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Black History and Culture in the Hudson Valley: Slavery


In 1626  the Dutch West India Company shipped 11 African slaves into New Amsterdam. Some of the enslaved were moved to Fort Orange (Albany). Soon after Hudson Valley estate holders bought enslaved Africans to work their farms. The French Huguenot founders of New Paltz purchased the first of their numerous enslaved people in Kingston in 1674. In 1664, when the British took possession of the colony, about 800 Africans and their children inhabited the Valley, fewer than 10% considered free. 

As farming replaced the fur trade as the main economic engine in the Hudson Valley, the enslaved population increased. Most Hudson Valley farms were much smaller than Southern plantations so property holders rarely enslaved more than 1-5 people. The enslaved labored throughout the Hudson Valley on both sides of the Hudson River, engaging in everything from farming to household chores to skilled work.  By 1790, the first federal census counted more than 21,000 enslaved New Yorkers, nearly as many as documented in Georgia.

 slavery in the North as recorded in the country's first census 1790

The enslaved in New York sometimes rebelled against their owners. In 1712, 23 slaves killed nine whites in New York City, and rumors of slaves plotting revolts from New York City to Albany kept tensions high throughout the 18th century. In 1775, two enslaved men were overheard planning to burn Kingston and kill white people as they fled. The men were imprisoned and the plot was foiled. In 1794, three slaves — including two girls of 12 and 14 — were hanged for setting a fire that burned much of downtown Albany.

By the late 18th Century antislavery advocates were making their voices heard and attempts were made at legislating slavery out of existence in New York. In 1799 the Gradual Emancipation Act was passed but it did not immediately free anybody (most NY State Senators were slaveholders). Enslaved children born after July 4, 1799 were "freed" but indentured until they were young adults. In 1817 a new law passed that "freed" slaves born before 1799 but not until 1827 (see Committee Formed to Begin Planning for Bicentennial of Slavery Abolition in New York State).

Many in the mid-Hudson Valley were opposed to abolition and abolitionists, but the movement grew. When the US Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 required the return of runaway slaves even in free states with harsh penalties for those who didn't cooperate, the Underground Railroad sprouted in the Valley, utilizing river boats, the railroads and overland routes to help those fleeing from slave states to make their way to Canada or other places where they could hide from their pursuers.

These articles and websites discuss the history and characteristics of slavery in the Hudson Valley:

African American History: A Past Rooted in the Hudson Valley (Hudson Valley Magazine article)

The Missing Chapter: Untold Stories of African American Presence in the Hudson Valley  

Orangetown, History of Slavery in 

Our Plantations (Jonathan Palmer, Greene County Archvist)

People Not Property  (Historic Hudson Valley)

Slavery in Dutchess County (Dutchess County Historical Society)

Slavery and Resistance in the Hudson Valley Excerpt from the Foreword to In Defiance: Runaways from Slavery in New York's Hudson Valley 1735-1831)

Slavery in Westchester

The Enslaved

Black-White Relations in Dutchess County (enslaved African resistance)

John Bolding, A Fugitive Slave (Poughkeepsie) 

Judy (Julia) LeFevre Jackson (Ulster County)

Harriet, Jacobs, author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl - Mrs Willis Buys Freedom of a Slave Girl (Cornwall)

Indenture of a 12 year old Black boy 1835 (Ulster County Poorhouse)

Livestock & Slaves Registry: Marks and Strays 1782-1861 and Slaves 1817-1860 in Newburgh

New York Slavery Records Index  (Records of Enslaved Persons and Slave Holders in New York from 1525 though the Civil War)
You can search by town and/or county to find list of the enslaved in our area (Southern Ulster county towns, including Newburgh, did not become part of Orange County until 1798)

Old Slave is Dead at Oxford Depot (Chester) 

Port Chester Bush Lyon Homestead Slave Quarters 

Runaway Slave Notices (a selection from Historic Huguenot Street)

Wayward Wenches and Wives: Runaway Women in the Hudson Valley, N.Y. 1785-1830 (requires setting up free account to read)

Ulster County, Slaves in 1755





New York Slave Laws

New York Laws on Slavery from the Colonial Era to the Civil War


Protection 1652 Statute While under Dutch rule, strict laws were passed in an effort to prevent the mistreatment of slaves. Whipping was forbidden unless the owner received permission from authorities.
Slavery legalized 1664 Statute Statutory recognition of slavery.
Alcohol 1680 Statute

Prohibited Blacks from consuming alcohol.

Slave Status

1696 Municipal Ulster County Court of Sessions forbids gatherings of more than three slaves
Alcohol 1702 Municipal Common Council of Albany ordered town constables to remove Blacks and Indians from taverns on Sundays. Tavern owner fined six shillings per person removed.
Commerce 1702 Statute Prohibited trade with a slave without his master's consent; the recipient of the goods was fined five pounds plus three times the value of the item.
Travel 1705 Municipal Albany passed laws stating that a slave could be punished with execution if he was found more than 40 miles north of Albany. (It was presumed that a slave was on his way to Canada with information about Albany's defenses against the French.)
Slave status 1706 Statute Christian baptism did not alter the status of enslaved blacks.
Travel 1710 Municipal New York City prohibited slaves from traveling on its streets at night without a lantern with a burning candle.
Slave code 1731 Municipal Perhaps with the slave revolt of 1712 in mind, the New York City Council codified its slave laws in 1731. No more than three Blacks could assemble on Sunday. Blacks could not carry weapons. Nor were they permitted on the streets after dark except with their master. No more than 12 blacks were permitted at a funeral, aside from the carriers and gravediggers. Blacks were prohibited from using the streets in a disorderly manner.
Commerce 1740 Municipal The New York City Council prohibited Blacks from selling their own produce at large public markets. Law was passed in response to the fears of the white population who believed that blacks were spreading disease in their fruits and vegetables. Violators whipped unless their owner paid a fine of six shillings.
Alcohol 1773 Statute Liquor sales to slaves outlawed. Tavern keepers could lose their license for three years if law violated.
Slave status 1773 Statute

Slave owners who knowingly allow their slaves to beg of others are subject to a fine of 10 pounds per offence. Slave owners who knowingly sell a slave that can no longer work are subject to a fine of 20 pounds and such sale is void

Manumission 1785 Statute State legislature authorized manumission of all slaves under age 50 without posting a security bond if the slave had a certificate of his ability to provide for himself.
Slave trade 1788 Statute The purchase of a slave with intent to sell him out of state was made illegal; the individual was fined 100 pounds, and the slave was freed.
Slave status 1788 Statute Every Negro, Mulatto or Mestee who was a slave at the time this law was passed shall be a slave for his or her life unless manumitted or set free. The law also states that the children of Negro, Mulatto, or Mestee slave women were also slaves.
Emancipation 1799 Statute All slaves born after 1799 freed. However, if a Black's mother was a slave, he or she served her master until age 25 for women and age 28 for men. Key points of the Gradual Emancipation Acts
Marriage 1809 Statute Slave marriages made legal, and freed Blacks could acquire an estate.
Slave trade 1810 Statute Prohibited residents from importing slaves.
Education 1810 Statute All slave owners were required to teach enslaved Black children to read the Bible.
Slave status 1811 Statute

An act to prevent frauds and perjuries at elections and to prevent slaves from voting

Military service 1812 Statute Provided for the mustering of two regiments of black troops who would receive the same pay as white soldiers. Enslaved Blacks could enlist with permission of their masters and would be freed at war's end.
Emancipation 1817 Statute Passage of the gradual Abolition Act provided that on July 4, 1827, every black born in New York before July 4, 1799, would be free, and all Black males born after that date would be free at the age of 28, and all females would be freed at the age of 25.
Runaways 1817 Statute Persons of color owing service or labor in any other state could be returned to where they came from.
Emancipation 1827 Statute Slavery abolished. On July 4, 10,000 slaves were freed without compensation to their owners.
Runaways 1840 Statute Provided trial by jury for alleged fugitive slaves.
Kidnapping 1840 Statute Duty of Governor to return persons kidnapped or transported into another state for the purpose of slavery.
Non-resident slave holders 1841 Statute Out of state slave owners could not keep their slaves in the state for more than nine months.

Frederick Douglass


from the New-York Tribune August 12, 1870

Newburgh Walking Tour

Poughkeepsie Emancipation Day Ceremonies