Upstate New York’s key position within the Underground Railroad
We’ll take you on a trip on the subway.
No tickets were required for the passengers and conductors of that time. That’s because the subway represented a symbolic network of abolitionists – both blacks and whites – who provided shelter to enslaved people who had fled the south.
Our first stop is the John Kane House, which was built in the 18th century. The then General George Washington used the building during the Revolutionary War.
In the 1800s, Dutchess County was again involved in history in a different way. It played a significant role in the early days of the anti-slavery movement in the state.
From the historic Kane House we drive 10 minutes east to the Oblong Quaker Meeting House in Pawling.
Peter Bunten, chairman of the Mid-Hudson Anti-Slavery History Project, tells us about the people who are looking for freedom.
“They have built their own emancipation. They exhibited their own agency by running away, ”he said.
What you need to know
- The Hudson Valley and the Capital Region played a significant role in the movement of the Underground Railroad in the United States
- The subway was a symbolic network of abolitionists – both black and white – who offered shelter to enslaved people who had fled the south
- If you’re looking to find out if your home has been used along the subway, the Mid-Hudson Antislavery History Project has put together a guide on how to find out.
Then they got help.
The Religious Society of Friends, also called Quakers, played a prominent role. Their anti-slavery efforts date before the subway.
In the 1760s, some Quakers began to wonder if it was right for Quakers to keep keeping slaves. A decade later, they successfully freed the enslaved among them.
Quakers are considered to be the first organized group to actively help enslaved people escape.
“It was a very, very important movement, both for the fight against slavery in general and for the Quakers,” said Bunten.
It was in this building, built in 1764, that the Quakers held silent services known as assemblies. Robert Reilly, a trustee of the Pawling Historical Society, invited us to the meeting house.
“Usually a Quaker meeting was mostly silent. They would sit here and meditate and if the mind moved them they would say something, ”said Reilly.
With the Quakers, silent thoughts became recorded actions. What we know about the subway is sparse because, like Quaker meetings, it was done in silence.
“It was illegal to help runaways, and many people did not want to make it known that they actually help the slaves to escape to freedom,” said Bunten.
The Fugitive Slaves Act of 1793 allowed the arrest of enslaved people or those who assist them.
“We usually have more information about individuals who are involved than we can find actual buildings, for example where an enslaved person may have stayed overnight or for a few days,” said Bunten.
However, we are sure that a famous river flows through our region: the Hudson.
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“You had the opportunity to take the boat from New York City to Niagara,” he said. It was much faster and safer for runaways to flee by boat than by land. “
The Hudson River was used as a canal for many abolitionists and freedom seekers. A ship’s captain named John Johnson worked on this river. He also built a house in Albany.
If you drive an hour north of the Hudson River, you will find Johnson’s home. Johnson rented his house to his sister Harriet Myers and her husband Stephen. Together they were known in Albany for their organizational efforts for freedom seekers.
It was all here, right here at 194 Livingston Avenue. Stephen Myers’ home was the headquarters for abolitionists and weary refugees alike. Many of these refugees were believed to have been welcomed to this salon by the Myers family.
Historians Paul and Mary Liz Stewart now operate the Myers House as the Underground Railroad training center. They say that this Vigilance Committee flyer was the first clue that led them to this residence.
Paul Stewart, a historian at the Underground Railroad Education Center, said 287 refugees passed through Albany. The flyer was an open invitation to the Myers residence, where abolitionists could develop strategies to secure resources for freedom seekers in the 19th century.
“When a copy of the flyer was put in our hands, I remember saying, ‘Maybe there is another building,” said Mary Liz Stewart, a historian at the center.
There was a building there, but it would take the Stewarts over 20 years and around $ 1 million to restore it.
“And for all the contraction and everything we had to do with the house, all that really mattered to us was the Myers story,” she said.
For example, how Harriet Myers ran a household of four, supported her husband in the anti-slavery movement and stood up for women’s rights. Her voice was brought to life by this letter she wrote to personally thank supporters for contributions that kept the subway movement on track.
“We got Harriet’s original handwritten letter at Stephen and Harriet Myers’ residence … He explains the role she has played in the Underground Railroad movement as an activist … and sets the stage for other women to join their Should follow in the footsteps, “said Paul Stewart.
According to other documents uncovered, Harriet Myers was not the only writer in the family.
“This newspaper – The Northern Star and Freedman’s Advocate – was one of the many newspapers produced after 1827,” he said.
Stephen Myers added journalism to his list of professions and served as editor for that paper. The more pieces discovered all over the Myers property, the more it revealed the everyday lifestyle of an abolitionist.
“When you put these artifacts together with other paper records and other people of color from the period … Just like this cathedral, pickle becomes a very reusable item in Harriet and Stephen’s time,” said Paul Stewart.
It showed that their property had value and could be used to raise even more money for anti-slavery projects.
“It wasn’t like they were just sitting at home, going to work, or having company. They tried to do constructive things in their community, ”he said.
And by bridging the voices of the past and present, other people can feel empowered to say, “If they can, I can too.”