Black History

DCHS Yearbook Articles

Relevant articles published in DCHS Yearbooks, available online at www.dchsny.org/slavery

1987 YEARBOOK. Invisible People, Untold Stories: Historical Overview of the Black Community in Poughkeepsie, by Lawrence H. Mamiya and Lorraine M. Roberts, Vol. 72, 1987.

1984 YEARBOOK. Slaveholding on Livingston Manor and Clermont, 1686-1800, by Roberta Singer, Vol. 69, 1984.

1980 YEARBOOK. Separate Black Education in Dutchess County, by Carlton Mabee, Vol. 65, 1980, page 5.

1980 YEARBOOK. Ante-Bellum Dutchess County’s Struggle Against Slavery, by Susan J. Crane, Vol. 65, 1980, page 3.

1970 YEARBOOK. Dutchess County Quakers and Slavery, 1750-1830, by Dell Upton. Vol. 55, 1970, page 55.

1960 YEARBOOK. The Public Career of James Talmadge, Vol. 45, 1960, pages 63—67.

1943 YEARBOOK. The Anti-Slavery Movement in Dutchess County, 1835-1850, by Amy Pearce Ver Nooy, 1943.

1941 YEARBOOK. The Negro in Dutchess County in the Eighteenth Century, by Helen Wilkinson Reynolds, Vol. 26, 1941.

1935 YEARBOOK. John Bolding a Fugitive Slave, Vol. 20, 1935.

When Lorraine M. Roberts and Lawrence H. Mamiya wrote a history of Poughkeepsie’s Black community for the Dutchess County Historical Society (DCHS) Yearbook in 1987, they headlined it “Invisible People, Untold Stories.”

 

Their point was that many of the stories of the Black community are not written into our history books or held in our community conscience. They would no doubt would say the same remains true today, more than three decades later. That goes to the heart of the idea of “Decoding Dutchess Past,” based on the philosophy that our genuine and whole understanding of the past best informs the present and prepares us for the future.

 

In what is arguably a small step in a much larger ambition to make these individuals and their stories more accessible, DCHS has completed the work of putting its Yearbooks (the longest-running historical journal in NY State) fully available online for the years 1914 to 1989. You’ll find a list of relevant articles called out elsewhere in this article. They can be found, with related items from DCHS Collections and statistical information at www.dchsny.org/slavery

 

Another opportunity to “decode” the stories of our shared past is through the DCHS Walter Patrice Collection. Focusing on the history of a Church that Mr. Patrice’s family was involved in across three centuries, it can be viewed online at www.dchsny.org/AMEZion

 

Another is to look at the African American experience during and just after WWI at www.dchsny.org/wwi-african-american-exp

 

Or go to DCHS “homepage” and you’ll see these topics called out: www.dchsny.org

 

What you will discover among the stories and collections mentioned is that the earliest stories of the Black community are, of course, the stories of the enslaved. New York State, concerned with both the economic impact and social change involved in the abolition of slavery in the state, passed the “Gradual Abolition Act” of 1799, preventing full freedom until July 4, 1827. As a result, a large part of the story of the African American community is one of a continuous quest for the promise of freedom and equality. One that remains to this day.

 

Among DCHS Collections are “bills of sale.” Persons, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, are listed in wills and estate inventory among other “property.” It is, to say the least, difficult to imagine this as an accepted common practice. The enslaved in Dutchess County might live under the same roof as “owners,” but in muddy, dirty, dark cellars, small attic spaces. In some instances, separate quarters. The birth of a slave mother’s child might be recorded in the slave-owner family Bible. But there the proximity ends. Harsh, barbaric legal (and extra-legal) practices kept delineations painfully clear.

 

The Dutch were the first to bring African slaves to what they called New Amsterdam and New Netherland in the 1600’s. And while there was a dedicated slave census in 1755, accurate numbers can be hard to pin down until the start of the every-ten-year US federal census.

 

Like the broader story of the economic growth of the county, the expansion of slavery developed first in the river towns, and then grew inland.

 

Something particular to Dutchess County is the dynamic of the countervailing pressure from Quaker-dominant towns such as Pawling, Dover, Pawling, Millbrook, Clinton Corners (among others) that prohibited slave-owning among members.  A meeting in 1767 held at Quaker Hill (Pawling) started a process that gained strength in the early 1770’s to prohibit “Friends” from being slave owners. Northern Dutchess felt the influx of Quakers, bringing the same principles to bear in the 1790’s. The expansion of military facilities in southern Dutchess during the Revolutionary War prompted a move north to locations in Milan and Pine Plains.

 

So not surprisingly, in 1820, the last Federal Census before the NYS abolition of slavery, the town with the lowest number of slaves was the town of Dover, citing one slave in its census, out of the 67 persons of color. Pawling shows four slaves, out of 77 total persons of color. The other extreme, Fishkill which included Beacon at the time, shows 266 slaves out of 691 persons of color. Red Hook shows 182 slaves among 300 persons of color.

 

The Revolutionary War was disruptive to the old aristocratic landlord/tenant farmer “problem” that had prevented much local land ownership. But it was not as immediately disruptive to the practice of slavery.

 

During the period 1790 to 1820, the first Federal Census of the US, and the last before slavery was abolished in NY State in 1827, the numbers show a relatively stable population of persons of color, around 2,150 at the start of that period, and around 2,400 in the following decades.

 

The change is the degree to which those persons of color were enslaved. In 1790, 82% of these persons were enslaved. Between 1800 and 1820 there was a gradual diminution: 1800: 63%; 1810: 52%; 1820: 31%. 1830: theoretically 0%.

 

With some exceptions, the conclusion of the Civil War saw a shift of rural African Americans to cities where they found some strength in numbers and in association. The larger story is too big and complex to articulate here.

 

If one of the great powers of local history is its ability to bring a very personal experience and lens to major national trends, is worth mentioning one of our county’s most extraordinary families, and their multi-generational quest for equality. Revolutionary War veteran Andrew Frazier, whose descendants remain in the county today, is referred to as “the colored man” in the writings in the 1830’s of no less than John Armstrong, the US Secretary of War under President Madison, and US Senator. The reference is among writings related to a friend’s pension application, written from his Red Hook estate, “Rokeby.”

 

Most likely born a slave, Andrew Frazier settled with the Graham family in what is now Pine Plains just prior to the Revolutionary War, then settled and raised a family in Milan. Among his descendants, all of whom bore the Frazier family name and served the cause of freedom, were four descendants who served in the Civil War in the “colored regiments” of Rhode Island, one of whom died in service in Louisiana. Three Fraziers served in WWI: two great-great grandsons served in the Army, and a great-great granddaughter founded and led the Women’s Auxiliary to the Harlem Hellfighters. A 6th generation veteran fought in WWII. Enlisting in 1943 he served in a segregated military, one which would not be integrated until 1948.

 

Black history month is sometimes criticized by those saying every month should be Black history month. And that is true. No argument. But the discipline of “checking in” on how we are doing in understanding and sharing the stories that are too often invisible, too often untold, is a valuable annual exercise. And we hope this goes some way to begin to lay out trails to persue.

 

 

 

 

 

CALL-OUT BOX

 

 

Relevant articles published in DCHS Yearbooks, available online at www.dchsny.org/slavery

 

Invisible People, Untold Stories: Historical Overview of the Black Community in Poughkeepsie, by Lawrence H. Mamiya and Lorraine M. Roberts, Vol. 72, 1987.

 

Slaveholding on Livingston Manor and Clermont, 1686-1800, by Roberta Singer, Vol. 69, 1984.

 

Separate Black Education in Dutchess County, by Carlton Mabee, Vol. 65, 1980, page 5.

 

Ante-Bellum Dutchess County’s Struggle Against Slavery, by Susan J. Crane, Vol. 65, 1980, page 3.

 

Dutchess County Quakers and Slavery, 1750-1830, by Dell Upton. Vol. 55, 1970, page 55.

 

The Public Career of James Talmadge, Vol. 45, 1960, pages 63—67.

 

The Anti-Slavery Movement in Dutchess County, 1835-1850, by Amy Pearce Ver Nooy, 1943.

 

The Negro in Dutchess County in the Eighteenth Century, by Helen Wilkinson Reynolds, Vol. 26, 1941.

 

John Bolding a Fugitive Slave, Vol. 20, 1935.

 

 

Bill Jeffway is Executive Director of the Dutchess County Historical Society, a member of the Black History Project Committee of Dutchess County, Trustee of Historic Red Hook, and founder of Milan Historical Society.