strong to live in a part of my house and to be furnished with all such necessary provisions as is raised on the farm for them, and one servant girl.... (43)
The journal of Alexander Coventry, (44) a prominent local physician, offers another perspective on the social character of slavery. He was born in Scotland in 1776 and arrived in 1796 at old Fort Schuyler (now Utica) with his slave Cuff. For some reason he does not appear in the 1800 census as a slaveholder; perhaps he had moved temporarily out of the county. He was counted in 1810 with 2 slaves, one of them probably Cuff. He opened a physicians office in Whitesboro and became President of the County Medical Society and the NY State Medical Society. (45) In 1804 he purchased property on what is now Walker Road. He built a brick home that still stands and carried on farming, fruit growing and his medical profession. When he died in 1831 his probated will did not bequeath anything to former slaves. Perhaps his attitude about slavery was shaped by his early experiences among slaveholders along the Hudson River valley, as an early entry suggests:
February 14, 1787: There are few portions of my life that I survey with more pleasure than the few days spent among the respectable Dutch families, farmers, on the Cocksaxie neighborhood. Their hospitality was sincere, unostentatious, and they seemed to participate in the enjoyment of their guests.... Each individual family had more or less black slaves who did all the work on the farm and in the house; this saved the masters and mistresses from the insolence of what is called hired help, who must be humored like spoiled children, or they will leave you at their own will. Although the blacks were slaves, yet I feel warranted in asserting that the laboring class in no country lived more easy, were better clothed and fed, or had more of life, than these slaves. (46)
His disdain for free labor and his admiration of the lifestyle of slaveholders encouraged him to purchase his own slave soon thereafter when was 23 and still living in the Hudson Valley. The informal nature of his purchases is striking; the slaves seemed to have some influence on the transaction, including an unwillingness to work for one master or another, and indeed taking the initiative to be sold.
Thursday, April 9, 1789: Van Curen's negro Cuff came here and wanted W.C. to buy him. William told him if I did not he would. The kitchen folks had been infusing something into the negro's head that he would rather live with W.C. than with me. I asked Cuff if he would live with me. He preferred W.C., and therefore I told W.C. he might purchase him. (47) Friday, April 10, 1789: Van Curen came here and asked if I would have the negro Cuff. I told him that the negro wanted to live with W.C. He said he would call on his return from Hudson. I saw the negro and desired him to tell W.C. if he would come up here he might see Van Curen. Wm. came up and Van Curen called in, but they could not agree, therefore I told him if the negro would agree to live with me, I would buy him. He asked 77 pounds, I offered 76 pounds. We tossed up and he won. (48)
Thereafter follow many entries of Cuff's labor and activities, some of which occurred in the Hudson Valley, and some of which happened while Coventry and Cuff lived in Geneva shortly before relocating permanently to Oneida County.
November 14, 1789: Cuff and I joining shingles for the barn. November 14, 1789: Cuff took a load of wood to Hudson ... December 23, 1789: Cuff sold a load of wood in Hudson ... January 1, 1790: Cuff off keeping New Years ... May 31, 1790: Cuff's father came here this morning and Cuff spent most of the day with him.... October 13, 1790: Cuff picking his own corn. December 25, 1790: Cuff went away last night and did not come home very soon this morning. February 16, 1791: Cuff finished threshing the oats ... May 14, 1791: Cuff plowing his own corn. April 29, 1793: Cuff good after the cows. (49)
Cuff seems to have enjoyed some degree of autonomy as the journal notes several instances when he was gone for more than a day or two. Coventry apparently worked on the farm to some degree alongside Cuff, which was common among in New York where many slave owners who owned farms owned but one or two slaves and worked alongside each other. Cuff's privileges may have been a reward for faithful and responsible service. Coventry depended on him to take firewood to the market to sell on his own, for instance. Cuff visited and entertained his father (with whom he spent "most of the day"), celebrated holidays away from the household ("keeping New Years" and "went away last night (Christmas) and did not come home"), and tended his own plot of land. Probably he was allowed to keep the proceeds from his private sales as well. Possibly they lived under the same roof and ate at the same table as did many New York slaves and masters. This proximity permitted personal relationships between black slaves and white masters. (50)
No doubt Cuff was mainly responsible for Coventry's purchase of Betty, Cuff's wife. Coventry seems to have had no regard for her value as a slave and no respect for her as a woman, wife, or mother. Betty died a year later.
May 6, 1792, Hudson: ... dined at Vandecari's, from thence went to Legatt's whore wench Betty I wish to buy. (51) May 6, 1792: James Legget's bill of sale of his Wench Betty and her two children. O ... in the consideration of the sum of 52 pounds and ten shillings ... do sell, bargain, and alienate to the said Alexander Coventry, one negro Wench named Bett., also her youngest two children, the eldest named Ann, the youngest Jean, together with all their and her wearing apparel, and half their bedding to have and to hold the said negro wench and children, together with their clothing forever. (52) June 19, 1793: Bett, the wench, died this morning about 9 A.M. She has been more or less ailing since last summer. (53) June 20, 1793: Buried Bett (near Geneva) about 10 A.M. (54)
Cuff and Coventry had a relationship that required Coventry to trust Cuff with substantial responsibility and some degree of freedom. If Cuff earned Coventry's respect as well, he left little evidence of it.
Coventry and Cuff and perhaps the two children moved to Oneida County in 1796 and there are no more mentions of any of them in his journal. However, in 1814 Coventry purchased another slave, James, whom he called Cobus or Jacobus, from an owner in Herkimer County. Again, the process of negotiating the sale suggests that slaves had some influence in deciding their own fates. Jacobus was "not contented" to work for his owner Jacob Nellis and approached Coventry asking to be purchased.
April 11, 1814: A black boy came here and said he was for sale: belonged to Jacob C. Nellis of Palatine: was named Cobus. Aged about 19--he is a short thick set lad; says his master asks for $250 for him. April 12, 1814: Mr Jacob C. Nellis says he will sell the boy for $250, gives him a good character ... The boy to serve 12 years. April 14, 1814: Cobus working with the men.... Rode down to Herkimer, met Mr. Nellis at Curtiss's east of the bridge--paid him $250, and got a bill of sale of James or Jacobus of whom he speaks very well, and says if he would be content to stay he would not sell him, but Jacobus was not contented. (55)
James' value as a slave was limited to 12 years of service, although at 19 he was not guaranteed emancipation by 1827 (after 1817 he would be). Perhaps his limited service was due to negotiation with his owner, a deal which Coventry honored. Coventry probably owned two other slaves at this time, one may have been Cuff and the other perhaps one of Betty's children. But Coventry probably hired free workers as well who worked alongside his slaves. ("Cobus working with the men"). Curiously, Oneida County's 1814 property assessment does not identify Coventry as a slaveholder. Did he sell his slaves soon after purchasing James? Did he free them with a stipulated term of indenture? There is no record of what became of them.
Coventry's attitude towards black people in general emerges from occasional entries in his journal. His disrespect for Cuff's wife Betty is evident, calling her a whore and a wench (the term "wench" seems to have been used generically for all slave women); his disdain for free blacks is clear.
September 20, 1817: A wench, Diana, died on Friday. Her brother came to me to have her opened, saying they were suspicious she was poisoned by her daughter, as the daughter had threatened to poison her mother: had jumped upon her and bound her mother. There was no evidence of poisoning. The free blacks are a great nuisance to the country: they are lazy, dishonest and profligate. (56)
Coventry's feelings about African Americans were probably widely shared. Popular white beliefs usually did not accept blacks as people of character and integrity. This anecdote suggests that whites sometimes respected black individuals; it also reminds us that while slaves and owners might negotiate for emancipation, owners did not always meet the terms of these agreements:
In the easterly part of your town (New Hartford) there resided a hard-fisted farmer, who owned a young athletic slave. The announcement of the emancipation acts made slave property of doubtful value, and with a sagacious desire to sell his to the best advantage, he offered his slave immediate freedom if within a given time he would clear a certain piece of heavy timber land. The time was all too short. There was no alternative. With an inborn desire for freedom the hopeless task he undertook. Camping upon the grounds, he worked day and night for freedom. He took no rest, and but little sleep. When the daylight failed him, by the light of the burning brush his toil continued. The days wore away faster than the trees. The last week of the limit was reaching, and despite supplanted hope. He applied for more time to the master, but he, seeing future benefits, therein refused. Worn down by the continued labor, he concluded to abandon the effort. The situation became noised throughout the town, resulting in concerted action and a grand rally. The wood lot swarmed with men of stalwart arms, sharp axes, and willing hearts. The lot was cleared, the contract completed, and New Hartford wiped out slavery within her borders. (57)
There is no suggestion in this account that slavery was itself immoral and that emancipation was an "inalienable right." Rather, only through his hard work could this unnamed slave earn his freedom. Prevailing white attitudes towards African Americans considered black people with the same scorn as shown by Coventry. (58) For instance New York State required black men to meet a property qualification of $250 until after the Civil War. Although challenged several times by popular vote, the galling property qualification did not end until after the Civil War, a constant reminder to black New Yorkers that whites deeply distrusted their character. (59)
Alexander Bryan Johnson is the third slaveholder whose attitude towards slavery can be inferred. Johnson's unpublished autobiography provides very little information about his relationship with his slaves, although his thoughts on the issue of slavery are known. Johnson, the son of a successful businessman, became a prominent citizen and successful banker who wrote 10 books and many articles and essays, many dealing with the philosophy of language as well as issues of morality. Johnson grew up with slaves in his household and appreciated their importance as servants.
Bryan Johnson saw to it that is son went off to Ballston (Spa) in style. He ordered a one-horse chaise built by Utica's best carriage maker, handsomely painted, and equipped with a roll-back leather top. Bryan also provided his son with an extra horse to be ridden by a black servant in livery.... My servant rode behind at a respectful distance, and took care of the horses when we had to stop for refreshments, and to be otherwise useful to me.... Many of the guests were from the southern states, and were attended by their slaves, and I was waited on by mine, while persons who were dependent on the servants of the house fared poorly in the general scramble at dinner, where all were expected at a given hour. (60)
At the age of 25 Johnson made a trip to New York City to explore business opportunities and perhaps find a wife.
Johnson took with him a young slave named Frank given to him by his father.... Johnson had attired him in "drab livery, scarlet cuffs, a scarlet collar and a gold band around the hat," but with all his finery, Frank had little to do but polish his master's boots in the evening, wait on him during meals, and lay a bedroom fire in the evening. (61)
Johnson's slaves (apparently he owned more than one) were servants. Frank was valued for his service at meals and for the status he would bring, especially dressed in red livery. His slaves did not contributed to Johnson's income, making them an expense few others could afford. Johnson was apparently untroubled by slavery at first, but his regret at striking Frank, his remorse over Frank's death, and his decision to not own any more slaves suggest a growing ambivalence about it. Eventually Johnson took a public stand denouncing slavery but supporting the rights of states and their citizens to decide the issue. Ultimately he felt that the union was more important than abolition, and he was among the Utica mob that disrupted the first meeting of the New York State Anti-Slavery Society in Utica in 1835. (62)
Men like Johnson, Coventry, and Floyd provide most of what we know about the relationships between slaves and masters in Oneida County. Nothing suggests they viewed their slaves as much more than property. None of them emancipated their slaves or provided for former slaves in their wills. Surely many slaveholders, and certainly Johnson and Coventry, knew them as people because of their close daily contact: as fathers, mothers, children, work mates, house mates, table mates, and possibly childhood and adult companions as well. This disparaging attitude towards slaves and blacks in general prevailed among many White Oneidans. When Pomeroy Jones reviewed the life of William Floyd in 1851, the issue of Floyd's slaveholding was cast in a comic light. Imbued with the spirit of independence after returning from a Fourth of July celebration at Fort Stanwix, his inebriated slave Bill demanded that Floyd "turn out the horse" he was riding, which he apparently did.
The next morning, quite ashamed of the closing scene of his celebration he approached the General with an awkward apology for his ludicrous conduct, but the General replied, "never mind, never mind, Bill, that is all got along with," and never with Bill did he recur to the subject. Afterwards, when with his friends, he used to relate, with great glee, the active part he took in helping Bill finish his celebration of the glorious fourth. (63)
Jones did not acknowledge the irony of a signer of the Declaration of Independence who viewed his slave Bill's thoughts on freedom with mockery, suggesting that Jones shared this view. The author of the following anecdote also viewed slaves as humorous, prone to complaining, and incapable of speaking standard English:
"Pomp" was one of the negro slaves at the Floyd home, and he was a bit lazy. It was a habit of the general to retire late, and Pomp would move around and now and again say: "I'se sleepy, Massa Floyd. Wish I was in bed." One night this got to be a bit monotonous, and finally the general said, "Pomp, go out and saddle my horse." When the slave came to the door with the horse he was greeted by the general with, "now Pomp, you can ride him to bed." Pomp's wife had only now and then a tooth and those of varying size. She was very pious, and when questioned as to her hope of future life, replied: "Well, if ever I gets to hebben it will be by the skin of my teeth." (64)
We know the names of many slaveholders, something about their social status, and a little about their relationships with their slaves. But we know nothing firsthand from the enslaved Black Oneidans. We do not have any direct words from their own voices. Those few that we can identify have few details to give them singularity and autonomy. Nonetheless something can be learned about the slaves of Oneida County.
In order to confer a sense of humanity on these faceless enslaved Black Oneidans, I have identified as many of their names as possible. The problem of identity is worsened by the lack of public documents that would have provided their names, such as vital statistics or Certificates of Emancipation. Very few names appear for any length of time in Oneida County through the US Census, and only one family today can be definitely traced to an enslaved ancestor in Oneida County. Upon emancipation, Black Oneidans seem to have joined the stream of African Americans moving around New York and the entire North seeking opportunity.
Neither sales announcements nor the US Census manuscripts provided the names of enslaved African Americans. In particular we know very few by their last names. There are no surviving lists of births, deaths, sales, manumissions, or ownership of slaves that might provide names. Only 1 slave owner left a will that identified any slaves (William Floyd), and then only their first names (Jamima and Phyllis). Some names are gleaned from published sources, such as anecdotes about William Floyd. A few can be documented through primary sources, such as Cuff, Betty, Jean, and Ann who were mentioned in Alexander Coventry's journal. Most were identified through newspaper advertisements of sales and fugitives.
The first known enslaved Black Oneidan was Cuff, who belonged to Alexander Coventry. Like most slaves of the time, Cuff apparently had no last name, nor did his wife Betty and her 2 children (it is unclear if he was the father). Whether any of Cuff's relatives still live in the area is impossible to say. We can identify at least 41 enslaved Black Oneidans from all sources.
SLAVES OF ONEIDA COUNTY
Ann: Daughter of Betty, Cuff's wife, sister of Jean; slave of Alexander Coventry.
Bateman, Peter: Husband of fugitive Susan Bateman; owner unknown.
Bateman, Susan: Wife of Peter Bateman, fugitive slave of Jonathan Hedges, Utica.
Betty: Wife of Cuff, mother of Ann and Jean; purchased by Alexander Coventry with her two children Ann and Jean, for 52 pounds.
Bill: Slave of William Floyd, Western.
Bush, Peter: Emancipated slave of Nathaniel Griffin
Cook, Dinah: Fugitive slave of C. W. Heist, Utica.
Cuff: Husband of Betty and her two children Ann and Jean, purchased by Alexander Coventry from Van Curen in 1789 for 77 pounds.
Diana: Died 1817, no relatives or owner identified.
Dina: Slave of Peter P. Van Slyck, Vernon.
Dublin, Morris: Fugitive slave of Roger Maddock of Whitestown. 1 year later Maddock advertised for Morris, a 19 year old fugitive, probably the same person.
Flora: Mother of Harry and George, wife of Mike, slave of Calvin Young, Vernon.
Frank: Husband of Till, father of Margere, slave of Abram Van Eps, Merchant, Vernon.
Frank: Slave of Alexander Bryan Johnson, Utica
Frank: Fugitive slave of David Hasbrouck and/or Amos G. Hull, Utica.
Frank, Lansom: Slave of William Floyd, Western. He appears as Alanson Frank, farmer, in Lee in 1840 and is related to the Oneida County Frank family today.
George: Son of Mike and Flora, slave of Calvin Young, Vernon.
Hester: Mother of Jude, slave of Bryan Johnson, Oneida County.
Harry: Son of Mike and Flora, slave of Calvin Young, Vernon.
Howard, Harry: Fugitive slave of William Floyd, Western.
Howe, Joshua: Owned by one of 3 men: Benjamin Walker, Norton of New Hartford, and a Revolutionary War officer named Howe.
Jake: Fugitive slave of Oliver Sandford, Whitestown.
James, aka Jacobus or Cobus: Slave of Jacob Nellis, Palatine; later slave of Alexander Coventry, Whitestown.
Jamima: Slave of William Floyd, Western, bequeathed to his wife in his will.
Jean: Daughter of Betty and Cuff, sister of Ann, slave of Alexander Coventry, Whitestown.
Jinny: "Colored slave servant" buried in Graham Cemetery, Deerfield.
Jude: Daughter of Hester, slave of William Bryan Johnson, Utica.
Kate, aka Old Kate: Emancipated slave of Nathaniel Griffin, Whitestown.
Lid: Fugitive slave of Ava Woodruff, Clinton.
Margere: Daughter of Till and Frank, slave of merchant Abram Van Eps, Vernon.
Mike: Son of Mike and Flora, slave of merchant Calvin Young, Vernon.
Nicholson, Catherine: Mother of John Nicholson, slave of Samuel Gay, Vernon.
Nicholson, John: Son of Catherine Nicholson, slave of Samuel Gay, Vernon.
Phyllis: Slave of William Floyd, Western, bequeathed to his wife in his will.
Pomp: Slave of William Floyd, Western.
Post, James: Emancipated slave of Fr. Adr. Vanderkemp, Barneveld.
Sharp, Jack: Fugitive slave of David Hasbrouck and/or Amos G. Hull, Utica.
Till: Wife of Frank, mother of Margere, slave of merchant Abram Van Eps, Vernon.
Tom: Slave of William Floyd, Western.
Tompkins, Nan: Mother of Robert Tompkins, slave of Thomas Williams, Vernon.
Tompkins, Robert: Son of Nan Tompkins, slave of Thomas
Williams, Vernon: former slave of Peter Van Slyke.
There are few details to give any dimension to any but a few of these people. The sex ratio is very balanced, 19 females and 22 males. William Floyd owned the largest number of identified slaves, 7. About 2/3 (27) have only a first name making them particularly difficult to trace through the US Census manuscripts. Few of the 14 slaves with surnames remained to be counted as free householders after emancipation. At most, only 3 families can definitely be traced as residents of Oneida County as slaves and then as free residents: the family of Joshua Howe of New Hartford, the Tompkins family of Vernon, and the Franks of Lee.
Nan Tompkins was owned by Peter Van Slyke of Vernon when she gave birth to her son Robert in 1809. By 1818 she had become the property of Thomas Williams of Vernon. Whether Nan had a husband and if they were both slaves of the same owner cannot be absolutely determined. Thomas Williams does not appear in any lists of slaveholders so we do not know how many slaves he owned. However, if he was typical, then he owned only 1 slave, which would be Nan. Peter Van Slyke owned 1 slave in 1810 and still owned 1 slave in 1814. Although the sex and age of his slave are not reported, this was certainly an adult male since his worth was given as $250. It is plausible that Peter Van Slyke sold Nan Tompkins to Thomas Williams, thereby splitting the family. It was common for families of slaves to be separated. By law Nan and her husband would be freed no later than July 4, 1827. It is likely that they were voluntarily emancipated long before the maximum term, as were most of Oneida County's slaves. Her husband was probably Nero Tompkins, a free black head of a household of three people in Vernon in 1820. Perhaps his household included Nan and Robert, neither of whom were slaves in 1820. Legally her son Robert owed mandatory indentured service to the "owner" until 1837 and his indenture could be sold to someone else during that time. However, many owners released their indentures from their obligations, and perhaps Robert was completely free. The name of Tompkins does not appear again until 1840, when James Tompkins was a householder of 5 residents living in Utica's 5th Ward. It is unclear if he was related to the original Tompkins, however. The name of Tompkins does not appear in any US Census thereafter until 1880 when the household of Bradford, Josephine, and Grace Tompkins appear in Rome; they are unlikely to be related to the original Tompkins either.
Joshua Howe enjoyed a local reputation as someone who had "beaten the system" in his transition from freedom to slavery. John Walsh, a local historian, believes that Howe gained his freedom in one of three ways. He purchased his freedom from a New Hartford man named Norton; his owner was an American officer named Howe with whom he fought and was granted his freedom as a result; or he was freed by Colonel Benjamin Walker (an identified Oneida County slaveholder), who then advised him to live on the "gore," the unsurveyed strip of land in what is now part of Roscoe Conkling Park. One source maintained that "Howe lived on this gore with his family in the 1830s and his cabin was one of the most important 'stations on the underground railroad.'" (65)
In 1810 the US Census identified Joshua Howe as a free black head of a household of 3 people, although their residence is unknown. In 1820 Joshua was the head of a household of 7 in Whitestown, an area which included the gore to which Walsh refers. In 1830 he was head of household of 7 in New Hartford, which again included the gore as well. His infant son, Samuel, died in New Hartford and was buried St. Stephens Episcopal Church on Oxford Road on August 17, 1833. In 1840 Joshua Howe's New Hartford household included 4 people, one of whom was a white female (their relationship is not identified). The name Howe does not appear in any US Census (1850-1920) after that.
The last Black Oneidans whose transition from slavery to freedom in Oneida County can be documented is the family of Lansom Frank. Writing about William Floyd in 1902, the Boonville Herald stated:
The majority [of the "colored servants"] stayed and some of their descendants still live on the old place and in the vicinity, clinging with peculiar fascination to the things of long ago. One of these is Lansom Frank and all the Franks in the locality are relatives. (66)
Lansom Frank may have remained in the household of William Floyd as a free laborer for some years after emancipation, as most free Black Oneidans resided in white households in the two decades after slavery ended in 1827. But in 1840 Alanson Frank headed a household of 4 residents in the town of Western where William Floyd and his slaves had lived. There were 2 other Black Oneidans named Frank living in Western as well: Robert, with 6 residents, and Simeon, with 2 residents. Whether they were related is unclear. In 1850 Alanson Frank was counted as a 40-year-old farmer in the neighboring town of Lee. He and his Indian wife Hannah lived with their 7 children (James, George, Emily, Daniel, Edwin, Hannah, and Harvey) on their farm in the town of Lee, adjacent to Western. His property was worth $500, making him one of the most prosperous of Black Oneidans and eligible to vote.
In that same year, 1850, Robbin Frank appeared as a 38-year-old farmer in Lee with a household that included his wife Delana (36) and their 6 children John, William, Milton, Sarah, Simon, Joseph; and 26-year-old Anna Frank. In addition, Coziah Frank, 68, lived with Benjamin Bussey, a physician in Western. It is possible that Alanson and Robbin were brothers and that they were once owned by William Floyd. That they were related is suggested by an 1858 map showing their farms side by side on what was once known as Nigger Road in Lee (now known as Sulphur Springs Road). Coziah could be an elderly relative, although elderly blacks of that day usually lived with their families and Alanson's or Robbin's household would have included him if he were "the old man". The Frank family appears in every US Census thereafter, often as landowners in Lee. For instance, in 1860 Alanson and Hannah owned a farm worth $2,700. Unlike most black women, Hannah was not employed outside the house. Robert Frank, 36, also owned a farm, worth $700. In 1870, Alanson, George, and David Frank (of Lee) and Moses Frank (of nearby Western) owned their own farms. In 1880, three Franks were still farmers. Other Frank householders had moved off the land but still remained in the area. Many Franks remained farmers until 1910, when Myron Frank was a "truck farmer". But in 1920 the Franks no longer farmed for a living, although there were Franks scattered around the county. The relationship of many of the Franks today to the household of Lansom Frank has been verified by interviews with Andrew and Richard Frank of Oneida County. These same interviews show that the Franks of Oneida County do not fully realize that their ancestry dates back to the days of slavery; they are among the earliest residents of Oneida County. It is uncertain how the Franks originally obtained their land, for William Floyd does not mention them in his will.
The common practice of identifying slaves by a single name clouds the evidence of their very existence. Without last names, they cannot be identified through any documents such as the US Census, and therefore they have vanished from the record. It is perhaps ironic that the surest way for a slave to be identified by first and last names was through announcements of their escapes.
While slavery in the North has been described as paternalistic less brutal character than slavery in the South, there is evidence that African Americans in Oneida County resisted their condition. Open and organized rebellion had not been seen in New York since the 1740s, but individuals rebelled by escape. For instance, Alexander Coventry recorded several encounters with fugitives in New York, although they did not happen in Oneida County.
July 12, 1786: Mr. Niaggs ... a Yankee shoemaker ... had caught J. Legat's negro and brought him home, for which he received 15 dollars. The negro has run away twice, giving but poor excuse each time for it. Jacobus offers to sell him for 60 pounds New York currency. (67) April 5, 1787: (John Van Valkenberg) received the (6O deep) stab wound (in his thigh) from a negro, whom his former master and John went to take. The negro and his wench had run away, and escaped into Boston ... where negroes are free. He had yielded to Pollock, who laid down the sword he had in his hand, which the negro perceiving, he drew out a large knife and made two or three stabs at him, but John parried them all, except the one in his thigh. John knocked the negro down, and had him secured. (68) May 8 1790: ... before sunrise a man and woman passed, the man was black, and asked the road to Hudson. Heard since that it was a negro run off with a white woman. (69)
Soon after William Floyd arrived in Oneida County with his large entourage of slaves, one of them, Harry Howard "the general's coachman, ran away to Canada and finally reached Long Island again." (70)
The newspapers of the day included announcements seeking the return of fugitive slaves. Some of these had escaped from outside the county, but some were Black Oneidans who resisted slavery by running away as well. The following are illustrative of these announcements:
Ten Dollars Reward: Runaway from the subscriber on Friday evening last, DINAH COOK, a black slave, very large and fleshy, and has lost one of her fore teeth. Ten dollars reward and all reasonable charges will be paid for her delivery to me, or for securing her in any jail in the county. All persons are forbid harboring her on penalty of law. C. W. HIEST, Utica. May 4, 1815. (71) Twenty Dollars Reward: Runaway, on the night of the 20th inst. two black boys, about fourteen years old. One called Jack Sharp is stout built, large of his age, very black. The other called Frank is rather slender--their clothing is not known. Whoever will secure said boys and give information, shall receive the reward and necessary charges. DAVID HASBROUCK, AMOS G. HULL, Utica August 21, 1815. (72)
There are 8 notices of fugitive Black Oneidans in the newspapers that remain from that period. They identify 3 women (Dinah Cook, Susan Bateman, and Lid) and 4 males (Morris Dublin twice, Jack Sharp, Jake, and Frank), who range from 14 to 35 years of age. They cover the period from 1811 to 1816, a period of time when most newspaper slave sales announcements also appeared. No announcement appeared earlier than 1811. During this time voluntary emancipations were proceeding at a rapid pace in Oneida County and across New York. The scanty record does not reveal if there were actually more escapes during this time. But it is tempting to argue that it was becoming more difficult to subdue disgruntled slaves who could see that manumissions were taking place all around them. Many slaves saw an opportunity to escape. There was neither an Underground Railroad nor an organized abolition movement to assist these fugitives, but by now there were several places to safely escape to, such as Massachusetts and Canada. Moreover, runaways who could make their way to New York City could easily blend into the large and increasingly free black population there. How many made their way to freedom is not clear. It is certain that Morris Dublin was recaptured after his first escape in 1811, for he escaped again in 1812 from the same owner, R. W. Maddock of Whitesboro. No fugitive slave notice appeared locally after 1817 when the emancipation of all slaves by 1827 had been legislated.
The announcements suggest that white employers were not always careful to note whether black men or women seeking employment were fugitives, a situation that surely grew more serious as more slaves were emancipated and moved across the state. A problem facing many free African Americans in New York before the end of slavery was to prove that they were indeed free so they could find employment. Many obtained Certificates of Freedom. This required that they provide proof of emancipation to the local officials. Reuben Hicks needed three affidavits to establish his status as a free man and thereby acquire a Certificate of Freedom in 1821. This is the text of his Certificate: (73)
State of New York Oneida County On this 20 June 1820, Before me came John Reuben Hicks, who made the proof contained on the other side and exhibited the same to me, whereupon the same was riduce (sic) to writing. The said John Reuben Hicks has lived with me for Eighteen months past--and he is in my judgment a man of truth and veracity. I am of the opinion that he is free according to the laws of this State and do hereby Certify the proof before me made and exhibited. The said John Reuben Hicks is of a yellow complexion, five feet seven inches high, with a small scar in his forehead, and as nearly as can be ascertained he is twenty five years old, and was born free at East Windsor in the County of Hartford and State of Connecticut. M. S. Miller First Judge of Oneida State of New York Oneida County On this 20 day of June 1821. Before me came John Reuben Hicks who maketh oath and saith that he is a resident of the town of Utica and County of Oneida, that he is twenty five years old, that he was born free at East Windsor in the County of Hartford in the State of Connecticut. That both his parents are dead. His John Reuben X Hicks Mark Sworn 20 June 1821 Before me, M. S. Miller, First Judge of Oneida State of New York Oneida County James Lang being duly sworn saith that he has lived in the employment of Morris S. Miller for eighteen months past during which time John Reuben Hicks has also been employed by the same person. And the said James Lang further saith that during the period aforesaid he has known the said John Reuben Hicks and fully believes him to be a man of truth and veracity. And from the affidavit above set forth as well as from conversations heretofore had with the said Hicks on the subject he has no doubt, but that the said Hicks was born free as stated in the above affidavit.--James Lang Sworn this 20 June 1821, Before me, M. S. Miller, First Judge of Oneida (superscribed) Certificate of Freedom, John Reuben Hicks. Filed June 21, 1821.
Interestingly, M. S. Miller, the certifying judge, had been slaveholder in 1810 with 3 slaves and 1 free black in 1810. The need to prove their free status did not end with the demise of slavery in New York. Slave catchers from the South would haunt the region for the next 30 years looking for fugitive slaves. But any African Americans who could not readily prove that they were free could be kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South. The threat of slave catchers not only reminded Black Oneidans of the necessity of vigilance, but it also encouraged them to struggle against slavery as a community.
BLACK ONEIDANS AFTER SLAVERY
A black community began to emerge in Oneida County even before legal emancipation. Free African Americans formed families, sought work, and established organizations for education, mutual aid, and religious Worship. They also participated actively in the movement against slavery. Opportunities were limited and the number of Black Oneidans remained stable and very small and their numbers never became a significant portion of the county's population during the 19th Century. The African American population grew rapidly between 1790 and 1850 before it finally stabilized. There was an early surge in the size of the county's black population after 1790, but by the mid 19th Century their numbers declined more often than they increased.
Some of the black population growth was from natural increase; some were brought here as slaves and subsequently freed; and some were probably fugitives who had freed themselves. But most had probably moved here on their own. As emancipations increased across the state, many former slaves exploited their freedom and moved about in search of work. After 1850 there followed a long period of population stagnation even while the white population continued its growth, a pattern noted by other researchers of upstate New York black history. (75) By 1860 the number of Black Oneidans had declined to its lowest level in 30 years. The black percentage of Oneida County was .7% in 1830 and .6% in 1860, and declined to .3% by 1920. The resident black population was never very stable or permanent. Indeed, the region's population changed constantly in the early 19th Century as hundreds of people came and left each year, part of a larger pattern of transience.
The population changed constantly.... Bagg's Pioneers of Utica records a constant stream of persons who had made Utica a way station before heading for Detroit, Chicago, and New York City. (76)
We can estimate the degree of black population stability by comparing the household heads of 1840 with those of earlier counts. There are obvious flaws in using this method too strictly and we can only estimate the turnover in households headed by blacks. To estimate population transience and stability from 1800 to 1840, I identified all black householder surnames found in the US Censuses of 1800-1840 and the Utica Village Directory of 1817. There were 53 different surnames and 82 households; some of the surnames appeared more than once over that 40-year period. By 1840, only 14 of those surnames remained in Oneida County and 39 had disappeared. The households that had disappeared accounted for 58 of the 82 households (71%) and 310 (73%) of the 427 Black Oneidans living in Black headed households over that entire period.
The United States Census Manuscripts show that the turnover of Black Oneidans from 1830 to 1870 was significant. Of the 53 different surnames of 1830 (64 households, 355 people), only 21 remained in 1840 (31 households, 140 people) in 1840. There was an apparent loss of 60% of the surnames, 52% of the households, and 52% of the people that resided in them. Of the 171 surnames found in 1850, 108 (63%), belonging to 234 people do not appear in 1860. Roughly 34% of the 1850 black population were no longer present in 1860. In 1870, 81 surnames do not appear in 1860, and 79 surnames which appear in 1860 do not appear in 1870, accounting for 197 people. A high degree of population turnover characterized Black Oneidans for the entire century.
The Black population of Oneida County was continuously in motion. The Erie Canal, the railroad, the Mohawk River, and the excellent road system made the region a major conduit for the flow of the population, manufactured goods, and agricultural products. The canals, roads, and railroads required workers for construction and maintenance and spawned service industries to facilitate them (provisioners, hotels, repairs, stables, etc.) Moreover, this was a time of general population restlessness, as immigrants and workers, alone and with their families, continuously moved about in search of work, land, and opportunity. However, it was probably poorer workers that moved the most, and Africans were the poorest of Americans. Oneida County did not retain a permanent black population because Black Oneidans found few opportunities to prosper here.
Black Oneidans faced the enormous problem of earning an income sufficient to support their families, a problem common to African Americans in New York. Kruger notes that, "Free blacks found it difficult to form and maintain independent households." (77) Few Black Oneidans owned any land after emancipation, although a small black farmer class did exist during the 19th century. (78) Apparently it took Lansom Frank nearly 2 decades after emancipation to be counted as a landowner. No slaveholder's will bequeathed land or anything else to their former slaves, although they may have done so privately before they died. Perhaps some had marketable skills (the barbering trade, for instance), but certainly most were trained to be servants or farm laborers. They would have had earned their livings working in the lowest paid occupations at the time. It was probably convenient for some Black Oneidans to remain with their former owners as free workers earning their keep under conditions that probably changed very little after emancipation, except they would have been paid a small wage. Thus one immediate consequence of slavery was that few emancipated Black Oneidans could enter the economy as skilled craftsmen, as shopkeepers, independent farmers, or as professionals. But their occupational skills were not their only disadvantage. Pervasive prejudice and diminished legal rights offered African Americans few opportunities to improve their condition. (79)
Alexis de Tocqueville's observation on racial discrimination in the North no doubt reflected the prevailing attitudes of White Oneidans.
The prejudice of race appears to be stronger in the states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists; and nowhere is it so intolerant as in those states where servitude has never been known. Thus the Negro is free, but he can share neither the rights, nor the pleasures, nor the labor, nor the afflictions, nor the tomb of him whose equal he has been declared to be; and he cannot meet him upon fair terms in life or death. (80)
It would have been difficult to earn enough money to buy or rent accommodations and live on wages earned as a farm laborer or household servant. Possessing few resources but their labor, it took longer for black people in Oneida County to establish autonomous households than black people elsewhere in New York.
Disregarding 1790 when only 3 black people lived in the area, free Black Oneidans lagged behind their fellows downstate in forming their own households during the period of rapid emancipation.
In 1800, most free Black Oneidans (56%) still did not reside in black-headed households and continued to live with white householders as servants and laborers. Enoch Fortune, first identified in 1790, was living in the town of Paris with a household of 3 people; Thomas Hull, also of Paris, (6); William Gardiner (4) of Augusta; and Josiah Butler lived alone in Whitestown. The other 18 free blacks presumably lived in white households as servants and farm laborers, perhaps in the same households where they had been slaves.
The list of black householders of 1810 contains none of the names that had appeared in 1800. Enoch Fortune no longer lived in the area and his name does not appear among New York's householders. Perhaps he was dead; perhaps he was a dependent in another household, even a white household; or perhaps he had moved out of the state. In 1820 Harry Fortune headed a household of 4 in the town of Bridgewater, and he may have been a relative). Enoch was just the first of thousands of Black Oneidans who appeared in one census and disappeared in the next during the 19th Century.
By 1820 there were more black people (377) and black households (32) than ever in Oneida County. But only 42% of the county's black residents lived in black households, a decline from 10 years earlier (46%). Since this was the period of rapid emancipation, probably there were more destitute former slaves than before.
By 1830 most African Americans in Oneida County had made the transition to residential autonomy, if not financial prosperity. More than 3 out of 4 Black Oneidans lived in the 64 households headed by black men and women. That so many had managed to become independent despite their weak economic status was a significant achievement. Although Black Oneidans would struggle at the bottom of the occupational structure throughout the 19th Century, their commitment to black households, and to 2-parent households in particular, remained strong. It is difficult to see how slavery had destroyed the county's black families.
Throughout the 19th Century and well into the 20th Black Oneidans labored at the very bottom of the occupational system. In 1850 nearly 3/4 (71%) were unskilled workers, such as farm laborers and hotel waiters, and by 1920 it was more than 4 out of 5. Black women were even more likely to find unskilled work as hotel maids, washerwomen, and servants.
After 1830, according to Mary Ryan, (83) most white Uticans were employed in crafts and as white collar workers and the factory laborer proportion grew to about 1 in 5. However, by 1850 71% of Black Uticans were unskilled workers and none of them worked in the many factories that had sprung up. They and other Black Oneidans remained at the bottom of the county's occupational structure. Throughout the 19th Century African Americans in Oneida County struggled for economic security, but 70% of the time or more they worked as unskilled laborers: men as laborers, servants, and waiters, and women as laundresses and housemaids. Relative few attained a more comfortable position through a skilled trade, notably barbering. But gradually black barbers disappeared and people with skilled occupations rarely appear in two successive US Censuses. It was difficult for Black Oneidans to get ahead.
Despite their general impoverished condition and their dispersal across the county, a black community began to form in Utica and soon thereafter in Rome as well. Before slavery ended in 1827 and before Utica became a city in 1832, Black Oneidans, often with the help of sympathetic whites, had organized themselves to educate their children, to provide mutual support and to strive for social improvement. In 1815 Eunice Camp "gathered a few children, mostly colored, in order to give them Sunday instruction." (84) In 1816 and 1817, the Utica Village Directory listed "a Sunday Evening School for People of Color." There is evidence that a Black religious organization existed as early as 1825:
African Bible Class was formed in 1825. It consists at present of 75 members, chiefly adults; and is connected with the First Utica Presbyterian Society. Beriah B. Hotchkiss, Superintendent. (85)
In 1826 a mutual relief society was founded, "a society of people of colour, and the funds are to be used for the benefit of members in case of sickness or death." (86) In 1830 the African Union Benevolent Society was founded. Jermaine Loguen (87) described the black community of the 1840s as "an intelligent and spirited colored population." A few became property owners. That some former slaves had been hard at work is noted by William Henry, a black man who arrived in Oneida County with his free mother in 1814:
In 1828 the colored people, who were doing pretty well, bought some land on Hope Street. These were Peter Freeman, Joe Ten Eyck, Tudor E. Grant, Joseph C. Pancko, David Vinner, Moses Johnson, and David Wyckoff. They owned all that land on the south side of Hope street and were voters. I was the last one of the colored people who owned land there, and it was only last year I sold the last lot. (88)
Despite general impoverishment, families with children were headed by 2 parents 3/4 of the time or more. In 1850, the first year when households can be accurately identified and just one generation after slavery had officially ended in Oneida County, a striking 85% of black children lived in households headed by two parents.
Black Oneidans shared the same cultural family ideology as whites, despite the constant companion of poverty. It is difficult to conclude that slavery destroyed Oneida County's African American families. The single-mother families that have appeared from 1950 onwards are not those of former slaves in New York. They are not due to the immediate consequences of slavery in Oneida County.
With slavery in their immediate past, formerly enslaved Black Oneidans were soon participating vigorously in the movement against slavery. Some took part in the Negro Convention Movement such as T. Woodson, James Fountain and B.S. Anderson, all of Utica. (90) James Fountain, a former slave (not necessarily in Oneida County, though) was a Utica cordwainer in 1829 who headed a household of 9 people in Utica in 1830. At least 6 Black Oneidans participated in the 1840 State Colored Convention in Albany. (91) Jermain Loguen, who rose to prominence as a Syracuse abolitionist, listed Utica as his residence as he was then attending the Oneida Institute. Elimus Rogers was particularly active in the Negro Convention Movement. In 1840 he was a member of an 11-man committee to suggest the business for the convention and a 3 man committee (including Henry Highland Garnet) "to draft resolutions and appoint public speakers for a meeting this evening. adjourned." He also served on a committee "to form plans and suggestions, by which we can effectually and harmoniously proceed in our future efforts to obtain the right of suffrage." At the 1843 National Convention of Colored People in Buffalo he submitted a Report of Committee Upon the Mechanical Arts. (92)
Black Oneidans struggled against slavery even more directly and actively than through participation in these conventions. Henderson's authoritative scholarship on abolitionism in New York includes an account of a forcible rescue of 2 fugitive slaves in Utica less than 10 years after legal emancipation in New York. The rescuers were Black Oneidans. (93)
Black Oneidans participated in the Underground Railroad that ran through Oneida County and were involved in at least one violent and successful effort to prevent fugitives from re-enslavement. Many also struck the final blow against slavery by fighting in the Civil War. In publishing the letters of Corporal William H. Labiel of Vernon, Donald Wisnoski made it clear that Black Oneians struggled and sacrificed (Labiel died on active duty) to eliminate slavery. (94)
Slavery and racism surely depressed the economic opportunities of African Americans in Oneida County, but they emerged from slavery showing evidence of social responsibility, community consciousness, and family stability. If black families have experienced substantial household disruption, it is not due to the immediate consequences of local slavery.
In some ways the story of slavery in Oneida County is not unique. For a time slaves were bought and sold openly. The same pattern of slaveholding prevailed here as elsewhere in New York. Slaveholders were often men of high social standing and most slaveholders owned 1 slave. Most emancipations took place privately some years before the legal date of manumission. Emancipation brought little opportunity for African Americans here as elsewhere in New York and across the nation. Black men and women toiled at the bottom of the economy and faced the powerful stigma of racism. Nonetheless African Americans across the North typically formed households modeled on the 2-parent cultural norm immediately after slavery, and so did Black Oneidans (95) In many ways we see a microcosm of the history of the New York's African Americans in the experiences of Black Oneidans.
But some features of slavery in Oneida County were unique. In particular, the rapid rise and fall of slavery was very different from what happened elsewhere in New York. Slavery had existed in New York for more than 150 years before it took root in Oneida County where the entire documented history of slavery took place in just 37 years, from 1790 to 1827. The rapid growth of slavery in the county occurred just as slavery was declining everywhere else in New York. When slavery finally weakened, it collapsed in the space of 10 years. In other parts of the state slaves were often substantial portions of the population. But even when slavery peaked in 1810, their numbers and proportion were always very small in Oneida County. As a result, slavery was relegated to the obscurity of occasional anecdotes rather than serious scholarship.
How did slavery affect Black Oneidans after emancipation? The effects of slavery cannot be separated from the debilitating consequences of racism which legitimized slavery and resulted from it. Racism has permeated American culture for more than 300 years and profoundly affected African Americans long after slavery ended, as indicated by the Jim Crow culture of the South and the anti-black riots in the North after WWI. Black Oneidans were never a settled population and they encountered racism wherever they went, which helps to explain the significant population turnover in the county. But slavery lasted too briefly in Oneida County to have had a special effect on black residents. By 1800 Black Oneidans were as likely to be free (N=32) as enslaved (N=33), and thereafter most Black Oneidans were free. Virtually all slaves had been manumitted by 1820. Oneida County did not witness generations of slaves, did not pass (nor, it seems, did it enforce) any slave codes, apparently did not hire a "negro whipper," and never established a system of patrols. Moreover, by the time slavery had peaked in the county, New York's slave code was being replaced by more humane laws that protected blacks from some of slavery's excesses. Indeed, slavery was being legislated out of existence by the time it took hold in the area.
One obvious consequence of slavery and racism is the seen in the occupations of Black Oneidans, due to the skills they inherited from slavery. Northern African Americans in New York City and elsewhere were often skilled artisans, craftspeople, professionals, but apparently this was not the case in Oneida County. Here they were mostly farm laborers or household servants. By 1850, a generation after slavery had ended and when most whites were farmers, craftspeople, and shopkeepers, most black people were unskilled laborers and they remained so until modern times. Slavery contributed to their occupations immediately after emancipation, but the opportunities that attracted so many whites to the area after slavery ended remained closed to blacks.
My initial hypothesis was that contemporary Black Oneidan poverty was rooted in the disruptive influence of slavery: slavery undermined family stability and created racism; the result was chronic poverty and a matriarchal ideology resulting from slavery. It is evident that blacks were able to establish families under slavery and immediately after emancipation they organized themselves into family units that adhered to the cultural norm of nuclear families. Indeed, family stability and economic marginality are two prominent traits of the former slaves of Oneida County. Black Oneidans in the last 50 years have struggled to maintain intact families, but not because of the direct consequences of slavery or even poverty itself. I conclude that my hypothesis is partly supported. While slavery and its racist ideology have seriously sabotaged the efforts of New York's black people to achieve economic prosperity, slavery did not undermine today's Oneida County's black families.
Perhaps in the end Oneida County owes more to slaves than is recognized. Henry Rogers' history of the town of Paris argues that the very first non-Indian settler in the county was an unnamed black man, a fugitive slave:
At an early day, and some years previous to the settlement of Judge White, in 1784, at the mouth of the Sauquoit; or Abram Van Eps on the Oriskany, in 1785; or Major Royce, at Paris Hill, in 1789, a negro slave, servant of an officer of some passing detachment enroute up the valley, ran away from his servitude, boldly struck out into the forest wilds, taking this trail over the hill, not pausing in his flight until he halted in the forest free as the feathered songsters that caroled him a welcome in the beautiful valley of the Sauquoit.... The runaway slave struck the first axe (of a settler) in a tree in the great town of Whitestown, afterwards Paris.... The savages made general havoc and ruin of everything, save the thickly sprouting clump of apple sprouts, which they somehow overlooked, and thus they grew unmolested, so that by the time the pioneers [white] came in they were large enough to transplant, and some of the first orchards [Cooley's and others in the immediate vicinity] were set from the "Jim Crow" nursery, as it was called, the name of even of this actual settler being lost; but the fact of his title to pioneership outranking White's, Van Eps', Foot's, or Royce's in priority, is incontrovertible. Parties still in the "land of the living" remember well the clump of young apple trees that grew near the spot where the mighty locomotive now goes thundering over the dismantled, desecrated hearthstone of the Black Pioneer. (96)
It is unclear if the slaveholder was an English or American officer or which war was being fought, as the region witnessed several English campaigns during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. At the latest this unnamed fugitive could have "settled" by 1781 but since there were already a few white settlers in the area by then, Rogers' fugitive might have arrived during the 1750s. Throughout his book Rogers insists on accuracy and proudly corrects the historic record with more accurate information. Yet he insists on the story's validity. Unfortunately Rogers cites no source of this story except local tradition. But since this is his only mention of African Americans, negroes, slavery, abolition, etc., it is tempting to accept its veracity. Indeed, he is reluctant to render this historical account, for he adds:
It seems almost akin to sacrilege to do the work of verifying the facts of our early history so thoroughly as to necessitate the upsetting of all these many years, proud laudation of those who were first to fell the tree, bow the mighty heads of the forest giants, subdue the stubborn glebe and plant the blossoming orchard; and it is a positive relief to think that as the name of the poor, black runaway-slave pioneer is lost and none of his descendants are likely to put in a claim, we can go on composedly reading our histories as they are written, only, "in the mind," inserting the word "white" before the words pioneer or first settler, wherever they occur. (97)
Oneida County's "self-concept" has never included its African Americans. But they were among its first non-Indian residents, perhaps even the very first to clear the forests, labor in its fields, and establish its commerce. Nameless and faceless, they served the region's elite families. Freed, they became an invisible and transient people who endured the indignities of racism and stubbornly created a meaningful place in society. It is a fitting irony that the county's first settler may have been an African American, and a fugitive slave to boot.
TABLE 1 MONTGOMERY COUNTY POPULATION, 1790 (14) Town Total Pop. Free Black Slave Total Black Herkimer 1,525 1 8 9 Mohawk 4,440 8 111 119 German Flatts 1,307 2 20 22 Whitestown 1,891 3 7 10 NY State 340,120 4,654 21,324 25,978 TABLE 2 ABSTRACT OF VALUATIONS MADE FOR STATE TAXES, 1799 (17) Town Assessed Value of Slaves Rome $300 Westmoreland $100 Trenton $200 Whitestown $900 Western $300 TABLE 3 ONEIDA COUNTY POPULATION, 1800 (18*) Town Total Pop Free Black Slaves Total Black Augusta 1,598 5 5 Bridgewater 1,061 Camden 384 Deerfield 1,048 1 1 Floyd 767 1 1 Paris 4,721 11 11 Remsen 224 Rome 1,497 2 2 4 Sangerfield 1,143 Steuben 552 Trenton 624 1 1 2 Western 1,493 Westmoreland 1,542 2 2 Whitestown 4,212 11 28 39 Oneida County 19,505 32 33 65 * Oneida County includes all towns in what is now Oneida County. The table excludes all towns that no longer remain in Oneida County: Canton, Champion, Leyden, Lisburn, Louisville, Lowville, Madrid, Massena, Mexico, Oswegatche, Redfield, Stockholm, Turin, Watertown, all of which counted a total of two slaves. TABLE 4 ONEIDA COUNTY POPULATION, 1810 (19) County* Total Pop. Free Black Slaves Total Black Oneida County 33,792 130 84 214 Herkimer County 22,046 77 64 141 NY State 959,049 25,333** 15,017 40,350 * In the 1810 census there is no town-by-town listing ** "all other nonwhite except Indians not taxed" free persons TABLE 5 SLAVES IN NEW YORK STATE AND ONEIDA COUNTY, 1790-1830 (23) Year New York Oneida County 1790 21,329 7 1800 20,613 33 1810 15,017 84 1814 11,480 37 1820 10,046 9 1830* 75 14 *Legally these were not slaves but former slaves legally bound to the holder for indentured service and whose unexpired terms of service could be sold. They were sometimes erroneously referred to as slaves. TABLE 6 EMANCIPATION OF AFRICAN AMERICANS IN SOUTHERN NEW YORK AND ONEIDA COUNTY, 1790-1820 (28) 6 Southern Oneida Emancipation NY Counties County Freed by 1790 27.4% 30.0%(Whitestown) Freed by 1800 43.9% 45.8% Freed by 1810 43.9% 61.6% Freed by 1820 85.0% 97.6% TABLE 7 HOUSEHOLDS WITH BOTH SLAVES AND FREE BLACKS, 1810 (30) Householder Slaves Free Blacks John Bellinger 4 2 Arthur Breese 1 1 B. Curry 2 1 William Floyd 6 4 A. Graham 1 3 M. Miller 3 1 I. Schoonhoven 2 3 T. Soper 1 1 Total 20 16 TABLE 8 POPULATION OF ONEIDA COUNTY, 1790-1860 (74) Year Population Free Slave Total Black 1790 1,891 3 7 10 1800 19,505 32 33 65 1810 33,792 130 84 214 1820 50,997 368 9 377 1830 71,326 447 15* 462 1840 85,310 644 644 1850 95,537 685 685 1860 101,626 627 627 *Legally these were emancipated slaves indentured to a master for a specified time. They were mistakenly listed in the census as slaves. TABLE 9 FREE BLACKS LIVING IN BLACK HOUSEHOLDS, ONEIDA COUNTY AND 6 SOUTHERN COUNTIES OF NEW YORK, 1790-1850 (81) % in Black ** % in Black Black Population Households in in Households in 6 Year of oneida County Oneida County Southernmost New York Counties 1790* 3 100.0 53.9 1800 32 43.8 57.9 1810 130 46.9 55.4 1820 368 41.8 59.8 1830 462 76.8 1840 644 79.2 1850 685 88.9 * Whitestown portion of Montgomery County ** includes those living alone TABLE 10 OCCUPATIONS OF BLACK ONEIDANS, 1850-1920 (82) Occupations 1850 1860 1870 1880 1900 1910 1920 % Skilled Males 19.7 20.4 17.1 21.9 18.8 19.7 15.5 % Farmer Males 9.6 7.2 8.1 7.1 5.3 4.4 2.1 % Unskilled Males 70.7 72.5 74.8 71.0 75.9 76.0 82.4 N = 157 167 210 183 170 229 187 % Skilled Females 5.1 8.6 11.1 13.2 8.3 % Farmer Females 1.9 1.0 % Unskilled Females 94.9 91.4 88.9 84.9 90.7 N = 70 39 58 54 106 109 TABLE 11 LIVING ARRANGEMENTS OF ONEIDA COUNTY BLACK CHILDREN (16 and younger), 1850 and 1920, by Percent (89) Household 1850 1920 Both Parents 84.7 73.7 Mother Only 2.2 10.2 Father Only 6.0 6.5 None 7.1 9.6 Total 100.0% 100.0% N= 268 156
(2) Jan DeAmicis, 1997, "To Them That Has Brot Me Up: Black Oneidans and Their Families, 1850 to 1920." Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, vol. 21, #2, July, p.1.
(3) Moses M. Bagg, 1877, The Pioneers of Utica. Utica, New York; Curliss and Childs, pp. 120, 635
(4) Pomeroy Jones, 1851, Annals and Recollections of Oneida County. Rome, New York: published by author, p. 709.
(5) Oneida County Historical Society, 1977, The History of Oneida County. Utica, New York: Oneida County Historical Society, p. 60.
(6) See also T. Wood Clarke, 1952, Utica for a Century and a Half. Utica, New York: Widtman Press; Laura Day Cookinham, 1912, History of Oneida County. Chicago: S. J. Clark Pub. Co.; Samuel W. Durant, 1878, History of Oneida County, New York. Philadelphia: Everts and Fariss; David Ellis, 1982, The Upper Mohawk Country: An Illustrated History of Greater Utica. California; Windsor Publications Inc.; Blandina Dudley Miller, 1895, A Sketch of Old Utica; Utica, New York: L.C. Childs; The New Century Club, 1900, Outline History of Utica and Vicinity. Utica, New York: L.C. Childs; Douglas Preston and David Ellis, 1977, The History of Oneida County. Utica, New York: Oneida County Historical Society; John Walsh, 1982, Vignettes of Old Utica; Utica, New York: Utica Public Library; Donald White, editor/compiler, 1998, Oneida County: Exploring 200 Years of Oneida County History. Utica, New York: Oneida County Historical Society.
(7) See for instance David Beetle, 1947, Along the Oriskany. Utica, New York: reprinted from Utica Observer Dispatch; Tharratt Gilbert Best, 1960, Boonville and Its Neighbors. Boonville, NY: Boonville Herald-Willard Press; Eugene Butler, 1994, Pioneers of Vernon Center, New York. Canestota: Canestota Pub. Co.; Margaret P. Davis, 1976, Honey Out of the Rafters: a pictorial history of the settlement and growth of Steuben and Remsen, N. Y. Remsen, NY: Boonville Graphics; Rev. A. D. Gridley, 1874, History of the Town of Kirkland, New York. New York: Hurd and Houghton; Isaac F. Marcosson, 1953, Industrial Main Street: The Story of Rome--The Copper City. New York; Rome, New York: Dodd, Mead & Co.; Henry C. Rogers, 1881, History of the Town of Paris, and the valley of the Sauquoit: pioneers and early settlers ... anecdotes and reminiscences, to which is added an account of the ceremonies attending the re-internment of Col. Isaac Paris. Utica, New York: White & Floyd; Florence McElroy Simon, no date, OA Brief History of the Town of Annsville, Oneida County, New York.O Annsville, New York: unpublished manuscript, Utica Public Library Periodical Room Standing File; Roy Snyder, 1991, Camden Chronology II. Rome, New York: published by author; Howard Thomas, 1951, Trenton Falls: Yesterday and Today. Prospect, New York: Prospect Books; Westmoreland Bicentennial Committee, 1976, Westmoreland, 200 Years. Westmoreland, New York;: Arner Publications, Inc.
(8) Edgar McManus, A History of Slavery in New York. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, p. x.
(9) "... researching here in Oneida County just isn't that simple .... many are often disappointed when doing genealogical research in Oneida County in the early 1800"s. Vital Statistics were not required by the state until the 1880s. Church records in rural areas were often misplaced by itinerant clergy. Cemeteries up to 1847 usually had no records as none were required. Mary Ellen Urtz, 1982, Lee Tidings, Vol.1 #7, July, p.5.
(10) "Some of the African American pioneers in Central New York were slaves, others indentured servants, and still others 'free people of color'. Their names are difficult to recover, for the 1820 census was the first to list blacks by name. Prior to that time, as in the first federal census of 1790, blacks were simply recorded as belonging to the households of whites, usually as slaves but in some cases as indentured servants." Milton C. Sernett, 1989, "On Freedom's Threshold: the African American Presence in Central New York, 1760-1940," in Monroe Fordham, ed, 1989, The African American Presence in New York State History: Four Regional History Surveys. Albany, New York: New York African American Institute.
(11) Vivienne L. Kruger, 1985, Born to Run: The Slave Family in Early New York, 1626 to 1827. 2v. Columbia University dissertation, Ann Arbor, University Microfilms, NY State Library.
(12) "For virtually most of the eighteenth century oceanic trade in slaves and the internal trade in human flesh in the Hudson-Mohawk region, subjected the slave population to a phenomenal growth rate, especially for a mainland colony which was so unlike those of the Chesapeake and Lower South. To arrive at such a growth rate, New York as a colony had begun to trade directly with Africa for slaves as early as 1748. When the figures of African slave imports are combined with slaves from American sources, the total import of slaves between 1700 and 1774 totals 6,800.... by 1790, therefore, as a result of such imports and natural increases, the African slave population had increased to approximately 21,395. Thus New York had the largest black population of any colony north of Maryland." Williams-Myers, A.J., 1989, "The arduous journey: the African American presence in the Hudson-Mohawk Region," p.20. in Monroe Fordham, ed., 1989, The African American Presence in New York State History: Four Regional History Surveys; see also Graham Hodges and Alan Brown, eds., 1994, "Pretends to Be Free," Runaway Slave Advertisements from Colonial and Revolutionary New York and New Jersey. New York, Garland; David Kobrin, 1971, "The Black Minority in Early New York," Albany, State Education Dept, Office of State History; Edgar McManus, A History of Slavery in New York. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press; Helene C. Phelan, 1987, And Why Not Every Man? An account of slavery, the Underground Railroad, and the road to freedom in New York's Southern Tier. Interlaken, NY: Heart of the Lakes Publishing.
(13) The first permanent white settlement was established at Whitestown in 1784, and Oneida County was chartered 1798.
(14) United States Census, 1790.
(15) "Most slaves in the Mohawk Valley prior to the Revolution were kept by Dutch and German families ... and one of the area's biggest slaveowners was Gen. Nicholas Herkimer. When he died in 1777, his will listed 33 slaves." Dave Dudajek and Bill Farrell, 1991, "Piecing the Past Together: 1st Black Settler? No One Knows." Utica Observer-Dispatch, Sunday, February 3, p. le.
(16) Abstract of Valuations Made for State Taxes, 1799; NYS Archives. Chapter 72, An Act for Assessment and Collection of Taxes, April 1, 1799; Laws of the State of New York 1797-1800, vol. II, inclusive. Albany: Weed Parsons and Co., 1887, NYS Archives.
(17) New York State Archives.
(18) United States Census, 1800.
(19) United States Census, 1810.
(20) The Oneida County Census of Owners of Land of 1814: Taxable Valuation of Property. Utica, New York; Utica Public Library Research Room Standing File. Perhaps not all slaves in the county were counted because some slaveholders may not have been landowners, but this would have been rare.
(21) Kruger says downstate slave sales averaged about $150, with women worth less than men. Coventry paid 77 pounds for Cuff in 1789 but only 52 pounds for Betty and two young girls 3 years later. He paid $250 for 19-year-old James in 1814, expecting him to be a slave for life. Bryan Johnson paid his father $150 in 1802 for "a certain Negro wench named Hester about the age of 21 years, and also a Negro wench child of about the age of 4 years--daughter of aforesaid Hester named Jude." Vivienne L. Kruger, 1985, Born to Run: The Slave Family in Early New York, 1626 to 1827. 2v. Columbia University dissertation, Ann Arbor, University Microfilms, NY State Library.
(22) Gerald Sorin, 1972, Abolitionism: A New Perspective. New York: Praeger; p. 33. See also Michael Groth,, 1997, "Slaveholders and Manumission in Dutchess County, New York." New York History, January, 33-50; Emerson Klees, 1997, Underground Railroad Tales: With Routes Through the Finger Lakes Region. Rochester, NY: Friends of the Finger Lakes Pub.; Edgar McManus, 1973, Black Bondage in the North. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press; Carl Nordstrom, 1980, "The New York Slave Code." Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, #4; Vivienne L. Kruger, 1985, Born to Run: The Slave Family in Early New York, 1626 to 1827. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms; New York State Library.
(23) United States Census, 1790-1830.
(24) Michael Groth, 1997, "Slaveholders and Manumission in Dutchess County, New York." New York History, January. 33-50, p. 45. Moreover the legislature outlawed the importation into the state of African Americans to be sold as slaves, under penalty of fine of 100 pounds and freedom for the slave. It also permitted slaves in capital cases to be tried by jury. In 1788 New York completely outlawed slave trade. If a master sold a slave who had been brought into state for his own use, the sale meant freedom for slave. Owners were permitted to manumit slaves without posting bond if the slave was under 50 years of age and not likely to become a public charge. Those who subsequently became a public charge were to remain free and any expense incurred by the county for their support would be charged to the testator's estate. New York now gave the right of jury trial of slaves facing the death penalty.
(25) Carl Nordstrom, 1980, "The New York Slave Code." Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, #4, p.20. Eventually New York State from 1803 to 1806 spent 5%, 6.1%, 5.6%, and 3.5% of the state budget on abandoned black child support. Kruger, p. 849.
(26) By 1817 a series of laws had further protected the rights of slaves in New York. In 1801 no one was allowed to leave the state with slaves purchased less than one year previously. In 1805 New York denied the use of jails to detain alleged fugitives. In 1809 the state recognized slave marriages, legitimized children of slaves, and prohibited separation of spouses. It recognized rights of slaves to own and transfer property by will. In 1813 the law barring Negroes from giving testimony against whites was repealed. Slaves accused of crimes were given the right to jury trial.
(27) "The act of 1817 was supposed to put an end to slavery in New York. It specified that every 'negro, mulatto, or mustee' born before 1799 was to be free as of July 4, 1827. Yet, even it did not achieve universal freedom. Children born after that date could continue in indenture as servants until they were of age. Also nagging questions concerning fugitives from other states and slaveholding by persons traveling through the state continued to be raised. Finally, in 1841, the legislature passed a bill extinguishing all privileges of slave owners and all ownership of slaves within the state. That was as far as the state as a state in the United States could go." Nordstrom, p. 20.
(28) Taken from Vivienne L. Kruger, 1985, Born to Run: The Slave Family in Early New York, 1626 to 1827, p. 741.
(29) Kruger, p. 744.
(30) United States Census, 1810.
(31) Most of this biographical information is from Samuel W. Durant, 1878, History of Oneida County. New York. Philadelphia: Everts and Fariss.
(32) Samuel W. Durant, 1878, History of Oneida County, New York, p. 182.
(33) Durant, p. 234.
(34) Charles L. Todd and Robert Sorkin, 1977, Alexander Bryan Johnson: Philosophical Banker. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, p. 26.
(35) Durant, p. 205.
(36) The New Century Club, 1900, Outline History of Utica and Vicinity. Utica, New York: L.C. Childs, p. 71.
(37) Utica Patriot, December 2, 1805, #151, p. 4.
(38) Utica Patriot, February 10, 1807 #207, p. 1; also April 14, 1807, #216, p. 4.
(39) Utica Patriot, December 19, 1809, #356, p. 6.
(40) Utica Patriot, Tuesday, September 27, 1814, Vol XII, #665, p.1. This announcement appeared at least 8 times between July 5-Nov 12, 1814 in the Utica Patriot.
(41) Jessie Thorpe, 1994, An Introductory History of African Americans in Rome, New York. Rome, New York: Afro-American Heritage Association, p.4
(42) Pomeroy Jones, 1851, Annals and Recollections of Oneida County. Rome, New York: published by author, pp. 711-12
(43) William Floyd's Probated Will, 1831, Oneida County Probate Office.
(44) Alexander Coventry, 1978, Memoirs of an Emigrant: The Journal of Alexander Coventry, M.D.: In Scotland, The United States, and Canada during the period 1783-1831. Albany, NY: Albany Institute of History and Art and the New York State Library, p. 195.
(45) Samuel W. Durant, 1878, History of Oneida County, New York, p. 249.
(46) Coventry, p. 195.
(47) Coventry, p. 211.
(49) Coventry, pp. 456, 457, 476, 485, 500, 513, 532, 710.
(50) "We know very little about the development and nature of interpersonal relations between slave and master in the Hudson Valley slave society. Where the number of Africans held as slaves by a particular household was small, close functional relationships could develop. The typical slaveholder who owned a small farm, was usually involved in the overall operation of his self-contained farm on the frontier. He worked right alongside his slaves. The smallness of the setting tended to enhance the possibility of functional closeness between the slave and master." A. J. Williams-Myers, 1988, "The African Presence in the Hudson River Valley: the Defining of Relationships Between the Masters and the Slaves." Afro-Americans in New York Life & History, vol. 12, #1, p. 85.
(51) Alexander Coventry, 1978, Memoirs of an Emigrant: The Journal of Alexander Coventry, M.D.: In Scotland, The United States, and Canada during the period 1783-1831. Albany, NY: Albany Institute of History and Art and the New York State Library,, p. 670.
(52) Coventry, p. 710.
(53) Coventry, p. 744.
(54) Coventry, p. 745.
(55) Coventry, pp. 1218, 1219, 1219.
(56) Coventry, p. 1499.
(57) Laura Day Cookinham, 1997, The Romantic History of Old New Hartford. New Hartford, NY: New Hartford Historical Society, p.8.
(58) "... the heritage left in 18th century New York from the original English reaction to the Negro's lack of Christianity was a deep-seated feeling that the difference between the white man and the Negro was, in effect, insurmountable.... The English thought of them as beastlike.... The Negro was obviously a human being, but a savage, lewd, uncivilized, black creature.... It was this sense of difference, this ingrained feeling that somehow blacks were animal-like and not fully human that was inherited by provincial New Yorkers of the colonial period. Here, indeed, we must be impressed by the weight of past experience upon the present." David Kobrin, 1971, The Black Minority in Early New York. Albany. State Education Dept, Office of State History, p. 23
(59) "Although their status was that of free people, their actual condition more closely resembled that of half citizens. By 1830 male persons of color in New York State had to meet more stringent requirements for voting than did their white counterparts, who enjoyed virtually universal suffrage. The Constitutional Convention of 1821 required that Negro voters meet a property qualification of $250. The property qualification for white male voters was abolished." Ralph Watkins, 1991, "A survey of the African American presence in the history of the Downstate New York area." Afro-Americans in New York life and History, vol 15 #1 Jan 91, p. 62.
(60) Charles L. Todd and Robert Sorkin, 1977, Alexander Bryan Johnson: Philosophical Banker. Syracuse,. New York; Syracuse University Press, p. 46-7
(61) Todd, p. 64-65.
(62) Todd, pp. 215, 222.
(63) Pomeroy Jones, 1851, Annals and Recollections of Oneida County. Rome, New York: published by author,, pp. 710-711.
(64) William Floyd. No source or date indicated, Rome, New York, Historical Society, Vertical "People File."
(65) John Walsh, 1982, Vignettes of Old Utica; Utica, New York: Utica Public Library, p. 119.
(66) No author, 1902: "The Floyd Estate at Westernville: How it is being preserved by Mrs. Sicard: Sketch of Floyd Family-how the general came into its ownership and how it has descended-the slaves and the climate-the hunting." Boonville Herald, Dec. 11, p. 1.
(67) Coventry, p. 115.
(68) Coventry, p. 156.
(69) Coventry, p. 473.
(70) Boonville Herald, p. 1.
(71) The Utica Club, Monday, June 12, 1815, Vol. I, #16, p. 4.
(72) Utica Patriot, Tuesday, August 22, 1815, Vol. XII, #652, p.4.
(73) Contributor unknown, 1995, OCertificate of Freedom, 1821.O Tree Talks, Vol. 35, #3, September. The original cannot be found.
(74) United States Census, 1790-1860.
(75) The growing literature on upstate New York's African Americans includes at least 2 persistent themes: their numbers were always very small and declined during the 19th century, and they were usually poor. See Myra Armstead, 1988, "An Historical Profile of Black Saratoga, 1800-1925," in Cara Sutherland, 1988, A Heritage Uncovered: The Black Experience in Upstate New York, 1800-1925. Elmira, NY: Chemung County Historical Society; Barbara Davis, 1980, A History of the Black Community of Syracuse. Syracuse, NY; Onondaga Community College; Ena L. Farley, 1989, "The African American Presence in The History of Western New York." in Fordham, The African American Presence in New York State History: Four Regional Surveys, Kathryn Grover, 1991, Make a Way Somehow: African-Americans in Geneva, New York, 1790-1965. Geneva; Geneva Historical Society; Field Horne, 1989; "Ithaca's Black Community," in Sutherland, A Heritage Uncovered; Marjory Allen Perez, 1990, "African-American Pioneers of Wayne County, NY," paper presented at symposium, "A Heritage Uncovered: The Black Experience in Upstate New York," Elmira, NY, Nov 2-3, 1990; Rhode Island Black Heritage Society, no date, Creative Survival: The Providence Black Community in the 19th Century; Gretchen Sorin, 1988, "The Black Community in Elmira," in Sutherland, A Heritage Uncovered; John H. Frolich, 1960, "A History of Negroes in Geneva, New York: 1790-1860," Geneva Historical Society: Geneva, NY.
(76) David Ellis, 1982, The Upper Mohawk Country: An Illustrated History of Greater Utica. California; Windsor Publications Inc., p. 36. He is speaking particularly of the period 1817-1840.
(77) Vivienne L. Kruger, 1985, Born to Run: The Slave Family in Early New York, 1626 to 1827. 2v. Columbia University dissertation, Ann Arbor, University Microfilms, NY State Library, p. 908.
(78) In 1850 there were 15 black male and female farmers, not including farm laborers.
1860 = 12
1870 = 17
1880 = 13
1900 = 9
1910 = 12 (2 were females)
1920 = 5 (1 was female)
In addition, 29 Black Oneidans received land from Gerrit Smith during the 1840s, but nearly all of the land was in Jefferson County.
(79) "Despite the abolition of slavery in New York State, blacks still faced many obstacles in the practical attainment of the rights and privileges that legal freedom entailed. In social, political, and economic matters, their lives were circumscribed by prejudice and discrimination. Very few had the economic means to be landowners in Central New York. A newly freed slave might very well remain on the farm of his or her former master to work for wages. Black landowners were few in number." Milton C. Sernett, 1989, "On Freedom's Threshold: the African American Presence in Central New York, 1760-1940," in Monroe Fordham, ed, The African American Presence in New York State History: Four Regional History Surveys, p. 52.
(80) Alexis de Tocqueville, 1945 (1840), Democracy in America. New York: Alfred Knopf; p. 365.
(81) Vivienne L. Kruger, 1985, Born to Run: The Slave Family in Early New York, 1626 to 1827. 2v. Columbia University dissertation, Ann Arbor, University Microfilms, NY State Library, p. 891.
(82) United States Census Manuscripts, 1850-1920.
(83) Mary Ryan, 1981, Cradle of the Middle Class: The Family in Oneida County, New York, 1790-1865. New York: Cambridge, p. 253.
(84) Moses M. Bagg, 1877, The Pioneers of Utica, New York: Curliss and Childs, p. 414.
(85) Utica Village Directory, 1829.
(86) Utica Village Directory, 1828.
(87) Rev. J. W. Loguen, 1859 (1968), The Rev. J. W. Loguen, As a Slave and as a Freeman: A Narrative of Real Life. New York: Negro Universities Press.
(88) No author, 1887, "The Utica of Yesterday," Utica Daily Observer, 1887.
(89) United States Census Manuscripts, 1850 and 1920.
(90) Williams-Myers, 1989, p. 30.
(91) Elimus S. Rogers Whitesboro, Business Committee
John M. Brickens Whitesboro
Benjamin Anderson Utica
George C. Brown Utica
Jermanus Loguen Utica
Joseph C. Pankes Utica
State Convention of Colored Citizens of New York, Albany, July 18-20, 1840. (New York State Historical Society EMF 433).
(92) At the 1843 National Convention of Colored People in Buffalo he submitted a Report of the Committee Upon the Mechanical Arts.
(93) "... When two Negro men were claimed as fugitive slaves in Utica in December, 1836, several members of the Executive Committee of the (New York State Antislavery Society) immediately took an active part. Spencer Kellogg, the society's treasurer, heard that two colored men had been taken to Judge Hayden by the constable in Utica. He went to court to investigate and found that two Virginians were testifying that the Negroes were fugitive slaves. No attempt had been made to provide counsel for the Negroes, and the Judge was trying to take care of the matter quickly and quietly, in order to keep the public from getting 'stirred up.' Kellogg sent for Alvan Stewart, who protested that the Negroes were not under legal arrest and were being treated without due legal process. A trial was consequently set for the following day and the colored men put in a court house room, guarded by the two slave-catchers who were hoping to earn a $1200 reward for returning these men to the South. Stewart did not get a chance to defend the men, because that evening a large group of colored people broke down the doors of the room where the men were being held and released them." Alice H. Henderson, 1973, History of the New York State Anti-Slavery Society. Ph.D. Dissertation, Ann Arbor, Mich.; University of Michigan. Jermain Loguen also described this event, although he claims that it occurred in 1840. While the "Jerry Rescue" in nearby Syracuse in 1851 has received considerable acclaim, for some reason very little is known about this event, although evidence indicates that it happened.
(94) Donald Wisnoski (ed) Corporal W.H. Labiel, U.S. Colored Troops. Utica, NY: Oneida County Historical Society.
(95) For instance, Steven Ruggles argues that the large number of female-headed black families is a direct consequence of cultural preferences shaped by slavery. Ruggles, 1994, "The Origins of African American Family Structure." American Sociological Review, vol. 59 (February), pp. 136-151.
(96) Henry C. Rogers, 1881, History of the Town of Paris, and the valley of the Sauquoit: pioneers and early settlers ... anecdotes and reminiscences, to which is added an account of the ceremonies attending the re-internment of Col. Isaac Paris. Utica, NY: White & Floyd.
(97) Rogers, 1881.
Jan DeAmicis (1)
(1) Jan DeAmicis, Ph.D., is Professor of Sociology at Utica College, Syracuse, NY.
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