With Black History Month approaching in February, there will be many opportunities to learn more about the role of African Americans in shaping Albany’s history. While New York is widely known as a Free State, slavery was a reality in New York until 1827. In 1790, as many as 217 households in Albany County had enslaved people. At one time, Albany County had more enslaved people than any county in New York. Below are four local historical sites with an important story to tell about Albany’s past.
Stephen Myers and his wife Harriet turned their Arbor Hill home into an important stop on the Underground Railroad. The Myers Residence welcomed freedom seekers and served as a meeting place for noted abolitionists throughout the 1800s. For an inside look at the Myers Residence, check out this video by Spectrum News.
The Wedding of the Waters: Erie Canal and the Underground Railroad exhibit is currently on display and highlights the role that the Erie Canal played for freedom seekers headed north to Canada.
The Myers Residence is run by the Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region, Inc. and on March 9-11 the organization will be hosting the 17th Annual Underground Railroad Public History Convention called LibertyCon 2018 - Embracing Equity in a Global Society.
The Crailo State Historic site was built by Hendrick Van Rensselaer and now serves as a museum of Colonial New Netherland history. A temporary exhibit titled, "A Dishonorable Trade: Human Trafficking in the Dutch Atlantic World," focuses on the Dutch trade network in the Atlantic and the impact this had on the lives of enslaved Africans. This exhibit highlights the slaves owned by wealthy Dutch families, which is a largely untold story of Albany’s past. In the house's cellar, you can see where the house's enslaved slept and where many of them worked, as well as the cooking hearth and tools. The exhibit is currently open by appointment only during the winter season. In the spring, the mansion will be the site of the second annual Pinkster Festival, a holiday which combines both African and Dutch traditions.
Photo by Cliff Oliver
Revolutionary War General Philip Schuyler and his family lived at Schuyler Mansion. In 2005, the remains of 14 slaves were found at nearby Schuyler Flatts, the Schuyler family farm located north of the city of Menands. After a decade of researchers piecing together what little information about the slaves they could, the remains were honored at a special reburial ceremony in 2017 at Historic St. Agnes Cemetery. The historical site’s blog has a section dedicated to discussing the lives of the enslaved found here. Today, the burial ground has been rededicated as the Historic African Burial Ground Site at Historic St. Agnes Cemetery.
Ten Broeck Mansion, home to Revolutionary War General Abraham Ten Broeck and Elizabeth Van Rensselaer, displays the difference in status between the Dutch colonials and enslaved people. The attic, which mostly served as the slaves’ quarters, is a stark contrast from the rest of the mansion’s elegant interiors. Culinary historian Lavada Nahon will explore what would have been involved in preparing a dinner for this prominent Albany family during “The Ten Broeck Table - 18th Century Dining at Ten Broeck Mansion”. The event on February 8 will include a tour of the kitchen where Susannah, the enslaved (and later freed) cook, prepared meals for the family.