A.G. Williams-Myers, Long Hammering: Essays on the Forging of an African American Presence in the Hudson River Valley to the Early Twentieth Century

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A.G. Williams-Myers, Long Hammering: Essays on the Forging of an African American Presence in the Hudson River Valley to the Early Twentieth Century

A. G. Williams-Myers of the Department of Black Studies, State University of New York, College at New Paltz, has been "long hammering" at historical studies of the Hudson River Valley. He is a resourceful historian with the mental energy to go through innumerable documents, some seemingly unconnected, to create, not a patchwork, but a coherent analog of the African American presence. His seminal article on the Pinkster Celebration which appeared in January, 1985, in AfroAmericans in New York Life & History was one of many similar efforts by Professor Williams-Myers to serve as the scholar's scholar and demonstrate that, despite "the lack of a corpus of scholarship on the African presence in the Hudson River Valley," the historian could "carefully and painstakingly cull the appropriate data from the primary documents ...housed in various depositories in both Albany and New York City and in the towns and counties along the Hudson." [p. 15]

Long Hammering: Essays on the Forging of an African American Presence in the Hudson River Valley to the Early Twentieth Century is an ambitious effort to establish, as fact, as much as the documents reveal, and suggest for the labor of future historians, historical leads which Williams-Myers believes can then eventually be developed further by others.

The profile emerges of an African community on the Mid-Hudson that was larger than the census data revealed. Colonists believed that if the public knew about the increases in the size of the African population it would bring about unmanageable fears and anxieties among them. The Africans were "an integral part of the economic structure." They were needed, initially, as farm laborers, but the Dutch used them as caulkers, blacksmiths, bricklayers, and carpenters, and in the leather, iron, and building trades as well. Under English colonial rule slave labor continued to be valued for the multiplicity of functions performed, even in manufacturing. Williams-Myers uses the correspondence of Philip Livingston with his son, Robert, to reveal their reliance, and that of their competitors, on skilled Africans in the ironworks throughout the Hudson Valley "and in the adjacent colonies of New Jersey and Pennsylvania." [p. 31]

In the first half of the eighteenth century, in the colonial period, the Black population fluctuated between 12 percent and 24 percent of the total. By 1790 when the first Federal Census was taken, it was between 10 percent and 15 percent, making New York the state with the highest Black population north of Maryland.

The relationships between masters and slaves were well defined in New York's Slave Codes, but Williams-Myers offers an interesting insight into how those may have been modified by the practice of giving personal slaves to male heirs. He states that a "functional closeness" developed between master and slave under Dutch regimes, sufficient to prevent the slaves' full acceptance of subordination. The American Revolution also encouraged significant numbers of slaves to exhibit a will for independence. The story of real slaves who demonstrated these tendencies are deftly "teased" out of the documents by Professor Williams-Myers. …