"The Society of Negroes Unsettled": A History of Slavery in New Paltz, NY
J, Eric, Afro-Americans in New York Life and History
THE FOUNDATION LAID: SOME BASIC ELEMENTS DEFINING SLAVERY IN NEW PALTZ
The issue of slavery is a controversial one. Even today, communities are still grappling with the question of how to discuss the subject fairly without turning it into a political minefield. The subject is not a pleasant one, and is supercharged with the issues of forced labor, family separation, poverty, violence, racism, miscegenation, and rape. But the subject must be confronted if an accurate picture of early American society is to be formed. Indeed, the worst approach to history is the one that promotes silence. Thus, the main focus of this essay will be to bring the issue of slavery out in the open for discussion, examination, and in the end, one would hope, some degree of understanding and reconciliation.
Founded in 1677 by a small group of French Huguenots, the settlement of New Paltz in New York's Mid-Hudson Valley emerged during the next two hundred years as an "isolated, conservative, tightly-knit farming community" whose unique history has been much celebrated and studied in recent times.(2) Often overlooked is the fact that African slaves provided the town of New Paltz with an abundant supply of labor for use in the farms, mills, and homes during the town's first 150 years. The institution of slavery thus provided the Huguenots and their descendants with much of the labor upon which to build their communities, prosperity, and longevity.
The historical record of slavery in New Paltz begins in 1674, three years before its founding, when Louis DuBois purchased two African slaves at a public auction held in Kingston, then called Esopus.(3) The two slaves ran away from DuBois the following spring and were picked up elsewhere in the colony by a man named Lewis Morris of Barbados. From 1675 to 1680, Morris and DuBois engaged in a lengthy custody battle for the two slaves, with Morris claiming that the two slaves were kidnapped from his plantation in Barbados and sold illegally to DuBois. The final outcome of this case is unknown and no further mention of Anthony or Susan is made in any of the three wills made by DuBois.
Despite DuBois' difficult experience, more slaves were brought to New Paltz to support the settlement's growth. The Deyo family bought slaves in 1680 and 1694. Catherine DuBois, widow of Louis DuBois and since remarried to schoolmaster Jean Cottin, baptized a slave girl named Rachel in 1703 and later set forth the conditions for her manumission in her will dated 1712. It is uncertain whether the executors actually carried out the manumission.(4) Throughout the next 125 years, references to slaves continually appear in the historical records of the settlement. In 1703, there were 9 slaves out of a total of 130 residents of the town.(5) By 1755, as in the rest of the state, slavery was a very well-established part of the New Paltz community: the census from that year lists 28 slaveholders, who collectively owned 78 slaves over the age of 14 years with the large majority of slaveholders (82%) owning between one and four slaves.(6) The largest slave owners were Solomon DuBois and Abraham Hardenbergh, each of whom owned seven. The overall population of New Paltz grew rapidly to 2,309 in 1790, when there were 77 slaveholders owning a total of 302 slaves, or 13% of the population. Thirty-eight households now owned 1 to 3 slaves, and 25 households owned 4 to 6. Eleven households now held between 7 and 14, with the largest slaveholders coming from well-established third and fourth generation French and Dutch families such as Hasbrouck, DuBois, Freer, Wynkoop and Vandermark.
Before discussing more specific aspects about slavery in New Paltz, it is important to understand a major difference between slavery in early New York as compared to slavery in the plantation-era South, which unlike Northern slavery, has long been well-documented and understood. Through the examination of local documents such as census, legislative and court records, wills, account books, receipts, inventories, and correspondence, it is possible to uncover some of the stories of the individuals who bore so much of the economy of early New Paltz upon their backs; from the records, one can gain some understanding of the harsh and restrictive characteristics that defined the lives of slaves in relation to the comparatively easy and unrestricted lives of their owners. The occasional and fragmentary nature of the records, however, necessitates placing such evidence within the larger historical context of slavery in early New York. According to the groundbreaking dissertation on the slave family in New York by historian Vivienne Kruger:
The central feature of New York and northern slavery was that most slaveholdings were small and contained only from one to five slaves. Because of the small size of the holdings, slave family members were usually owned by separate masters and forced to live apart.... Slavery created artificial black demographic conditions in New York: a small overall black population, low black population density, unbalanced adult sex ratios, and a random rather than familial distribution of slaves into white households.(7)
This concept is vital to understanding the nature of slavery in New Paltz. Slaves did not work in plantation gangs or live in community with other black slaves. The slaves would have had much less contact with other Africans, but would have been largely integrated into the white community, albeit clearly as inferior and vulnerable members. Large gatherings of slaves were prohibited by the white slave owners, who feared the possibility of rebellion and violence. As a result, slaves lived and worked more closely with their masters in the North than in the South.
The large majority of slaves in New Paltz and elsewhere in New York State were probably brought from Africa and the Caribbean. Historians have shown that the Atlantic slave trade was a very fickle and complex business network, and at various times during the 17(th) and 18(th) century, slaves were imported from a variety of places in Africa, including Madagascar, the Bight of Biafra, the Gold Coast, the Ivory Coast, the Guinea Coast, Congo, Angola, and Nigeria.(8) Other slaves were imported from points in the Caribbean and South America such as Barbados, Cuba, Santo Domingo, Jamaica, Curacao.(9)
However, tracking the origins and experiences of individual slaves before their arrival in New Paltz is very difficult. There is scant information in local historic records about where the slaves may have originated. Newspaper advertisements and other documents occasionally make mention of slaves wearing specific types of braids, or of being "very black" or "of the Madagascar color," but generally give no further information as to their origins. In the rare case of the two runaway slaves of Louis DuBois mentioned earlier, the records suggest that the two slaves were originally from a plantation in Barbados before being sold to DuBois. However, whether they were born in Barbados or in Africa is unknown.
After the slaves were purchased and brought to New Paltz, they were typically housed in the basements, kitchens, or attics of their owner's homes, although some may have been housed in outbuildings as well. The most telling and reliable source relating to slave housing conditions are found in the memoirs of the great abolitionist and former slave Sojourner Truth, who in her youth was a slave of the Hardenbergh family in the town of Marbletown, just outside New Paltz. "Charles Hardenbergh's [1762 Manor] house served both as his dwelling and a hotel, but he housed his slaves in the damp cellar, all in one room. Here they slept, according to...[Truth's] recollection, on straw laid on loose floor boards, which in turn rested on an earthen floor. The floor was often wet, and water could be heard sloshing under the floor boards."(10) In other accounts, Truth recalled the damp, cold cellars of her owners that housed slaves of all ages and genders, and noted the small windows that admitted little light, and loose and uneven wooden floorboards.(11) Although exceptions probably did exist and the living conditions provided by different owners must have varied to some extent, slaves generally lived in cold, dark, wet, crowded, uncomfortable basements, cellars, attics, kitchens or outbuildings without adequate lighting or bedding provisions. In most cases, in regard to material comforts, the lot of the slaves left much to be desired, and little for which to be thankful.
Historians have shown that the majority of the slaves in early New York worked as field-hands, construction laborers, and as household servants. However, others, specifically men, became skilled craftsmen who were called upon to perform more specialized tasks such as caulking, blacksmithing, bricklaying, barrel-making, carpentry, animal husbandry. Others worked as butchers, sawyers, millers, and even iron-workers. Men and women often worked at very different tasks, with men working mostly outdoors on the farms or buildings, or in workshops, while women chiefly worked in the kitchens and at other domestic chores, although sometimes helped out with agricultural work as well. In discussing this issue, Williams-Myers writes that:
Slaves were involved in the production of almost every item used or consumed on the farm: from such simple items as brooms, ladles, and cords of firewood for use year-round to more elaborate ones such as barns and Dutch cellars in which roots, vegetables, cider, milk, butter, and meat were stored for preservation. As with farm work, males and females shared domestic chores but with a clear division of labor by gender. Women were often found in the kitchen cooking cleaning house, washing, and caring for their owners' children as well as being integrally involved in the production of linens and woolens for home consumption and the colonial markets.(12)
In contrast, references have been found to men working at mowing grass, cutting hay, splitting firewood, mending fences, thatching roofs, butchering hogs, handling horses and oxen, threshing wheat, clearing fields, growing hemp and tobacco, and making shoes, canoes, nets, and paddles. Still others ran errands for local shopkeepers or on other business.(13) Sime and James, both slaves of New Paltz Judge and former State Legislator Peter LeFever are listed in 1808 and 1809 in his account book for "schoring timber."(14) Two separate runaway slave advertisements posted in 1762 and 1784 by Michael DeVeaux of New Paltz, a ship captain in the freight business, indicate that slaves were used in the shipping and shipbuilding industry as well.(15) As a slave ten-years-old, Sojourner Truth reportedly "did hoeing, carried fish, and ran errands" for a fisherman and tavern keeper in present day Port Ewen. Later, as a slave of John Dumont in West Park, she worked at plowing, hoeing, and reaping, and is reported to have worked so hard that other slaves taunted her with being a "white folks' nigger."(16)
A SOCIETY UNSETTLED: RELATIONS BETWEEN MASTERS AND SLAVES
Information about the relations between slaves and their masters is scattered among many different types of documents, including letters, wills, court records and other legal documents, narratives, and newspaper advertisements. Some documents show examples of whites, both slaveholders and non-slaveholders, having humane relations with slaves, and in some cases, even extended an effort into making their lives more comfortable and less demeaning. The role of Quakers and Presbyterians, for example, in helping slaves reach freedom and in some cases allowing them as freemen into their communities is well documented.(17) It is noteworthy that, in a letter written in French by Louis Bevier of Marbletown, who was neither Quaker nor Presbyterian, he expressed his views that slave families should be kept together and should even be allowed to choose their own masters.
Jacob Decker had promised in his lifetime that the Negros and Negresses being one family would be sold together and that they would choose their master, and his children did not want to do otherwise. The Negros and Negresses had chosen to remain with the minister of the Paltz and the children have consented provided that the minister gave them two hundred and twenty pistols (form of French currency) for the Negroes and Negresses....(18)
Other documents also provide evidence of at least fair relations between some slaves and their masters. Account books, receipts, and other financial records show that slaves often ran errands and handled small financial transactions for their owners, providing evidence that some slaves were trusted with a limited degree of freedom. Further, a letter written in 1803 from Hillitje DeWitt to an eight year old girl named Hylah Bevier of the town of Rochester hints at a congenial and warm relationship between the family and their slaves. In the letter, Hillitje writes "Remember my love to all the black people, to Philip and Ben, especially who are the oldest."(19) Also, Williams-Myers has also shown that some masters afforded slave mothers with respect and would not sell slave children without consulting with the mother first to find for the children a suitable home.(20)
But these cases are rare, and archival records indicate that there was a significant degree of enmity existing between masters and their slaves in Ulster County. For instance, in 1695, the Kingston Court, "Ordered that if three or more Negroes gather at unseasonable hours, except upon a master's business, such Negroes shall be whipped or each master must pay a piece of eight for his Negroe's freedom."(21) Other crimes for which slaves could be whipped include theft and assault. In one such case in 1718, "James (Negro slave of Aldert Kiersteden) apprehended for burglary and breaking open the door of the mansion of Capt. John Rutsen last Saturday night, is sentenced to be whipped on the naked back round Kingston, with five lashes at seven places and ten at the County House...."(22) In a similar case in 1716, Jan, a negro slave of John Crook is convicted of stealing money from his master under encouragement of a free woman named Hillegonda Van Slichtenhorst. The court ruled that Jan was to be whipped twenty-five lashes on the naked back, and his master was to pay a fine of three pounds."(23)
A particularly grim case from 1741 illustrates how vicious some of the crimes and punishments could actually be, and how little tolerance or mercy the courts allowed for slave misdoings. Tom, a slave of Rebecca Freer, was found guilty of several crimes, both heinous and trivial, against a couple of women, including sexual assault and insolence. The Court ordered that Tom be punished separately for each crime. For insolent remarks alone, it was ordered that Tom receive "75 lashes at the whipping post, 50 lashes the next day, and 30 lashes the day after that." For the sexual assault, Tom was hanged."(24) In an even more gruesome case of public execution in 1696, a negro slave of Peter Crupel (Crispell) named Tham was found guilty of murdering a negro woman and "sentenced to be hanged till dead, to have his throat cut and then be hanged in a chain for an example to others."(25) In yet another case, a slave was executed for the murder of Colonel Wynkoop in 1793, and in 1730, "Harry, Negro slave of Zacharias Hoffman, is charged with having attempted at Shawagonck to kill his master with an axe."(26) Also listed in the records are references to two slaves murdered in 1747, although no further information is given.(27) And in yet another, slave owner Jan Hooghtyling was fined five pounds in 1695 for an assault made by his slave Kuper on Pieter Richard Hooghtyling.
Slave owners had to keep in mind the possibility of violent slave rebellion, particularly in the cities. Two frequently discussed incidents occurred in New York City in 1712 and 1741 and another in Albany in 1793. Another similar incident was narrowly avoided in Kingston in 1775. In this particular case, which must have seemed far to close too home for the New Paltz slaveowners, a number of slaves, under the leadership of two slave men named York and Joe,
agreed that one group would converge to fire the homes of the whites; another would beat the drums to muffle the cries from the victims; and a third group would kill the people as they fled the burning buildings. At the time of the planning, it was rumored that, if the uprising proved successful in the opening stages, African slaves in the Kingston area would be joined by six hundred neighboring Indians.... Before York and Joe and their co-conspirators could carry out their attempt to gain their freedom, whites moved quickly to squelch the plot...The two along with about eighteen other slaves were questioned and subsequently imprisoned because of the strong evidence against them. That evidence was the considerable amount of confiscated `powder and shot' found in their possession.(28)
It was common for slaves to run away from their masters, even though the very act often incurred harsh punishments if caught. Kruger's study has shown that there were two major reasons that might motivate a slave to run away. First, slaves often ran away when facing the prospect of major change in their ownership, frequently at the death of the master, and second, they also ran away to visit distant family members and loved ones. Sometimes both of these motives contributed to the decision to run away, particularly when the death of the master resulted in the separation of family members. Other slaves may have fled from particularly cruel masters as well.
The existence of newspaper advertisements offering rewards for runaway slaves in Ulster County gives testament to the slaves' fierce desire for freedom from their masters. In fact, the problem became so great, that a group of slave owners in New Paltz banded together in 1810 to form the "The Society of Negroes Unsettled" which raised money to search for and apprehend runaways.(29) Contained within this document are notes on the routes that escaped slaves were suspected to have taken. It is not surprising that many of the slaves were thought to have gone to northern and western portions of the state, particularly the counties of Otsego, Yates, and Montgomery, although there is also suspicion of at least one slave heading northeast towards Vermont.
Additionally, newspaper advertisements provide some of the most detailed information about slaves, particularly in regard to their physical appearance. For example, an advertisement in the Country Journal and Poughkeepsie Advertiser from 1788 lists a runaway slave of John A. Hardenbergh of New Paltz. This slave, named Caesar "was about 19 years old, near six foot high, speaks good English and tolerable good Dutch...Had on when he went away, a pair of tow cloth trousers and homespun jacket, and wool hat."(30) When a slave named Prince ran away from his master in 1762, he was described as being "about 28 years old, about 6 feet high and slender...he is much of the Madagascar color and smooth skinned. Had on when he went away a Kersey coat, leather breeches, and a white linen shirt."(31) Tom, a runaway slave owned by Henry Weller of Montgomery in Orange County wore "a callico pattern vest, nankeen overalls, half boots, blue coat, patched on the sleeves, one pair of new tow trousers and shirt and blue fade casimer coat."(32) Another runaway slave named Ephraim donned similar clothes during a flight from his owner Reuben Cash of Minisink in 1811. This advertisement, listed in "The Plebian" from Kingston, gives an even more detailed description of the slave's appearance.
Ran away from the subscriber, on the 20(th) February, a Negro Man by name of EPHRAIM, otherwise called Frim, 26 years old, and about five feet 8 or 10 inches high, and very black, having his hair (commonly) braided, with two braids before and two behind. He had on when he went away, a striped woollen shirt with a checquered collar, his coat, jacket and trousers grey homespun fulled cloth, a black castor hat partly worn, and a pair of soal'd suwarrow boots, which having been trod back, were cut open and closed up perhaps four or five inches on the heel.(33)
In discussing this very issue, historian A.J. Williams-Myers shows that "What is evident from these advertisements is that those who became runaways did so, when it was possible, with an adequate amount of clothing, either that of their masters, or their own.... It would appear that slaves held by wealthy owners were maintained rather well. For those owners not so well off, the welfare of their slaves mirrored their socioeconomic stratum, the welfare of all slaves remained such only as long as they chose to remain obedient to the master class."(34)
The case of Sojourner Truth affords a personal account of a master's cruelty toward his slaves. During a speech given by Truth in Kalamazoo, Michigan during the Civil War, Truth answered the question of why she hated the white people by undoing the collar of her dress and baring her arms to the shoulders, "showing them covered with a perfect network of scars made by the slave master's lash."(35) In another instance, when a free Sojourner Truth regained custody in court of a son who had been sold illegally to an Alabama slaveholder, she soon discovered that he had been severely beaten, showing large welts on his back and scars all over his body.(36) Another story told by Sojourner Truth involved a neighboring Englishman's slave named Robert, who used to visit her in secret, and who she later referred to in her narrative endearingly as her first husband. One afternoon, the owners caught Robert attempting to visit with her and, as reported in her Narrative:
fell upon him like tigers, beating him with the heavy ends of their canes, bruising and mangling his head and face in the most awful manner, and causing the blood, which streamed from his wounds, to cover him like a slaughtered beast" and then proceeded to tie Robert's hands behind him tightly with a rope. That ended their romance and Robert was soon married off to another female slave on his owner's farm and died soon afterward.(37)
In discussing the relations between slave and master, the subject of miscegenation has been discussed with increasing candor by historians and the general public. In discussing this issue, Williams-Myers writes that "The closeness of the two races in a slave society, where white men were dominant and black men were dominated and powerless concerning family welfare and stability, permitted the development of liaisons between white slave owners and their black female slaves. A natural outcome of this was the birth of mulatto children who carried the slave status of the mother."(38) He also suggests that there were many cases of consensual relations between blacks and whites as well. At the time that this statement was written in 1994, the author noted that most descendants of local white slaveowning families preferred to ignore the implications of miscegenation and the arrival of illegitimate mulatto children. However, since then, several genealogists for descended families have made diligent efforts to include all black relatives and slaves in their family histories.
The foundation of slavery in Ulster County, as elsewhere, clearly involved the need to maintain strict control. Incidents of slave violence, runaway attempts, and miscegenation occurred with such frequency that the relations between master and slave can hardly be described solely in terms of paternal benevolence or willing servitude. At best, the situation was a complex and confusing one for master and slave alike. In his book on Sojourner Truth, historian Carleton Mabee writes that "Although sometimes she considered slavery cruel and prayed to God to kill all whites, she recalled, at other times she believed slavery right, adored DuMont (one of her many owners), and confused him with God."(39) But there can be no mistake that slave owners forced the Africans into undesirable living conditions, separated them from their families, and forced them to work through the use of fear and the threat of corporal punishment. Many slaves accepted their lot with resignation. Others did not, and much violence ensued. Thus, the phrase, "Society of Negroes Unsettled," first coined by New Paltz slaveholders in relation to escaped slaves, aptly describes the frustrations of the larger enslaved community who resented their station and desired a better life.
PEOPLE AS PROPERTY: ISSUES OF MANUMISSION, OWNERSHIP, AND REGULATION
Prior to the Act of 1799 that established the mechanism for the gradual abolition of slavery within the state (to be discussed later in this essay), manumission was a very rare occurrence in Ulster County. Of 207 wills of slaveholders between 1696-1816 listed in Ulster County, N.Y. Probate Records by Gustave Anjou, only five provided for the manumission of their slaves.(40) Only one of these five wills was made by a Huguenot, Catherine Cottin, who was then living in Kingston; the other four were made by Dutch settlers. The case of Catherine Cottin's efforts to free a slave woman named Rachel is an interesting one. Catherine Cottin had been in the Kingston area since 1661 when she arrived their with her family, which included her father Matthys Blanshan, her first husband Louis DuBois, and brother-in-law Antoine Crispell, all of whom were Huguenots with origins in French Flanders. During the Esopus Massacre of 1663, Catherine, her three children, and several other family members were taken prisoner by the Indians during a raid on Kingston. They remained in captivity for several months before being rescued by Dutch soldiers. Is it possible that Catherine's experience as a prisoner could have influenced her decision to free Rachel? Catherine made a specific mention in her 1712 will that a manumission letter written for Rachel in 1709 "shall remain in force and be properly observed." All records of Rachel disappear after Catherine's death in 1713. An indenture from 1714 transfers the ownership of another slave, Dina, to Catherine's second husband Jean Cottin, but makes no mention of Rachel. The indenture also stipulates that Dina was to be freed at Jean's death.(41)
The Last Will and Testament of William West, dated 1738, frees a slave family and gives to them "horses, cows, hoggs, ploghs, harrows, wagons, sleds and tools" and made them heirs to his estate. However, West did not free all of his slaves, as one slave girl named Pegg was bequeathed to a woman named Mary Damport.(42) The Hendricke family of Kingston also provided for the manumission of a slave. In his 1700 will, Dirck Hendricke bequeathed to his wife his "entire estate of houses, lands, horses, cattle, negroes, debts, etc., on the condition that my negro-boy Sampson, born in my house, shall be free from slavery after the death of my wife, without any objection from anyone, but on the condition that if he, during my wife's life has not shown her obedience, my wife may dispose of him and sell him, without objection from anyone, or else to give him away."(43) In the will made by Dirck's wife Gritie dated 1708-9, she states that "My negro by the name of P. shall be free from slavery, and nobody shall use him for my sake or for any other reason...."(44) In a rare gesture of provision for her freed slave, Gritie bequeathed to P. one-third of her entire estate and several other specified goods and wealth, including a portion of her house and lands in Kingston, a young bull, farm tools, money for pork, and household items such as a bed, pillows, cushions, and coverlets. Is it possible that P. is actually Sampson, or was P. another person entirely? In another instance from 1809, Peter LeFevre promises to two of his slaves, Sime and James, that he will free them after nine to ten years provided that they serve him "faithfully and honestly and at the end of the said term obtain a certificate of the Poor Masters as the Law required."(45)
These acts of compassion were by no means standard for the time. Most slave owners (and virtually all of the slave owners of New Paltz) chose not to free their slaves, but instead preferred to bequeath them to family members. Ironic examples abound, such as the 1731 will of Hugo Freer, who "in Consideration of the love, good will and affection which I have and doe bear towards my loving Children Rebecca and Elizabeth Frere...do fully, freely, Clearly and absolutely give and grant to the aforesaid Rebecca and Elizabeth, their Heirs and Assigns a Certain Negor boy called Tobias now in my possession."(46) Huguenot and New Paltz patentee Jean Hasbrouck arranged for the future separation of a slave child from its mother. After a particularly long religious preamble which praises "the Lord for his mercy considering the shortness and frailty of human life," Jean goes on to give to his daughter Elizabeth, in addition to sixty pounds of current money, "my negro woman named Molly, also three books, one Testament, the Practice of Devotion, and a book of Sermons...on condition that when the negro woman Molly bears children, Jacob (Jean's son) shall have the first daughter but must leave her with the mother until she is one year old."(47) Using similar language, another New Paltz landowner, Abraham Bevier passes on possession of a slave woman to his wife in his will of 1763.(48) In a pamphlet entitled the Black History of New Paltz (1986), local historian William Heidgerd shows similar references in the wills of several local historical figures, including Andries LeFever, Roelif Elting, Cornelius DuBois, Daniel LeFever, Hendrikus VanKeuren, and Abraham Een. Overall, it appears that even towards the end of slavery in the early 1800's, masters still held complete power over their slaves, and were very reluctant to give up that power. They generally opted not to free their slaves; rarely if ever did a master free them after his death.
Though an ownership change resulting from the death of a master was inevitable, archival records reveal numerous bills and newspaper advertisements concerning the sale of slaves at other times as well. It is difficult for us today to truly imagine the anguish of children and teenagers being forcibly removed from their parents, or of the forced separation of lovers and close friends. These sources provide little to document the feelings of the slaves or their owners. But from the documents, we know that slaves were sold for reasons of control as well as for economic reasons, and according to Kruger's very careful study into the reasons for slave sales, almost never as a result of the slave's own desire.(49) Slave owners could and did sell slaves who caused trouble. They also often separated slave families by sale. Never is there a mention of a sale of an entire slave family together as a unit. But despite this ever-present fear of family separation, the devotion of slave parents, particularly mothers, is readily apparent. As Williams-Myers and other historians have shown, many slave mothers were intensely devoted to their families, and encouraged their children to excel in their tasks and to live honestly and without deceit.(50) Sojourner Truth, for example, recounted the heartbreak that her parents suffered due to so many of their children being sold away to other owners. "Isabella's mother probably had ten or twelve children, Isabella being the youngest child save one, but most of the other children had been sold away before Isabella could remember. Isabella recalled how her parents, in `their dark cellar lighted by a blazing pine-knot' could `sit for hours...recounting every endearing, as well as harrowing circumstance that taxed memory could supply, from the histories of those dear departed ones, of whom they had been robbed.'"(51) This sentiment is supported by Kruger's study of the slave family, which shows that:
Hard numerical data prove that the black family was physically separated by slavery but the black family was not demolished by the daunting New York slave system. Love and the frequency of family survival cannot be quantified but evidence of the persistent strong bonds between husbands and wives and between parents and children abounds in massive anecdotal case histories of thousands of slaves.(52)
The business of buying and selling slaves necessitated the assignment of prices for slaves put on the market. In order to regulate these prices, the state legislature passed a law in 1775 that provided for the assessment of slaves in Orange County, which borders Ulster County. According to this law, men were valued slightly higher than women, and individuals between 15 and 39 years of age were valued more highly than other age groups. The law does not list assessments for children under 7 or for persons over 50. The following table provides the assessments given in the law, given in British pounds.(53)
Slave Assessment Rate in Orange County, 1775
Age Range (in years) Males (in British pounds) Females (in British pounds)
7-9 10 8
10-14 18 12
15-39 30 20
40-49 15 10
These rates provide a general sense of prices that slaves could be assessed for tax purposes. However, it is not the only source listing the prices assigned to slaves. In Ulster County alone, 52 price listings taken from estate inventories, bills of sale, newspaper advertisements, and court records between the years of 1710 and 1801 show considerable deviation from the prices mentioned in the table, even when taking into consideration price variation over time. Eighteen slaves listed as "Boys" were sold at prices ranging between 15 and 60 pounds, although the large majority of these were priced at over 30 pounds. The three cases of boys being valued between 15 and 24 pounds, presumably indicate young males at the lower end of the age range. Between 1773 and 1798, two two-year-old girls were assessed at 12 pounds, a four-year-old girl at 18 pounds, and a five-year-old at 25 pounds. Another girl, aged fifteen years, was assessed at 68 pounds. Four other girls were valued at 18, 40, 40, and 50 pounds, but no ages are listed. Price listings of five "Men" show values of 40, 50, 76, with two at 100 pounds. The valuation listings of 11 "women" and "wenches" from 1773-1801 show assessments ranging from 40 to 85 pounds. Two of these assessments included a child in addition to the mother. Another price included furniture. Additionally, price listings for four women from 1710-1729 range from 40 to 50 pounds. Two of these four listings included a child each. Three listings for slaves described as "old" range from 10-27 pounds. In another case, a "woman" assessed at 13 pounds may have been an elderly lady.
Slaves were the single most expensive movable possession of a slave owner, sometimes even amounting to as much as one-third of the entire estate. For example, the 1804 estate inventory of Gerrit Freer of New Paltz contained one listing for a "Negro wench" assessed at $100. Livestock listed in the inventory include four "milch cows" priced together at $41.25, three yearling calves at $5 apiece, and one bay gelding at $50. Other expensive items include one iron bound wagon assessed at $40, hay stored in the barn worth $120, and an adorned feather bed with trimmings worth $53. A gun pouch and horn was worth $7.50 and a "writing pot" and a "wooden dish with onions" were assessed together at $1.25.(54) Likewise, the 1774 public vendue list of the estate of Abraham Bevier amounted to 517 British pounds and contained as its highest priced item one "negro boy Jack" assessed at 40 pounds. Other items in this inventory include livestock assessments from six to sixteen pounds, a wagon for 14 pounds, a feather bed for five, and a crop of wheat for 16.(55) Located in the same collection is a 1759 inventory of the estate of Solomon DuBois listing slaves with assessments ranging from 37 to 100 pounds. The next most valuable item listed in this long inventory was worth a mere three pounds. Price values for items listed in other inventories from this period include two looking glasses assessed at $25, one clothes press for $35, six "milch cows" for $84, two "old wagons valued at 8 pounds, a copper kettle for six pounds, 55 deer skins for 27 pounds, and one crop of wheat for seven pounds. Clearly, even without taking into account the ongoing expenses of providing food, clothing, and medical expenses, owning slaves was a major economic investment.
Throughout the 17(th) and 18(th) centuries, the institution of slavery was governed by a series of laws passed by the Colonial assemblies and later by the New York State Legislature. A brief overview of these laws shows the development and eventual dissolution of slavery within the state. Slavery began in New York with very little regulation at all, and most historians generally agree that under Dutch rule, slavery was a loosely defined institution. Under the Dutch, "Freed negroes were not legally discriminated against -- no racial legislation existed to restrict their freedom to own property, intermarry with whites, or own white or indentured servants.... While not as legally prohibitive as slavery would later become under the English, by 1664 the use of slave labor in New Netherland had achieved local importance and acceptance and was deeply entrenched."(56)
However, slavery became more legislated and more restrictive after the English won the colony in the 1660's. Beginning in about 1702 and continuing until mid-century, the state legislature under English rule passed a series of laws that restricted all activities of the slave population, mostly out of fear of violent reprisals such as the 1712 slave rebellion in New York City and the widespread problem of runaways. These laws placed severe restrictions on slave movements, rights of property ownership, use of alcohol, and assembly, and mandated extremely harsh punishments for slaves found guilty of transgressing these laws. Slaves found guilty of such crimes often faced severe corporal punishments that would be viewed as "cruel and unusual" today. Historian A. J. Williams-Myers explains that the intent behind these harsh conditions was to create a "hearty, obedient, docile, but dependable labor force and to make the African stand in fear."(57) However, these laws also gave the slaves a degree legal protections against some forms of mistreatment by slave owners, such as mutilation and dismemberment. The regulation of slavery continued to tighten until about 1773, when a new series of laws began to show a new attitude towards the institution. Acts passed in 1773, 1775, 1784, 1785, and 1788 each provided slaves with a little more freedom than before, and together led directly to the Manumission Act of 1799, which finally set forth the process for the gradual abolition of slavery in the state.
This act freed all children born to slave women after July 4, 1799. Male children were to become free at the age of twenty-eight, and females at the age of twenty-five. The slaveholders were required to register all children born to their slave women with the town clerk under penalty of a fine and immediate freedom for the child. When properly registered, the children were to legally become the indentured servants of the slave owner until they reached the statutory age. This meant that in some cases, children of slaves were held in servitude long after their parents were set free. For example, a male child who was born in 1820 to parents born before July 5, 1799 would still be required to serve his master until as late as 1848, even though the parents would have been freed in 1827. The owner, however, could and often did waive his claim to them, as well as his responsibility for their support, by assigning them to the local overseers of the poor.(58)
Following the 1799 Act were several other acts regarding the amelioration of slavery and its consequences. In 1801, the legislature passed an act that restricted travel in order to discourage slaveholders from selling their slaves in Southern states before their slaves were to become free in New York. This issue was brought up again in 1810 and even later in 1819. Another act passed in 1802 placed restrictions on slaves' rights to purchase liquors. The legislature passed several acts dealing with the regulation and education of children of slaves who became paupers.(59) But this series of laws was nothing more than the last gasp of the dying institution, and the freed slaves then had to solve the problem of supporting themselves and gaining full acceptance in a difficult and often unyielding and hostile new environment.
LIFE AFTER MANUMISSION: THE FIRST BITTERSWEET TASTE OF FREEDOM
Although there has been much scholarship relating to the abolition movement of the early to mid-19(th) century, little research has focused on the experiences of the black community in New Paltz as it embraced freedom from the 1820's to the 1850's. Only a handful of essays by students and local historians serve to shed any light on this elusive subject.(60) The material below will perhaps provide a starting point for further research and urge others to study the under-documented subject of life after slavery for African Americans in New Paltz.
It is generally believed that throughout the mid-19(th) century, freed slaves turned towards the cities, probably Kingston, Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, and New York, for new opportunities to find work and to establish communities together with other freed slaves. We know from census and poorhouse records that blacks had largely departed from New Paltz by 1870, if not earlier.(61) The economy of a small village such as New Paltz simply could not support this labor force that was now entitled to be compensated for their work. Of the freed blacks who must now must compete for employment with white laborers, most continued to live with and work for their masters in similar conditions as they had while slaves. Other slaves went to work for other white landowners. In these instances, the difference between being a slave and being free was largely one of conception rather than one of practice. For example, an account kept by Ann Bevier of Marbletown shows that freed slave laborers were given just enough compensation to cover their room and board expenses.(62) A number of masters turned over their slaves to the town's Overseers of the Poor, who then returned them back to their masters along with town and state funding to provide for their care. In this manner, slavery existed in practice longer than it did in legislation. A small number of other freed slaves found themselves in the county poorhouse, which offered nothing but sickness, death, and misery for most of its inhabitants. The poorhouse, which had been constructed in New Paltz in the late 1820's to deal with the growing destitute population, offered its inhabitants only impoverished living conditions, with minimal provisions of food and water, inadequate medical attention, and ill treatment by overseers. In 1861, the conditions were so deplorable in the Poorhouse that the Ulster County's Board of Supervisors appointed a committee to develop a proposal to build a new "house for colored paupers" who were previously housed in the same building with the "insane and lunatics" of the poorhouse. A newspaper article entitled "Should be Done at Once" argued passionately for the passage of this proposal. "...Go, reader, with us, and see how these unfortunates are cared for now; in a building not half a story high hardly fit for wood-house you will find them confined. A sane person placed in this wretched abode for six months, would become a raving maniac...."(63) This situation proved to be particularly disastrous for second-generation freed slaves, some of whom spent the majority of their lives there. Richard Pine, for example, was a mulatto who was brought to the Poorhouse as a child along with his sister Sarah in 1844. He periodically appears in the records there as the Poorhouse officials bound him out to work to local farmers, but then took him in again as work dried up or as he fell sick with various ailments. Richard ultimately died there of consumption in 1887.(64)
A very few freedmen such as one John Hasbrouck were able to buy land and support themselves and their families, although not without hardship and instability. The first record of John Hasbrouck appears in the New Paltz Register of Slaves, where he is listed as a slave of Josiah Hasbrouck, a local politician and landowner who was also elected twice to the U.S. Congress.(65) As a literate former slave, an unusual occurrence at best, John was able to use his education to advantage, becoming one of the first black men in the town to own enough taxable property to qualify to vote. Most of what we know of his life comes from an account book, letters, and other papers of his that are now stored at the Haviland-Heidgerd Historical Collection at the Elting Memorial Library in New Paltz.(66) This account book is a rare and valuable source for the study of the emerging freed black community in New Paltz.(67)
The transactions listed in the ledger provide an account of the types of work performed by John and the compensation he received from the local white farmers who hired his services. The ledger also shows how John gradually improved upon his record-keeping skills, eventually developing a level of sophistication that was unique among the area's black population. At one point, he even took out an insurance policy on his farm worth $600. But despite all of this sophistication, John and his family were still less equipped than the more established white families to deal with the looming problems of property devaluation and economic instability. By 1884, five years after John's death, the farm no longer belonged to his family, suggesting the possibility that the family could not afford its upkeep. A phrase that was reportedly uttered by John's son, Philip Hasbrouck (also known as Flip Murphy) serves to illustrate the frustrations of his family and the newly freed black community as they were trying to make their way in a difficult economic and social environment: "We buy land and got stones, Meat and got Bones."(68) As a last note on this topic, we again turn to historian Vivienne Kruger, whose keen insight merits extensive quotation here.
"The staggered period of voluntary manumission and gradual emancipation, 1785 to 1848, placed the slave family under great stress as its members were freed individually, often many years apart As opposed to the South, where the slave population was suddenly freed en masse by the Emancipation Proclamation, the advancing union armies, and the thirteenth amendment, freedom for slaves in most of the northern states came gradually in the years after the Revolution. Separate ownership guaranteed separate manumission and family disruption as the black population slowly emerged from slavery...Many newly freed New York blacks continued to live as dependent workers in white households after manumission -- still separated from their families. The expectation born under slavery that black families would live apart survived among the first generation of freedmen. While many freedmen found it difficult to support themselves and either lived with whites, relied on their old owners for help, or became paupers, others successfully established their own households and reunited their families.... A population that had functioned well throughout society found sudden unemployment and job discrimination once free. It would take 150 years after slavery to regain entry into a broad spectrum of trades and professions, a participation they had ironically once enjoyed as slaves. The freedom process still continues."(69)
A SOCIETY STILL UNSETTLED: COMING TO GRIPS WITH ALL ASPECTS OF OUR HERITAGE
It is important for present-day citizens, of which many are descendants of slaveholders, to recognize the paradox inherent in this community's use of African slave labor. As much as we might wish differently, the town's founders and their descendants were slaveholders. These often celebrated individuals and families who fled religious and political persecution in Europe forced other human beings to labor against their will for their own personal economic gain. They bought and sold human beings the way we would buy and sell cars, houses, land, livestock, and pets. They provided only cold, crowded, damp living accommodations while their own families had larger rooms with furnishings and fireplaces. They separated slave families for reasons of economic gain and control. They punished slaves for trying to visit their families and loved ones and did inflict severe corporal punishments that they only rarely inflicted on other whites. And they participated in an economic system that restricted the slaves' movements, assembly, and property rights. Understandably, some white landowners may have chosen not to own slaves, and some slave owners treated slaves better than others. But all participated in a society that exerted control over a group of people taken from their homelands against their will to support an economy from which they had no hope of deriving benefit.
(2) Martin, Irene. "New Paltz." The History of Ulster County: with and Emphasis upon the last 100 years, 1883-1983. Kingston, NY: compiled by the Historians of Ulster County for the Tercentenary Year, 1984, p. 208.
(3) Christoph, Peter R. and Florence A., editors. The Andros Papers 1674-1676: Files of the Provincial Secretary of New York during the Administration of Governor Sir Edmund Andros. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1989, pp. 207-209.
(4) Heidgerd, William. The American Descendants of Chretien DuBois of Wicres, France. 20 volumes. New Paltz, NY: The DuBois Family Association and the Huguenot Historical Society, 1968, pp. 6-14.
(5) O'Callaghan, E.B. The Documentary History of the State of New York. 4 volumes. Albany, NY: Weed, Parsons & Co., Public Printers, 1850, p. 966
(6) O'Callaghan, p. 849.
(7) Kruger, Vivienne L. Born to Run: The slave family in early New York, 1626 to 1827. 2 volumes. Doctoral Dissertation, Columbia University, New York, 1985, abstract.
(8) Ibid., pp. 78-85.
(9) Williams-Myers, A.J. Long Hammering: Essays on the forging of an African American presence in the Hudson River Valley to the early twentieth century. Trenton, NJ: African World Press, Inc., 1994, p. 7).
(10) Mabee, Carleton, Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend. New York, New York University Press, 1993, p. 2.
(11) Williams-Myers, Long Hammering, p. 55; Kruger, p. 167.
(12) Ibid., p. 25.
(13) Kruger, pp. 97-98.
(14) Heidgerd, William. Black History of New Paltz. 2 volumes. New Paltz, NY: Haviland Heidgerd Historical Collection, Elting Memorial Library, 1986, vol. 1, p. 13.
(15) Ibid., p. 11.
(16) Mabee, p. 4-5.
(17) McManus, Edgar J. A History of the Negro Slave in New York. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1970, p. 174.
(18) Undated letter in French, Louis Bevier, mid-18(th) century. Louis Bevier Family Papers: The Rutgers Collection. Unpublished MSS Collection, Huguenot Historical Society of New Paltz, NY, Inc. Translation by Victor-Guy Aboulaffia, 2000.
(19) Letter, Hillitje DeWitt to Hylah Bevier, 1803. Levi Hasbrouck Family Papers: The Locust Lawn Collection 1672-1969. Unpublished MSS Collection, Huguenot Historical Society of New Paltz, NY, Inc.
(20) Williams-Myers, A.J. A Portrait of Eve: Towards a social history of black women in the Hudson River Valley, a preliminary bibliographic resource essay. New Paltz, NY: Center for the Study of the African Presence in the Hudson River Valley, 1987, p. 9.
(21) Scott, Kenneth. "Ulster County, NY: Court Records 1693 - 1775." Washington, DC: National Genealogical Society Quarterly, volume 60 (Dec. 1972), p. 277.
(22) Ibid., p. 284.
(23) Ibid., p. 282.
(24) Ibid., vol. 61 (Mar. 1973): pp. 65-66.
(25) Ibid., vol. 60 (Dec. 1972): p. 278.
(26) Ibid., vol. 61 (Mar. 1973): p. 62.
(27) Williams-Myers, Long Hammering, p. 58.
(28) Ibid., p. 59.
(29) Untitled document concerning Runaway slaves in New Paltz, 1810. Roelof J. and Ezekiel Elting Family Papers. Unpublished MSS Collection, Huguenot Historical Society of New Paltz, NY, Inc.
(30) Heidgerd, William, Black History of New Paltz, vol. 2, p. 15.
(31) Ibid., vol. 1, pp. 11-12.
(32) "The Newburgh Packet," Monday 19, 1797. Early American Newspaper Collection. Unpublished MSS Collection, Huguenot Historical Society of New Paltz, NY., Inc.
(33) "The Plebian," Kingston, NY. Tuesday, March 26, 1811, Early American Newspaper Collection. Unpublished MSS Collection, Huguenot Historical Society of New Paltz, NY., Inc.
(34) Williams-Myers, Long Hammering, p. 53.
(35) Mabee, p. 4.
(36) Ibid., p. 19.
(37) Ibid., p.5-6.
(38) Williams-Myers, pp. Long Hammering, p. 53-54.
(39) Mabee, p. 5.
(40) Anjou, Gustave. Ulster County, NY Probate Records. New York: Published by the author, 1906.
(41) Heidgerd, William. The American Descendants of Chretien DuBois of Wicres, France, vol. I, pp. 6-14.
(42) Anjou, vol. 2, p. 39.
(43) Ibid., vol. 1, p. 63).
(44) Ibid., p. 75.
(45) Heidgerd, William. Black History of New Paltz, vol. 1, p. 13.
(46) Ibid., p. 10.
(47) Hasbrouck, Kenneth E. The Hasbrouck Family in America with European Background, Third Edition. New Paltz, NY: Hasbrouck Family Association and the Huguenot Historical Society of New Paltz, NY, Inc., 1986, pp. 30-32.
(48) Hasbrouck, Kenneth E. The Bevier Family in America: The Descendants of Louis Bevier, Patentee of New Paltz, New York. New Paltz, NY: The Bevier-Elting Family Association and the Huguenot Historical Society, 1970, p. 15.
(49) Kruger, 204.
(50) Williams-Myers, A Portrait of Eye, p. 9; Mabee, p. 8.
(51) Mabee, p. 3.
(52) Kruger, p. 26.
(53) Northrupp, A. Judd. "Slavery in New York." State Library Bulletin: History, No. 4, Albany, NY, 1900, p. 282.
(54) Estate Inventory of Gerrit Freer, 1804. Gerrit Freer Family Papers (1677-1840). Unpublished MSS Collection, Huguenot Historical Society of New Paltz, NY, Inc.
(55) Accounts of Sale sold at Public Vendue, 1774. Hendricus DuBois Family Papers (1702-1927). Unpublished MSS Collection, Huguenot Historical Society of New Paltz, NY, Inc.
(56) Kruger, p. 42.
(57) Williams-Myers, Long Hammering, p. 45.
(58) McManus, pp. 174-175.
(59) Northrupp, p. 299.
(60) Two articles currently in draft stages include The Account Book of John Hasbrouck, 1839-1863, by Joan Hollister of Marist College and Sally M Schultz of SUNY New Paltz; and Extraordinary Ordinary Lives: Two African American families in New Paltz, New York in the generation after slavery by Ellen James, who is a member of the African American Research Committee of the Town of New Paltz.
(61) Stanforth, Joel. After Slavery: African Americans in New Paltz 1850-1870. Unpublished essay. History Seminar with Professor Laurence Hauptmann: State University of New York at New Paltz, 1998, p. 12.
(62) Account Book, Ann Bevier, 1802-1812, Philip Dubois Bevier Family Papers (1685-1910). Unpublished MSS Collection, Huguenot Historical Society of New Paltz, NY, Inc.
(63) New Paltz Times, January 18, 1861. New Paltz, NY, Haviland-Heidgerd Historical Collection, Elting Memorial Library.
(64) Ulster County Poorhouse Admission Records. Kingston, NY. Ulster County Hall of Records (300 Foxhall Avenue).
(65) Register of Slaves 1799-1825. New Paltz Town Records (1677-1932). Unpublished MSS Collection, Huguenot Historical Society of New Paltz, NY, Inc.
(66) Account Book, John Hasbrouck, 1837-1863, Jesse Elting DuBois Assorted (New Paltz, NY Historical Materials Collection. Unpublihed MSS Collection, New Paltz, NY, Haviland-Heidgerd Historical Collection, Elting Memorial Library.
(67) Interestingly, the ledger contains a remark made by an unknown 20(th) century librarian who could not appreciate the significance of this marvelous document. The comment, "Colored Margaret's father-Unimportant" gives a poignant indication of the lack of respect for the black community that was until only recently a pervasive element in New Paltz society. Incidentally, a similar note was found with the diary of Martha Ballard, whose diary became the focus of the Pulitzer Prize winning A Midwife's Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
(68) James, Ellen. Extraordinary Ordinary Lives: Two African American fmilies in New Paltz, New York in the generation after slavery. Unpublished essay, working draft, New Paltz, NY, 2001.
(69) Kruger, pp. 26-27.…
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Publication information: Article title: "The Society of Negroes Unsettled": A History of Slavery in New Paltz, NY. Contributors: J, Eric - Author. Journal title: Afro-Americans in New York Life and History. Volume: 27. Issue: 1 Publication date: January 2003. Page number: 27. © 2007 Afro-American Historical Association of the Niagara Frontier, Inc. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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