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The Underground Railroad in the Hudson River Valley: a succinct historical composite.


In the antebellum period one of the most formidable challenges posed to the nation and the nefarious business in human chattel it protected under the guise of "private property," was that of abolitionism. It was a movement for the immediate and total dismantling of the institution of slavery. The challenge was made even more formidable because of the movement's involvement in the clandestine operations of one of slavery's effective nemesis, the Underground Railway. The operations were of the kind in which many participated but few took the time to fathom the meaning behind such operations beyond that of freedom. What, therefore, was the Underground Railroad?

On the one hand the Underground Railroad was really a moral challenge posed to a nation that defended an immoral institution. On the other hand, and in the words of one writer, the Underground Railroad was "not a route, but a net-work; not an organization, but a conspiracy of thousands of people banded together for the deliberate purpose of depriving their southern neighbors of their property [in defiance of the law]." (2) It was "like a ferment beneath the surface of southern society," (3) and was at the core of the country's moral dilemma. So much so that as a formidable force it challenged an ignominious fugitive slave law, and eventually "brought on the Civil War" and the destruction of slavery. (4)

Who were those "thousands of people banded together" in a "conspiracy" against slavery? Adjacent to the Hudson River and its environs many of the morally committed were undoubtedly coconspirators in the secretive operations of the Underground Railroad. Unfortunately, because of some glitch in the historical methodology, our view of those "thousands of people" is as "through a glass darkly." The "legend" of the Underground Railroad that has come down to us has been more about "the bravery and daring of [the slave's] white abettors" than the enslaved. (5) In paraphrasing Larry Gara, the author of the book, The Liberty Line The legend of the Underground Railroad, one is left wondering if without those "white abettors" would many escaped slaves have successfully made their way to Canada and other points north? (6) For example, it is recorded that some fugitives were not even aware of a committed group referred to as abolitionists. "In 1841 Joseph Struge, a British abolitionist traveler, met a fugitive couple on a boat going from New York to Albany. They had escaped by railway and steamboat, carrying forged passes. Sturge learned that they had never head of the vigilance committees that existed "to facilitate the escape of runaway slaves." (7)

More contemporary, revisionist writers have cleared up "through a glass darkly" by, for one, dissipating the shroud of mist that obscured our view of the participatory role of free northern Blacks in the rescue of fugitive slaves. The writings of the revisionist historian Benjamin Quarles, in particular his seminal study Black Abolitionists, contributes to a sharpening of that participatory role; a role that formerly was relegated to the margins of history. (8) In the words of C. Vann Woodward these black abolitionists "[were] crowded off-stage by the [white] abolitionists." (9) And with respect to the legend of the Underground as a melodrama, and the usurpation of the center-stage position, Woodward wrote:
 One very human thing the authors of the melodrama did was to
 seize the spotlight. They elected themselves the heroes. It was
 not that the abolitionists attempted to stage Othello without the
 princely Moor, but they did relegate the Moor to a subordinate
 role. The role assigned him was largely passive-that of the
 trembling, helpless fugitive completely dependent on his noble
 benefactors. The abolitionist was clearly the hero, and as Gerrit
 Smith, one of them, put it, the thing was bought off by the
 'Abolitionists and the Abolitionists only.' (10)

Until the advent of the revisionists, "through a glass darkly" as well marred the reality of the North to which the fugitive fled. By 1840 most northern Blacks (93%) lived in states that excluded them from the election polls, and proscribed their right to be jurors, hold real estate, make contracts or bring lawsuits, or even become a citizen of four Western states. New York in 1869, just before the enactment of the 15th Amendment, "voted against equal suffrage rights" for African Americans. (11) Anti-black riots were common occurrences in many northern cities. Here the writings of C. Vann Woodward help us fathom the imagery beyond the glass. As Woodward stated: "White supremacy was a national, not a regional credo, and politicians of the Democratic, the Whig and the Republican parties openly and repeatedly expressed allegiance to the doctrine. To do otherwise was to risk political suicide." (12)

Whether we refer to this historically phenomenal rise of abolitionism and that of the Underground Railroad as a legend, melodrama, myth or whatever, and in spite of the fact that the haven to which the enslaved fled "was a Jim Crow haven," (13) the reality of it all is that the Underground Railroad was at the core of an American moral dilemma. And around it rallied a rainbow of coconspirators.


To put the history of the Underground Railroad into perspective for the Hudson River Valley, and that of the larger historical picture--New York State--one has first, succinctly, to consider the socioeconomic and political conditions of African Americans in the region and around the state. With such an approach, our understanding of how Black New Yorkers and their white allies reacted to and became involved with the clandestine operations of the Underground becomes much clearer.

In the decades prior to the American Civil War, the African American in the State of New York was confronted with what appeared to be insurmountable obstacles to his/her total freedom and humanity. The nineteenth century began in New York with slavery still intact, but African children born of slave mothers were free as a result of the Gradual Emancipation Act of 1799, yet labor-bound to their owners: females until the age of 25, males until the age of 28. (14) It was not until July 4, 1827, ten years after Governor Thompson had directed the State Legislature in 1817 to outlaw the nefarious institution, that all Blacks in the state could lay claim to freedom. (15) But it was a freedom characterized by the removal of chains and the donning of restraining ropes. Economically, Blacks in New York were marginalized as hordes of European immigrants successfully displaced African Americans from many of the skilled, semi-skilled, and even menial jobs they previously held. (16) White America stood by while its fraternal twin, Black America, was economically and socially ravaged by white foreigners. As argued elsewhere, it was as if "the newcomers from Europe had to be provided for even if it was to be at the expense of the indigenous colored American." (17)

Politically, a free Black male in New York felt the restraint of the "ropes of freedom" when he attempted to exercise the right to vote. As a result of the Constitutional Convention of 1821, Blacks were required to hold property valued at $250, and to be a resident in the state for at least three years before they could exercise the vote. This was not required of white male voters. (18) It was not until 1870, with the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution, that Black males in New York (and in other states) gained equal access to the franchise.

In addition to their socioeconomic and political marginalization in the State of New York, African Americans, like their brethren in other northern states, were, as free persons of color, confronted by the ramifications of the 1793 fugitive slave law, and even more so by its notorious cousin the 1850 fugitive slave act, which directed local, legal coercive bodies to apprehend suspected fugitives and return them to their owners. (19) While many African Americans had to constantly prove their free status to avoid mistaken identity, others fled their homes in New York State to avoid kidnappers. (20) Antebellum New York, therefore, in spite of a "dying" legacy of slavery, was a state molded by white racism, out of which developed two distinct communities: one white, developed and affluent, the other Black, separate, unequal, and underdeveloped.

The socioeconomic and political blight of African Americans did not deter them from formulating strategies to push the state in the direction of a true democracy. The antebellum period, and even earlier, saw the rise of stout-hearted, dedicated leaders who challenged white New York on every front. The Slave Rebellion of 1712 in lower Manhattan, and two conspiracies of 1741 in New York City and the one of 1775 in Kingston, New York were attempts at destroying slavery. (21) The National Conventions of Colored Citizens of the 1830s and 1840s, in which the issues of education, politics, abolition and colonization were discussed in terms of appropriate strategies to pursue, were vehicles for mass participation in challenging the state and nation to bring creed in line with practice. (22)

The involvement of Black New Yorkers in the larger issue of abolition was really an extension of their fight against New York slavery and its legacy of racism. African Americans felt shackled to that legacy as long as their brethren in the South remained in a state of enslavement. In line with this, in 1841 Black leaders were influential in persuading the State Legislature to pass a law against Southern slave holders bringing their slaves into the state for a period of nine months. (23) The New York African community took this southern privilege as an affront, and it put the state in the position of appearing to support Southern slavery.

Four African Americans prominent in the Abolition Movement and the clandestine operations of the Underground Railroad, started such dedicated work in the Hudson River Valley. Those four were Stephen Myers, born an enslaved person in the valley, David Ruggles, who attended the Colored Conventions in the 1830s as a Poughkeepsie representative and later headed the New York Vigilance Committee, Samuel Ringgold Ward, and Henry Highland Garnet. Ward was a founding member of the Poughkeepsie Anti-slavery Society, and Garnet, a fugitive from southern slavery with his family as a youngster, and a minister, led the Liberty Street Presbyterian Church in Troy, New York, before moving on to pastor the First Colored Presbyterian Church of New York City. (24)


The Hudson River Valley was an integral part of the Underground. The valley was a natural artery for the clandestine movement of fugitives north to Canada or adjacent areas for settlement far from pursuing slave-catchers. Many homes, barns, outhouses, and caves were used to secret fugitives from southern slavery. Today, the history of this movement in the valley awaits the would-be historian. Presently, there is a piecemeal approach to such a reconstruction, in most cases being done by home owners (like the individual who approached me about his 18th century home near Goshen, New York) or underground enthusiasts who lack the proper training. But what is available--coupled with larger studies, such as Wilbert H. Siebert's The Underground Railroad From Slavery to Freedom and Charles Blockson's, The Underground Railroad--is sufficient for now to create a composite of what the operations of the system were like in the valley. (25)

According to Siebert, Albany and Troy, New York stand out as two important hubs on the Underground that received and dispatched fugitives farther north toward Canada. The Albany station was on the direct route from Washington, D. C., the southern terminus of the underground railroad. At Albany, the underground radiated east into New England, north into Canada, and west towards Utica and beyond. North of Albany at Troy, where many of the enslaved took refuge after their trek along the Hudson River, there were African American conductors such as Henry Highland Garnet and Martin I. Townsend. At Troy, and no doubt at the Liberty Street Presbyterian Church of Garnet, fugitives were "supplied with money and forwarded either to Suspension Bridge, on the Niagara River, or by way of Vermont and Lake Champlain to Rouse Point" on the Canadian border in Clinton County. (26) "Tattered and anxious visitors from the South knew that they could receive aid in the Reverend Henry Highland Garnet's Presbyterian Church at Troy, for Garnet was one of the most prominent black activists on the Underground." (27)

In the western part of the Hudson-Mohawk region, the Underground Railroad system was fed by a spur radiating out from Petersboro (home of Garrit Smith) in Central New York, running through Oswego to Cape Vincent in Jefferson County at the mouth of the St. Lawrence. From Cape Vincent fugitives were then ferried across to Canada, and with many, no doubt, settling in adjacent towns like Watertown and Ogdenburg in Jefferson and Saint Lawrence counties, respectively. (28) Because of Stephen Myers, and others like John G. Steward, William H. Topp, and William H. Matthews, many additional fugitives out of Albany and Troy were settled in the vicinity of the North Elba home of John Brown (the abolitionist of Harpers Ferry fame), and in Essex County on land owned by Garrit Smith. (29)

Stephen Myers was an indefatigable, dedicated worker on the Underground Railroad. Born 1800 in Rensselaer County, Myers was labor-bound to the family of Dr. Eights. A prominent representative from Albany to four of the National Conventions of Colored Citizens (Troy 1847, Rochester 1835, Philadelphia 1855, Syracuse 1864), Stephen Myers was also a member of the Antislavery Society. Working with an individual in Albany referred to as its "General Superintendent," Stephen held the post of conductor on the underground railroad. (30) It was his leadership, and the assistance of William H. Topp, a leading black merchant tailor of Albany, that enabled many fugitives from the South to make it safely across the Canadian border to freedom.

In addition to his efforts on behalf of the underground railroad, Stephen Myers, as indicated above, was an indefatigable lobbyist for the New York Anti-Slavery Society as well as by 1856 the publisher of "[three] short-lived abolitionist sheets: The Elevator (ca. 1842), The Telegraph" (ca. 1852), and the underground railroad tract, Circular to the Friends of Freedom, established some years before the first two. (31) In a letter of March 22, 1856, written from Albany, New York to the head of the New York Office of the Anti-Slavery Society, Gerrit Smith, Myers describes his efforts as a lobbyist with the State Legislature on behalf of the society:
 Sir I have been striving hard this winter with the members
 of the Senate and Assembly to recommend an amendent [sic] to the
 constitution of this state so as to strike off the property
 qualifications and lets us vote on the same footing as the white
 mail [sic] citizens. So as to have it once more handed down to
 the people [voters for approval] I have got Senitor [sic] Cuyler
 some weeks ago to get up a resolution in the Senate [sic] which
 is now under discusin [sic] and will come up again Monday or
 Tuesday. I shall have one up in the assembly in a few days
 [which] I have received from colored men from different sections
 of the state which I have presented ... I have also devoted my
 time to defeat the collensisation [sic] bill to appropriate five
 thousand dollars to the collenisation [sic] Society
 I have gotten about sixty members pledged to go against it
 in a final vote, it [is] now under discussion. When it comes up
 again they will iether [sic] vote it down or strike out the
 enacting clause which will eventually kill the bill ... I have
 since Mr. smith was in our city six fugitives from Maryland. (32)

What is clearly evident in the letter is that Myers, as an African American leader, appeared to have been aggressively persuasive in getting members of the legislature, if not to vote in favor of a certain piece of legislation, at least to consider the views he represented. As to his Underground Railroad activities: "In Albany the home of Stephen Myers was an overnight sanctuary for black drop-ins on the last leg of their northward journey." (33)

Much of the activity associated with the Underground Railroad continued in spite of severe penalties for aiding, comforting, and interfering in the apprehension of enslaved fugitives as set forth in the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law. That law and its equally pernicious counterpart, the Dred Scott Decision of 1857, completely undermined the tenuous existence of all free African Americans around the state, sending many communities fleeing into Canada for refuge because of endlessly having to prove one's status to bounty hunters. (34) But many people remained and stood their ground in defiance of the fugitive law, brazenly attempting to foil the recapture of the enslaved, and through daring rescue attempts and slave purchases, succeeded in securing the freedom of fugitive slaves. For the Orthodox Quakers in the Mid-Hudson County of Dutchess, such a brazen stand was evident in the 1830s when they opened an underground station at their Nine Partners Boarding School in south Millbrook. (35) Another brazen stand was that of David Irish, whose house on Quaker Hill, also in Dutchess County, became an integral part of the clandestine operations of the Underground Railroad, receiving "slaves coming from Jacob Willett's station in south Millbrook." (36)

The stout-hearted, aggressively brave African American leaders and their white allies (especially Quakers) in the Hudson-Mohawk region attempted and even succeeded in the rescue of fugitive slaves from the hands of Federal Marshals and in the eventual purchase of freedom for fugitives. Two such known cases took place at Troy and Poughkeepsie. The one at Troy was a daringly successful attempt at the rescue of Charles Nalle, reputedly an escaped slave from Culpeper County, Virginia. On April 27, 1860, and after about two years of working as a teamster in the town of Sandlake and for Uri Gilbert in the City of Troy as a Coachman, Nalle was apprehended by a Federal Marshall. While he was being prepared for transport out of Troy, a large crowd broke into the jail and whisked him across the Hudson River to West Troy. He was recaptured but shortly afterwards was successfully retaken from his captors and placed in a wagon driven out of town on Shaker Road by Hank York and another Black man known as Parker. (37) Although more than a hundred African Americans participated in the rescue, The Troy Daily Times featured a "somewhat antiquated colored woman," posted to alert the rescuers. When the time came to signal the rescue, as "the most conspicuous person opposed to legal course" she was heard to have shouted "give us liberty or give us death!" and, by "vehement gesticulation urged the rescuers on." (38) Eventually Charles Nalle returned to Troy as a freed man after benefactors in the city raised the sum of $1000 as the cost of his freedom.

John Bolding, the second case, had escaped from South Carolina to Poughkeepsie in 1846 where he had married and started a small tailor shop until identified and arrested in 1860. Bolding was returned to the South but his freedom was eventually bought for $1700 by the Dutchess County Anti-Slavery Society and other leading citizens. (39)

In Kinderhook, Columbia County an alleged escaped slave from Baltimore, Maryland was identified while in the employ of General Whiting. In May 1830 the fugitive was taken before Judge Vandepoel where a writ of ownership and extradition was issued to permit his owner, Richard Dorsey, to return him to Baltimore. (40) Not even the most insignificant, out-of-the way place could completely shield the enslaved who hoped for freedom.

Even free Blacks were not safe from the consequences of the law; indiscriminant bounty hunters made fast bucks selling freemen to slave holders in the South. One who got caught in this web was Solomon Northrup of Saratoga Springs. In 1841 he was convinced that the two men who encouraged him to join their troupe as a short-term musician were legitimate. Instead, he was sold into slavery in Louisiana for twelve years until rescued by New York authorities. (41)


I would like to conclude this succinct, composite look at the Underground Railroad in the Hudson River Valley with a few remarks on the antebellum fugitive, James F. Brown, as well as through such a conclusion demonstrate the potential richness of the source material.

In Fishkill Landing (now Beacon, New York), a fugitive slave from Baltimore, James Brown, was successful in avoiding the long arm of the law. Befriended by the Gulian Verplanck family, Brown began working for them in the early 1820s and eventually had his freedom purchased by them. Some years later, and with his own savings, Brown purchased the freedom of his wife, Julia. An experienced gardener, Brown is credited with the elaborate gardens surrounding the Verplanck house and the bountiful fields fronting the property on the east bank of the Hudson River. He also was one of the first African Americans in Fishkill Landing to qualify for the vote in 1837. (42) The years spent with the Verplancks and in and around Fishkill Landing are chronicled in Brown's diary kept between the 1820s and the year 1866.

The diary is a chronicle of James Brown's life on the Mid-Hudson River, and it is interesting in terms of entries that hint at slavery, abolition and the underground. For example, in one entry where it is indicated that after he married Julia Chase in Baltimore, he then purchased her

freedom: "[I] bought my whife's [sic] time for 100 dollars the 21st of September 1826." (43) On the 14th and 17th of November 1826, respectively, he received the bill of sale for his wife from her owner and later "recorded [it] among the Records of Baltimore County Court ..." (44) His diary gives the date of 10 August 1827 that "he arrived in New York accompanied by [his] wife Julia ..." (45) In terms of the underground connection, since Brown did start out as a fugitive, an entry in his diary reads: "... On the 10th of August I arived [sic] in New York accompanied by my wife Julia and I went to Boston the 14th in the schooner Advance." (46) Brown does not indicate why the trip was made, but within the realm of speculation, what comes to mind is the Massachusetts General Colored Association and its prominent, militant abolitionist, David Walker. (47)

The abolition connection is enhanced when Brown wrote in the diary on August 5, 1836 that the Black abolitionist "David Ruggles came up from N. York to see me." (48) Ruggles, initially from Poughkeepsie at the time, was head of the New York Committee of Vigilance that assisted fugitives and the enslaved brought to New York City on southern ships docked in the harbor. (49) Was Ruggles following up on a successful fugitive or was there more to it? Was James Brown a conductor on the Underground Railroad? Why did he take that trip to Boston? (50)

Two additional entries that mention slavery was one of April 15, 1837 and that of August 2, 1842. The 1837 was about a New Yorker who allegedly assisted a fugitive slave, and read: "Sunday 15 ... Trying William Dixon in New York for some person takening [sic] up as a runaway slave." (51) The 1842 entry simply read: "... A coloured man lectured this evening at Five Corners [Dutchess County] about slavery." (52) The lecturer could have been Samuel Ringgold Ward, who, as mentioned above, lived in Poughkeepsie and was a founding member of the Poughkeepsie Anti-Slavery Society. (53)

There is an entry for August 18, 1857 in which it was recorded that Brown had written "to [the Superintendent] of the Couloured Orphan Asylum [in New York City]." (54) Was the Asylum harboring fugitive slave children? The year he wrote was exactly six years before the "Draft Riots of 1863" destroyed the asylum by fire. (55)

James F. Brown's diary hints at slavery, abolition and the underground Railroad. Toward the end it further hints at those topics with three additional entries, all on the John Brown's 1859 Harpers Ferry incident. In his eyes John Brown was "the Hero." The three entries beginning in October 1859 read: "... We have news of Harpers Ferry of a great insurrection at that place ... the weather fine, John Brown The Hero at Harpers Ferry insurrection was executed this day [Dec. 2] at Charlestown, Virginia ... [and finally] ... The prisoners was [sic] hung today [Dec. 16] at Charlestown, Virginia." (56) These were presumably John Brown's accomplices.

This succinct composite of the Underground Railroad and its operatives, carries with it a meaning that is the essence of the life of John F. Brown. It is a human drama about the rewards of vision, dedication, perseverance with patience, and resoluteness with aggressiveness to liberate the mind, body and soul from the tentacles of American slavery and racism. And, as articulated so well by the authors of Hidden in Plain View, "By virtue of its covert nature, the Underground Railroad is also the story of codes and secrets involving cunning systems of visual and oral communication, known only to those involved and reflecting the indomitable spirit of a people's resistance to slavery and desire to be free." (57)


(2) Albert Bushell Hart quoted in Larry Gara, The Liberty Line The Legend of the Underground Railroad (University of Kentucky Press: Lexington, 1961): 9.

(3) Ibid., 9.

(4) Ibid., 3.

(5) Ibid., 2.

(6) Ibid.

(7) Ibid., 43.

(8) Benjamin Quarles, Black Abolitionists (Oxford University Press: New York, 1969).

(9) C. Van Woodward, "The Antislavery Myth," The Future of the Past (Oxford, 1989), 267.

(10) Ibid., 266-267.

(11) Ibid., 270. Cf. Leon Litwack, North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free States, 1790-1860 (University of Chicago: Chicago, 1961)..

(12) Woodward, 269.

(13) Ibid., 271.

(14) Cited in "Celebration of the Abolition of Slavery," in Albany Argus & City Gazette, July 6, 1827, 2/3.

(15) Leo H. Hirch, Jr., "New York and The Negro, From 1783 to 1865," Journal of Negro History, XVI, 1 (January, 1931), 395-396. This late date had a great deal to do with the legislative tactics--endorsing gradual emancipation--of a faction in the New York Assembly characterized by Arthur Zilversmit as representing "the most adamantly pro-slavery counties in the state, the Dutch counties along the Hudson River." Arthur Zilversmit, review of Edgar J. McManus, A History of Negro Slavery in New York (Syracuse, 1966), New York History, 47 (1967), 103.

(16) Cf. Daniel J. Walkowitz, Worker City, Company Town: Iron and Cotton-Worker Protest in Troy and Cahoes, 1855-84 (University of Illinois Press: Chicago, 1978), 33.

(17) Herman D. Bloch, The Circle of Discrimination: An Economic and Social Study of the Black Man in New York (New York University Press: N. Y., 1969), 37.

(18) Cf. A. J. Williams-Myers. "African American Presence in the Hudson-Mohawk Region," in Monroe Fordham, ed., The African American Presence in New York State History Four Regional Surveys (The New York African American Institute: Albany, New York, 1989), 29; Dixon Ryan Fox, "The Negro Vote in Old New York," Political Science Quarterly, XXXII, 2 (1917), 253-256; Herman D. Bloch, "The New York Negro's Battle for Political Rights, 1777-1865," International Review of Social History, IX (1964), 66-67.

(19) "The Fugitive Slave Bill of 1850," Sections 4, 6, 10. William Still, The Underground Rail Road (Porter & Coates: Philadelphia, 1872): 343-348.

(20) Donald G. Nieman, Promises to Keep African Americans and the Constitutional Order, 1776 to the Present (Oxford University Press: New York, 1991), 28, 30. According to Nieman the 1850 law replaced the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act, and through creation of "a formidable enforcement apparatus ... authorized appointment of hundreds of U.S. commissioners to conduct hearings and to authorize the return of runaways, making it easier for slave owners to recover their human chattels. It also provided that the commissioners would receive a ten-dollar fee if they ruled in favor of masters and only half that amount if they found in favor of an alleged fugitive, giving them an incentive to be especially solicitous of slave owners' interests."

(21) Cf. Kenneth Scott "The Slave Insurrection in New York in 1712," New York Historical Society Quarterly, 45 (January 1964): 43-74; "Negro Plot in Ulster County, 1775," Rivington's N.Y. Gazette, 2 March 1775; Weekly Mercury, 6 March 1775; Ivor Noel Hume, 1775: Another Part of the Field (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966), 109-110; Peter Wood, "Impatient of Oppression," Southern Exposure 7 (November/December 1984): 10-16.

(22) Cf. Howard Holman Bell, ed., Minutes of the Proceedings of the National Negro Conventions 1830-1864 (Arno Press: New York, 1969).

(23) Edgar J. McManus, "Anti-Slavery Legislation in New York," Journal of Negro History 46 (October 1961)): 214-15. Cf., Peter Ripley, ed., The Black Abolitionist Papers Volume III, The United States, 1830-1846 (The University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill and London, 1991); Quarles, op. cit.; Charles L. Blockson, The Underground Rail Road First Person Narratives of Escapes to Freedom in the North (Prentice Hall Press: New York, 1987).

(24) See Williams-Myers, Long Hammering: Essays on the Forging of an African American Presence in the Hudson River Valley to the Early Twentieth Century (Africa World Press, 1994), Chap. 7.

(25) Wilbert H. Siebert, The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom (New York: Russell & Russell, 1967). Cf. Blockson, op. cit.

(26) Ibid., 126-27. Cf. Joel Schor, Henry Highland Garnet: A Voice of Black Radicalism in the Nineteenth Century (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1977): 43. Quarles describes Topp as a Garrisonian, second only to Stephen Myers in the work of the Albany Committee on Vigilance (434 note 5). Siebert lists John H. Hooper as a Black conductor from Rensselaer County (415).

(27) Quoted in Blockson, 246.

(28) Siebert, 127; Leon H. Hirch, Jr., "New York and the Negro, from 1783 to 1865," Journal of Negro History 16 (January 1931): 406-7.

(29) Siebert, 127. Cf. The Black Abolitionist Papers, Volume III. The editor takes note of the Gerrit Smith philanthropic donation of "120,000 acres of his own land to blacks throughout New York State in 1846." The committee that handled the deeding of parcels was composed of James McCune Smith, Charles B. Ray, and Theodore S. Wright. The project failed because of poor soil, harsh climate and black settlers' "inexperience." 479-482. Ulster County is listed as one of the many counties in which Blacks who were deeded land lived.

(30) Siebert, 70, 125-26. Cf. Black Abolitionist Papers, Volume III, note 3, 378-379; "Editorial by Stephen Myers, 10 March 1842," 380-382.

(31) Benjamin Quarles, "Letters from Negro Leaders to Gerrit Smith," Journal of Negro History 27 (October 1942): note 45, 447.

(32) Ibid., 447-48.

(33) Quarles, Black Abolitionists, 149.

(34) Litwack, North of Slavery, 237, 249; see also, 49-50; Schor, Henry Highland Garnet, 151.

(35) Cf. Susan J. Crane, "Antebellum Dutchess County's Struggle Against Slavery," Year Book Dutchess County Historical Society, 65 (1980): 37-38.

(36) Ibid.

(37) Williams-Myers, Long Hammering, 138.

(38) Cf. "A 'Jerry Rescue' in Troy," Troy Daily Times, 28 April 1860; "Fugitive Slave Case at Troy--A Mob Rescue and Re-arrest," Albany Atlas and Argus, 28 April 1860; Samuel May, The Fugitive Slave Law and Its Victims (1861; reprint, Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1970), 134-35; Siebert, 85. The famous "Jerry" McHenry rescue took place in Syracuse, New York on 1 October 1851.

(39) May, 19-20. Cf. Long Hammering, 128. On May 16, 1998 the Black History Project Committee of the Dutchess County Historical Society brought closure to the John A. Bolding story. For the first time a headstone was placed over his grave in the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery, and reads in part: John A. Bolding, 1824-1876.

(40) Edward A. Collier, A History of Old Kinderhook (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1914), 148.

(41) Cf. Myra B. Young Armstead, "An Historical Profile of Black Saratoga, 1800-1925," in A Heritage Uncovered: The Black Experience in Upstate New York, 1800-1925 (Elmira, N.Y.: Chemung County Historical Society, 1988): 28. 34; Sue Eakin and Joseph Logsdon, eds., Twelve Years a Slave (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1977); Theodore Corbett, "Saratoga County Blacks, 1720-1870," Grist Mill 20 (1986), 8.

(42) Diary of James F. Brown, 1827-1866, 10 Volumes, New-York Historical Society, November 8, 1837. Hereafter referred to as Diary.

(43) "Memorandum Book," 3, Diary. There are two such books that make up this part of the Diary. The Diary is ten volumes.

(44) Ibid., 4.

(45) Ibid.

(46) Ibid., 3.

(47) Cf. Black Abolitionist Papers, Volume III, 7.

(48) Diary, August 5, 1836.

(49) Cf. Ralph Watkins, "A Survey of the African American Presence in the History of the Downstate New York Area," in Monroe Fordham, ed., The African American Presence in New York State History Four Regional Surveys, 8. Philip Hone's diary entry for Monday, September 10, 1838, makes mention of a male slave owned by a Southerner who absconded to New York City with $7,000 of his owner's money. He was "harbored by a fellow called [David] Ruggles and others [of] his philanthropic associates, into whose hands the money got by some means." Ruggles and an associate, "Mr Barney Corse of the Society of Friends," were subsequently arrested after the police intervened to revoke an agreement between the slave's owner and Ruggles' associates to have the money returned. The Diary of Philip Hone 1828-1851, Allen Nevins, editor (Dodd, Mead & Company: New York, 1936), 342-43.

(50) David Ruggles was Secretary of the New York Committee of Vigilance from 1835 to 1839. He is credited with personally assisting six thousand fugitives to reach the protection and refuge of the Underground Railroad. His success "made him a target of the New York Kidnapping Club." Black Abolitionist Papers, Volume III, 175-176. Cf. First Annual Report of the New York Committee of Vigilance for the Year 1837 (Piercy & Reed, Printers: New York, 1837).

(51) Diary, April 15, 1837.

(52) Ibid., August 2, 1842.

(53) Cf. Samuel Ringgold Ward, Autobiography of a Fugitive Negro: His Anti-Slavery Labors in the United States, Canada, and England (Arno Press: New York, 1969), 31-50; Poughkeepsie Anti-Slavery Society (Auxiliary to the American Anti-Slavery Society) 1832, which listed Ward as one of the Founders. On deposit at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York.

(54) Diary, August 18, 1857.

(55) Cf. Watkins, op. cit., 8. According to an eyewitness account of the burning of the orphanage: "Towards evening the mob, furious as demons, went yelling over to the colored Orphan Asylum in 5th Avenue a little below where we live-- & rolling a barrel of kerosene in it, the whole structure was soon in a blaze, & is now a smoking ruin. What has become of the 300 poor innocent orphans I could not learn. They must have had some warning of what the rioters intended; & I trust the children were removed in time to escape a cruel death." "An Eyewitness Account of the New York Draft Riots, [from John Torrey to Asa Gray], July, 1863." Edited by A. Hunter Dupree and Leslie H. Fishel, Jr. The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 47 (June, 1960-March, 1961), 467.

(56) Diary, October 20, 1859; December 2, 1859; December 16, 1859

(57) Jacqueline L. Tobin and Raymond G. Doburd, Hidden in Plain View The Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad (Doubleday: New York, 1999): 66.

A.J. Williams-Myers (1)

(1) A.J. Williams-Myers is a member of the Black Studies Department at SUNY College at New Paltz.
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Author:Williams-Myers, A.J.
Publication:Afro-Americans in New York Life and History
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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