Category Archives: State History

Curated Cemeteries Tell Tales at State Parks

With Halloween coming up, the setting of an old cemetery might come to mind. Cemeteries are beautiful, poignant, old and sometimes just creepy, but these places are also a powerful reminder of the past and a record of the people who came before.

As part of its mission to preserve the state’s heritage, New York State Parks is responsible for the care of numerous cemeteries – from dozens and dozens of small old homestead cemeteries and large military cemeteries to burial vaults and even pet cemeteries. And cemeteries, just like any other historic item, do require maintenance and repair from time to time.

It is the job of the Historic Site and Parks Services (BHSPS) to preserve these cemeteries and the individual gravestones. That means tackling the challenges posed by time and weather, but also repairing the damage done by vandals, who break or damage stones.

Intact stones can be cleaned and inventoried in place, but fractured stones in need of repair are brought to our historic preservation labs Peebles Island State Park, where conservators perform the needed repairs. That work has been assisted by members of the New York State Excelsior Conservation Corps, who learn how to document, map, clean and reset gravestones.

A visit to a historic cemetery can be a time of contemplation in a quiet natural setting. For example, Grafton Lakes State Park in the forests of the Rensselaer Plateau in the Saratoga/Capital Region, has four historic family cemeteries.  The Old Snyder Cemetery is just above the Mill Pond and shadowed by the forest.  The small cemetery, dating to the 19th century is surrounded by a decorative iron fence and features obelisks, and marble and bluestone gravestones.

At the historic preservation labs at Peebles Island State Park, a fractured gravestone from a historic family cemetery within Grafton Lakes State Park is reset.
Gravestones freshly cleaned by State Parks staffers shine at Grafton Lakes State Park.

The gravestones tell the story of life in 18th and 19th century New York. Some stones simply feature a name while others feature beautifully carved weeping willows or crosses.  The Thomas West, Frances West and Hicks cemeteries are smaller and buried deeper in the Park.  The cemeteries are marked by fieldstone walls or split rail fence.  

At the other end of the state, the 1812 Cemetery at the Old Fort Niagara State Historic Site, is the resting place of the fort’s soldiers and their families from the War of 1812 through the 1930s. This cemetery is shaded by mature oaks, pines and maple trees and overlooks the Niagara River.  Traditional military tombstones are intermixed with large granite and marble memorials to the Unknown Soldiers who died during the campaigns of Western Expansion, the Revolutionary War and the war of 1812. The Victorian and Gothic gravestones feature finely detailed cannons, urns, flowers, shields and crosses.   

State Parks conservator Heidi Miksch gently cleans the bronze plaque on a tombstone at Old Fort Ontario State Historic Site.
Gravestones at Old Fort Ontario during and after a cleaning session. Use the slider bar to compare pictures.

The Herkimer Home State Historic Site and Fort Ontario State Historic Site in central New York also feature military and local cemeteries. The Herkimer Home cemetery has large memorials flanked by cannons intermixed with delicate 18th-century marble gravestones and 19th-century zinc memorials, and includes the resting place of Revolutionary War General Nicholas Herkimer, who died of wounds after the Battle of Oriskany.

A member of the Excelsior Conservation Corps (ECC) cleans a gravestone at the Herkimer Home State Historic Site.

Back at the historic preservation labs at Peebles Island, an ECC member repairs a broken gravestone from Herkimer Home State Historic Site.
A map of the Herkimer Home cemetery created by Excelsior Conservation Corps members.

In Oswego at Fort Ontario, a small cemetery features 77 marble military tombstones of veterans from the French and Indian War to World War II. Inside the fort are fragile and rare gravestone from the 1700s.

Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion State Historic Park in Canandaigua has a small pet cemetery under an old oak tree near the 19th century Victorian mansion. The cemetery is surrounded by a low iron fence and features large boulders carved with the names of family pets owned by Frederick and Mary Thompson, the estate’s former owners.  A marble statue of a resting dog guards the small resting place.

Pet cemetery at Sonnenberg Gardens, where a statue of a reclining dog stands watch.

At Katonah’s John Jay Homestead State Historic Site, in the historic house’s Terrace Garden, there is a simple marker in the memory of Old Fred, a horse that served in the Civil War with Colonel William Jay II, with both rider and steed coming home safely at war’s end.

Its inscription reads: “In memory of Old Fred, who carried Colonel Jay through the Battles of Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Peeble’s Farm & Appomattox, and who died at Bedford in May 1883, aged 28 years.”

The grave and historical marker for Old Fred, the faithful warhorse of Colonel William Jay II. At bottom, Colonel Jay is shown in uniform with his sister, Eleanor Jay Chapman.

So, a quiet October afternoon could be a perfect time to appreciate the hand carved stonework, and imagine the lives marked by the gravestones, which are another aspect our shared history being protected by New York State Parks.


Cover Shot: Members of the Excelsior Conservation Corps cleaning gravestones at the Herkimer Home State Historic Site. (All photos by NYS Parks)

Post by Erin E. Moroney,  architectural conservator, Bureau of Historic Site & Park Services

Extra! Brutish King Hiring Foreign Thugs, War Elephants and Samurai to Attack America!! Or, Fake News In Colonial New York

Such an inflammatory headline would doubtless draw more than a few clicks on social media today. In the 18th century, the Colonial American public got their information from the contemporary version of the internet – newspapers. Colonists might get some news from talking with neighbors or serving on local and state committees, but the major source of information was from the multitude of papers printed across the colonies and imported by ship from Europe.

Imagine then a colonist picking up the February 15, 1777 edition of the respected and reliable Philadelphia-based Durand’s Pennsylvania Packet and seeing the entire front page dominated by harrowing dispatches from London, under the headline “The IMPARTIAL CHRONICLE, or the INFALLIBLE INTELLIGENCER; upon the plan, and after the manner of, the NEW-YORK MERCURY.”  Founded in 1771, the Pennsylvania Packet was widely read and by 1784, it became the first successful daily newspaper published in the United States. The Packet was an ancestor of the current Philadelphia Inquirer.

With the Declaration of Independence only about seven months old and blood already shed on battlefields, readers of The Packet were eager for news from the recently estranged Mother county. Imagine the shock when they read on its pages that King George III was ignoring rules of civilized warfare and preparing to send tens of thousands of brutish foreign mercenaries to invade the colony of New York.

These soldiers of fortune didn’t care about liberty, representation, or the rights of Englishmen (or women), they were lured only by gold, plunder, and foreign influence from malevolent despots. King George III, who had never ONCE visited a foreign court (he never even went to Scotland, and that was on the same bloody island…), according to the newspaper, was now entertaining troop offers from around the world in some kind of global outsourcing of villainy.

And the breathless accounts ranged from the reality of German mercenaries who were already fighting in the colonies on behalf of the British to the terrifying spectacles of an amphibious invasion of Japanese samurai on the Pacific Coast and rampaging war elephants being shipped over from an Asian potentate.

The news was shocking – but it was also absolutely fake. The whole thing was a hoax — a hit piece against His Majesty King George III — slipped into a very real colonial newspaper by William Livingston (1723-1790), the son of one of New York’s most powerful families.

Like any good purveyor of “fake news,” Livingston used some kernels of half-truth. German mercenaries were already fighting in America, but the IMPARTIAL CHRONICLE reported that thousands more depraved warriors were on their way from India, Japan, Central Europe, the Ottoman Empire, and Scandinavia — faraway places full of people who had been deemed “savage” by the racial classifications of 18th century America.

Livingston was the embodiment of the educated, upper-class, white male who dominated colonial America. Governor of New Jersey at this time, he was rich, and by rich, I mean “really rich.” His father, Philip, was, literally, Lord of the Manor as proprietor of a massive estate in modern-day Columbia County.

William was well connected to the elite. His brother, also Philip, was known throughout the Colonies as the “the signer” for signing the Declaration of the Independence; and his sister, Sarah, was married to Lord Stirling, one of George Washington’s most trusted generals. William’s daughter, also Sarah, was one of the most well-known and influential women of the entire Revolution — her marriage to John Jay created a partnership of intellectualism and effectiveness that rivaled John and Abigail Adams.

A young William Livingston was part of the powerful ruling class in Colonial New York. The portrait dates from approximately 1730, when William would have been about seven years old. (Photo Credit – John Jay Homestead State Historic Site.

William was a cousin to another famous and powerful Colonial New Yorker, Robert R. Livingston, who grew up near William at Clermont State Historic Site, and was a high-ranking member of New York State Government and the Committee of Five who wrote the Declaration of Independence.  In that document, colonists included a list of grievances against King George III, including the charge he was “transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries [the so-called “Hessians” from the state of Hesse in Germany] to complete “the works of death, desolation and tyranny.”

George Washington had achieved a stunning victory over these hated Hessians in his famous crossing of the Delaware River into Trenton, N.J. in late December 1776, but support for the war overall was lagging early on as some Americans questioned whether reconciliation with England might be the best response.  Just two months after Trenton, William Livingston used his well-known writing skills to inflame rebel resentment against the King and toward the cause of revolution and liberty.

It was the colonists’ fear of foreign mercenaries (especially the mislabeled and misunderstood German Hessians) that William was amplifying and preying upon in his 1777 IMPARTIAL CHRONICLE hoax.

Hessians were scaring New Yorkers for decades after the end of the American Revolution. The “headless horseman” featured in the famous Washington Irving ghost story was of a decapitated Hessian soldier, as illustrated in this 1858 painting “The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane” by John Quidor. (Photo Credit – Smithsonian Museum of American Art.

Livingston was smart. He crafted his hoax in way that was obvious satire and clearly fake, at least to discerning readers, but was also outrageous enough to get people talking about it. His approach allowed him to provoke a laugh at the expense of King George III, all the while stoking primal fears of foreign mercenaries and a frontier war with Native Americans allied with those foreigners.

Livingston began his IMPARTIAL CHRONICLE piece by claiming the Emperor of India had offered King George III “five hundred Elephants out of his own stables” to dispatch against the rebellious Colonials but the King had politely refused because it would cost too much to feed them.

An 18th century depiction of an Indian war elephant carrying spear-wielding soldiers. The elephants were the armored tanks of their day and terrorized opposing troops. (Photo Credit- Philadelphia Museum of Art)

The IMPARTIAL CHRONICLE went on to claim, however, that King George’s advisors, mindful of a potential alliance opportunity with the Indian Emperor, recommended that the king offer his son the Prince of Wales in marriage to the potentate’s eldest daughter.  The scheme failed because it was believed the 15-year-old prince could not “close with the overture” (so to speak) with the Indian Princess unless he submitted to circumcision; even that last bit had a racial subtext. Englishmen of that time considered circumcision a dangerous practice, only done by non-Christians — in short, it was 18th century code for barbaric.   

In addition to the 500 Indian War Elephants, the IMPARTIAL CHRONICLE claimed offers of troops were pouring in from across the globe to form a gathering barbarian horde.

The King of Denmark was sending 4,000 elite warriors in reindeer-drawn sleds to fight Americans in the snow. In Persia (modern-day Iran), the king was sending 3,500 horse archers to join His Majesty’s light cavalry units. From the Hapsburgh monarchy in central Europe, 5,500 Hungarian Hussars, Pandurs, and Croats were being sent to “cut [Americans] down with their sabers” before their victims even saw them.

In perhaps the largest whopper of them all, Japan was going to amphibiously land 12,000 troops on the coast of California (yes, really, California) and march all the way to New York. The reason for the overland march was twofold, William explained to readers. First, it would save the Japanese fleet from a “circuitous voyage” around the southern tip of South America. Second, the Japanese would gather Native Warriors all the way from “the South Sea and the river Ohio” as allies by convincing the Indigenous Americans that “their ancestors having emigrated from Japan,” and so they should  fight for the Japanese Emperor.

The humor is somewhat lost on us modern readers of course, but in the 18th century, it was outrageously funny, so much so that it even made George Washington offer up a LOL. Afterward, the general wrote to William (a personal friend of his): “I heartily thank you for the Impartial Chronicle: Fraught with the most poignant Satire, it afforded me real pleasure.” If you’ve ever read anything written by George Washington, you’d know that’s about as high as his praise gets.

Other bits of news from the IMPARTIAL CHRONICLE hoax were thankfully less about fear-mongering propaganda, and more about plain old mockery. An ad claimed that a runaway servant named “Common-Sense and Honesty” had left the palace of King George III, and offered a £5,000 reward (a considerable fortune at the time) for anyone who could bring him back:


Perhaps the best bit in the IMPARTIAL CHRONICLE was a “correction” which apologized for previously reporting “that the King and Queen were both with child” (the Queen was in fact pregnant at the time). The paper noted the lie apparently had been invented by Americans with “malicious hopes” the King would die in childbirth.

Tightly buttoned waistcoats bursting over a prominent belly were a way that 18th century men displayed their social status and power, but calling King George III pregnant was a low blow of particularly harsh mockery. (Photo Credit – Wikipedia Commons)

Speaking of the Queen, another salacious story in the IMPARTIAL CHRONICLE indicated she had vetoed a plan to offset the losses from the war and repopulate England. As the story went, a foreign Emperor, noting that the *ahem* “common mode of procreation” usually practiced in England was inadequate, offered to send five female concubines to every Member of Parliament and to provide “his Majesty himself with a score…of amiable blooming breeders.” Parliament, it was reported, had “gratefully accepted” but the offer was scuttled because “our most gracious Queen cannot be fully convinced of the necessity of the measure.”

Another bit of “fake news” fabricated by William Livingston claimed that the British Navy, so dominant by sea, was converting some of its warships into land vessels by using ropes and pulleys, so the behemoths could chase Rebels in the countryside. Shown here is a design of a land fighting vessel by famed 16th century Renaissance inventor Leonardo da VInci .(Photo Credit – Wikipedia Commons)

So why did Livingston venture into the realm of fake news? Well, muck-raking and sensationalized journalism were already established New York traditions by 1777.

Robert Livingston, William’s own grandfather, once claimed in a newspaper account decades earlier that former New York Governor Edward Cornbury walked around daily in “womens cloths.” Newspaper publisher John Peter Zenger famously took it a step too far when he had the audacity to publish mean things about Colonial Governor William Crosby that were actually true (Governor Crosby had him arrested for libel, but Zenger was acquitted in one of America’s foundational cases for press freedom from government repression).

Maybe William Livingston did it to insult the King and those loyal to him. Maybe he did to instill a sense of camaraderie among Americans by creating an “Us versus Them” dynamic. Maybe he even did it to convince those on the fence about independence that today it might be Germans sticking bayonets in your belly, but tomorrow it could be War Elephants trampling your wife and children.  Or maybe he did it to be funny (well, at least 18th century funny).

Before he was a General and Governor, Livingston was famous for his satirical writings and political commentary. Livingston’s well-known pen and wit weren’t only used against his enemies, either. A few months after his fake news operation, when William learned that the British had burned Kingston in October 1777, he feared for the safety of his brother Philip “the signer.” Philip was serving a term in the New York State Senate, which had relocated to Kingston and had been forced to evacuate just ahead of the British army taking the city.

Upon finally hearing his brother was okay, William sent a letter to Henry Laurens (father of John, from the musical Hamilton fame):

“If my Brother be with you, pray make him my Compliments, and tell him, that considering his size, I was under great apprehensions that he would not have been brisk enough to escape the Firing of Kingston. Sure I am that if any one had done him the kind office that Aeneas did Anchises of bearing him on his Shoulders to avoid the Conflagration, both the bearer & the burden, (or as the Merchants would say, both the Carrier & the freight) would have run the risque [risk] of perishing in the Flames. 5 February 1778.”

In other words, William was calling his little brother fat. A real card, huh?

A portrait of the admittedly rotund Philip Livingston, shown here in a circa 1770 portrait by Abraham Delanoy. Again, showing of a prominent belly displayed that a man had enough wealth to eat well and often. (Photo Credit – Clermont State Historic Site)

Cover Shot: Portrait of Samuel Johnson (“Blinking Sam”), Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. Gift of Frances and Loren Rothschild.


Post by Travis Bowman, Historic Preservation Program Coordinator (Collections), Bureau of Historic Sites

Do You Know Sojourner Truth?

There are historic figures whose names we sometimes hear but whose story may have grown hazy. Sojourner Truth too often falls into that category.

Her famous “Ain’t I A Woman” speech of 1851 may still be familiar to a few, but unfortunately, the popular version has her speaking in the voice of the Deep South where she doesn’t belong. In fact, she’s a native New Yorker from the Hudson Valley.

 A bronze statue of this famous 19th century African-American abolitionist and women’s rights advocate is being installed this month at the western entrance to the Walkway Over the Hudson State Park in Ulster County, so this is a good opportunity to get to know Sojourner Truth better.

The statue of Sojourner Truth that is being unveiled at Walkway Across the Hudson State Park.

She was born enslaved in 1797 to James Baumfree (alternatively spelled Bomefree) and Elizabeth ‘Mau-Mau Bet’, enslaved parents who were owned by a Dutch family in Esopus, Ulster County. Isabella, as she was named then, grew up speaking Dutch.

Some of the worst treatment she received as an enslaved teen came at the hands of her second owner because she didn’t speak or understand English, and he didn’t speak or understand Dutch. She bore the scars on her lacerated back, the punishment she received as a result of this language barrier, for the rest of her life. Later, she displayed these marks during her talks as a sign of the common mistreatment the enslaved received. Even after becoming fluent in English, contemporaries noted that she spoke with a Dutch accent, not a Southern one as a later popular account of her famous 1851 speech portrays.

I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man.

I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that?

I have heard much about the sexes being equal; I can carry as much as any man, and can eat as much too, if I can get it.

Portion of Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech to the Woman’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, as reporter on June 21, 1851, by The Anti-Slavery Bugle, of Salem, Ohio. A version published more than a decade later had her speaking in Southern voice.

Despite her low birth status, Sojourner Truth became one of the leading voices for human rights and universal suffrage in the 19th century. Her life as an itinerant preacher working on behalf of the enslaved, newly freed, and women, especially Black women, left a legacy that has kept her in the public consciousness.

Her birth, two years before New York’s Gradual Emancipation Act took effect on July 4, 1799, would have her remain enslaved well into adulthood. Her owner John Dumont struck a deal with Isabella and agreed to free her in 1826. After receiving a life-threatening injury while working in his fields, she required time to heal. Dumont used the healing time as justification to renege on his promise of freedom. In retaliation, she leaned upon her trust in God, and “…walked away by daylight” to find liberty, taking her youngest daughter Sophia with her.

This map shows where Sojourner Truth began her walk to freedom in Esopus, Ulster County, (pin on the right) westward to Marbletown (pin on the left).


This bold journey by the 29-year-old was the first of several she would make in her life. After walking many miles, she reached a settlement at Marbletown headed by Quakers, who were known anti-slavery abolitionists. A man there directed her to a farm owned by Isaac Van Wagenen, who held no enslaved people and had joined Quakers and Methodists working for the emancipation of all the enslaved. Van Wagenen paid $25 to Dumont for Isabella and her daughter, then freed her, allowing her to work off the cost as a domestic for the household.

While working for the Van Wagenen’s, Isabella faced her second tribulation. The Gradual Manumission laws in New York restricted the sale of enslaved children out of the state, lest they not be freed at the appointed time. Her young son Peter, through a series of twists and turns, was illegally sold and taken to far-off Alabama, from which he might never return. Upon hearing the news, Isabella ran to the wife of her former owner, who had orchestrated the sale, but was firmly rebuked. Isabella reached out to others, all of whom made light of her frantic state over her missing child. Realizing how others perceived her plight, she called upon God and proclaimed calmly that she would have her son back.

Walking the road, she happened upon a man who directed her to some Quakers, assuring her they would help. Not only did they provide lodging for her that night, they provided money to press her complaint in court. In 1828, Isabelle won her son’s return _ marking one of the first legal cases where an African-American woman prevailed in court against a white person.

The judge in the case declared that the “boy be delivered into the hands of the mother—having no other master, no other controller, no other conductor, but his mother.” It was to Isabella’s horror that when alone with her son, she discovered he now bore scars from being physically abused during his distant enslavement.

From Ulster County, Isabelle moved to New York City, where she worked as a domestic for people involved in the anti-slavery movement. It is during this time that she began her training in public speaking. Illiterate throughout her life, during her time in New York City, she increased her knowledge of the Bible, listening intently during Bible study. She believed strongly in the idea of everyone having a direct relationship with God and leaned heavily upon hers. Like many abolitionists she became known for her radical and anti-cleric religious views. More of a spiritualist than a traditional churchgoer, Truth often spoke of being abused by ‘Christians,’ many of whom strongly supported slavery and participated in mob violence against blacks and white members of anti-slavery groups.

During her time in New York City, she worked, saved money and opened a bank account, reunited with a brother and sister who had been sold as children, won a court case for slander, and grew as a preacher, speaking out on the street and at anti-slavery gatherings.

But by 1841, divisions within New York’s abolitionist community, the rise of the pro-slavery Democratic party and her son Peter’s death at sea while working as a sailor, pushed her onward. Heeding inner divine guidance, she changed her name from Isabella Baumfree to Sojourner Truth in 1843 and headed east out of New York City. She traveled the road to Brooklyn, then out to the Long Island, into Connecticut and ultimately reached Massachusetts, speaking ‘truth’ to hundreds along the way about the inhuman practice of enslavement and human rights. Her speeches were well received and comments about her talks appeared repeatedly in newspapers across the region.

Her strong desire to be treated as an equal manifested itself not just in her teachings on tolerance, but her desire to live what she preached. The early 19th century saw waves of religious and social reform movements sweeping through the northern part of the U.S. Many within the anti-slavery movement believed strongly in equality, prompting Abolitionist and other religious reformers to establish utopian communities that foreshadowed the communes of the 1960s. One of the early examples was the Northampton Association in Northampton, Massachusetts, which Sojourner Truth joined in 1844.

The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, the story of her life, was dictated to her friend Olive Gilbert during their time together at Northampton. According to Professor Margaret Washington, a noted scholar on Sojourner Truth, and author of Sojourner Truth’s America, “…embedded in Northampton was a commitment to revolutionize civilization.” Frederick Douglass once commented that “The Northampton air was full of “isms…Grahamism, mesmerism, Fourierism, transcendentalism, Communism and Abolitionism. But it was to be commended because of its deep commitment to emancipation.”

The Northhampton community was home to many involved in the anti-slavery movement. A mix of farmers, artisans, clerks, teachers, ministers, intellectuals, and other professionals, it reflected the equality that Sojourner longed to see in America. While in residence Sojourner worked in the laundry, but otherwise spent her time traveling the region preaching and teaching on civil rights, abolition and suffrage. It was her plan that the Narrative, along with photographs of herself, which she had inscribed with the famous words, “I sell the shadow to support the substance,” would provide an income to support her vision that many women didn’t have.

“I sell the shadow to support the substance.” — Sojourner Truth. Carte de Visite, circa 1864, in the collections of the Library of Congress (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/97513239/)


The stirrings of the coming Civil War took her from Massachusetts to Washington, D.C., where during the war she recruited men for the Union Army, and later worked for the Freedmen’s Bureau, helping to feed thousands of newly freed enslaved. Her awareness of their plight, and the endless need for work and sustenance moved her to the realization that without land of their own the freedmen would not prosper. This began her work on petitioning for space within the territory of Kansas.  With the end of the war she returned to the road, again focusing on universal suffrage and women’s rights.

But support for all the disenfranchised in the country wasn’t there. It became increasingly clear that a choice had to be made between voting rights for Black men or women, but both would not succeed at once. The ‘race or gender’ struggle created a schism within the suffrage movement that was being led by Elizabeth Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who wanted to see white women gain suffrage first. Their public comments and involvement with strong pro-slavery Democrats pushed many long active suffrage supporters like Sojourner Truth and Fredrick Douglass to distance themselves.

Following the passage of the 15th Amendment which gave voting rights to Black men (but not women regardless of race) in 1870, Sojourner moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, and returned to the women’s movement. Leaving behind the animosity of the past, she and Douglass again joined forces with Stanton and Anthony to push for voting rights for women until failing health caused her to retire from public life. On November 26, 1883, the 86-year-old Sojourner Truth died at her home in Michigan. The national adoption of women’s suffrage was still four decades away.

Her popularity as a long standing, dynamic public speaker on human rights and suffrage, someone often quoted or referenced in newspapers and other periodicals of the time, brought hundreds to her funeral. Sojourner Truth’s life reflected her deep and abiding belief that justice for all would someday come.  The shadow of her legacy is deep and abiding, and reflects a journey toward equality that she knew would continue.

As she wrote, “I don’t expect I will to live to see it, but when this generation has passed away, there will be a grand change.”   


Cover picture of Sojourner Truth: Credit Wikipedia Commons; Wood, Norman B., “White Side of a Black Subject,” (1897)

Post by Lavada Nahon, Interpreter of African American History, state Bureau of Historic Sites

Sojourner Truth Resources

Web based

The Sojourner Truth Project

Offers critical analysis of Truth’s famous Ain’t I a Woman speech, dispelling the inaccurate use of southern dialect in the later transcription and focusing on the earlier transcription of the speech which was more true to her northern Afro-Dutch roots.

Sojourner Truth – Identifying Her Family and Owners

Information about Sojourner Truth’s family and the slave holders associated with them from the New York Slavery Records Index.

This Far by Faith – Sojourner Truth

This PBS series highlights the spiritual lives of historic figures and provides details about Sojourner Truth’s religious beliefs, spiritual life and ministry.

Narrative of Sojourner Truth; a bondswoman of olden time, emancipated by the New York Legislature in the early part of the present century; with a history of her labors and correspondence drawn from her “Book of life.”

This work includes several important texts about Sojourner Truth’s life, including a dictated autobiography and some correspondence. Full text transcript available via PDF.

Selected Books

Grigsby, Darcy G., Enduring Truths: Sojourner’s Shadows and Substance (2015).

Mabee, Carleton and Mabee, Susan Newhouse, Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend (1993).

Mandziuk, Roseann M. and Pullon Fitch, Suzanne Sojourner Truth as Orator: Wit, Story, and Song (1997).

Gilbert, Olive, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth (1850)

Painter, Nell Irvin Sojourner Truth: A Life (1997).

Schmidt, Gary D. (illustrated by Daniel Minter), So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk Toward Freedom (2018) [children’s book].

Stetson, Erlene and David, Linda, Glorying in Tribulation: The Lifework of Sojourner Truth (1989).

Washington, Margaret, Sojourner Truth’s America (2011)

A Declaration That Lost a Fortune

With picnics, barbecues and fireworks, many New Yorkers will celebrate the Fourth of July this weekend, marking the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Of the 56 men who signed that document in Philadelphia announcing American liberty to the world, four were from New York _ Lewis Morris, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis and William Floyd.

Perhaps not so well known is that several months later, more than 500 other New Yorkers embraced another public declaration – this one pledging loyalty to British King George III against a “most unnatural, unprovoked Rebellion that ever disgraced the annuls of time.”

New York’s so-called “Declaration of Dependence” reflected a split at the start of the Revolutionary War between Patriots and Loyalists (also called Tories) among the state’s 200,000 residents. That divide ultimately claimed the fortunes and property of dozens of Loyalists, including the prominent and wealthy owner of Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site, in Yonkers, Westchester County.

Born in 1720 in New York City, Frederick Philipse III enjoyed influence and power as one of the largest landowners in the Hudson Valley and possibly the richest man in New York. He was the fabulously wealthy great-grandson of a Dutch carpenter named Frederick Flypsen who arrived in New Holland in 1653 at age 27 and created a fortune based on land, shipping, fur and slave trading.

Flypsen, who Anglicized his name to Philipse after the British took over New York, became a major landholder along the east side of the Hudson River, eventually controlling more than 50,000 acres in what is now Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess counties.

Frederick Philipse III when he was one of the richest men in New York State.

Frederick Philipse III took over his share of family holdings at age 30 in 1752, devoting himself to administering the estate, called Philipsborough, and collecting rents from his many tenant farmers. His residence at the opulent manor hall, which had been started by his grandfather, continued by his father, Frederick II, and erected in stages between 1682 and 1758, was a showcase of English gentility but had brutal underpinnings.

Up to 30 enslaved people and two dozen white indentured servants worked the manor under Frederick III, according to a report from Columbia University based on Philipse family records donated to the university. Frederick III was a founding governor of King’s College in 1754, which later become Columbia University.

It was also during this period that Philipse appropriated a large amount land in what is now Dutchess County from the Wappinger Native American tribe under dubious circumstances, sparking tribal leaders to launch an unsuccessful appeals in the 1760s to Colonial leaders, and later to British authorities.

On the eve of the Revolutionary War, Philipsborough extended for about 24 miles along the east bank of the Hudson, from the Croton River in Westchester County to northern Bronx County. Due to his wealth and prominence, Philipse held a post in the Colonial state Assembly, but his role there were largely ceremonial and uniformly supportive of the royal government that was guarantor of his privileges.

Map of Philipsburg at the time of Frederick Philipse III. (Credit- Wikipedia Creative Commons)

As revolutionary sentiment in the Colonies began to take shape in early 1775, Philipse blocked an effort to send New York delegates to a Continental Congress in Philadelphia, siding with the British Crown. He then had a pro-monarchy notice posted in a New York City Loyalist newspaper, drawing the ire and hostility of Patriot factions in New York and elsewhere. That led to Philipse being put to the top of a Patriot list of Westchester County Loyalists.

With combat later breaking out in Massachusetts and New York, some Loyalists began fleeing to England as others were arrested by Patriot leaders, but nothing happened to Philipse initially. But after he assembled his tenants in early 1776 to urge them to support the British against the uprising, a subpoena was issued that summer for his arrest, which was later ordered by George Washington in August 1776 after the Declaration of Independence was issued. Philipse was held in New Rochelle before being transferred to New Haven, Connecticut. Officials there agreed to let him return to his manor in December under a signed parole agreeing not to undermine the Revolution.

The Declaration of Dependence was issued on November 28, 1776 with Frederick Philipse III among the Loyalist signers who vowed to support the “supremacy of Great Britain over the Colonies.” Philipse’s signature is prominent on the first page of the declaration, which now is at the New York Historical Society in New York City.

The declaration stated that some Loyalists had been “driven from their Habitations, and others sent Prisoners into some of the neighboring Colonies.” The appeal concluded by stating that the Philipse and the other signers _ a mix of civil and military officers, clergy, landowners and wealthy merchants _ were opposed to the Revolution “in every stage of its rise and progress, at the risk of our Lives and Fortunes.”

Many New Yorkers felt as Philipse did. About half of the state’s 200,000 residents held Loyalist sentiments, giving New York the highest percentage of Loyalists among the 13 colonies.

While back at the manor on parole in March 1777, Philipse attempted to pass a message to British forces after he witnessed nearby Patriot troop movements. When the message was intercepted, he panicked and fled with his family downriver to the safety of British-occupied New York City. The lord of Philipsburg was never to see his luxurious estate and home again.

As the tide of war began to turn, New York lawmakers decided to permanently break the power of the pro-British elite by stripping Philipse and 58 other Tories of their property and condemning them to banishment and death under the Confiscation Act of Oct. 22, 1779.

So, for the first time in a century, the Philipse family had no standing in Westchester County. Frederick III remained in New York City until the end of the war in 1783, when British troops evacuated. His estate and most of his wealth gone, and facing penalty of death, he sailed with other Loyalists to Great Britain, a place he had never been. Philipse was a broken man when he died there just two years later at age 65.

His lands and property were auctioned off by New York State in 1784-85 into more than 300 separate parcels, bringing in more than $28 million by today’s standards, making it the largest confiscated estate sold in New York. The money raised was used to pay off war debts.

In 1868, after passing through the hands of many owners, the former manor house became Yonkers Village Hall and, in 1872, the first City Hall. By the 20th century, city growth threatened the manor’s future until it was acquired by New York State in 1908 with the generous help of the Cochran family of Yonkers.

Today, Philipse Manor Hall serves as a museum of history, art and architecture, as well as host to community organizations, meetings, educational programs and special events. Highlights of the Hall include its 18th century, high style Georgian architecture, a 1750s papier mache Rococo ceiling, and an impressive collection of presidential portraits, including the six Presidents from New York State.

Currently, all tours and programs at Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site are postponed until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Check back at the website for updates.


Cover Shot- Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site. All photos by NYS Parks unless otherwise credited.

Post by Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer for NYS Parks


Resources

An American Loyalist: The Ordeal of Frederick Philipse III, by Stefan Bielinksi, Division of Historical Services, New York State Museum, State Education Department, 1976

On Slavers and Settlers: A History of the Philipse Family, 1662-1785, By Meghan Brophy, Columbia University News

Dispossessing Loyalists and Redistributing Property in Revolutionary New York, by Mark Boonshoft, New York Public Library, Sept. 19, 2016.

The Loyalist Declaration of Dependence, 1776, by Sandra McNamara, Journal of the American Revolution, Dec. 20, 2018

Declaration of Dependence, New York Historical Society


DECLARATION OF DEPENDENCE

November 28, 1776


To The Right Honorable Richard Viscount Howe, of the Kingdom of Ireland, and His Excellency The Honorable William Howe, Esquire, General of His Majesty’s Forces in America, the King’s Commissioners for restoring Peace in His Majesty’s Colonies and Plantations in North America &c. &c. &c.

May it please your Excellencies.

Impressed with the most grateful sense of the Royal Clemency, manifested I your Proclamation of the 14th. Of July last, whereby His Majesty hath been graciously pleased to declare, “That he is desirous to deliver His American subjects from the calamities of War, and other oppressions, which they now undergo:” and equally affected with sentiments of gratitude for the generous and humane attention to the happiness of these Colonies, which distinguishes your Excellencies subsequent Declaration, evincing your disposition “to confer with His Majesty’s well affected subjects, upon the means of restoring the public Tranquility, and establishing a permanent union with every Colony as a part of the British Empire.”

We whose names are hereunto subscribed, Inhabitants of the City and County of New-York, beg leave to inform your Excellencies: that altho most of us have subscribed a general Representation with many other of the Inhabitants; yet we wish that our conduct, in maintaining inviolate our loyalty to our Sovereign, against the strong tide of oppression and tyranny, which has almost overwhelmed this Land, may be marked by some line of distinction, which cannot well be drawn from the mode of Representation that has been adopted for the Inhabitants in general.

Influenced by this Principle, and from a regard to our peculiar Situation, we have humbly presumed to trouble your Excellencies with the second application; in which, we flatter ourselves, none participate but those who have ever, with unshaken fidelity, borne true Allegiance to His Majesty, and the most warm and affectionate attachment to his Person and Government.  That, notwithstanding the tumult of the times, and the extreme difficulties and losses to which many of us have been exposed, we have always expressed, and do now give this Testimony of our Zeal to preserve and support the Constitutional Supremacy of Great Britain over the Colonies; and do most ardently wish for a speedy restoration of that union between them, which, while it subsisted, proved the unfailing source of their mutual happiness and prosperity.

We cannot help lamenting that the number of Subscribers to this Address is necessarily lessened, by the unhappy circumstance that many of our Fellow-Citizens, who have firmly adhered their loyalty, have been driven from their Habitations, and others sent Prisoners into some of the neighbouring Colonies: and tho’ it would have afforded us the highest satisfaction, could they have been present upon this occasion: yet we conceive it to be the duty we owe to ourselves and our prosperity, whilst this testimony of our Allegiance can be supported by known and recent facts, to declare to your Excellencies; that so far from having given the last countenance or encouragement, to the most unnatural, unprovoked Rebellion, that ever disgraced the annuls of Time; we have on the contrary, steadily and uniformly opposed it, in every stage of its rise and progress, at the risque of our Lives and Fortunes.

Juneteenth — Coming to Terms with Freedom

Tonight, the digital lights used to illuminate Niagara Falls will transform the thundering cascade into red, black, and green. Why?

There are three major threads in the answer: this date, June 19th; the colors red, black, and green; and our continued search for freedom. These threads are tightly woven into the fabric of New York’s history, and that of our country.

And one of the threads also carries a man who was born to a farm family in 1821 in a little hamlet called Joy in Wayne County, not far from Lake Ontario.

First the date, Juneteenth

On June 19, 1865, in the Galveston, Texas, Major General Gordon Granger of the Union Army stood in front of a crowd of enslaved people of African descent and their enslavers, and declared the freedom established by the Emancipation Proclamation. Two years after President Lincoln issued that proclamation, those enslaved in Texas finally learned they were free.

“The people are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them, become that between employer and hired labor. The freed are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

General Order # 3, as read publicly June 19, 1865 in Galveston by Major General Gordon Granger of the Union Army.

Major General Granger was a New Yorker from the hamlet of Joy, in the town of Sodus, Wayne County. A a young man, Granger taught for a time in the one-room schoolhouse on Preemption Road in Sodus. He then enrolled at the West Point military academy, graduating in 1845, going on to serve in the Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1849.

Granger remained in the U.S. Army, with subsequent assignments in Oregon and Texas, and when the Civil War began in 1861, he was posted to Ohio. He later served in Missouri as part of Union forces that protected a key federal armory at St. Louis from falling into Confederate hands. In 1863, he played a decisive role in averting Union defeat the Battle of Chickamauga.

As war’s end, Granger was assigned to the newly-subdued Confederate state of Texas, where he read General Order #3 . That reading in Galveston became the basis of the African American community’s Juneteenth celebration, which was also known as Emancipation Day.

“In retrospect, it is very fitting that a man from Joy brought so much joy to a suppressed people in our country,” said Wayne County Historian Peter Evans.


Why did it take two years? Well…there are various tales about two earlier Union messengers, who traveled over land, but ultimately did not arrive in Texas. Granger entered the last Confederate state by water, with a fully loaded army.  Texas is a big place, and held many of the enslaved.

Even though Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered on May 9 in Virginia, it took time for word to get out that the war was essentially over.  Major General Granger and army moved from place to place after Galveston, reading General Order #3 repeatedly, setting off much rejoicing from the formerly enslaved, as well as variations of the same question, ‘What now?’

Historical marker in Galveston, Texas, the site of the original Juneteenth. (Photo credit- Galveston Historical Foundation)

Coming to terms with freedom was not an easy task for those newly freed, or for those who had enslaved them. Where were the freedmen to go? What were they to do? Who was going to bring in the crops, cook the meals, care for the children? What had been ‘normal’ life was changed in an instant. A new reality now existed but what did it mean?

Theirs was a position much like what we find ourselves in today. One minute things are moving along pretty much as they had been the day before, our routines keeping everyone’s life flowing, then suddenly wham! We’re faced with something we don’t quite understand and the big question ‘What now?’

Although people point to June 19th  as the exact catalytic moment for celebration, it is the process of coming to terms with freedom that is the driving force behind the celebration of Juneteenth in the 21st century. Spreading the word about freedom and defining what that meant took time and it is something we are still grappling with today.

The Colors: Red, Black, and Green

On August 13, 1920, at Madison Square Garden, New York City, members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) adopted the Pan-African flag, also known as the UNIA flag, and the Black Liberation flag as ‘the’ flag for black people across the diaspora and in Africa. The organization, founded by Marcus Garvey, was composed of members from around the globe. The flag was created in response to a popular 1920 song, “Every Race Has a Flag but the Coon.”

Pan-African flag.

In 1921 the UNIA published the Universal Negro Catechism, which outlined the meaning of the colors of the flag. “Red is the color of the blood which men must shed for their redemption and liberty; black is the color of the noble and distinguished race to which we belong; green is the color of the luxuriant vegetation of our Motherland. “

At a time when racism was living in our country under the title of Jim Crow, and segregation was real even in New York, African Americans were working to improve their circumstances in every way possible. The UNIA flag took flight and the colors were embraced. They were seen throughout the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement, and various black liberation movements around the world. They appeared everywhere and are also the colors of the candles used during Kwanzaa. They are the colors which symbolize to most African Americans and others who have supported their fight for human rights that the struggle was and remains real and the work continues.

Although in 1997 the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (NJCF) created a flag to honor the day, we have chosen at this pivotal time in our Nation’s history to use the colors most New Yorkers would recognize as those representing the continued struggle for freedom, dignity and human rights by African Americans and members of the African diaspora: the red, black, and green of the Black Liberation flag.  

On Wednesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that Juneteenth will now be an official state holiday.

“Friday is Juneteenth – a day to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States – and it’s a day that is especially relevant in this moment in history,” Governor Cuomo said. “Although slavery ended over 150 years ago, there has still been rampant, systemic discrimination and injustice in this state and this nation, and we have been working to enact real reforms to address these inequalities. I am going to issue an Executive Order recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday for state employees and I’ll propose legislation next year to make it an official state holiday so New Yorkers can use this day to reflect on all the changes we still need to make to create a more fair, just and equal society.”

Juneteenth is now recognized as a holiday or special day of observance by 47 states, with New York first marking it as a day of observance in 2004.

The Juneteenth Flag. (Photo credit- National Juneteenth Observance Foundation)

Freedom in Our Time

At the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, we continue to work to bring forward the under-told stories of the lives, cultures, and work of Africans and African Americans who helped to build New York and our Nation. The thread of their lives must be woven back into the whole cloth of our State’s history.

We do so by sharing with you the entire historic timeline. From the arrival of the first Africans who were enslaved in New Netherland in 1625 to 20th century locations that mark important cultural shifts and points of pride from around our State.

Exhibits like the Dishonorable Trade at Crailo State Historic Site help us to understand how an empire was laid on the foundation of the global slave trade. We celebrate the preservation of African culture In New York, during the years of enslavement at Pinkster.

Reviving A Dutch Holiday with African Flavor

As spring moves toward summer, we are in the time of an historic celebration dating to New York’s colonial era known as Pinkster – the Dutch word for the religious holiday of Pentecost. Pinkster was a three- to five-day celebration beginning the Monday following Pentecost Sunday held in Dutch Colonial New Netherland and later New … Continue reading Reviving A Dutch Holiday with African Flavor

In the Adirondacks, we operate the John Brown Farm State Historic Site, at the home of a New York abolitionist who took up arms in a bid to liberate slaves in the South.

We honor the dedication of service given by men of African descent, first to the colony of New York and later to the United States at many of our military parks, from New Windsor Cantonment to Fort Ontario. Remembering the enslaved and free who served in the Revolutionary War all the way to the Harlem Hell Fighters during World War I.

We bring to light the work of men just trying to make a living during the Great Depression, through their employment in the Civilian Conservation Corps.

A Legacy of Strength

During the 1930s when racial segregation and Jim Crow held sway over much of America, there was a Depression-era federal public works unit where African-Americans, not whites, were in command. And it was here in New York State Parks. To combat rampant unemployment among young men, President Franklin Roosevelt had created the Civilian Conservation Corps … Continue reading A Legacy of Strength

The work and commitment of women like Sojourner Truth and Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman to run for President and the inspiration for the largest State Park in New York City.  All while saving important landmarks connected to Black culture across 200 hundred years of State history.

Shirley Chisholm State Park

Wonderful places right in our own neighborhoods like the historic Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered “The American Dream” address, to the Colored Musicians Club in Buffalo, through the State’s Registry of Historic Landmarks and supporting them as they seek national recognition. We do this, not only for the African American community, but for all the communities that have helped to build New York.

Colored Musicians Club in Buffalo. (Photo Credit- Empire State Development)

Our history has always been blended. Henry Hudson did not find an empty land, but one filled with people and culture; the Munsee, the Wappingers and Lenape among them, to this more was added. The formation has been forward moving, but not always easily.

New York is and has been one of the main gateways through which people have entered this country and continue to do so. It has also been a way towards freedom as thousands passed through on the Underground Railroad, heading north to Canada. Aiming for Niagara Falls and the freedom that lay just on the other side.

As we continue to come to terms with freedom, we invited you to explore the rich stories of others who have also found themselves struggling with defining what those terms meant to them. Narratives to be found at our parks and historic sites, online and in person. These stories, from those of the Native Peoples at Ganondagan to the newly renamed Marsha P. Johnson State Park cross over and through all the cultures and timelines that create the vibrancy of New York.

Marsha P. Johnson State Park in New York City.

And, what became of Gordon Granger? A year after he read General Order #3, he was reassigned as an officer in the 25th Infantry Regiment, which was of four racially segregated regiments made up of African American enlisted men and white officers.

These four regiments became known collectively as the “Buffalo Soldiers,” which was the nickname given by Native Americans to African American soldiers who fought in the Indian Wars of the west.

With the Statue of Liberty at one end and Niagara Falls at the other we offer this lighting of Niagara Falls as a symbol of our continued willingness to be inclusive and open, even amidst struggle and pain.

A young participant tries her hand at drumming during a 2012 Juneteenth celebration at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site in Lake Placid.

Cover Photo- Niagara Falls at Niagara Falls State Park, by New York State Parks. All photos by NYS Parks unless otherwise credited.

Post by Lavada Nahon, Interpreter of African American History, Bureau of Historic Sites, NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation