Documenting Slavery in New Paltz

Hello, my name is Joseph Rochez and I am a student of SUNY New Paltz studying History and minoring in Political Science. As a student of Afro-Latino descent, I believe it is essential to understand American history through the lives of those that are unrepresented. The people that have dealt with the most oppression and under-representation throughout American history have been African Americans. From being property to fighting against various inequalities in today’s modern age, black people have been through various stages of tribulations that don’t seem to end. One thing that is never really talked about in American history is the fact that slavery was prevalent in the north as well.

Usually when one thinks of slavery, the southern states tend to be synonymous with the term, but there is astonishing proof that slavery prevailed in the north up until the first couple decades into the 19th century. This record from 1810 shows that there were bounty hunters who were looking for runaway slaves in the Ulster County area, which could have very well been runaway slaves from the town of New Paltz. This letter stated that the reward for the capture of a slave was at $14 a day of travel under 60 miles and $16 a day for travel over 60 miles from home. The bounty hunter would end up getting a sum of $30 dollars, which doesn’t seem a lot in today’s standards but, was worth a lot two centuries ago. This is the document that shows the advertisement of slave capturing:

Society of Negroes Unsettled

Society of Negroes Unsettled Signatures

The investment in capturing and maintaining the enslaved also meant that the institution was very important to the development of New Paltz as it contributed to the local economy as well as provide a labor force for infrastructure. There was also a society of slave owners dedicated to keeping slaves from running away and escaping known as ‘The Society of Negroes Unsettled’. In fact, the institution of slavery itself is what allowed the town of New Paltz to be sufficient and stable as the population in the town was generally very small for the most part of the first two centuries.

Because the institution was important to the well being of the town, there was also incentive to keep things the way they always were. A main precaution that was taken from the slave owners in New Paltz was making sure that there were no uprisings of Africans, which was a pretty common fear amongst whites living in the Hudson Valley. One thing that made uprisings pretty uncommon in the north is the way the system is practiced. Unlike southern plantation owners, households rarely owned more than four Africans, which contrary to popular belief made it a more dehumanizing practice in the north than the south. This made it almost certain that families were separated following purchase. In fact, life was probably boring and lonely as slaves could not interact with slaves from other households and worked close to the slave master. Africans were integrated into the white community, with a status that is inferior and worth less than a poor white peasant. The living conditions for enslaved Africans were unbearable. Owners often kept Africans in the basement of homes or even barns. Ceilings were short and the basement was often cold, wet and dusty. The Bevier-Elting House on Huguenot Street is a prime example of what conditions were like during the 19th century. One could imagine the back problems that Africans would have developed later in life due to having been subjected to such conditions for so long. The term “slave” is an unjust one and no human being should ever have to be looked at as property. However, slavery is part of the history of New Paltz as there is documentation and evidence of this system being in place. It is imperative that the inhabitants of this town acknowledge that slavery existed and embrace the role of Africans in the development of the town of New Paltz and Ulster county area.

Members of the Slave Dwelling Project visited Historic Huguenot Street, and along with board members, staff, and SUNY New Paltz students, slept in the cellars of the Bevier-Elting House and the Abraham Hasbrouck House. The Slave Dwelling Project is a non-profit that aims to preserve extant slave dwellings by bringing people together to education, collaborate and organize resources to save these important pieces of American history. Along with this event, Historic Huguenot Street has put together an exhibit highlighting the documents and objects in the permanent collection that tell the story of Hudson Valley slavery. This document is among others like it, such as wills, estate inventories, other agreements, as well as a slave collar. Slavery in New Paltz is open to the public in the DuBois Fort until September 25. For more information about the Slave Dwelling Project, visit their website www.slavedwellingproject.org.

Sources:

Roth, Eric. “‘The Society of Negros Unsettled’: a history of slavery in New Paltz, NY.” The Free Library. Afro-Americans in New York Life and History: Buffalo, NY, 1 January 2003. Web. 7 September 2016.

Historic Huguenot Street. “The Missing Chapter: Untold Stories of the African American Presence in the Mid-Hudson Valley.” Hudson River Valley Heritage. Southeastern New York Library Resources Council: Highland, NY. Web. 7 September 2016.

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