I am an American: The Wong Kim Ark Story

I am an American: The Wong Kim Ark Story

by Martha Brockenbrough with Grace Lin (Little, Brown, 2021)

Review by Valerie Ooka Pang

This review was originally published in the International Examiner and is
republished with permission.
https://iexaminer.org/honoring-remembering-and-sharing-the-life-of-kim-arkand-his-fight-for-justice/

Has anyone questioned your citizenship? Has anyone ever said to you, “You don’t belong here. Go back to where you came from!”? Meaning you are not an American and should go back to where you came from. This happened to me often in Eastern Washington where I grew up, yet if I was to go back to where I came from, that would have been Seattle, Washington, where I was born. Why didn’t other youngsters think of me as an American? I could also be an immigrant who became an American like Wing Luke, who was the first person of color elected to the Seattle City Council.

Race is a powerful element of American society. People judge others based on their skin color, physical characteristics, stature and cultural practices. I am Japanese American and many of the young people I grew up with did not think of Japanese Americans as Americans. I was seen as a foreigner and so did not belong in the United States, though I lived in the state of Washington all of my
life. I wish there had been a book like I am an American: The Wong Kim Ark Story so their teachers could read it to their students. The book is about how Wong Kim Ark went to court and fought for his right as an American citizen.

In 1873, Wong Kim Ark was born in San Francisco, California to parents from China.
Chinese immigrants suffered much prejudice living in California. His parents left San Francisco in 1890 to go back to China while he stayed with relatives in California. Wong Kim Ark visited his parents in 1894 on a temporary trip. When he returned to San Francisco, he was not allowed to enter the United States because officials said he was not a citizen. He was put in prison because of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Law that did not allow Chinese workers into the United States. Lawyers sued to get him out of prison in district court.

At that time Wong Kim Ark was about 21 years old. He argued that since he was born in San Francisco, he was a citizen. Members of the Chinese community pooled their finances and hired several lawyers to represent Wong Kim Ark. His case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that due to the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, since Wong Kim Ark was born in the United States, he was a citizen even though his parents were from China.

The Supreme Court decision of Wong Kim Ark is important because often race is used as an obstacle in establishing citizenship for other Asian Americans and people of color. The Supreme Court ruled that birth in the United States establishes citizenship. The Wong Kim Ark case supports his statement of “I am an American.” Even after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Kim Ark, he had to carry a certificate of identity “to prove he was an American.” Racism was still strong in the United States.

This is an excellent story to read to children to show that the United States is a diverse country, and its citizens are members of many different ethnic and racial groups. Every student and teacher should know who Wong Kim Ark is and how he
helped to establish citizenship rights for people of color in the United States. Most learners and educators do not know about the contributions that many Asian American and Pacific Islander people have made to our civil rights.

Consider purchasing this book for your children or educators. There should be more AAPI role models presented in school. This book is an exceptional resource. There is additional information about the case at the end of the text. The timeline of historical events is especially informative. It includes dates about Wong Kim Ark’s life and different immigration legislation. As Wong Kim Ark said, “I am an American.”

Finding Our Place in Revolutionary History

Finding Our Place in Revolutionary History
Karen Parker

All human beings want to feel like they belong to something bigger. This is
especially true when students reach adolescence, their whole psyche revolves around being liked, accepted, and belonging to a group. The importance of that “place” that they hold is the driving force held together by peers, social media, cliques, fashion, and home. Relating part of their place to history and pique that sense of belonging to that history, not feeling left out of it as a spectator, not feeling odd or different from the people and feeling like they are connected with the locations, can be the key to the level of engagement. Luckily, in New Jersey, it is not difficult to find Revolutionary era connections in our backyards and neighborhoods.

There is a disconnect with children during their education of history. Students often feel disconnected because of the difficulties in relating to elapsed time, distant places, and unfamiliar habits and customs. As educators, it is our challenge to create as many opportunities for connections as possible, to have the students relate to some “thin and brittle” threads of familiarities, and often we can wrestle grudging interest in the topics presented.

History, unlike active experimentation in science and the excitement of fiction in
language arts, is unsurprisingly often deposited toward the end of the favorite subject list, to muddle around in student’s heads where they view the facts as dull lists of events and dates of forced importance with scattered entertaining facts – more so if they relate to a holiday that includes time off from school.

To connect with people from generations past, it is important to find that common ground with today. Where I grew up in Morris County, I lived a short drive from an active and preserved area of Revolutionary history, spending many hours of my childhood roaming the woods and fields of Revolutionary significance, taking short field trips to Jockey Hollow, Fort Nonsense, and the Ford Mansion. Where I teach in Hunterdon County, the most notable area is Washington’s Crossing State Park, with which many of my students are completely unfamiliar, and the war to them
seems very distant. It is important to find nearby locations and people that are
connected to the Revolution era.

In my research for the New Jersey Council for the Social Studies, I was looking
for information on people from Hunterdon County who were actively involved in the
Revolutionary War. There were many references to soldiers, the Commissary General for Washington’s army and the local militia, but I came across one primary
source that I thought might catch the interest of my students.

Through researching into the life of this average local person, James Parker, reading about his daily missives on the management of the property, connections to the effects that the war had on the common people became evident. Parker’s
connections began as a proprietor whose primary residence was in one of the colonial capitals, Perth Amboy. He was a major landowner in Hunterdon County, owning land in what is now Kingwood, Union, Bethlehem, and Tewksbury Townships and built a large stone house in Union Township called Shipley. It is interesting to note that many people in this local area were not following the political patriots, but many had loyalist leanings or were ambivalent.

Mr. Parker was one of those who did not support the patriotic feelings and was
sentenced and jailed by the New Jersey Council of Safety during the summer of 1777, in Morristown, for refusing to take an oath renouncing loyalty to Britain. He was paroled and exchanged for a Patriot held in New York in 1778. At this time, he spent
more and more of his time in Hunterdon County, overseeing his lands. Some think
that he was avoiding the political climate of the large shore town of Perth Amboy,
though he documents in his farm journal his travels back and forth to his original home for proprietor meetings.

Some other examples of Parker’s political leanings come from an entry in his journal that appeared sympathetic to a local loyalist family, the Voughts who lived in Clinton, known then as Hunt’s Mill, about three miles away from Parker’s home in Pittstown.. On December 18, 1778, Doc Smith took his contribution to a relief fund for women, wives of people gone into the British line and had all of their effects sold. This is the same date that the Voughts had all of their belongings auctioned off. These families were considered traitors by the New Jersey Legislature, which allowed all of their property and possessions to be confiscated. At this time, a large amount of the British army and many of their sympathizers occupied areas of New York and Staten
Island) (Gigantino 2015)

The farm journal expresses many tasks that most would take for granted at the
time, documented in amazing detail, though commonplace and ordinary back then.
These entries in this primary source give glimpses of insight on the challenges of
conducting business during the Revolutionary War. He notes that on July 1, 1778, he was in the meadow with great firing heard at a distance, “Regulars and Continental troops engaged in general or skirmishes since Sunday last.” He notes that it was a “severe engagement” and we can assume that he was hearing the Battle of Monmouth and he must have been at Perth Amboy to be in the proximity to hear the
fighting, even though he does not mention it. There are no references of any major
engagement during this time period anywhere near his lands in Hunterdon County.

Financial struggle, even for wealthy proprietors, was a part of daily life. The
farm journal mentions the use of many different denominations of hard currency:
Continental Dollars, Johannes and Moidore, which were Portuguese gold coins, English Guineas, New York Currency, English Pounds and Spanish dollars. In January of 1779, Parker discusses an issue with the prevalence of counterfeiting, by mentioning that he was buying land from Abraham Bonnell. He could not confirm if the money he was paying with was counterfeit. Bonnell said he didn’t believe any was, due to being very careful to examine the bills and that the mark of a printer was not necessarily a proof of authenticity. At one point he mentions, “Paid for bushel of wheat in hard money.”

This may have been noted because of the general lack of coinage and the use of
continental paper money. He noted on March 5, 1780 that taxes were collected but there was a scarcity of money, and on March 13 taxes were collected on his Bethlehem property, and he complains about having no money until he could collect on his debts. On March 23, taxes were collected on Tewksbury property, and he mentions that he is owed more money than he can pay; he can’t pay the taxes until his debtors pay. For the same year, he was taxed on 200 acres, was able to pay three-quarters of the bill but had no continental money, so he borrowed it.

Everyone knows that Continental and British troops moved all around New Jersey. It is common knowledge that they were located near the famous areas of conflict such as Monmouth, Trenton, Princeton, and Washington’s Crossing at the Delaware River. Troops on both sides of the war marched through Hunterdon County and
stopped to rest their soldiers and horses.

On December 4, 1778, Parker mentions being told by Moore Furman, a local miller and merchant who was well connected as a Deputy Quartermaster General for New Jersey, that Gen. Burgoyne’s army was marching to Virginia and would be quartered in the neighborhood as they marched along. On December 5, troops of the 1st Division came down with three companies of men, eight officers. He notes little business was conducted due to attending the troops. On December 6th, the 1st Division “marcht” off and the 2nd division came in. Charles Stewart (local and
the Commissary General of Washington’s army) spared a gallon of spirits. On
December 7th the 2nd division left, no others came, on December 8th, the 3rd
division troops came with six companies and five officers of the 62nd regiment, on
December 9th, the 3rd division left. Parker noted that the Brunswick troops arrived with three officers and 78 men on the 10th and that little work was accomplished when troops were there. December 11th was active with part of a company of ‘foreign troops” that were there with a major, two horses, a baggage wagon with four more horses; this group left on December 13th.

Imagine the disruption of regular life and business when these troops had been
quartered on the property. May 15, 1779 brought troops from the Continental army through the Pittstown area. James Parker notes that the Regiment of the New Jersey Brigade, commanded by Colonel Ogden, marched to Pittstown on the way to Easton with 300-350 men. The Continental troops pastured horses in local fields. Parker notes that he put into pasture twelve Continental horses, then took on
seven more Continental horses, ending the day with a total of twenty. On August 25th, he received from Nehemiah Dunham, who built the stone mill in nearby Clinton, five barrels of flour for Continental service. On August 25th, he put into pasture 12 Continental horses. On August 26th he took seven more Continental horses, September 4th put up nine more Continental horses and on September 18th, all Continental horses left.

In today’s military, food and supplies are provided by the government, but back in
Revolutionary times, troops were expected to be supplied by local people, sometimes
with promissory notes, sometimes by donation with no recompense. Sometimes a
tax was paid to help sponsor troops. In Parker’s journal he mentions that on July
12,1779, he paid Adam Hope a tax toward raising a state regiment, as assessed by
Colonel Beavers and Charles Coke, of 45 dollars. On August 25th, he received from
Nehemiah Dunham of Clinton five barrels of flour for Continental service. He noted a meeting in Pittstown on January 18, 1780, “Spent day in Pittstown where residents met to deliver cattle and grain collected for the army.”

Students need to imagine for themselves that not all of the population of New Jersey followed the Patriot cause, most sources agree that in the colonies they made up only about thirty to forty percent of the population. They believe that around twenty
percent were acknowledged Loyalists, while the remaining population were neutral.
There were many risks on both ends of the political spectrum, with neighbors who
harassed or reported neighbors, or turned their coats when it was to their benefit.

They need to experience the feelings of taking sides, or remaining neutral in situations. It is important to realize that everyone in New Jersey was involved in the Revolutionary War because it influenced their ordinary lives in ways that did not directly involve battles, shooting, famous officers and other incidents memorialized with statues and National Parks. The areas right around the corner, a barn down the street, an old house, mill or tavern, a name of a road in New Jersey, may have been owned or named after ordinary people whose stories were intimately intertwined with the Revolutionary War.

The decisions of James Parker and others were difficult for them and they have
relevance for us today whenever we receive criticism for our decisions.


References
Gigantino, J.J. (2015). The American
Revolution in New Jersey: Where the
Battlefront Meets the Home Front. Rutgers
University Press.


Stevens, S.B. (2015). All Roads Lead to
Pittstown. Hunterdon County Historical
Commission

Teaching Asian American History

Teaching Asian American History

Alan Singer

This article was originally published in History News Network https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183088

Corporal George Bushy holds the youngest child of Shigeho Kitamoto as she and her children are forced to leave Bainbridge Island, Washington. In 1942, the Kitamoto family was sent to an internment camp. (LOC)

The focus of Critical Race Theory has been on the treatment of people of African ancestry as the United States has been pressed to come to terms with its racist past and lingering racism today. It also should include the long history of anti-Asian violence and discrimination in this country. Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May is a time for teachers and students to highlight the contributions and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans on the history, culture, and achievements of the United States.

Ex-President Donald Trump exacerbated anti-Asian hostility in this country with specious statements blaming China for the COVID-19 pandemic and the calling it the  “Chinese virus” and “Kung Flu” for the COVID-19 pandemic. The Republican Party has tried to divide potential Democratic Party voters by arguing that affirmative action programs and school reforms addressing past discrimination against African Americans and Latinos are anti-Asian.

Recent deadly attacks on Asian Americans, in San Francisco, New York City, and one in Atlanta where six women were murdered, have been committed by very disturbed people who were agitated by a climate that allows anti-Asian stereotypes to go largely unchallenged. An article in the journal Education Week calls on schools to play a larger role in combatting the stereotypes and anti-Asian racism by making Asian immigrants and their experience more prominent in the United States history curriculum. This would be an important corrective.

On the 2020 Federal Census, people who identified as Asian or of Asian ancestry made up approximately 6% of the U.S. population or almost 20 million people. The Asian American population grew by 35.5% between 2010 and 2020. Another 4 million Americans identified as mixed ancestry with a partial Asian heritage. The three largest groups were Chinese, about 5.4 million people, South Asians from India, 4.6 million, and Filipinos, 4.2 million. Chinese are the second largest immigrant group in the country. In 2019, California had the largest Asian American population, about of 6.7 million people followed by New York (1.9 million), Texas (1.6 million), and New Jersey (958,000)

The first large influx of people from Asia into territories that would become the United States occurred during the California gold rush starting in 1849. Chinese contract workers were brought to the United States to take low paying, dangerous jobs in mining and railroad construction. Most were male and planned to return home after earning enough money to buy land and start a family. In 1850, the Chinese population of the United States was only 3,227 people. It increased to 35,000 in 1860, a little over 60,000 in 1870, and just over 100,000 in 1880, when anti-Asian laws blocked new Chinese arrivals. In 1857, Harper’s Weekly reported, “The immigration of Chinese into California has attracted the attention of Congress. It appears that the Chinese immigrants, on settling there, persist in maintaining their allegiance to China; and under these circumstances the Senate voted on a resolution, December 19, making inquiry into the propriety of discouraging such emigration.”

From the 1850s through the 1870s, the California state government systematically discriminated against Chinese. Among other actions, it required special licenses for Chinese owned businesses and Chinese were not permitted to testify in court against a white person. In 1875, Congress passed and President Grant signed the Page Act, the first federal immigration law. It prohibited immigrants considered “undesirable” including any individual from Asia who was coming to the United States as a contract laborer, any Asian woman who would engage in prostitution, and all people considered to be convicts in their own country. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act suspending the immigration of Chinese laborers for a period of 10 years. It was the first law in American history to place broad restrictions on immigration and the first law to ban a specific ethnic group. The law remained in effect until 1943.

Japanese Americans are a small immigrant group that has had a major role in United States history. In 1870, there were only 55 Japanese in the United States, not counting Hawaii which was not yet an American colony. In 1900, there were still only 24,000 Japanese in the continental United States, but Japanese were the largest ethnic group in Hawaii. By 1960, when Hawaii was admitted as a state, there were 464,000 Japanese in the United States. In 2019, under 1.5 million Americans claimed partial or full Japanese ancestry, less than 1/2 of a percent of the US population. The largest Japanese American communities are in California and Hawaii.

In Hawaii, Japanese immigrants labored on sugar and pineapple plantations where they were subject to harsh rules and exploitation by armed European American overseers. On the plantation, Japanese workers had three to five year binding contracts and were jailed if they tried to leave. Those who eventually migrated to the mainland were subject to discriminatory laws and practices. California passed a law in 1913 banning Japanese from purchasing land.

Under the notorious Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907 between the United States and Japan, Japanese officials stopped issuing passports for new laborers. Federal legislation in 1924 completely banned any immigration from Japan.

The situation worsened with Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and U.S. involvement in World War II. Dr. Seuss posted racist caricatures of Japanese and Japanese Americans as part of wartime propaganda and Executive Order 9066 which eliminated all civil rights for Japanese immigrants and their families living on the West Coast. An estimated 120,000 people were branded as risks and forced to abandon homes and businesses and relocate to concentration camps, mostly in inhospitable areas of the Rocky Mountains. This action was taken despite the fact that there was not a single case of espionage ever established against Japanese Americans or Japanese immigrants living in the United States. Over two-thirds of those forced into concentration camps were American born citizens. The fenced in camps were located in harsh terrain and patrolled by armed guards. Ironically, Japanese Americans in Hawaii were not imprisoned because they were needed to rebuild areas destroyed by the attacks. Young Japanese American men were permitted to leave the concentration camps if they enlisted in the U.S. military. Japanese American soldiers served in a segregated unit, the 442nd, stationed in Italy and France. It was the most decorated American combat unit during World War II.

In 1944, in Korematsu vs. United States, the Supreme Court ruled by 6-3 that the detention of Japanese Americans was a “military necessity” and not based on race. In a dissent, Justice Robert Jackson called the exclusion order “the legalization of racism” and a violation of the 14th amendment. Fred Korematsu, who challenged the evacuation order and forced internment, was “convicted of an act not commonly thought a crime. It consists merely of being present in the state whereof he is a citizen, near the place where he was born, and where all his life he has lived.” In 1983, a federal judge overturned Korematsu’s conviction and in 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act compensating more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent who were incarcerated in the World War II concentration camps.

Since 1965, the United States has large immigrant populations from Korea, the Philippines, Southeast Asia, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. Each group has its own history in the United States, however all have faced stereotypes and discrimination and been stereotyped. South Asian Americans, often identified as Moslems even when they are not, were targeted after the 9/11/2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York. A case involving an immigrant from India in the 1920s, United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, established that people from the Indian sub-continent could not become naturalized citizens of the United States because they were not a “white person” in the sense intended in the Naturalization Act of 1790.

One of the most important constitutional decisions about citizenship was a Supreme Court ruling in the case of the United States vs. Wong Kim Ark was a Chinese American born in San Francisco, California in 1873. His parents were Chinese immigrants who returned to China about 1890. In 1894, Wong Kim Ark traveled to China to visit them and was not allowed to reenter to the United States because officials at the arrival center claimed he was not a citizen. In 1898, the Supreme Court in a 6-2 decision ruled that he was a citizen of the United States because he was born in this country.

Despite decades of prejudice, Asian Americans have made major contributions to life in the United States. They include Vice-President Kamala Harris whose mother was an immigrant from India, Eric S. Yuan, the CEO of Zoom, Steven Chen, co-founder of YouTube, Nobel Prize winning scientists Chen Ning Yang and T. D. Lee, physicistChien-Shiung Wu who worked on the Manhattan Project developing the atomic bomb,U.S. Senators Daniel Inouye (Dem-HI) and Tammy Duckworth (Dem-Ill), film director Ang Lee, astronaut Kalpana Chawla, architect I. M. Pei, authors Maxine Hong Kingston, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Amy Tan, athletes Tiger Woods, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Michelle Kwan, musician Yo-Yo Ma, and actors Sandra Oh, Lucy Liu, Haing Somnang Ngor, George Takei (Mr. Sulu), and Bruce Lee.

New York Local History: Yonkers Sculpture Garden

New York Local History: Yonkers Sculpture Garden

For Juneteenth 2022, the City of Yonkers debuted a permanent art exhibit honoring the legacy of the nation’s first freed slaves. The Enslaved Africans’ Rain Garden includes five life-size bronze sculptures created by artist Vinnie Bagwell depicting formerly enslaved Africans. The sculpture garden is located along the Yonkers Hudson River esplanade. According to Bagwell, “Public art sends a message about the values and priorities of a community. In the spirit of transformative justice for acts against the humanity of black people, I am grateful for those who supported this collective effort. The strongest aspect of the Enslaved Africans’ Rain Garden coming to fruition is that it begins to address the righting of so many wrongs by giving voice to the previously unheard via accessible art in a public place while connecting the goals of artistic and cultural opportunities to improving educational opportunities and economic development.”

In Yonkers, Philipse Manor Hall was the seat of the Philipsburg Manor, a colonial estate that covered more than 52,000 acres of Westchester land. The Philipse family was involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and probably as many as two-dozen enslaved African slaves worked and lived at the manor. The enslaved Africans were freed in 1799, one of the first large emancipations in the United States. New York State finally ended slavery in 1827.

Slavery in New Jersey: Teaching Hard History Through Primary Sources

Slavery in New Jersey: Teaching Hard History Through Primary Sources

by Dana Howell

Photo of the Marlpit Hall Family

For nearly a century, the Monmouth County Historical Association (MCHA) has told the story of the Taylor family at Marlpit Hall, the c. 1760 historic house museum in Middletown, NJ. It is a fascinating story indeed, and speaks to the strife between Patriots and Loyalists in Monmouth County, a hotbed of activity during the Revolutionary War. Until recently, however, a chapter of the house’s history had gone untold. In October of 2021, MCHA unveiled the exhibit 

Beneath the Floorboards: Whispers of the Enslaved at Marlpit Hall to include this forgotten chapter. This award-winning exhibit was the culmination of two years of extensive research done by curators Bernadette Rogoff and Joe Zemla to interpret the home to include the long-silenced voices of the enslaved who lived there.

Primary source documentation and discoveries of material culture were the foundations of the research done to uncover the lives of seven of the twelve known enslaved individuals at Marlpit. Birth, death and census records, wills, runaway ads, inventories, bills of sale, and manumissions (or freedom papers) shed light on the experiences of Tom, York, Ephraim, Clarisse, Hannah, Elizabeth, and William. In 2020, Joe Zemla discovered secret caches of artifacts hidden beneath the floorboards of the kitchen loft living quarters that spoke to their religion and protective rituals, while archaeological digs supervised by Dr. Rich Veit of Monmouth University provided further evidence to piece together what life may have looked like for the enslaved. Throughout the house, mannequins dressed in                        

historically accurate reproduction clothing bring each individual to life, supplemented by their carefully researched biographical panels. The artifacts they left behind are now on display; there is no longer a need for them to be hidden from view.

One of the most prevalent comments made by visitors is that they were unaware that slavery existed in New Jersey. For many years, our educational system had been complacent with the general notion that the northern states were free, while the South had enslaved labor. New Jersey has been referred to as the “most southern of the northern states,” second only to New York in the number of enslaved persons and the very last to legally abolish the institution on January 23rd, 1866.

Comparatively, little has been written about slavery in the North. We can read about
the facts of the matter, but the personal stories in the Floorboards exhibit make an impact that no textbook or blog can. The enslaved are presented without any form of politicization, but rather from an evidence-based and humanized lens. Students are able to connect with them, particularly with Elizabeth and William, who were born in the home and are represented as children – another sad fact of slavery that often goes overlooked. It is a unique opportunity to be able to mentally place these individuals in surroundings which are familiar to the student, albeit long ago. The students learn that we can make educated guesses about what life was like during the time in which the enslaved lived and explore the spaces they inhabited, but we can never truly understand their experiences as enslaved human beings. The only thing we can do is try to imagine it, using historical evidence from primary sources as our guide.

There is a sad deficit in age-appropiate classroom resources to teach slavery, and almost none that cover slavery in the North. This deficit creates roadblocks for public school teachers who are mandated to teach these topics as required by the NJ Department of Education’s 2020 Student Learning Standards, incorporating the 2002 Amistad Law.

 monmouthhistory.org/intermediate-btf

While nothing can compare to the experience of actually visiting Marlpit Hall, the opportunity to do so poses challenges for many school districts. In order to make the fascinating information in the exhibit as accessible as possible to students, MCHA has created two NJ standards-based digital education resources adapted for the elementary and middle/high school levels. Created under the advisorship of respected professionals in the fields of education and African American history, both age-appropriate resources provide background on the system of slavery in New Jersey with a focus on the enslaved at Marlpit Hall. In it, they will be introduced to each individual, along with the primary sources that helped to build their stories. Dr. Wendy Morales, Assistant Superintendent of the Monmouth Ocean Educational Services Commission, notes “The questions and activities included in this resource are standards-aligned and cross-curricular. This means students will not only learn historical facts, but will be challenged to think like historians, analyzing primary sources and making connections between historical eras.” Creative writing, art, music, and civics are all explored.

The section on the origins of slavery in New Jersey stress that the enslaved came here not as slaves, but as individuals who were taken from a homeland that had its own culture and civilization. Two videos, courtesy of slavevoyages.org, make a powerful impact. Students will get to view a timelapse of the paths of over 35,000 slave ship voyages, plotted in an animated graph. This visual representation helps students visually process the magnitude of the forced migration of the enslaved, while a 3-D modeling of an actual slave ship offers a uniquely realistic view of these vessels.

 Time lapse of plotted slave ships         Video featuring 3-D model of slave ship

Both grade level resources come with downloadable worksheets that can be customized to accommodate differentiated learning strategies, and submitted through Google Classroom. Teacher answer keys are provided for guidance as well. MCHA is proud to provide these resources free of charge to aid educators in their responsibility to teach slavery. The resources offer a guided approach to help educators navigate this sensitive and often difficult topic in the classroom. The new mandates are an excellent start to correcting the record on New Jersey’s history of enslavement, but it is truly New Jersey’s educators who will place their personal marks on bringing relevance and reverence to the topic in the classroom.

These resources can be found under the education tab at monmouthhistory.org/education-homepage. MCHA welcomes all questions and comments to dhowell@monmouthhistory.org.

New York Local History: Underground Railroad in the North Country

New York Local History: Underground Railroad in the North Country

Source: North Country Public Radio https://www.northcountrypublicradio.org/news/story/45430/20220224/remembering-the-secret-history-of-the-underground-railroad-in-the-north-country

A few minutes outside the small town of Peru in New York’s Champlain Valley, there is a small farm that looks like any other in the area. A cluster of silos and red barns with fading paint are flanked by snow-covered fields and apple orchards, dormant for the winter. But this farm has something unique. A blue and yellow New York State historical marker identifies the property as a stop on the Underground Railroad, where “runaway slaves were concealed and protected on their way to freedom in Canada.”

There was no actual train involved in the network, explains Jacqueline Madison, the President of the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association. “It was a trail of conductors who helped them along the way [and] safe houses where they could stay,” she notes.

Communities from Watertown to Lake Champlain were part of that network of safe houses that helped people escape slavery in the American south during the decades leading up to the Civil War. Escapees typically traveled by foot or water. The railroad moniker was part of a secret code: safe places to stay were called stations and the owners of those properties were known as conductors. A full journey on the Underground Railroad typically took several months.

This is the history that Madison and the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association are dedicated to preserving. The group operates a museum in Keeseville, in the Champlain Valley south of Plattsburgh. It features the stories from both sides of the Underground Railroad: Black passengers and white conductors. One exhibit is dedicated to the former owner of that historic Peru farmhouse, a man named Stephen Keese Smith. The abolitionist Quaker purchased the property in 1851 and quickly established one of the barns as a hiding place for runaway slaves headed to Canada. There is no way to know with certainty exactly how many people Keese Smith aided while working as a conductor. But his later writings provide an estimate. “He talked about helping people get to freedom and he thinks he spent about $1000 doing that,” Madison explained. “And if we spent $2.50 per person, he would have helped over 400 people.”

Exact numbers are nearly impossible to come by in historical records because those helping escaped slaves often avoided keeping a paper trail. Involvement in the Underground Railroad was extremely dangerous for everyone, black or white. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 required that escaped slaves be returned to their former owners – and carried stiff penalties for anyone who aided them. “If you were caught helping someone get to freedom,” Madison noted, “you could lose your property, you could be jailed, you could be fined. Terrible things could happen to you, your family, and friends if they suspected them of helping as well.”

The North Star Underground Railroad Museum fills up the bottom floor of an old 19th Century house. It’s packed with maps, faded newspaper articles, and portraits of notable members of the North Country section of the covert network. Standing before a map, Madison explains the various routes freedom-seekers would have followed to reach Canada. A western path originating in Pennsylvania went through Buffalo, up to Watertown, and crossed the St. Lawrence River at Ogdensburg. Two escape routes followed Lake Champlain: one through Vermont and another running from Albany to Rouse’s Point along the lake’s western shore. To find their way, escapees used folk songs learned on the southern plantations. They worked as a kind of secret oral map; with coded lyrics guiding freedom seekers on their journey north. One such tune called Follow the Drinking Gourd referenced landmarks like certain rivers and offered hints for how to identify friendly conductors. Drinking gourd was code for the Big Dipper – a celestial constellation that can be used to identify the North Star.

Although details can be hard to piece together, some stories of those who passed through the North Country to freedom have been recovered. An article written in 1837 by Vermont-born abolitionist Alvan Stewart for an anti-slavery newspaper recounts the story of an anonymous man who travelled through the North Country on his way to Canada. “I was headed to Ogdensburg, on my way north to Canada from South Carolina,” an actor declares in a re-enactment exhibit at the North Star Museum. “I had come up through the Champlain Canal, and then gone through Clinton and Franklin County.” That unknown man did eventually reach freedom north of the border, but his quest nearly ended in disaster just a few miles from his destination.

Outside of Ogdensburg, he stopped into a post office looking for work. Since New York had outlawed slavery in 1827, that would not necessarily have been out of place. However, slave owners offered rich rewards for the return for those who escaped, and slave catchers were permitted to operate even in anti-slavery states under the Fugitive Slave Act. When the anonymous freedom seeker entered the post office near Ogdensburg, the postmaster recognized him and explained that a reward for his capture had been posted. “I said to him, if you send me back then they’ll do terrible things to me,” the re-enactment continues. “Whip me. Hang me. Skin me alive. I begged him not to turn me in.” In this case, the postmaster ignored the reward, worth about $20,000 in today’s terms, and helped the man cross the St. Lawrence River into Canada.

Other escaped slaves decided to settle in North Country. In 1840, a Franklin County landowner named Gerrit Smith pledged to donate more than 120,000 acres of wilderness land in the Adirondacks to free black men. It would eventually become a settlement known as Timbuctoo. A man named John Thomas received 40 acres of un-cleared land from Smith. Thomas later sold that to buy a larger plot near Bloomingdale, NY, which he turned into a successful farm. Many years later, Thomas wrote his benefactor a letter, thanking Smith for the “generous donation” and revealing that he and his family greatly enjoyed the peace and prosperity of their “rural home.” Although Thomas was successfully established himself in the region, that was not the case for most recipients of Smith’s land. Harsh winters and tough soil drove many of the Black farmers to sell the land they had received and move away. The climate was not the only danger; at least once, slave catchers came to the area looking for Thomas. According to Madison, they first approached his neighbors seeking their help. As Madison tells it, Thomas’ neighbors informed the slave catchers that he was armed, would forcibly resist capture, and declared their intention to assist Thomas in repelling the catchers. The slave catchers are believed to have given up their pursuit.

In his later letter to Smith, Thomas hinted that his adopted community had begun to treat him as one of their own. “I have breasted the storm of prejudice and opposition until I began to be regarded as an American citizen,” he wrote. This may also be a reference to civic participation. At the time, New York State required men to own at least $250 worth of land to obtain the right to vote. Thomas’ obituary was published in the Malone Palladium in May 1895. It described him as “much respected in the community where he lived so long.” His descendants still live in that community. Through genealogy research, Madison and the North Star Museum discovered that two of John Thomas’ great-great grandsons still reside in the North Country. One of the descendants lives less than two miles from the cemetery in Vermontville where Thomas and his wife are buried.

New York Local History: Water from the Catskills

New York Local History: Water from the Catskills

Michelle Young

Source: https://untappedcities.com/2015/06/22/some-of-nycs-drinking-water-comes-from-drowned-towns-in-the-catskills/

Ashokan Reservoir in the Catskills

New York City has some of the best drinking water in the country, but it did not come without a price. Most are familiar with the Croton Aqueduct, the first to bring fresh water to the city in 1842 and updated in 1890. Catskill Aqueduct was next (a push after Brooklyn was incorporated into the City of New York), built between 1917 and 1924, bringing 40% of New York City’s water from a series of reservoirs 163 miles away in upstate New York. New Yorkers may not know the six reservoirs of the Catskill Aqueduct, including Ashokan Reservoir, New York City’s largest, were formed by flooding a dozen towns.

The plan for the Catskill Aqueduct began in 1905 when the New York City Board of Water Supply was formed, allowing for the acquisition of property by eminent domain and the construction of dams, reservoirs, and aqueducts. The area in question was formerly a farming area, with logging and the quarrying of bluestone, some of which ended up on the Brooklyn Bridge. Two thousand people were relocated, including a thousand New Yorkers with second homes. Thirty-two cemeteries were unearthed and the 1,800 residents reburied elsewhere, to limit water contamination. Residents were offered $15 by the city ($65 later for the Delaware Aqueduct) to disinter their relatives and move them elsewhere.

Buildings and industries were relocated or burned down, trees and brush were removed from the future reservoir floor–all the work done predominantly by local laborers, African-Americans from the south and Italian immigrants. To control the fighting that arose between labor groups, a police force that became the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP) Police, was created. In sum, four towns were submerged while eight were relocated to build the Ashokan  Reservoir. When the dam was completed, steam whistles were blown for an hour warning residents that the water was coming. Today, remnants of foundations, walls, and more can still be seen, particularly when water levels are lower–often in the fall. Although access to the reservoirs has been limited since 9/11, you can see some of those archeological finds from bridges. You can also hike and bike along a ridge of the reservoir.

The last of the eminent domain lawsuits in the Ashokan Reservoir area was not settled in 1940 and it was not until 2002 that New York City made any moves to acknowledge the history in the Esopus Valley. The NYCDEP installed an outdoor exhibition in Olive, New York that commemorated the lost towns and the feat of the aqueduct itself, with the intention to add exhibits at five other reservoirs (although we were not able to find that the exhibition or any others are still available). Signage now shows the sites of the former towns.

The Delaware Aqueduct is the most recent of the city’s aqueducts and its story is similar to the Catskill Aqueduct. The Pepacton Reservoir (aka the Downsville Reservoir or the Downsville Dam) was formed by flooding four towns and submerging half of the existing Delaware and Northern Railroad. This reservoir provides 25% of the city’s drinking water, and combined the Catskill and Delaware Aqueduct provides 90% of the city’s water. In total, the construction of these reservoirs and aqueducts resulted in the destruction of 25 communities and the relocation of 5,500 across five New York State counties. Something to think about the next time you run the tap in New York City.

New Jersey Local History: Stephen Smith House and Underground Railroad at Cape May

New Jersey Local History: Stephen Smith House and Underground Railroad at Cape May

Stephen Smith was the original owner and builder of a summerhouse in Cape May, New Jersey.

Although born in the late eighteenth century, Smith was a nineteenth century philanthropist. During his lifetime, he was said to be the wealthiest Black American in the nation. He established the first home in the United States for aged and indigent Colored people. This home is still in existence today.

An energetic businessman, Mr. Smith had a coal mine, stone quarry and lumber yards in Philadelphia and Columbia, Pennsylvania. His business activities led to many real estate holdings. He established Smith, Whipple & Co. with his cousin William Whipper. Stephen Smith was a devoted church and family man; married to Harriet Lee, they lived in a stone mansion on Lombard Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The vacation house was built by him in Cape May, New Jersey using material from his lumber yard. This house is still standing except for the carriage house, kitchen and fireplace room once visible in the rear of the building. Not having children of his own, he welcomed the offspring of his wife’s secretary and friends; namely the Bascoms and Harlans. His secretary Anna Vidal, wife of Ulysses B. Vidal, brought their three children, Etienne, Marie and Anna Clorise to Cape May. Etienne engraved his name in a small glass windowpane with his diamond ring at this house. In later years Marie would point out the pane and recall the prank, for Etienne had long since emigrated to France. Stephen Smith was called “Daddy” Smith by the children and he relished the time consuming carriage ride to Cape May with them. Portraits of Stephen and Harriet were painted by the noted Black artist Edward Stridom and are today the property of the Pennsylvania Historical Society. An avid abolitionist and agent in the Underground Railroad, Mr. Smith was active in politics and church affairs. Records of the AME church attest to his generosity.

Stephen Smith was born October 13, 1795 in Columbia, PA. At the age of nine he was purchased by an officer who was a Revolutionary War general named Thomas Boude. His mother escaped from her owner, found her son, and was taken in by Boudes. Weeks later her mistress (owner) followed and demanded her property. The Boudes’ refused and were supported by the townspeople who believed in aiding a fugitive. Raised by the General Thomas Boude, in time, Stephen purchased his freedom. Before the general died, he set Stephen up in the lumber business. Stephen earned the respect and confidence of the people of Columbia, PA and they supported his endeavors. At age 21, he was inspired by the eminent minister, Richard Allen, founder of the AME church, and at age 31 became licensed to preach. He was a Teller in the election of every Bishop since Richard Allen until his death in 1873. Smith built a public hall in Philadelphia for the use of the “People of Color”; but this was destroyed by fire in the riots of 1842. Stephen Smith was one of the Signers of Frederick Douglas’ Men of Color to Arms appeal during the early part of the Civil War calling on Black Americans to join the Union Army.

How the First African American Doctor Fought for Women’s Rights in Glasgow

How the First African American Doctor Fought for Women’s Rights in Glasgow

Mathew D. Eddy

(This essay was originally published in The Conversation)

James McCune Smith was the first African American to receive a medical doctorate from a university. Born in 1813 to a poor South Carolina runaway slave who had escaped to New York City, he went on to attend Glasgow University during the 1830s. When he returned to America, he became a leading black physician, a tireless abolitionist, activist and journalist. McCune Smith led an amazing life. He exposed false medical data in the 1840 American census. He supported women’s suffrage alongside the noted feminist Susan B. Anthony. And he wrote the introduction to Frederick Douglass’s sensational 1855 autobiographical slave narrative, My Bondage and My Freedom. Now, for the first time, my research has revealed that McCune Smith was also the first African American known to be published in a British medical journal – and that he used this platform to reveal a cover-up by an ambitious medical professor who was experimenting on vulnerable women in Glasgow in the 1830s.

I am a historian of science and medicine. I study how people learned scientific skills and I am especially intrigued by the history of how scientists and physicians made discoveries and how that knowledge then circulated between the academy and the public. One way to track this process is to compare what students learned in educational settings to how they used their scientific training to solve problems and make decisions later in life. My forthcoming book, Media and the Mind (2020, Chicago University Press), for example, uses school and university notebooks to reconstruct how students historically learned to create, analyze and visualize scientific data in ways that helped them understand the human body and the natural world when they finished their education.

Several years ago, I decided to investigate the history of how the testimony of hospital patients was transformed into scientific data by physicians. I eventually stumbled across the 1837 case of a young Glasgow doctor who sought to expose painful experimental drug trials that had been conducted on the impoverished women of a local hospital. That doctor was James McCune Smith. He had written articles detailing how the women of a local charity hospital were being subjected to a painful experimental drug. It was a career changing moment for me because I had not encountered this kind of activism in my previous research on medical education.

Who was this doctor? What led him to speak out? Where did he learn to place his knowledge of science and medicine in the service of equality and justice? Upon closer examination, despite his many accomplishments, virtually nothing had been written about McCune Smith’s time in Glasgow or about his work as a practicing physician in New York. Like the children of many runaway slaves in New York, McCune Smith grew up in Five Points, Lower Manhattan, one of the poorest and most densely populated urban areas of America at that time. Though the state fully emancipated all former slaves in 1827,  when McCune Smith was a teenager, discriminatory educational policies, unsanitary living conditions, chronic illness and infectious diseases ensured that the prospects for a free African American teenager in the early part of the 19th century were limited. Indeed, in an article entitled “Freedom and Slavery for African-Americans,” published in the New York Tribune in 1844, McCune Smith observed that only six of the 100 boys who attended school with him from 1826 to 1827 were “still now living”. He noted further that they were “all white.”

Though technically “free,” the lives of African Americans in New York during the 1820s and 1830s were marred by the legacy of slavery and discrimination. Runaway slaves were openly hunted in the city’s alleys, streets and wharves. McCune Smith reflected on these events in an essay that he wrote about the life of his school classmate, Henry Highland Garnet. An abolitionist and Presbyterian minister, Garnet was the first African American to speak before Congress. McCune Smith recalled the trauma experienced by Garnet’s family in 1829 when they were tracked by slave-hunters. They barely escaped by jumping out of a two-story building and hiding in the house of a local grocer. When they returned to their home they found, in the words of McCune Smith: “The entire household furniture of the family was destroyed or stolen; and they were obliged to start anew in life empty-handed.”

Despite many challenges, New York’s African Americans founded their own businesses, churches, political associations, printing presses and more. In addition to receiving support and encouragement from a community of relatives and friends, McCune Smith’s path to becoming a doctor was significantly aided by his education at the African Free School. Older students were taught penmanship, drawing, grammar, geography, astronomy, natural philosophy and navigation. When American universities denied his medical school applications, the free school community played a role in raising funds for him to attend Glasgow University.

After sailing from New York to Liverpool, McCune Smith arrived in Glasgow in 1832. Thanks to maritime trade, it was one of the largest cities in the country and the university’s medical school was one of the best in Europe. Britain had prohibited the slave trade in 1807 and it fully abolished slavery the year after his arrival in 1833. Though there were not many African Americans in Glasgow, black writers, had been operating in Britain since the 1770s. Then, in 1809 Edinburgh University admitted William Fergusson who was from Jamaica and was the university’s first student of African descent. Though he took medical courses at the university, Fergusson did not stay to complete a medical doctorate. Instead, he received a license from the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh in 1813. He then practiced as a surgeon in the British military and eventually became governor of the then-British colony of Sierra Leone. McCune Smith joined the ranks of these torchbearers and became the first African American known to graduate with a BA, MA, and medical doctorate from Glasgow University. By the time McCune Smith began his studies in Glasgow, opposition to slavery had moved beyond the walls of the university. There was an active abolitionist community and it founded the Glasgow Emancipation Society in 1833. McCune Smith, still only an undergraduate, was one of the founding members. After he graduated, a number of black students attended the university over the course of the century.

Despite living in a foreign country, McCune Smith excelled at his studies and received several academic awards. The Glasgow medical faculty placed equal emphasis on scientific rigor and hands-on clinical experience. In addition to learning chemistry, anatomy and physiology from some of Britain’s leading doctors, he witnessed cutting-edge experiments and new medical technologies being demonstrated in his lectures. He graduated with honors in 1837 and was immediately given a prestigious clinical residency in Glasgow’s Lock Hospital. He worked there alongside the eminent Scottish obstetrician and gynecologist, William Cumin, treating women who had contracted venereal diseases.

The difficulty in pursuing a project of this nature is that many of the scientific papers and publications of black physicians have been lost to the sands of time. Unlike the many collections that university libraries have dedicated to preserving the legacy of white doctors who were alumni or donors, there is no “James McCune Smith Medical Collection” where scholars can go to study his medical career and scientific ideas. No one has yet told the full story of how African Americans like McCune Smith became doctors or how they used their knowledge of medical science to fight injustice and prejudice. The hidden histories of these black physicians based in countries spread around the Atlantic Ocean led me to start my current research project on how they used their scientific training to counter the rise of racist medical theories -theories which erroneously suggested that black bodies were physically different from other bodies and could more easily withstand the stress, pain and labour of enslavement.

Though a number of McCune Smith’s articles were republished several years ago, the whereabouts of his personal medical library, clinical notebooks, patient records, office ledgers and article drafts are unknown. Likewise, his manuscript Glasgow diary and letters have been lost. Though aspects of his career have received attention from historians in recent years, a biography of his extraordinary life has not been written.

This was the situation when I discovered his efforts to expose the harmful drug trials that were being conducted on the women of the Glasgow Lock Hospital. The evidence consisted of two articles that he had published during the spring and summer of 1837 in the London Medical Gazette, a weekly journal with articles about medicine and science.

I originally came upon these articles by reading page after page of medical journals housed in the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. When I found them, they immediately stood out because they took the testimony of poor female patients seriously. When I realized that McCune Smith was the first African American to graduate from a Scottish university, I could not believe what I had discovered.

New discoveries

Discovering McCune Smith’s articles was momentous because they are the first currently known to have been published by an African American medical doctor in any scientific journal. Scientists in the 19th century published articles for many reasons. Some wanted to popularize their research in a way that advanced their careers. Others hoped their research would benefit the general public.

The fascinating aspect about McCune Smith’s articles in relation to the historical emergence of the scientific journal is that they were published to expose the unethical misapplication of scientific experiments. This means that they offer new insight into how he learned to combine the power of the press with his medical training to fight inequality and injustice in Britain prior to returning to New York.

The story they tell is extraordinary. The events occurred in the spring and summer of 1837 while McCune Smith was serving in the Glasgow Lock Hospital as a resident physician in gynecology. The hospital was a charity institution set up by the city for impoverished women suffering from acute venereal diseases such as gonorrhea and syphilis.

After consulting the ward’s records and speaking with the patients, McCune Smith discovered that Alexander Hannay, a senior doctor in the hospital, was treating women suffering from gonorrhea with an experimental drug called silver nitrate, a compound that a handful of doctors used as a topical treatment for infected skin tissue or to stop bleeding. But it was normally used in low concentrations mixed into a solution, with doctors emphasizing that it should be applied with caution and as a last resort.

But Hannay was administering the drug in a solid form, which meant that it was highly concentrated and caused a terrible burning sensation. He fancied this usage to be innovative and was relatively unfazed when his patients repeatedly asked for less painful forms of treatment. After speaking with the women and further consulting the hospital’s records, McCune Smith realized that Hannay was effectively treating the women as guinea pigs – as non-consenting participants – in an experimental trial that involved a very painful drug.

At that time, silver nitrate was a newly available substance and its long-term effects were relatively unknown. There were a handful of military doctors who used it experimentally to cauterize skin ulcers or wounds of soldiers that would not stop bleeding. But some medical books classified it as a poison. Glasgow’s medical students, particularly those who studied with Prof William Cumin, avoided using it on internal organs due to its unknown effects. Instead, when it came to gynecological cases involving ulcers or infections, students learned to use an alum solution because its effects were generally considered to be effective and less painful.

Hannay went beyond using the silver nitrate on the skin. He applied it to the internal reproductive organs of women, at least one of whom was pregnant. McCune Smith’s article pointed out that the baby subsequently died through complications surrounding a miscarriage. It also intimates that a few women died after the application of silver nitrate. Since the drug’s effect on internal organs was unknown, he believed that that the deaths could not be treated as a separate occurrence.

In addition to being McCune Smith’s superior, Hannay was a medical professor at Glasgow’s newly established Anderson University. The easiest thing for McCune Smith to do was to say nothing. The plight of the Lock Hospital patients would not have been a major concern for many medical men at the time. The patients were impoverished women and most doctors assumed they were former prostitutes.

But McCune Smith’s perspective was different. Unlike his peers, he had spent his early years in New York City witnessing the pain and suffering caused by poverty, inequality and exploitation. So he decided to place his knowledge of medical science in the service of these women.

McCune Smith knew that there were other effective treatments for gonorrhea. This allowed him to see that Hannay was more interested in bolstering his reputation with a pharmaceutical discovery than helping his patients. But his studies had given him another equally powerful tool – data analysis. His ability to use this tool can be seen in his London Medical Gazette articles. The gazette was a journal of some repute, serving the British medical community as well as physicians based in Europe and America. In his article, he wrote: “The materials of my paper on the subject of gonorrhea of women were collected whilst I held the office of clerk to the Glasgow Lock Hospital.”

He made his case against the experiments by extracting figures from handwritten registers that recorded the condition of patients being treated in the hospital over an entire year. He had learned to collect, categorize, and analyze data in the clinical lectures that were required for graduation. This method was part of the new science of “vital statistics” that used medical data to predict or prevent disease in people, cities and even countries. Known as “medical statistics” today, it was becoming more commonly used in journals that published articles on medical science.

McCune Smith’s articles showed that the drug trials were ineffective and presented an unwarranted risk. They also revealed that Hannay and his team of assistants had attempted to cover up data in the hospital records that damaged their claims about the drug’s efficacy and their position that its side effects were minimal. McCune Smith did not mince his words. He wrote: “By this novel and ingenious mode of recording the Hospital transactions for 1836, [Prof Hannay’s team] keeps out of view the evidence of the severity of the treatment, and the amount of mortality, while, at the same time, the residence of the patients in the house seems shorted, the cost of each diminished, and the treatment made to appear more than usually successful.”

Accordingly, he called for the trials to stop immediately. But McCune Smith was not happy to simply cite statistics. He wanted to give these women a voice too. To achieve this, he emphasized the extreme pain that they were experiencing. Their suffering had been played down by those conducting the experimental trials. Hannay even suggested that the women were dishonest and unreliable witnesses. To counter this suggestion, McCune Smith quoted the women themselves, some of whom said that the drug felt like it was “burning their inside with caustic”. This was strong language. They were effectively saying that the drug felt like a flame being applied to their bodies.

McCune Smith’s decision to use this kind of visceral language on behalf of impoverished women in a scientific article was rare at the time. Nor was it common in the lengthy, fact-laden lectures given at Glasgow’s medical school. So where did McCune Smith learn to write like this? Finding an answer to this question has been difficult because hardly any of McCune Smith’s manuscripts from his Glasgow years are known to have survived. But thanks to a recent discovery that I made with the rare books librarian Robert MacLean in the Archives and Special Collections of Glasgow University, a better picture is starting to emerge.

Based on my previous research on Scottish student notekeeping, I knew that Glasgow University kept handwritten registers of books borrowed by students from its libraries during the 19th century. Luckily, it turned out that McCune Smith’s manuscript library borrowing record did, in fact, still exist. It was a gem that had remained hidden for the past two centuries in the dusty pages of Glasgow’s library registers.

The discovery was historic because it revealed that he definitely took the university’s moral philosophy class. The course was taught by James Mylne and it encouraged students to judge the accuracy of statistical data when making moral decisions. The registers also showed that McCune Smith consulted the Lancet, the leading medical journal of research and reform that promoted the same kind of public health activism evinced in his 1837 Gazette articles.

Finding the student reading record for any historical figure is like striking gold. In McCune Smith’s case it was doubly exciting because so little is known about his intellectual development. In addition to literature relevant to his studies, he checked out several 1835 issues of the Lancet which regularly identified links between pain and maltreatment.

It is likely these accounts inspired him to use a similar approach in his gazette articles. But even the Lancet’s references to pain and cruelty barely addressed the plights of impoverished women, let alone those who had been regularly subjected to experimental drugs. In this respect McCune Smith’s concern for the Lock Hospital patients surpassed the reform agenda promoted by Britain’s most progressive medical journal.

Further investigations have revealed that there were many other black physicians who lived in America in the decades after McCune Smith became a doctor. As revealed in research by the Massachusetts Historical Society, there was, for example, John van Surly DeGrasse. He studied at Bowdoin College in Maine, received a medical doctorate in the 1840s, set up a practice in Boston and became the first African American member of the Massachusetts Medical Association.

There was also Alexander Thomas Augusta, who, despite Virginia laws that banned free blacks from learning to read, was educated by a minister, moved to Toronto and graduated from Trinity College’s medical school in 1856. Notably, both Augusta and DeGrasse served in the union army as physicians with the rank of major during the American Civil War.

After McCune Smith returned to America in the autumn of 1837, he served as a professional role model for African Americans who studied medicine from the 1840s onward. By the time younger black physicians such as DeGrasse and Augusta began their studies, McCune Smith had already opened a practice that served patients from both sides of the color line and had published several scientific articles. For the rest of his career his name was a frequent byline in articles about health and society published by the African American press, as well as larger newspapers with mixed readership, like the New York Tribune.

An excellent example of McCune Smith’s later medical activism is the collection of articles that he published during the 1840s about the national census. The main issue was that slavery advocates had noticed that the mortality rates of African Americans in northern asylums were higher than those of black people in the southern states. This led them to conclude, erroneously, that freedom somehow damaged their mental and physical health.

Rather than engage with their desire to co-opt convenient data, McCune Smith used his knowledge of medical statistics to skillfully undermine their attempts to find scientific data that fit their discriminatory world view. He conducted his own investigation and proved that the original collection of the figures on site in the northern asylums had been flawed and that, as a result, the data was incorrect and could not be used to accurately determine the health of black asylum patients.

McCune Smith did not stop there. He turned the tables on slavery advocates by transforming the new accurate mortality statistics into a tool that could be used to fight inequality. His 1844 New York Tribune article about the census concluded: “These facts prove that within 15 years after it became a Free State, a portion of the Free Black Population of New York have improved the ratio of their mortality 13.28% – a fact without parallel in the history of any People.”

Put simply, the correct data revealed that the health of African Americans unburdened by the deprivation and forced labour of slavery thrived once they left the south and lived lives as free citizens in the north.

McCune Smith’s publications are a significant early chapter in the history of how black activists have worked tirelessly over the past two centuries to disentangle erroneous interpretations of scientific data from discriminatory claims about poverty, gender and race. They provide crucial historical insight into the relationships between race, science and technology that exist today.

In many respects McCune Smith’s desire to locate and publicize correct data about asylum patients built on the approach that he had developed in his articles about the mistreatment of women in Glasgow’s Lock Hospital. He continued to publish articles throughout his career that challenged those who sought to use science to justify discrimination and inequality. In 1859 he even went so far as to challenge former President Thomas Jefferson’s discriminatory racial assumptions when he wrote: “His arrangement of these views is so mixed and confused, that we must depart from it.”

McCune Smith’s activism showed aspiring African Americans that becoming a professional black physician could be more than simply treating patients. For him, being an expert in medical science also included using his training to fight injustice and inequality.

His publications are an indispensable chapter in the American history of science and medicine. But they are an important part of British history too. Because it was in Britain where he first published articles that placed his knowledge of medicine in the service of equality and justice. It was the libraries of Glasgow University – which now has a building named in his honor – and the wards of the Lock Hospital, which fed his towering intellect and fired his passion for medical knowledge, as well as the pursuit of justice for the powerless and oppressed.

New York Survived the 1832 Cholera Epidemic

New York Survived the 1832 Cholera Epidemic

Daniel S. Levy

 (originally published in History News Network)

After sweeping through Asia and killing hundreds of thousands in Europe, cholera neared New York in the spring of 1832. The city had long been afflicted by diseases like yellow fever, smallpox, diphtheria, Scarlet Fever and measles, but this ungodly pandemic would be like none it had ever experienced. New Yorkers tried to prepare as this new sickness spread south from Canada and fanned across the United States, with Thomas Wharton noting in his diary on June 19 how citizens kept busy “cleaning the streets and alleys, strewing the gutters with Chlorine of Lime, and After sweeping through Asia and killing hundreds of thousands in Europe, cholera neared New York in the spring of 1832. The city had long been afflicted by diseases like yellow fever, smallpox, diphtheria, Scarlet Fever and measles, but this ungodly pandemic would be like none it had ever experienced. New Yorkers tried to prepare as this new sickness spread south from Canada and fanned across the United States, with Thomas Wharton noting in his diary on June 19 how citizens kept busy “cleaning the streets and alleys, strewing the gutters with Chlorine of Lime, and the druggists busily occupied in … specifies and prescriptions.” Little, though, could slow its advance, and six days later a Mr. Fitzgerald who lived on Cherry St. became ill. While he recovered, his wife, Mary, and children, Margaret and Jeremiah, soon died. The disease progressed quickly. When Dr. John Stearns jotted down his observations on his visit with John Coldwell on Maiden Lane, he noted how the patient reported that “The attack was sudden & violent—his impression was that ‘he fell as if knocked down with an ax.’”

Churches, offices, warehouse and shops shuttered as 100,000 residents, half the city’s population, fled. Departing carts, carriages and people jammed the streets. Passengers packed ferries, and the Evening Post wrote on July 3 how “Almost every steamboat which left New York yesterday was crowded with a dense mass of fugitives flying in alarm from the imaginary pestilence.” But what they ran away from proved to be far from chimerical. Those who remained cowered at home. James Riker Jr. wrote that his family “scarcely ventured farther than the apothecary’s opposite to obtain drugs, or examine the daily report of deaths by cholera.” Like others, the Rikers didn’t know what to do. Then his grandmother took sick on July 15. “As the day passed on she grew worse notwithstanding the efforts of a number of physicians to check the disease, and died in the night.” Riker’s uncle also perished “that gloomy night,” and the family “packed furniture enough to serve us… closed the house, and left the city in several wagons.”

Many believed cholera sprang from moral faults, drinking, depravity and filthy living. A report by hospital physicians noted how, “The disease fell in a very remarkable degree upon the dissolute and the intemperate.” The New York Mercury blamed places of “infamy,” commenting on a prostitute on Mott St. “who was decking herself before the glass at 1 o’clock yesterday, was carried away in a hearse at half past 3 o’clock.” And yet, pillars of society—doctors, alderman, clergymen and businessmen, along with Magdalen Astor Bristed, the eldest child of John Jacob Astor, the richest man in America—also died. Playwright William Dunlap wrote how “we begin to be reconciled to being killed.”

Ministers preached throughout that only the righteous would be saved, with Episcopal Bishop Benjamin Onderdonk imploring citizens to pray “in a truly devout and Christian frame of mind, with deep repentance for your sins.” While their congregations scattered, many religious figures stayed, with those like Father Félix Varela and the Sisters of Charity caring for the physical and spiritual needs of their flocks.

People had no concept of cholera’s origins or how to treat such a plague. Most did sense the existence of a link between filth and sickness. Yet unbeknownst to the most learned doctors and scientists of the time, a microscopic comma-shaped bacterium called Vibrio cholerae caused the malady. The devastating sickness spreads through water tainted by human waste and brings on nausea, vomiting, leg cramps and diarrhea. The victim’s blood pressure drops, their eyes assume a hollow, sunken look and their skin wrinkles. Subsequent dehydration bestows on the flesh a bluish hue, thus earning cholera the name the “Blue Death.”

Even though they lacked real knowledge of what to do, doctors did their best. The Board of Health set up hospitals, while physicians searched for treatments. Most proved brutal. The evangelist Rev. Charles Grandison Finney recalled how “the means used for my recovery, gave my system a terrible shock.” The most widely attempted remedy was calomel, a chalky mercury-chloride compound, and when doctors saw their patients developing pus on the gums—a sign of mercury poisoning—they believed that their treatment had worked. Physicians also did bloodletting, applied mustard poultices, immersed patients in icy water, administered powdered camphor and had patients inhale nitrous oxide and drink brandy.

Homemade cures circulated around town. The Evening Post recommended that their readers drink strained gruel, sago or tapioca. Some businesses offered disinfecting solutions, and the chemist Lewis Feuchtwanger sold cholera lamps to purify rooms by spreading “Perfumes, Scents, Essences, Aromatic Vinegar, Chloride of Soda and Lime.” And while physicians and pharmacists tried to save people, E.T. Coke commented on how quacks “flocked into the city from all quarters.”

Unfortunately, little that doctors, citizens or hucksters tried had positive effects. Death came painfully, often in just two days to a week. The minister Henry Dana Ward wrote of a friend named Maynard who “took the cholera bad.” Ward’s wife Abigail was “very attentive to him. And we were able to soothe the last moments of an invaluable life.” Yet “in the morning we buried him cold in the grave.” As painter John Casilear would note, “There is no business doing here if I except those done by Cholera, Doctors, Undertakers, Coffin makers.” Cemeteries became overwhelmed. So many bodies filled the areas that grave diggers found it easier to simply dig large trenches. In untended parts of the city, corpses lay in gutters. By the time the cholera had run its course in late August, the city of more than 200,000 residents saw the death of 3,513.

It would take years before doctors and researchers understood the cause of the disease. In 1854 Dr. John Snow studied the pattern of deaths during a cholera outbreak in London. By mapping out the location of the stricken, he showed that the disease originated from a specific polluted street water pump. When officials closed the source, cases dropped. At the same time, the Italian microbiologist Filippo Pacini first identified the cholera bacterium, and in 1885 the Spanish physician Jaime Ferrán created the first vaccine. Yet despite newer and more effective vaccines, the sickness still takes the lives of some 120,000 people around the world each year.

While cholera continued to visit New York into the late 19th century—in 1849 it killed 5,071 citizens—New York always recovered. On August 25, 1832 merchant John Pintard wrote of his relief that the disease had finally quit the city. “The stores are all open, foot walks lined with bales & Boxes & streets crowded with carts & porters cars… Now all life & bustle, smiling faces, clerks busy in making out Bills, porters in unpacking & repacking Boxes, joy & animation in every countenance.”