Slavery in New York and Scarsdale

 A plaque, wreathed for Christmas in St. James the Less Cemetery in Scarsdale, commemorates the unmarked graves of fugitive slaves.

A plaque, wreathed for Christmas in St. James the Less Cemetery in Scarsdale, commemorates the unmarked graves of fugitive slaves.

 

The history of slavery in New York is a brutal and shameful reality, the details of which are still being discovered. New York relied heavily on slaveholding from its earliest days as a Dutch colony, later as an English colony and then as a new state. Slavery lasted in New York for over 200 years from 1626 to 1827. Although New York had fewer enslaved Africans than the Southern states, it had the largest enslaved population of any of the Northern states. Over 7,000 slaves were imported into New York between 1700 and 1774, and most of them went to the surrounding rural areas. Farmers and early settlers in Westchester depended on the labor of enslaved Africans. Over forty percent of households in New York City had one or more slaves, and twenty percent of the colonial population in New York were enslaved Africans.

New York was one of the last Northern states to abolish slavery and the process was long and restrictive. The first emancipation law was passed in 1799 and in 1817, Scarsdale-born Governor Daniel Tompkins convinced the New York legislature to gradually end slavery by July 4th, 1827. New York shared many economic interests with industries in the South, notably cotton and sugar, and this influenced political and social divisions that encouraged pro-slavery sentiments and legislation up through the Civil War. The Fugitive Slave Acts, passed by the United States Congress in 1793 and 1850, protected the interests of the slave states. The laws allowed the capture and return of runaway slaves from other states.  It became a crime to protect fugitives and free Blacks lived in fear of being kidnapped and sold back into slavery. The 13th Amendment, ratified in 1865, ended slavery in the United States, but the struggle for equality continues today. 

The First Slaves in New Amsterdam

 Fort Amsterdam, shown here c. 1665, was built by enslaved Africans. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

Fort Amsterdam, shown here c. 1665, was built by enslaved Africans. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

Between 1624 and 1664 New York City, then called New Amsterdam, was a small settlement that was part of the Dutch colony, New Netherland. In 1626, the Dutch West India Company that dominated the Atlantic Slave Trade, brought the first 11 enslaved Africans to New Amsterdam to build the infrastructure of the new colony. Living and working under harsh conditions and a labor shortage, the early colonists came to rely on the work of enslaved people. 

 One of the earliest depictions of New Amsterdam, c. 1642.

One of the earliest depictions of New Amsterdam, c. 1642.

Under Dutch rule enslaved Africans had some limited rights to marry, sue in court and own property. In 1644, the Company granted the first 11 eleven enslaved men, and later a small number of other Blacks, “half freedom.” They were given plots of land in a swampy area of New Amsterdam that became New York’s first black community. In the 19th century this area in Lower Manhattan became known as Five Points one of the few interracial neighborhoods at the time in New York City.

 The African Burial Grounds Monument in Lower Manhattan is the site of a cemetery for enslaved and free Africans in the 17th and 18th century.

The African Burial Grounds Monument in Lower Manhattan is the site of a cemetery for enslaved and free Africans in the 17th and 18th century.

By 1660, the Dutch West India Company was the principal slave trader in North America. Most of the company’s ships brought slaves to sugar plantations in the Caribbean, but they also supplied slaves to New Netherland where enslaved Africans would become the dominant labor force. Leslie M. Harris, in her book, In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863, explains that: “European colonists used slaves to clear the land, plant grains, take care of livestock, and in New Amsterdam wealthy merchants, artisans and business owners used slaves and trained them to work in their businesses.” 

Slaves were also used to defend the fur traders and settlers in skirmishes with Native Americans. Peter Stuyvesant, who was the Dutch West Indies Company Director, wrote to Vice Director Matthias Beck in a 1661 letter: “In regard to the negroes, which the hon’ble directors ordered to be sent hither, they ought to be stout and strong fellows, fit for immediate employment on this fortress and other works; also, if required, in war against the wild barbarians.” 

Some Blacks were able to bargain for their freedom in exchange for loyalty to the Dutch. Other ran away and found refuge living among Native Americans. 

When the British invaded New Netherland in 1664 they renamed it New York in honor of the Duke of York, who later became King James II. A. Judd Northrup described the surrender of New Netherland to the English in his essay, “Slavery in New York: a Historical Sketch” published in 1900. He explains that Dutch Governor Stuyvesant blamed the quick surrender to the English partly on a food shortage caused by feeding a shipload of “300 to 400 half-starved Negroes and Negresses” who had been captured two weeks earlier. Under English rule slavery would become even more entrenched and central to New York's economy.

Early Days of Slavery in Westchester

 Caleb Heathcote, founder of the Manor of Scarsdale, was Mayor of New York during the 1712 Slave Uprising.

Caleb Heathcote, founder of the Manor of Scarsdale, was Mayor of New York during the 1712 Slave Uprising.

“Slavery existed in Westchester County almost from its first white settlement.” wrote J. Thomas Scharf, in his History of Westchester County, New York. In 1646, the Director General of New Netherlands instructed, “for the promotion of agriculture there, it is deemed proper to permit at the request of the patroons, colonists, and other farmers, the conveyance thither of as many negroes as they are willing to purchase at a fair price.” 

When Caleb Heathcote, a wealthy merchant from England, founded the manor of Scarsdale in 1701, a small population of enslaved men and women were already living and laboring throughout Westchester. The first census by the British in 1668 listed 917 whites and 146 “Negroes” in Westchester County. Some Native Americans were also enslaved but not included in this census. The 1712 census listed Scarsdale as having only 12 people, 8 of whom were slaves. The neighboring town of Eastchester in 1710 had more inhabitants, “153 male Christians and 136 female, seventeen male slaves and eight females.” 

These are the counts of the adult slaves from the 1712 census for towns and manors in Westchester:

  • Morrisania: 14 males, 12 females
  • Philipsburgh: 17 males, 8 females
  • Scarsdale: 4 males, 2 females (2 males under 16)
  • Mamaroneck: 3 males, 3 females
  • Pelham: 6 males, 2 females
  • Rye: 4 males, 2 females
  • Yonkers: 20 males, 6 females
  • New Rochelle: 20 males, 11 females
  • Eastchester: 8 males, 4 females
  • Westchester: 27 males, 18 females
  • Cortlandt’s Patent: 3 males, 1 female
  • Rykes Patent: 1 male 
 Under English rule, Westchester was divided into six Manors. They included Pelham, founded in 1666; Fordham in 1671; Phillipsburg in 1693; Morrisania; Cortlandt in 1697; and Scarsdale in 1701. Map from  Colonists and Commuters, A History of Scarsdale  by Dianna Reische.

Under English rule, Westchester was divided into six Manors. They included Pelham, founded in 1666; Fordham in 1671; Phillipsburg in 1693; Morrisania; Cortlandt in 1697; and Scarsdale in 1701. Map from Colonists and Commuters, A History of Scarsdale by Dianna Reische.

Fredrick Philipse and his son Adolph, founders of the Philipsburg Manor in Westchester, were heavily involved in the slave trade. They acquired enslaved Africans from Madagascar, Angola and the West Indies. Slaves from Madagascar were particularly valued for their farming skills, and were referred to as "seasoned slaves.” 

Documents about slavery can be searched online in the New York Slavery Records Index, complied by John Jay College. Below are details about the first shipment of slaves sent to Philipsburg Manor.

PhilipseburgManor.png

Except for wealthy landowners, most slaveholders in Westchester and Scarsdale recorded one to three slaves in their households before 1820. The 1755 “Census of Slaves in New York” shows how pervasive the use of slave labor was throughout Westchester. Below are the records for Scarsdale and Mamaroneck. To see the entire pamphlet click here.

 List of slaves in Mamaroneck and Scarsdale in 1755.

List of slaves in Mamaroneck and Scarsdale in 1755.

Slave Lives

The shortage of skilled and unskilled labor in the early to mid-1700s forced many enslaved men and women in New York to learn a variety of skills and trades. In rural areas these included carpentry, construction, agriculture, and blacksmithing. Women often performed childcare and domestic chores and worked in the fields. They learned to weave and sew and some had knowledge of medicinal plants.

On large plantations in the Southern states, 20 or more slaves might have been grouped together but this was rare in New York. In New York City, with one to three slaves per household, enslaved Africans lived in the attics and cellars of townhouses or in other separate quarters. In rural areas, slaves were often isolated, and there were fewer opportunities to socialize with other blacks, to form families or to keep in contact with other family members when they were separated. Slaves lived in the master’s homes or barns. Some farms and wealthy landowners had separate housing for the slaves. 

 One of Westchester’s last remaining slave quarters is on Old Army Road in Scarsdale. It stands behind the Pre-Revolutionary heritage home known as the Hunt-Smith House. The building, about 9 feet by 12 feet, had a fireplace and stone floor. The second floor was used for sleeping and housed up to 8 slaves. Israel Hunt and his son, Joshua, originally owned the farmhouse. As Tory supporters, their farm was confiscated after the Revolutionary War and bought by Richard Morris who was the Second Chief Justice of the New York State. Both owners had more slaves than most of the households in Scarsdale. Morris was recorded as owning 12 slaves over a period of time.

One of Westchester’s last remaining slave quarters is on Old Army Road in Scarsdale. It stands behind the Pre-Revolutionary heritage home known as the Hunt-Smith House. The building, about 9 feet by 12 feet, had a fireplace and stone floor. The second floor was used for sleeping and housed up to 8 slaves. Israel Hunt and his son, Joshua, originally owned the farmhouse. As Tory supporters, their farm was confiscated after the Revolutionary War and bought by Richard Morris who was the Second Chief Justice of the New York State. Both owners had more slaves than most of the households in Scarsdale. Morris was recorded as owning 12 slaves over a period of time.

Dr. Vivien Kruger studied the detrimental effects slavery had on black families. In Born to Run: The Slave Family in Early New York, 1626 to 1827 she wrote: “The Afro-American life cycle of New York slaves included a childhood during which a premium was placed on labor value rather than on personal development. Children grew up apart from their fathers and older siblings. They often only remained with their mothers until the age of six when their growing labor value increased the likelihood of separation by sale. Courtship and marriage were subordinated to the private and public control requirements of a slave system which restricted slave travel and communication with other blacks. White labor needs dictated that spouses could be sold at will and domiciled separately from each other with the ever-present danger that one partner would be removed beyond visiting distance by sale . . . Fathers rarely lived with their children, and mothers functioned as short-term single parents until children were sold away; neither parent could expect to raise personally their offspring to adulthood or invest in their futures. The slave family could not support its elderly; once past useful labor to whites, slaves relied on their owners’ good will for care in old age. Elderly slaves were burdensome to their owners; some received decent food, clothing, shelter, and medical care while others were abused or abandoned. . . . slaves in the same household must have often served as de facto kin, providing whatever love, comfort, companionship, friendship, and support they could for each other.”

Dr. Kruger also points to the strength of the human spirit and family ties: “Hard numerical data prove that the black family was physically separated by slavery but the black family was not demolished by the daunting New York slave system. Love and the frequency of family survival cannot be quantified but evidence of the persistent strong bonds between husbands and wives and between parents and children abounds in massive anecdotal case histories of thousands of slaves. It can be seen in the efforts of some owners to keep slave families together or permit visitations—or sometimes to keep them apart."

The 1712 and 1741 Slave Rebellions

Enslaved men and women found many ways to escape bondage, bargain for their freedom, and resist slavery. From the earliest days, some runaways found refuge with Native Americans or escaped to Canada.  One major uprising in New York City occurred in 1712 and had significant consequences in limiting the manumission (freeing) of slaves for the next 80 years. Twenty-four slaves, including two women and some newly arrived Africans, set fire to a bakery whose owner was the slave master of one of the rebels. They ambushed the whites coming to put out the fire, killed nine and wounded others. The militia and British troops put down the rebellion quickly and in following weeks, 70 people were arrested including slaves, free blacks and Native Americans. Six people committed suicide, 21 were convicted, and 24 were executed. Some were hung by ropes and chains, others were burned at the stake. 

Caleb Heathcote, Lord of the Manor of Scarsdale, was mayor of New York during the slave rebellion of 1712. He was the presiding Quarter Session Judge during the trial. Documents Illustrative of the History of the Slave Trade, edited by Elisabeth Donnan, shows that he was reimbursed for the money he spent for “Iron work Gibbitts Cartridge Labourers firwood and Other Materialls and Expenses for the Execution of several Negro slaves for Murders by them.” 

Fear of further uprisings led to more restrictive laws. No more than three slaves were allowed to gather unsupervised, and manumitting slaves became more expensive and less controlled by private masters. Property rights of slaves were limited or completely stripped.  It was decreed that, “No Negro, Indian or mulatto hereafter made free shall enjoy, hold or possess any houses, lands, tenements or hereditaments within the colony, but the same shall escheat to her Majesty.”

A second incident in New York City in 1741 also had severe repercussions for slaves and led to more restrictive laws against manumission. A series of fires set across New York City created a panic and rumors that there was a plot to take over the city. Blame was mostly directed against the black population, although dissatisfied whites and Irish were also involved in the fires. At least 34 blacks were executed, along with 4 whites. The execution grounds were located next to the African Burial Monument site in Lower Manhattan. 

Slavery Under the Americans

Slavery was so entrenched in New York in the 18th century that even the ideology behind the American Revolution was not able to hasten its end. In 1776 New York City (which was occupied by the British throughout the Revolutionary War) had an estimated population of 169,148, of whom 21,993 were slaves and free Blacks—roughly 11 percent of the population. Both the British and the rebellious Americans offered freedom to slaves who fought during the war. However, in 1780 the British offered freedom to “any Negros that deserted the rebel stance,” and that included men, women and children. After the war, 3,000 to 4,000 Blacks (about 1,000 from New York State) shipped out from New York harbor for England, Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone.

In the 1790s pressure was mounting to manumit slaves in New York, and slavery was becoming less economically profitable for slaveholders. Large numbers of European immigrants were arriving and changing the composition of the workforce. Cheap labor competed with the expense of keeping slaves. The Manumission Society was the first non-Quaker organization to effectively press for gradual emancipation. It was founded by a group of influential and wealthy landowners including John Jay and Alexander Hamilton. Jay, a Westchester resident (although a slaveholder himself) was the first president of the New York Manumission Society, and his sons Peter and William were active members. They also established the African Free Schools to prepare children for citizenship, and defended the legal rights of fugitive and kidnapped slaves. In 1788 they persuaded the state legislature to enact a law against importing slaves or removing them illegally to other states.

Gradual Manumission

 Governor Daniel D. Tompkins, originally from Scarsdale, was instrumental in enacting the 1817 manumission legislation to finally end slavery by 1827. (Detail of an 1808 portrait by John Trumbull.)

Governor Daniel D. Tompkins, originally from Scarsdale, was instrumental in enacting the 1817 manumission legislation to finally end slavery by 1827. (Detail of an 1808 portrait by John Trumbull.)

The first law for the gradual abolition of slavery in New York was passed in 1799. It allowed children born into slavery after July 4, 1799 to be freed, but only after a long period of indentured service—25 years for women and 28 for men. Those who were born before July 4, 1799 remained slaves. In 1817, Governor Daniel Tompkins, originally from Scarsdale, would help to end slavery. However, this would happen over a ten-year period and many restrictions on the rights of the black population continued. Although emancipation day was officially set for July 4th, 1827, the celebrating parade was scheduled on the 5th so it would not conflict with other Independence Day events. On July 5th, 4,000 people marched down Broadway led by an honor guard on horseback. 

 Portrait of Frederick Douglass from his book  My Bondage and My Freedom.  Engraved by J.C. Buttre from a daguerretotype.

Portrait of Frederick Douglass from his book My Bondage and My Freedom. Engraved by J.C. Buttre from a daguerretotype.

Years later, on July 5th, 1852, Fredrick Douglas gave his famous speech addressing the hypocrisies of the July 4th date for emancipation in New York and condemning the slave trade that still existed. “Fellow-citizens, this murderous traffic is, to-day, in active operation in this boasted republic. In the solitude of my spirit I see clouds of dust raised on the highways of the South; I see the bleeding footsteps; I hear the doleful wail of fettered humanity on the way to the slave-markets, where the victims are to be sold like horses, sheep, and swine, knocked off to the highest bidder. There I see the tenderest ties ruthlessly broken, to gratify the lust, caprice and rapacity of the buyers and sellers of men. My soul sickens at the sight.

Is this the land your Fathers loved?
The freedom, which they toiled to win?
Is this the earth whereon they moved?
Are these the graves they slumber in?”

Census Records of Slaves in Scarsdale

Scarsdale was the one of smallest towns in Westchester, but it followed the same patterns of slaveholdings throughout Westchester. In Scarsdale many heads of households owned from one to three slaves. Wealthy landowners had more slaves and could afford to build separate slave quarters. The extent of slavery can be seen in the censuses from 1755 to 1820. For her 1985 book, Scarsdale Story, A Heritage History, Helen Lorraine Hulz made an exhaustive study of Scarsdale, researching hundred of documents. Her book contains a summary of the censuses from 1755 to 1840. Some of the total population counts come from Thomas Scharf’s, History of Westchester, New York. To see the full censuses from Helen Hulz’s book click here.

In 1755 the combined census records of the townships of Mamaroneck and the Manor of Scarsdale listed 28 male and 20 female slaves among 17 heads of households.  

In 1790, there were 33 heads of households, and 28 slaves were recorded. One African American person, Joe, is listed as free. Town population of 281.

The 1800 Federal Census recorded 34 heads of households, 24 slaves and 20 “others, free not Indians.” Town population of 258.

In 1810 there were 33 heads of households, 16 free blacks and 31 slaves (adults and minors are counted). Town population of 259.

The 1820 United States census gives the town population as 329 including 42 “colored.” 
 
Thomas Scharf writes that “in 1820 there remained but seven slaves, while the free colored population numbered thirty-five. This was nearly the end of slavery in town and in 1835 not a slave remained.”  

Records of Freeing Slaves in Scarsdale

The 1799 emancipation laws encouraged rural and city slave owners to begin the process of manumission. In addition to the censuses, Scarsdale’s Town Meeting Records and many wills of slave-owning families have revealing information about slavery and the slow process of emancipation.

 Thomas Haden lived in the Wayside Cottage, one of Scarsdale's oldest existing farmhouses. He had seven children with an enslaved woman named Rose.

Thomas Haden lived in the Wayside Cottage, one of Scarsdale's oldest existing farmhouses. He had seven children with an enslaved woman named Rose.

Thomas Hadden, who lived in the Wayside Cottage in Scarsdale from 1729 until his death in 1761, was an unusual and early example of a master freeing his slaves. Hadden left detailed instructions in his will to provide for an enslaved woman he calls “Wench Rose,” and her seven children, “my Negro children.” He also instructed that they become literate and learn trades. The paternity of one the children still had to be verified in court by Jonathan G. Tompkins of Scarsdale, fifty-five years later.

Thomas Hadden's Will can be read here.  

According to the manumission laws, owners had to register enslaved children born after 1799 and record newly freed slaves as being able to provide for themselves. Children born after 1799 to enslaved mothers could still be indentured as servants until they were adults. 

 William Popham.

William Popham.

William Popham was one of several Scarsdale slaveholders who registered the births of slave children through the Town’s Meeting Records. His registration was unusual because he included the last name of the child and the name of the father and mother. “I William Popham of the Town of Scarsdale in the County of Westchester and the State of New York Esquire, in pursuance of the directions contained in the ninth section of an Act of the Legislature of the State of New York entitled an Act concerning Slaves and Servants passed the 8th day of April 1801 do hereby certify to all whom it may concern that on Monday the 22nd day of December in the year of our Lord 1802 a female was born of Sarah and Peter, slaves the property of the said William Popham, which said female child is called and known by the name of Mary Scofield and is to be Baptized by that name. Given under my hand this 16th day of February 1803.”

Mary Scofield was freed as an adult on April 25, 1822. The Town Records, signed by the overseers of the poor stated: “. . . we have examined Mary Scofield a female slave the Property of William Popham of said Town of Scarsdale . . . and do find her the said Mary Scofield to be under the age of forty five to wit of the age of eighteen years and of sufficient ability to provide for herself. April 25, 1822.”

Here are some of the findings from the Town Meeting Records on births of children after 1799 and other slaves who were recorded as people able to provide for themselves but whose circumstances are unclear. Copies of the original documents are at the Scarsdale Public Library.  

  • In 1803 William Popham records that Mary Scofield was born Dec. 22, 1801 to Peter and Sarah.
  • In 1822 William Popham records that Mary Scofield is “of sufficient ability to provide for herself.”
  • In 1799 John Bonnett records that Tom is “under the age of fifty years and of sufficient ability to provide for himself.”
  • In 1806 John Bonnet records that Cuff is “under the age of fifty years and sufficient ability to provide for himself.”
  • In 1806 John Bonnet records that Moses is born on Dec. 20, 1805 to “a Negro woman slave, my property.”
  • In 1805 Benjamin Maitlandt records that Charlot is on born Jan. 27, 1805, to mother, Lamor.
  • In 1809 Benjamin Maitlandt records Peggy and Jane are born Nov. 6, 1809, to mother Tamor (possibly the same as Lamor?).
  • In 1808 Jonathan G. Tompkins records Marcus is born July 8, 1805 to “a negro woman slave, my property.”
  • In 1809 Jonathan G. Tompkins records June is born April 15, 1808 to “a negro woman slave, my property.”
  • In 1810 Jonathan G. Tompkins records another June born on Nov. 1809 is “born a slave” (no mother noted) and “now is age of six months and seventeen days, Scarsdale 8th of June 1810.”
  • In 1810 Jonathan G. Tompkins records that Loman, male “to wit about the age of 28 and sufficient ability to provide for himself” freed.
  • In 1814 Jonathan G. Tompkins records Isaac, is “of sufficient ability to provide for himself and appears to be under the age of fifty.”
  • In 1808 Elijah Angevine records George and Cato are born Jan. 27, 1807 to “a black woman slave.”
  • In 1815 Thomas Cornell records Isaac “under the age of fifty . . . of sufficient ability to provide for himself.”
  • In 1815 Thomas Cornell records that Dinah is “under the age of fifty . . . of sufficient ability to provide for herself.”

Population Shifts in Scarsdale—the 1850 Census

The 1850 census reflects the dramatic changes taking place in Scarsdale. Train service had made the town more accessible and a small group of wealthy entrepreneurs were building country estates and buying up many of the farms. By 1850 the census reveals how a working class of foreign-born immigrants had replaced labor performed by slaves in some households. The 1850 and 1860 censuses also record occupations and place of births of whites and Blacks. By 1860 servants and laborers were mostly from Ireland. Thousands of Irish families had fled to New York during the Irish Potato Famine. Few black families were still living in Scarsdale and that number would dwindle even further in in later decades. Other sections of Westchester were more affordable and black neighborhoods grew in White Plains and New Bedford.

See the 1850 and 1860 censuses from Helen Hulz’s book here

Towards National Emancipation

Manumission left many slaves at risk of impoverishment, and New York looked for ways to placate slaveholders and prevent large numbers of freed slaves from becoming burdens on the State. Manumission laws required that masters had to provide for the welfare of elderly slaves at age 50, if freed between 1785 and 1817, or at age of 45, if freed between 1817 and 1827. Elderly slaves were sometimes abandoned, neglected, abused or killed. The eminent abolitionist and statesman, John Jay, was concerned about the treatment of elderly slaves in his family and wrote to his friend, Chancellor Livingston in 1762: “I hear my father has given some of the servants free and that some of the other of the older ones have been put out. Old servants are sometimes neglected. Desire Mr. Benson to keep an eye on them, and not let any of them want, and for that purpose place 50 in his hands.”

Prior to the Civil War some free Blacks had attained middle class status. They were entrepreneurs, farmers, or had jobs with artisans, though the majority of Blacks worked as unskilled laborers, field hands, or domestic servants. In New York City, many Blacks worked on the docks or in other maritime professions, and the majority of chimney sweeps were young adults or boys. Competition for low wage-earning jobs increased with the waves of newly arrived immigrants in New York City. Many Blacks were displaced from previous occupations, increasing racial tensions.

New York’s investment in Southern industries, especially in the trade and manufacturing of cotton and textiles, strongly influenced legislation and pro-slavery sentiments. Southern businessmen were commonly seen on the streets of New York City. They were limited to bringing in slaves for nine months, but this law was rarely enforced. 

The strict Fugitive Slave laws, especially one enacted in 1850, were very controversial. Though New York had freed its slaves, slaves from other states were not free upon entering New York. It was a crime to harbor fugitives, and slaves could be seized and returned to their masters. Kidnappings of free blacks to be sold in the South were a constant threat. Abolitionists and organizations that defended the rights of Blacks or pressed for emancipation were targeted in the press and sometimes threatened by violence. 

Resentment and anxiety over relationships that crossed the color line also triggered violence. In 1834 riots broke out targeting Blacks and abolitionists in New York City. Mobs set fire to St. Philip’s Colored Church. They burned down the house of radical abolitionist Arthur Tappan, looted his store, and threatened to burn down his brother’s home. Arthur and his brother were both actively opposed to slavery and Arthur was President of the American Anti-Slavery Society. 

The New York City Draft Riots of 1863, that began as a protest against a draft law requiring service in the Civil War, escalated into four days of rioting and horrific violence against Blacks, soldiers, and anyone associated with or defending Blacks. The Colored Orphan Asylum for Children was burned to the ground. (The children escaped safely.) It was estimated that 120 people were killed during the riots, 11 Blacks were lynched and over a thousand people were injured.

 The rioters burning and sacking the Colored Orphan Asylum.  Harper’s Weekly , August 1, 1863.

The rioters burning and sacking the Colored Orphan Asylum. Harper’s Weekly, August 1, 1863.

Ironically, Five Points, one of New York City’s oldest interracial neighborhoods, was relatively undisturbed. At the time of the riots, Blacks and Irish joined forces in Five Points to heroically resist the mobs. Neighbors banded together to protect stores, and no Blacks or brothels were attacked. 

In Westchester the disturbances focused on protesting the draft laws. In his book History of Westchester County, New York, J. Thomas Scharf recounts that there were no recorded disturbances in Scarsdale, but mobs tore up draft and enrollment papers in Morrisania. In White Plains Thomas Byrnes, a local draft-enrolling officer, was shot at “but returned the fire with a revolver and got away safe.” His home was later “sacked,” his enrollment papers burned and his family was forced to flee.

Charles Butler and the 26th Regiment 

 Charles Butler, an influential Scarsdale estate owner, provided relief to the riot victims.

Charles Butler, an influential Scarsdale estate owner, provided relief to the riot victims.

Scarsdale and other towns in Westchester were politically divided during the Civil War. In his book, Scarsdale, From Colonial Manor to Modern Community, Harry Hansen wrote that of the “67 votes cast in the 1860 Election, 31 were for Lincoln and 36 were for Stephen Douglas.”

Charles Butler, an influential lawyer and wealthy property owner in Scarsdale, was an outspoken critic of slavery and strong supporter of Lincoln. He founded the New York Loyal Publication Society, which later became part of the Union League. The organization strongly supported the war effort. After the horrors of the Draft Riots, the newly formed Union League and Committee of Merchants for the Relief of Colored People provided $40,000 to 2,500 riot victims and helped find new jobs and homes for Blacks.

In December, 1863 Charles Butler and his organization got approval to form the 26th Regiment of Colored Troops. In 1864 the regiment of over one thousand uniformed Blacks paraded down the streets of New York City to the Hudson River as crowds of black and white New Yorkers cheered. The historian, Leslie Harris called the event “a powerful display, the parade publicly linked blacks with the leaders of the new order being ushered in by the Civil War.” 

 In 1864, the 26th Regiment of the U.S. Colored Troops trained on Rikers Island. They went on to fight, along with 180,000 other black soldiers, for the Union cause.

In 1864, the 26th Regiment of the U.S. Colored Troops trained on Rikers Island. They went on to fight, along with 180,000 other black soldiers, for the Union cause.

Quaker Opposition to Slavery

The Quakers were one of the earliest groups in New York to oppose slavery on religious and moral grounds. However in Scarsdale, Quaker families were divided on their position towards of slaveholding. Many of the earliest settlers in Scarsdale were Quakers and together they owned the greatest number of slaves. As early as 1759, The New Yearly Meeting that was held in Flushing, New York, took the position that Quakers should not participate in the slave trade. In Westchester, the Purchase Quarterly Meeting of Friends began questioning slavery in 1767, and the Harrison Meeting of Friends also followed the same course. By 1773 Quakers in New York required the freeing of adult slaves immediately, and all female children by 18 and males by 21. However, some Quaker slaveholders were reluctant to cooperate. Elias Hicks of the Westbury Monthly Meeting reported in 1776 “there appears a great unwillingness in most of them to set their slaves free.”  

Joseph Carpenter, Scarsdale Abolitionist

 Joseph Carpenter, Quaker abolitionist from Scarsdale, with an orphaned child. 

Joseph Carpenter, Quaker abolitionist from Scarsdale, with an orphaned child. 

Joseph Carpenter and his wife Margaret Cornell were Quakers from Scarsdale and radical abolitionists. Joseph Carpenter corresponded and worked with some of the most well-known black and white abolitionists of the time. He was a great friend of David Ruggles, a prominent black abolitionist who founded the New York Committee of Vigilance and often stayed with the Carpenters. Lydia Maria Child was also a close friend of the Carpenter family. She was an author, feminist, abolitionist and advocate for the rights of Native Americans. She was among the first authors to publish articles (anonymously) on the abuse and rape of women slaves by white masters. When riots were targeting many Blacks and abolitionists, Child stayed with the Carpenters in their New Rochelle home for many months.

 David Ruggles, black abolitionist, founded the New York Committee of Vigilance in 1835.

David Ruggles, black abolitionist, founded the New York Committee of Vigilance in 1835.

Joseph Carpenter was born in Scarsdale in 1793 and moved to a farm in New Rochelle after the birth of his son Jonathan. Joseph and Margaret dedicated themselves to fighting for the rights of slaves and aiding orphans. Fugitive slaves found refuge at the Carpenter’s home before making their way to Pleasantville to stay with Joseph Pierce. From there they could journey to John Jay’s residence (Pierce’s brother-in-law) in Bedford and travel to David Irish’s home on Quaker Hill in Dutchess County. From Irish’s home they could eventually reach safety in Canada. David Irish was a Hicksite Minister who not only welcomed fugitives, but he was also a pacifist. According to his daughter he refused, when possible, to use any products of slave labor, substituting maple syrup for sugar and only using linen for clothes instead of cotton.

Margaret and Joseph Carpenter had two children, Esther and Jonathan who were also very dedicated abolitionists. Esther married Moses Pierce and Jonathan married Phila Jane Benedict. They all worked together to shelter fugitives. Jonathan took over his father’s farm and bought the adjoining property, bordering New Rochelle and Scarsdale. The family ran a successful sawmill operation on Wilmont Road where The Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Mid-Westchester stands today. The nearby Carpenter's Pond was also named for the family.

 Lydia Maria Childs (1802-1880) was a writer, abolitionist and feminist.  

Lydia Maria Childs (1802-1880) was a writer, abolitionist and feminist.
 

Joseph and his wife, Margaret Carpenter, along with other members of their family, were buried in a cemetery on Stratton Road in New Rochelle. At the time, Westchester, denied burial to Blacks, so Joseph Carpenter donated a section of his property for the cemetery where Blacks and his family could be buried.

Joseph Carpenter did not live to see the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865, which officially ended slavery in the United States. In May of 1865, abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison moved to disband the American Anti-Slavery Society but Fredrick Douglas responded in his famous speech that the work of the abolitionist was far from over. He argued it would not be over until Blacks had equal rights of citizenship with other Americans: “Slavery is not abolished until the black man has the ballot. While the Legislatures of the South retain the right to pass laws making any discrimination between black and white, slavery still lives there.”

In the same speech he argued the importance of being vigilant against racism and how it can take many forms. “Slavery has been fruitful in giving itself names. It has been called ‘the peculiar institution,’ ‘the social system,’ and the ‘impediment,’ as it was called by the General conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. It has been called by a great many names, and it will call itself by yet another name; and you and I and all of us had better wait and see what new form this old monster will assume, in what new skin this old snake will come forth.”

We continue as a country to grapple with the profound consequences of slavery and strive to live up to the ideals of the Constitution.

By Lesley Topping and Barbara Shay MacDonald


SOURCES AND ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Slavery in Westchester and Scarsdale

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Hansen, Harry. Scarsdale: From Colonial Manor to Modern Community. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1954).

Hulz, Helen Lorraine. Scarsdale Story: A Heritage History. (Morristown, New Jersey: The Evans Publishing Company, 1987. Distributed by Scarsdale Historical Society).

Reische, Diana. Of Colonists and Commuters: A History of Scarsdale. (Scarsdale, New York: Junior League of Scarsdale, 1976).

Scharf, J. Thomas. History of Westchester County, New York, volume 1. (Philadelphia: L.E. Preston & Company, 1886). books.google.com/books

Slavery in New York 

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Donnan, Elizabeth. Documents Illustrative of the History of the Slave Trade to America. The Online Books Page. onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu

Douglass, Frederick. “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” Speech given July 5, 1852. teachingamericanhistory.org

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Hodes, Martha. Sex, Love, Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History. (New York: New York University Press, 1999).

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Hodges, Graham Russell. Root and Branch: African Americans in New York and New Jersey, 1613-1813. (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1999).

Kruger, Vivienne L. Born to Run: The Slave Family in Early New York, 1626 to 1827. Columbia University Ph.D. thesis, 1985. newyorkslavery.blogspot.com

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Northrup, A. Judd. Slavery in New York: A Historical Sketch. (Albany, New York: University of the State of New York, 1900). hathitrust.org

Powell, Aaron. Personal Reminiscences of the Anti-Slavery and Other Reforms and Reformers. (Plainfield, New Jersey: A. R. Powell; New York: Caulon Press, 1899). archive.org

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