Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region
The mission of the UGRRHP is to research and preserve the local and national history of the anti-slavery and Underground Railroad movements, their international connections, and their legacies to later struggles, engaging in public education and dialogue about these movements and their relationship with us today. They sponsor an annual conference and the restoration of the he Stephen and Harriet Myers Residence on Livingston Avenue in Albany. In 2004 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Stephen Myers was probably the most important leader of the Albany Underground Railroad movement from the 1830s through the 1850s. Albany was a thriving port city on the Hudson River near its junction with the Erie Canal. By the 1850s the port could dock at one time fifty steamboats and a thousand canal boats. Albany was home to seven daily newspapers and twentyfour hotels. From 1830-1850, Albany’s population doubled to 48,000 people. The picture below is an 1853 lithograph Birdseye View of Albany, depicting the port of Albany and providing a view of the vitality and activity of the port.
The first stop on your tour is at the Albany Heritage Area Visitors Center at 25 Quackenbush Square, which was built in the 1870s as a water pumping station. Today this building is a staffed tourist center that houses gallery exhibits related to Albany’s history. Locate the Underground Railroad exhibit in the Albany Business and Capital City Exhibit Area. This exhibit provides some introductory information about the Underground Railroad in Albany and its relationship with Underground Railroad efforts in other parts of New York State.
Walk west of Clinton Ave. to N. Pearl St. Cross to the west side of N. Pearl St. and arrive at your second tour stop at First Church in Albany located at 110 N. Pearl St. Sam Schuyler of the Black Schuyler family was a member of First Church. Sam Schuyler was enslaved until he purchased his freedom in 1805. Schuyler owned a home at Westerlo and Ashgrove Streets and established himself as a successful, sought after towboat operator. Schuyler provided contributions that supported local Underground Railroad activities.
Continuing south along N. Pearl St., your third tour stop will be at the pedestrian walkway across from 67 N. Pearl and alongside the Steuben Club. Look up at the front facade and you should see Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) which used to be housed in this building after the days of the UGRR movement. A previous building on this location was a boarding house managed by Quaker sisters Lydia and Abigail Mott. The sisters assisted Freedom Seekers, organized abolition meetings, and Lydia Mott taught Frederick Douglass’ daughter Rose. At this stop we like to recognize the work of women in the Underground Railroad movement. Women, like Sarah Johnson worked together to organize bazaars at which they would raise money that was used to meet the needs of Freedom Seekers. While they held their knitting and sewing circles they would discuss their plans for working together to abolish the institution of slavery. They organized the Lundy Society and Lovejoy Society and the Albany Female AntiSlavery Society as a means to work together and network with other women outside the local area in educational, fundraising, and advocacy pursuits. Lundy and Lovejoy were respected abolitionists.
Continue south on N. Pearl St. to Pine. Turn right (west) onto Pine and walk up to Eagle St. turn left (south) on Eagle to your fourth stop, Albany City Hall located at 24 Eagle Street. At this location, though in another City Hall building torn down in the 1890s, the Eastern NY Anti-Slavery Society was formed in 1842 and the Jerry Rescue trial was conducted in 1851.
The Eastern NY Anti-Slavery Society was composed of members from the Mohawk and Hudson River Valleys and from the neighboring states of Vermont, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. This organization provided the network support throughout New York State that was essential for abolitionists to have an impact at the state and national levels of government. It also provided the network necessary for providing effective assistance to Freedom Seekers in their journeys.
The Jerry Rescue was an effort by abolitionists in Syracuse to protect William Jerry Henry from being apprehended and returned to enslavement. Although William Jerry Henry was ultimately able to escape to freedom in Canada, those involved in the rescue were prosecuted under the 1850 Federal Fugitive Slave Law. The trial was held in Albany’s City Hall, bringing to the city abolitionists from around the state and nation, where the abolitionists won their case!
As you walk east down Pine St. to N. Pearl St., take a right at N. Pearl St. and proceed toward State St. At the corner of N. Pearl and State St. is a building that today is home to a Starbucks and Citizens Bank. This is your fifth tour stop. The Albany Evening Gazette newspaper used to be published at this location.
Crossing over State St., continue straight ahead on S. Pearl and turn left (east) onto Hudson Avenue. Walk on to the intersection of Green Street and Hudson. You should be standing in front of a parking garage. This is the sixth tour stop. You are standing at the spot where the Northern Star and Freeman’s Advocate Newspaper was published in the 1840s. Spearheaded by Stephen Myers, a man born enslaved in New York State and given his legal freedom in 1818, this newspaper was used to educate readers about the real experiences of people who were enslaved, to provide public information about Freedom Seekers’ and abolitionists’ activities, and encourage the uncommitted to join the cause of abolition. Stephen Myers was assisting Freedom Seekers as early as 1831, four years after he married Harriet Johnson and New York State abolished the institution of slavery. However, the Underground Railroad work in which he engaged, along with wife Harriet and other colleagues, put them at risk for prosecution under the New York State and Federal laws that protected the enslaver-enslaved relationship even in New York State. These laws did not deter them from doing what they believed was right, working to abolish the institution of slavery.
To arrive at your seventh tour stop walk east on Hudson Avenue toward S. Pearl St. Turn left (north) onto S. Pearl St. and walk past the SUNY Administration building and the Old Post Office. On your right is a small parking area. You will also see a plaque with the name Exchange Street on it. At the end of the parking area once stood a red brick, three-story building which housed The Eastern New York Anti-Slavery Society. Interviews of Freedom Seekers would take place here and arrangements made to meet their needs.
Cross to the west side of S. Pearl St. and continue walking north until you arrive at Tricentennial Park where you will find a bronze statue of Mayor Whalen III with his dog Finn McCool, a monument commemorating Dutch and Native American heritage and industry This is your eighth UGRR tour stop. Look across the street to Peter D. Kiernan Plaza and you are looking at the site where the Delavan House once stood, a grand, five story full-service hotel at which abolition meetings were held and Stephen Myers worked as Head Waiter. Meetings were intense, tempers would flare, but eventually strategies would be agreed to on what to do to abolish the institution of slavery, and the meeting would close with song.