Rev. Calvin Cornelius Fairbank was born November 3, 1816 in Pike, Wyoming County, NY. He began his academic studies at a seminary in Lima, Livingston County, NY, and became a licensed preacher in 1840. In 1842 he was ordained an elder in the Methodist Episcopal Church, and he graduated Oberlin College in Ohio two years later. At Oberlin he met John Mifflin Brown (1817-1893), a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and an Underground Railroad activist.
Fairbank was a radical abolitionist who not only spoke out against slavery, but actively worked to free as many enslaved people as he could. “Forty-seven slaves I guided toward the North Star, in violation of the state codes of Kentucky and Virginia,” he wrote. “I piloted them through the forests, mostly by night, – girls fair and white, dressed as ladies; men and boys, as gentlemen or servants – men in women’s clothes, and women in men’s clothes; on horseback, in buggies, in carriages, common wagons, in and under loads of hay, straw, old furniture, boxes and bags; crossed the Jordan of the slave, swimming, or wading chin deep, or in boats, or skiffs, on rafts, and often on a pine log. And I never allowed one to be recaptured. For aiding these slaves to escape from their bondage, I was twice imprisoned, – in all seventeen years and four months; and received… thirty-five thousand, one hundred and five stripes from a leather strap…”
Fairbank helped free an enslaved person for the first time in 1837. While piloting a lumber raft down the Ohio River he ferried a slave across the river into free territory. He often guided escaped slaves to Levi Coffin who helped arrange further transportation north for thousands of people.
Fairbank was arrested for helping to transport Lewis Hayden, his wife Harriet and Harriet’s son Joseph by carriage to freedom in Ohio. He was tried in 1845 and sentenced to 15 years, five years for each of the slaves he helped free. Serving his sentence in the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Frankfort, he was pardoned in 1849 using money raised by Hayden from his new neighbors in Boston. Two years later he was arrested again for helping an enslaved man named Tamar escape Kentucky to Indiana. In November 1851, marshals from Kentucky, with the help of the sheriff of Clark County, Indiana and Indiana Governor Joseph A. Wright, abducted Fairbank and took him back to Kentucky. In 1852, he was again sentenced to 15 years. While imprisoned in the Frankfort Penitentiary he was the victim of harsh treatment, including being frequently whipped (he believed he had received some 35,000 lashes while imprisoned). From 1844 to 1870, Kentucky imprisoned at least 44 people for helping to free enslaved people. The last man was released in 1870, five years after the end of the Civil War. Eight of those imprisoned died prisoners.
Late in the Civil War, in 1864, Fairbank was pardoned by Acting Kentucky Governor Richard T. Jacob. He later wrote a memoir, published in 1890, Rev. Calvin Fairbank During Slavery Times: How He “Fought the Good Fight” to Prepare “the Way.” He died in near-poverty in Angelica, Allegany County, NY. Rev. Calvin Cornelius Fairbank was inducted to the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum in Peterboro, New York in October 2022.
Rev. Calvin Fairbank During Slavery Times (1890) (Excerpts)
“I took license to preach in 1840, and in 1842 was ordained an elder in the Methodist Episcopal Church, and closed my course of study, graduating in 1844. One incident, more than anything else outside of my organization, controlled and intensified my sentiments on the slavery question. It was this: I went with my father and mother to Rushford to quarterly meeting when a boy, and we were assigned to the good, clean home of a pair of escaped slaves. One night after service I sat on the hearthstone before the fire, and listened to the woman’s story of sorrow. It covered the history of thirty years. She had been sold from home, separated from her husband and family, and all ties of affection broken. My heart wept, my anger was kindled, and antagonism to slavery was fixed upon me. “Father,” I said, on going to our room, “when I get bigger they shall not do that;” and the resolve waxed stronger with my growth.”
I grew to manhood with a positive, innate sense of impartial liberty and equality, of inalienable right, without regard to race, color, descent, sex or position. I never trained with the strong party simply because it was strong. From the time I heard that woman’s story I felt the most intense hatred and contempt for slavery, as the vilest evil that ever existed; and yet I supposed the institution provided for and protected by the United States Constitution, and legally established by every slave state; and when, previous to investigation, I repeatedly aided the slaves to escape in violation of law, I did it earnestly, honestly, in all good conscience toward God and man.
Coming within the influence of active anti-slavery men at Oberlin, Ohio, I was led to examine the subject in the light of law and justice, and soon found the United States Constitution anti-slavery, and the institution existing in violation of law. My conclusion in regard to the anti-slavery character of the Constitution of the United States was based on common law, on its interpretation by the whole civilized world, and the recognition of self-evident truth as the basis of that interpretation, viz.: “Where rights are infringed, where fundamental principles are overthrown, where the general system of the law is departed from, the legislative intention must be expressed with irresistible clearness, in order to induce a court of justice to suppose a design to effect such object.”
This conclusion enabled me to act without misgiving, as to my obligation to the General Government. I was no longer under obligation to respect the evil institution as protected by the Government, but was free to condemn slavery and the slave code, — free to follow the promptings of duty.
Finding, then, the diabolical institution unprovided for — finding it positively prohibited—finding it to be a conceded fact by our best statesmen, North and South, that not a state in the Union had slavery established by law, I concluded, upon the highest authority in the universe, that slavery was chronic rebellion, and that I was not only justified, but bound by the “higher law,” to oppose it in defense of an oppressed people. From that time I never allowed an opportunity to aid the fugitives to pass unimproved; but when men and women came to me, pleading the “Fatherhood of God,” and the brotherhood of man, I did all in my power to set them free, subjecting myself to imprisonment and the deepest suffering.
Forty-seven slaves I guided toward the North Star, in violation of the state codes of Virginia and Kentucky. I piloted them through the forests, mostly by night, — girls, fair and white, dressed as ladies; men and boys, as gentlemen, or servants, — men in women’s clothes, and women in men’s clothes; boys dressed as girls, and girls as boys; on foot or on horseback, in buggies, carriages, common wagons, in and under loads of hay, straw, old furniture, boxes, and bags; crossed the Jordan of the slave, swimming, or wading chin deep, or in boats, or skiffs, on rafts, and often on a pine log. And I never suffered one to be recaptured. None of them, so far as I have learned, have ever come to poverty, or to disgrace. I have visited a score of those families, finding them all industrious, frugal, prosperous, respectable citizens.
For aiding those slaves to escape from their bondage, I was twice imprisoned — in all seventeen years and four months; and received, during the eight years from March first, 1854, to March first, 1862, thirty-five thousand, one hundred and five stripes from a leather strap fifteen to eighteen inches long, one and a half inches wide, and from one-quarter to three-eighths of an inch thick. It was of half-tanned leather, and frequently well soaked, so that it might burn the flesh more intensely. These floggings were not with a rawhide or cowhide, but with a strap of leather attached to a handle of convenient size and length to inflict as much pain as possible, with as little real damage as possible to the working capacity.
In what decade did Calvin Fairbank become a member of the clergy?
What “incident’ convinced Rev. Fairbank to organize his life to oppose slavery?
Rev. Fairbank believed in a “positive, innate sense of impartial liberty and equality, of inalienable right, without regard to race, color, descent, sex or position.” In which foundational American document(s) do those ideas appear?
What was his initial view of the United States Constitution?
How did his view of the Constitution and the government change?
How many freedom seekers did Fairbank assist on the Underground Railroad?
What happened to Fairbank as a result of his activity on the Underground Railroad?
Rev. Calvin Fairbank was recently inducted into the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum in Peterboro, New York. In your opinion, did he merit this honor? Explain.
The Revolt that Changed Everything:The Haitian Revolution’s Immediate Effect on the United States
The year is 1804, and the New World is functioning as it had for the past thirty years since the American Revolution. After the war, a new constitution, and three presidential administrations, America had begun to find its footing as a new nation. With this, many Americans began to get used to their existence as a small democratic nation. However, whether the American people knew it or not, their world was about to drastically change. 1,888 miles south of the US, another revolution had been fought and won on the island of Saint-Domingue. The rebels, much like the US patriots, were able to cast off the yoke of a powerful European empire and establish the second democracy in the Western Hemisphere. However, this rebellion was much different than the one that occurred back in 1776. Unlike the US driving out the British and establishing a new government, the rebels of 1804 were living under much harsher oppression. These rebels were slaves who were living on Saint-Domingue under French colonial rule. In 1791, the slaves revolted against the French starting a twelve year bloodbath that would end in the abolition of slavery on the island and the establishment of the Empire of Haiti.
The United States, though in theory should be very pleased with another democracy emerging nearby, were none too happy about this development. This mostly stemmed from the fact that the Haitian government were all freed slaves. This idea of a successful African rebellion was so foreign to the American government. The success of a slave revolt also flew in the face of the then legal practice of slavery in the United States. This caused the US to avoid recognizing Haiti as a nation until the start of the Civil War. However, despite all of this, the US was greatly affected by the Haitian Revolution as well as their early interactions with the new nation. First, the Louisiana Purchase, which was caused due to the French needing money after the war’s economic devastation on the nation. This exchange doubled the US’ size and allowed it to begin expanding as a nation, taking its first steps to becoming a world power. But even beyond the Louisiana Purchase, the Haitian Revolution and its aftermath still affected the US greatly in terms of trade, foreign policy, and thoughts on how to deal with the issue of slavery.
Sadly, the Haitian Revolution as well as its profound impact on the United States is often not talked about when discussing how America became what it is today. It is very important that these effects be discussed and understood by a broader audience. There is a lack of awareness in terms of the connections between the Haitian Revolution and the growth of America. This proposal aims to answer the question of just how the Haitian Revolution impacted the United States in its immediate aftermath. Ultimately, through qualitative research this paper attempts to explain that the Haitian Revolution affected the United States in a way that caused it to grow into a far more powerful nation.
Teaching this event is an undertaking, as there are many ins and outs in regards to this revolution. Educating students based on the historiographic data found in this paper can actually prove to be a superior style as opposed to an ordinary lesson. With the information gleaned from the historians that are cited in this essay, students can achieve a much deeper understanding of the Haitian Revolution as well as its impact that it had on the United States.
Beyond just simply understanding the events, impact, and significance of certain episodes in history, there is a much deeper understanding one can acquire when studying certain key events. In the craft of historiography, a deeper analysis of history is made, where instead of reading for the information about a topic, the purpose is to understand how historians wrote and by extension, felt about said topic. In the case of the Haitian Revolution and its immediate effect of the United States, scholars range in their specific takes on the topic. Scholarship on the topic also has numerous areas of interest that different authors focus on. While some focus on the economic implications, others focus on the racial statements that the revolution made to the US. Other scholars fixate on the level of coverage the Haitian Revolution receives and how it reflects a larger issue with how history is written. These numerous points of focus often shed light on the historians who are behind them, as educators it is important to look past what the author is saying and think about why they are saying it.
However, all of these scholars touch on specifics that merely scrape the surface in regards to correlation of the Haitian Revolution to the US. But what is not touched on is how these numerous aspects and results of the conflict helped jumpstart the US into becoming the powerhouse it is today. This fact is often overlooked in classrooms, hence why many teachers breeze through the Revolution during lessons or just omit it from their courses entirely. Upon deeper inspection, many sources about the Haitian Revolution fail to elaborate on just how significant the slave insurrection was when it comes to paving the way for America to expand. While many authors like to praise and critique many aspects of the Revolution’s significance they often ignore how their many points of interest come together to reveal a much grander impact on America. A plethora of sources that has been compiled helps shed light on the absence of scholarship on this matter. Moreover, this will show why further research into how the Haitian Revolution molded America is certainly necessary and lastly how more teaching on this subject is also important.
Most scholars see the Haitian Revolution as a landmark event in terms of the fight against slavery. However, certain authors tend to lean more towards how the fight against racism was affected by the revolution. For example, Philippe Girard notes how after only two years into the Haitian Revolution, the First French Republic declared slavery an abolished practice. Girard discusses this in his piece, “Making Freedom Work: The Long Transition from Slavery to Freedom during the Haitian Revolution.” and goes on to explain how racism was talked about much more after the revolution. He backs this up by going through the long history of the fight against different forms of slavery and racism that were seen during the years during and after the revolution.
Mitch Katchun builds off of Girard’s focus on racism in his own work, “Antebellum African Americans, Public Commemoration, and the Haitian Revolution: A Problem of Historical Mythmaking.”. In Katchun’s piece, he elaborates on how the revolution had an effect on the fight against slavery and racism, but specifically in Antebellum America. Katchun complements the ideas of Girard but goes deeper when discussing how the revolution specifically started conversations about racism in enslaved African American circles. Citing the 1811 slave march in Louisiana led by Charles Deslondes, the author puts a lot of emphasis on how the events in Haiti inspired the fight against slavery to be expanded but in a more tangible way, such as another revolution. This facet of the impact of the revolution is one of the most widely discussed, however it can be expanded upon in numerous ways as shown by other scholars. It must also be noted that accounts such as this are valuable for teachers. This showcases how the Haitian Revolution influenced the slaves in the southern United States and was an early seed that was planted in their minds that would eventually grow into slave revolts within the US.
Numerous other authors chime in on the discussion of the Haitian Revolution’s impact (racially speaking) on the US. Tim Matthewson dives into this racial layer with his piece “Abraham Bishop, ‘The Rights of Black Men,’ and the American Reaction to the Haitian Revolution.”. In his writing, Matthewson discusses Abraham Bishop, an American man who wrote three pieces regarding the Haitian Revolution in the 1790s. Bishop supported the revolution and urged America as a whole to get behind the rebel’s cause. He stated how the US supported the French Revolution and also staged their very own revolution as well. With that said, Bishop argued that the US should support the similar cause in Haiti, but stated that it was due to the issue of slavery that prevented the US from doing that. Unlike the previous two scholars, Matthewson uses Bishop’s writings to showcase how white people were affected by the events in Haiti and started to defend the black people in the US. Overall, this subset of scholarship on the Haitian Revolution’s impact on the US was heavily focused on race which played a large role in the narrative of the event. However, other scholars attempt to break away from the ever prominent racial aspect and focus on other areas such as economic and political effects.
When looking at how the Haitian Revolution changed the US economically and politically, certain authors touch on a bevy of policy changes, and repercussions during and after the war. An example of this comes in the form of Robin Blackburn, a scholar who in her piece “Haiti, Slavery, and the Age of the Democratic Revolution.” touches on how the US had to begin forming its own international policies. One such policy was its refusal to recognize Haiti. This included an embargo on the new nation, despite it being a massive trading partner when under French control. This changed the US’s treatment of other nations when it came to trade as it set a precedent with Haiti that essentially states that the US will not trade with another nation and ignore what’s beneficial for itself if it does not support the government of that nation. This stems from the statement made by the success of the slave rebels.
This is focused on by Blackburn who infuses the issue of race and slavery but adds an economic/political spin to it. She notes how the US put itself in a bizarre situation by supporting other democratic revolutions (Like the French) but not ones such as Haiti. This is due to the fact that the US would be forced to admit (in a sense) that the black slaves were capable trading partners, which flies in the face of the notion that black people were sub-human and deserved to be nothing more than slaves. And as Blackburn points out, it only became worse when Haiti survived for decades after the revolution. So the US opted to simply not recognize the island nation, something that would continue up until 1862. This is interesting for educators as it can be used by teachers to explain two layers of the issue that the US was faced with during this time. The US’ problem was not just a racial one, it was an economic one as well. Author Tim Matthewson brings up how the US immediately reacted to the revolution and what he states is very telling. In his piece “George Washington’s Policy Towards the Haitian Revolution ” the author states that under the first presidential administration in the US, American merchants actually were allowed to aid the French with supplies and even men. This was in hopes to defeat the slaves, showing that the US had been willing to help squash all slave revolts in the name of maintaining the practice. Matthewson uses this little known fact to highlight the idea that the US was very much a pro slavery nation, and that even before the revolution had been won, the US had already been trying to put it down.
Another scholar adds to the discussion by way of citing the particular benefits and unintentional problems that the rebellion had on America. This scholar is Jim Thomson, author of “The Haitian Revolution and the Forging of America.”
In his piece, Thompson adds to the discussion of the Haitian Revolution’s effect on the US by highlighting a few results of the conflict. One was how France had to sell the Louisiana Territory to the US to get money to fund Napoleon’s conquest of Europe. This important moment for the US, a moment that doubled its size was caused by the Haitian Revolution’s economic impact on France. This dent in the already fragile economy of France caused Napoleon to work with the US which resulted in the monumental Louisiana Purchase.
These particular scholars prefer to highlight why Haiti changed the United States’ political and economic status in the world. Whereas previous authors focused on race, this group, specifically Thompson who really hones in on that aspect of the relationship between Haiti and America. Blackburn is different as she focuses on the impacts politically and economically, however she infuses a bit of race into her point of study. Citing how the political relationship between the two nations was tense due to the issues of race and slavery, Blackburn connects what the previous scholars have noted about the revolution with her own part of the conversation. This blends the two areas of study together and actually shows how these different impacts (racial, political, economic) did not exist apart from each other but rather built off each other to make a much larger impact on the United States.
The final area of study that scholars seem to focus on, is the historiography of this tense relationship between Haiti and the United States. Many scholars often go into why the revolution has not been noted as a larger event historically and why the aforementioned impacts it had on other nations (specifically the US) have often been downplayed. John E. Baur makes mention of this in his piece “International Repercussions of the Haitian Revolution.”. In it Baur states that there has never been a full scale study of the impacts of the Revolution and just rather numerous articles and pieces about certain aspects of it and its impact. This gets at exactly what this proposal aims to achieve, putting those pieces together to create a full scale study on the topic of Haiti’s impact on the US. With more study into this topic, teachers can better utilize this monumental moment from history by implementing it into their curriculums.
This historiographical aspect to the topic is unique as it explains why the topic of the revolution and its effects has not been given the recognition it deserves. Thomas Reinhardt answers this question in his piece “200 Years of Forgetting: Hushing up the Haitian Revolution.”. In his work, Reinhardt states that the authors who wrote about the revolution spoke of it in a demeaning manner. The brutality of the insurrection was what most scholars used as their rationale for why black people are barbaric and without Western guidance they will act savagely as they did back in Africa. Reinhardt notes how the success of the rebellion and establishment of the Haitian nation was completely undercut by these writers who simply wanted to discredit black people. Reinhardt asserts that writings like those were why many people did not pay much attention to the Haitian Revolution and its significance.
Adding to the idea that there was a concerted effort to diminish the importance of the Haitian Revolution is author Manuel Barcia. Barcia agrees with the ideas of Reinhardt in that white historians were made uncomfortable by the success of the uprising. In his piece “Comment: From Revolution to Recognition: Haiti’s Place in the Post-1804 Atlantic World.” Barcia particularly takes note of what the success of black people meant for the rest of the world. Barcia notes that acknowledging the fact that the Haitian rebels won and were able to run a sustainable nation would mean that one would have to acknowledge the fact that black people were just as skilled as anyone else. This of course threatened the status quo of white people dominating black people in society, which Barcia says is why it has not been touched upon by mainstream history. One interesting point made by the author is how the US in particular would trade with Haiti (covertly) but still not recognize them as a nation. This, according to Barcia, helped justify the lack of coverage writers gave Haiti as it was not recognized by the US until decades after the revolution.
The final historian being examined is Shannon Marie Peck-Bartle. In her piece “Toussaint L’Ouver-Who? An Anthropological Approach to Infusing the African Diaspora into Caribbean History.” Peck-Bartle adds to the discussion on the lack of recognition the rebellion has received. The piece pushes that the reason why the impact of Haiti has not fully been appreciated is because the Western world has spun a Eurocentric narrative of the events since 1804. This is to say that the West essentially took credit for Haiti’s success by asserting that without their European philosophies and culture, the Haitians could never have been able to successfully stage an insurrection and maintain a stable society for as long as they did. Peck-Bartle challenges this notion by pushing that rather than European culture creating the revolution, it was African culture that actually helped unite the Haitian rebels to be able to succeed. This information is valuable for teachers as it offers the opportunity to look at what is being taught in schools and see how culturally imbalanced the material is. The Eurocentric nature of most classes is unfortunate but also a very real thing and topics like the Haitian Revolution and its historiography help show teachers that there is not a lot of representation for numerous cultures around the world.
This third subsection of scholarship on the Haitian Revolution is unique as it focuses on the historiography of the event. Different scholars discuss different avenues of why this topic isn’t explored as often as it should. While people like Baur point out how there has been no full scale look into this event and its impact, people like Reinhardt and Barcia provide the reasons why. With Reinhardt asserting that the West simply went out of its way to paint the revolution in a bad light and Barcia explaining that this was because the alternative was to acknowledge the fact that black people were capable of both freeing and governing themselves. Peck-Bartle actually veers from this and states that actually the West chose to take credit for the Haitian’s success instead of outright ignoring or demonizing it. Overall, these scholars helped explain why the revolution doesn’t get as much attention and just why its impact on the US is not highlighted as often as it should.
Upon review of all ten sources it is quite clear that they all have their merits and add to the discussion about Haiti’s revolution and its impact on the US. The sources focusing on race helped explain why the US had such an awkward relationship with the new nation. Girard and Katchun particularly provided strong arguments that supported their theses. The economic/politically based scholars helped pinpoint what changes occurred in the US because of the revolution. Blackburn is the most prominent of these scholars as she mixes both the racial component previously discussed along with the political components. She successfully adds to the discussion and links two different areas of study. The final section is the historiographical section that hones in on why the impacts of the Haitian Revolution aren’t discussed as much as they should be. Again, these scholars connect the two other areas of study, the racial and economic/political by explaining why racism and Eurocentrism created a historiography that neglects the Haitian Revolution’s impact. This section seems to have the most debate over the truth behind why Haiti has been neglected. While Reinhardt and Barcia seem to agree with Peck-Bartle that race plays a major role in the downplaying of Haiti’s significance, they disagree with her when she says the West took credit for Haiti’s success and impact.
With the exception of the historiographical section, the scholarship on Haiti and its impact on the US is rather cohesive. The scholars mostly agree with each other and some of the different subsets actually blend well with each other, creating a clearer image of what the effects the Haitian Revolution had on the US were. The biggest issue these authors have is that they do not go deeper with their claims. They state that the revolution impacted the United States and list examples of how it did so. They also explain why there hasn’t been much research done on the topic. But the scholarship lacks one major point of focus, and that is how all of these subsets come together. What this proposal attempts to explore is how the Haitian Revolution immediately affected the United States. Furthermore, upon answering that question, this proposal aims to show how this impact absolutely molded the US into the world power that it is today. By infusing the three most prominent areas of study in regards to the revolution, this proposal will expand upon what has already been stated. The large scale implications for the United States brought on because of the Haitian Revolution and its success will be uncovered and ultimately show how a seemingly insignificant slave revolt changed the trajectory of a country that would become one of the most powerful nations on Earth.
The Haitian Revolution serves as a historic reminder of the triumphs of African people. It also serves as an interesting point of study when examining its relationship with the United States. The revolution’s mere existence shed light on the US’ own issues with slavery as well as early signs of the nation’s hypocrisy. The issues of racism and slavery are interconnected to the revolution; these two topics envelop the history of the modern west and cannot be ignored. With this said, these topics can be showcased through lessons about the Haitian Revolution as well as the island nation’s relationship with the United States.
The beauty of this topic is that it goes even deeper than that as it can also be used as a way to examine the historiography of the subject, something that is often overlooked in classes today. Examining how people have written history helps show students how people viewed a certain topic back then as well as how they view it now. These are valuable for both students and educators alike. Lastly, the study into the Haitian Revolution helps show how the US became the nation that it is today. Looking at the success of the US through the lens of the Haitian Revolution can help expand students’ understanding of the success of other people outside of the US. It can also showcase some of the inspiration for change in the US, namely the fight to end slavery. Overall, the educational value of the Haitian Revolution stretches far beyond its use as a fun and exciting historic episode. Through its links to race relations, slavery, economics and historiography, the Haitian Revolution truly makes for a great area of focus for educators who want to make their students better and more well-rounded scholars in the field of history.
Barcia, Manuel. “Comment: From Revolution to Recognition: Haiti’s Place in the Post-1804 Atlantic World.” American Historical Review 125, no. 3 (June 2020): 899–905. doi:10.1093/ahr/rhaa240.
Girard, Philippe. “Making Freedom Work: The Long Transition from Slavery to Freedom during the Haitian Revolution.” Slavery & Abolition 40, no. 1 (March 2019): 87–108. doi:10.1080/0144039X.2018.1452683.
Kachun, Mitch. “Antebellum African Americans, Public Commemoration, and the Haitian Revolution: A Problem of Historical Mythmaking.” Journal of the Early Republic 26, no. 2 (2006): 249–73. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30043409.
Matthewson, Tim. “Abraham Bishop, ‘The Rights of Black Men,’ and the American Reaction to the Haitian Revolution.” The Journal of Negro History 67, no. 2 (1982): 148–54. https://doi.org/10.2307/2717572.
The Forgotten Lessons: The Teaching of Northern Slavery
In the winter of 2021, a dark discovery took Rider University by storm and sparked a revelation amongst many of the students in attendance. After over a century of being hidden in the darkness, the secret that Rider University was once a slave-owning plantation was revealed to the world. A place of advanced education and diversity was once an institution of oppression. The university has since changed the name of the building from the name of the slave owner, Van Cleve, to the Alumni House. It is important that history not be forgotten, but instead brought to the forefront. The university will not erase the history but rather use it as a way to teach about the complicated history of slavery in the state of New Jersey. To many of the students attending the university, this came as a surprise. The students who were history majors were astonished by the fact that slavery occurred in the state of New Jersey, let alone on Rider University’s property. The reason for this lack of information stems from the collective lack of education on the subject.
With a basic understanding of American history, one would be led to believe that slavery was a southern issue and continues to be a contentious history when taught in those states. The reality was that slavery was a nationwide institution. Though schools in the south are vocal about the unwillingness to teach the subject, schools in the north are silent. There is continuous hypocrisy in deflecting all discussions of the matter to the south while ignoring what happened in their own backyards. Walking through any school teaching U.S. history, one may hear a line like “The north were free states and the south were slave states.” Similarly, worded statements can be found within schools in New Jersey all across the state. It implies that Northern states had no slaves at the time of the civil war and were actively fighting the good fight. When the 14th Amendment comes into discussion, one may have the impression that it directly pertained to the freeing of enslaved people in the south, rather than the north as they were already free. This simplification of the issue is far from the truth. To this day, many students will never learn that slavery took place in the north at all, let alone that New Jersey was the last state to abolish the practice. The nation now celebrates Juneteenth to “commemorate an effective end of slavery in the United States”. The stark reality is that slavery persisted after Juneteenth in the state of New Jersey legally for almost a full year, and illegally for another year. That dark history is often forgotten within classrooms throughout the state of New Jersey and the nation.
The lack of national attention to this critical issue does beg the question of how it happened. Many historians argue that the lack of discussion on the institution of northern slavery was due to the racist beliefs of historians in the 19th and 20th centuries. The voices of those early historians often get blamed for creating the view that slavery was only relevant when discussing the civil war as it was undeniably a major cause. As time progressed, one would assume the material on northern slavery would become more prevalent, however, that is not the case. As the discussion both in the classroom and by historians on the institution of slavery has expanded, northern slavery still remains for the most part absent. The question remains: did this critical part of the establishment of the nation go untaught? The only way to answer that question is by examining the teaching of slavery in New Jersey and the Tri-state area. This will open that gateway to a deeper understanding of how this history could be erased from the collective memory.
Before proceeding, it is imperative to understand what the discussion of the education on northern slavery has been. Though the discussion on northern slavery began in the late 1940s alongside the civil rights movement, the conversation about its absence in the classroom does not begin until 1991 due to a shocking discovery in Manhattan, New York. As the federal government was constructing a 275 million dollar project, they stumbled upon “the largest and oldest collection of colonial-era remains of free and enslaved Africans in the United States, according to the National Park Service”. This discovery of the cemetery caused massive protests to fight the city to halt the construction and the removal of the bodies from the site. Following this event, the New York City public schools began to look for a way to incorporate the material into the class and teach this reality that was just revealed to them. This started a growing push from schools across the nation to try to incorporate this reality.
The conversation on northern slavery would continue over a decade later when Professor Alan Singer of Hofstra University would guest teach in New York City public schools. When teaching less than a mile away from the enslaved African cemetery, most of the students were completely oblivious to the reality that not only were slaves in New York but how the reality of slavery was visible in their own community. Though many decisions on how to tackle such an issue were made to teach this material, over a decade later the students still had no idea about northern slavery. The discussions on the material did not translate into the classroom to a sufficient extent. The debate on how to successfully teach northern slavery in the classroom ensued and ultimately lead to the discussion on how to teach this history appropriately.
The content of northern slavery required a restructuring in order to successfully teach the material. Previously, slavery was only taught at the establishment of European colonies in the New World and before the American Civil War. What this divide does is creates the material into another unit, a separate event rather than a continuous struggle. The 2016 book Understanding and Teaching American Slavery by Bethany Jay and Cynthia Lyerly attempt to illustrate the best organization for discussing the topic and the history of the institution of slavery in classrooms. In their analysis of the history of teaching the institution of slavery, they regard the idea of teaching slavery exclusively at those points during early American Colonization and the Civil War to “severely hinder its importance.” What is the best way to teach the institution of slavery is discussing the enslaved perspective threw out the development of the nation. The benefits of this method allow the longevity of the issue and the hardships faced by those affected to be well articulated amongst the students. This is due to its constant presence and the reminder that liberty and freedom were not for all. This revelation in adding the enslaved perspective to early American history would spark further development in tools and resources to bring northern slavery into the classroom.
An initiative would be enacted to bring northern slavery and the massive scope of the institution of slavery to the forefront. This would come in the form of The New York Times 1619 Project. This resource marks an incredible stride in the conversation on teaching northern slavery. The project’s purpose is “to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative”. This comes out of a series of historians and teachers discussing how the realities and the true institution of slavery were untaught to them in the classroom. The project’s aim is to bring these lost lessons of slavery such as its true cruelty and its widespread adoption throughout the nation, not just exclusively in the south. It is built off of the ideals proposed in Understanding and Teaching American Slavery and other books with the same idea tofollow this notion that slavery is an integral part of the nation as a whole, rather than at specific points in U.S. history. The combination of all these ideas paints a picture of the flaws of the teaching of slavery threw out the nation. The current discussion’s main focus is looking at what is absent in the current classroom. The smaller conversation that pertains to the material taught in the past primarily revolves around racism and the Klan. The discovery of a 1904 textbook that details the brutality of northern slavery pushes back on this notion. It begs the question of whether the subject was truly untaught or if another force was responsible for its absence. Looking at the material present in the classroom in the past may prove an insight into northern slavery’s appeared absence.
An analysis of the classroom material available to students is key to understanding the absence of northern slavery. To find these answers, understanding what material was being taught in classrooms from the 1860s and beyond. A method to understand the content of the classroom is by looking at textbooks. Many school notes and lesson plans have been lost to time, but what remains are textbooks. The work of Dr. Pearcy shows the indicator tool that can be used to understand their effect on the content being taught in schools. He states clearly in his article, “Textbooks are, ultimately, tools, for student use. Their utility can only be measured by the degree to which they offer teachers the opportunity to build student-centered inquiry”. From this notion, we can conclude that textbooks are just an object and a tool for students to use. Their content is meaningless unless given a purpose by the teacher. Everything learned in the classroom is under the teachers’ control and they possess the option to use or discard the textbook. However, textbooks do tell us something else depending on where they are. His research looks at ten different U.S. history textbooks of different authors that are widely adopted and compares their tellings of the Battle of Fort Sumter. After analyzing each of the tellings, an interesting trend occurs. This trend is in the bias of the author and how they pick and choose what details to keep and leave out of the telling of the event. This bias could affect the leanings of anyone reading and coerce their perspective of the events that unfolded. These different depictions of the conflict in different areas can have effects on the material discussed in class or reflect it. Companies such as Pearson publish multiple textbooks by different authors to capitalize mainly on the market, however, what market are they capitalizing on?
Looking at the rationale behind the variation of textbooks based on location can assist in understanding why certain content is missing. The findings by Goldstein in his article Two States. Eight Textbooks. Two American Stories sheds light on the issue of why these publishing companies hire multiple historians and interpretations of the same material. This article focuses on eight different textbooks found within the states of Texas and California. The issues arise when looking at the same textbook in multiple states. The textbooks are by the exact same author but have different versions for each state. The variations were created by request of school districts or even the book’s own editor. These individuals remove or request additions of material to allow the book to be adopted in a particular area. The best evidence to illustrate this divide between locations is that of the Harlem Renaissance. Examples of this are found in Pearson’s United States History: The Twentieth Century 19th edition. On the subject of the Harlem Renaissance, the Californian edition features a section on the debate within the African American community over its overall impact on them and the nation as a whole. The Texas version only includes the line “some critics ‘dismissed the quality of literature produced’”. What these two distinct changes, along with many more, indicate is the presence of the political atmosphere of the area and the belief of the people the textbook is serving to reinforce. The textbook adopted by a particular state or district reflects the information a school is teaching in the classroom.
With an understanding of the behind-the-scenes crafting of textbooks, there can be the formulation of the content of northern slavery in school. Combining the findings of Dr. Pearcy and Goldstein, textbooks can provide insight into the classroom. The selection of the historian and the version adopted by the school reflect what the administration desired its teachers to instruct in the classroom. Though it may not be a perfect indicator of what was taught in classrooms, as it’s a tool for teachers to use, it gives an idea of what is being taught in the classroom. Examining textbooks from the past used in classrooms within the Tristate area can reveal if northern slavery was taught, and to what extent.
Examining the earliest textbook may yield an understanding of the lack of teaching, not only about northern slavery but slavery as a whole. An example of the content of what was taught in the classroom after the Civil War and in the years following can be found in The New England Primer. This book originated in 1690 and was a fixture in the classroom until the 1930s, a well over 200-year run. The textbook served as the basis of elementary education instruction. By looking at these textbook translations, historians get a sense of what was required of the majority of students at this time, along with what was taught in classrooms. Looking at the 1802 edition, the book opens with an alphabet chart. This gets taught through prayers that become progressively more complex as they go. This information indicates that understanding the alphabet was key. Depending on the quantity available, the school could have focused on reading and potentially writing to utilize this book. Within the context of these prayers, one learns about the calendar and days of the week, counting and basic mathematics, and a small amount of history. This stresses the importance of religion in the classroom at this time. The underlying message throughout the book is that God is more important than any other subject or material in the classroom. The small amount of history included is more biblical in nature but does include the basics of the American government system. The addition of the U.S. system of government is the only change from the 1773 edition, replacing prayers outlining the functions and structure of the parliament system. What this shows is that history was really not a focus in this era of education. Only those who would exceed the basic knowledge of the time would learn about more advanced information. With the perpetuation of this book into the 20th century, this basic education would be what was taught to many poor American individuals and black Americans. More fortunate areas would receive new textbooks and educational material, phasing this material out or relying on it less exclusively. Those less fortunate areas would be using this information exclusively until the 1930s. The New England Primer is referred to as the “Bible of one-room schoolhouse education”. The lack of history not only assists in the loss of the knowledge of northern slavery but of the entire institution of slavery as a whole. These individuals would want the history they learned as children in school. A slow creep of this altered history would make its way to the north.
Movements were made to suppress and remove the teaching of not only northern slavery but all of black history. The most prominent of these would be “The Lost Cause”, the movement to honor the legacy of the confederacy. This movement would begin in the 1870s as reconstruction would begin to fail. The lost cause mentality would paint the black community as unable to attain the same equality as white individuals due to the efforts attempting to create equality failed. This gave rise to the notion that the confederates were noble in their sacrifice to fight for slavery. It rewrites the telling of the history that “there was nothing ‘lost’ about the southern cause”. This was due to the mindset that black Americans were only good at being servants to white men. Monuments and memorials to honor the confederacy would be constructed such as the statues of Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis, and Robert E. Lee. By the 1890s this movement would sink its teeth into the education system of the north. The goal was to rewrite history books to reflect the southern perspective and preserve its honor. This movement is regarded as a reunion of America’s racist mentality as it proposed the Civil War was caused by other factors, not slavery. It also created this idea of the “happy slave”, the idea that there were enslaved individuals that loved slavery and serving the white man. Women’s organizations and the state department of education were the ones in charge of advocating for approving educational material for schools. Many became strong supporters of the lost cause and by the 1920’s it would be integrated into schools across the north and especially in New Jersey.
Before the alteration of the history would appear, strides were made to bring the history of northern slavery to the forefront. In the 1870s history books began to include slavery within their content. The oldest examined history textbook to bear mention of slavery is the Condensed History of The United States from 1871. This book was used in a classroom in Norristown, Pennsylvania, as demonstrated by the address of the school on the front cover pages with the initial date of October 31, 1888. On the page adjacent, student names are written, with the last one being 1899, giving the text an eleven-year confirmed usage in the classroom. The cover pages are full of notes made by students long past, however, one stands out amongst the rest. This particular note is a prayer, one found word for word from the 1812 edition of the New England Primer. This detail establishes that in this classroom, the two books were in fact utilized together. This class was learning American history alongside the basics in the New England Primer. The town had the economic resources present to invest in its youth’s education. The students within this town received a higher quality of education than those of poorer communities. However, what did these students learn about not only northern slavery but the institution of slavery as a whole?
This history tells a very interesting version of America’s past, but what is interesting is what is left out. There is no mention of slavery until what they call the “War of Secession” is discussed. The book starts with the discovery of the new world and the establishment of each American state at the time of its publication, but not one mention of slavery till that point. The book does establish that there was northern slavery by directly stating “At the time of adoption of the Constitution, slavery existed in the Northern as well as the Southern States”. It provides an impressive analysis for its time detailing the various legal cases pertaining to slavery such as Dred Scott v. Sanford. There is a fascinating inaccuracy with the passing of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments; as the book details that Johnson was president for their passing. It details that the passing of these amendments was the cause of the issues between the President and the other two branches, rather than Reconstruction. In fact, the only mention of Reconstruction at all is Johnson vetoing the Reconstruction Act of 1865 rather than discussing any of the programs created by it. This alteration to history has two possible reasons for the inaccuracy. The first is more innocent, being in the title of the book “condensed”. Reconstruction not only is a long process and would officially end in 1877. The book was written in 1874 meaning that reconstruction was still ongoing at the time. Writing on its effects could be taken as more speculatory and not factual information as the book attempts to stick exclusively to. The second is the seed of the lost cause making its way into the material. The ideology of the lost cause deemed Reconstruction a failure and did not warrant time discussion. Its omission is telling that this influence was seeping into the education of these students. However, what is most interesting is what it says about how slavery ended in the north. After detailing the increase of southern populations due to the cotton gin, it stated, “In the North, on the other hand, where slave labor was not profitable, slavery soon died out”. It leads to the idea that in the 1850s slavery was extinct in the north, however, the reality was quite different. Slavery was very much alive in the north during the 1850s.
Looking at the history of just New Jersey alone, there is a far different reality of northern slavery from this telling in the textbook. Starting as far back as the 1790s, New Jersey was split over the issue of slavery. Quakers were strongly against it; they interpreted enslaved people as people due to the wording of the constitution. The three-fifths compromise of 1787 also reinforced their claim that enslaved individuals were people. The opposition viewed freedom as an economic catastrophe. The labor force for the majority of the state’s highest-grossing markets were nearly entirely enslaved or indentured servant individuals. They saw that liberation would make the industries of agriculture, ironworking, and factory manufacturing unprofitable. The debate over a compromise began in 1797 but would reach its conclusion in 1804 with the gradual abolition act, also referred to as the “free womb” act. This legislation gave freedom to all enslaved individuals born after July 4th, 1804 on their 21st birthday. This allowed slave owners to have the labor force they needed to make up for the economic loss of abolition and granted enslaved people their freedom at a set point. The average life expectancy of an enslaved individual in New Jersey at this time was forty-one years. This meant that they would likely have had only half their life to live if they even made it to freedom. The act was filled with loopholes that allowed the continuation of slavery in the state well after the projected period of total abolition. The idea was to have all enslaved individuals freed by the 1830s. The issue was with the clause that allowed children born while in the period of the enslavement term were to be placed in the care of the local principality. Principalities were the townships and counties that reside within the State of New Jersey. Many of the individuals in charge of managing the treatment of these children would give them right back into the hands of their masters, making them slaves till their 21st birthday. This is how the enslaved population grew far larger than it was in 1804 by the 1860s.
The inaccuracies of the teaching of northern slavery would have disastrous consequences to its very existence by later generations. The pervasive belief that slavery was all but extinct in the north by the 1860s is evidence of the start of the “the amnesia of slavery”. This is a term coined by historian James Gigantino II in his book The Curious Memory of Slavery in New Jersey, 1865-1941. What he seeks to illustrate is how Northern states such as New Jersey with such a large and prosperous enslaved population forgot that slavery even occurred in their own backyards. The reason for this was that slavery was looked at as an “insignificant sideshow” in the state. Many northern slaveowners owned only one or two slaves, thus making the reminders of an enslaved past virtually nonexistent to those that were not directly affected by it. What the Condensed U.S. History textbook shows us is this amnesia occurring. In a time when enslaved individuals and their children were very much still alive, their suffering is being forgotten. There is no active backlash as those with the ability to change the material have little to no interest. This early removal of teaching about what occurred beneath these students’ feet will send shockwaves to later generations and reach into the modern classroom.
There would be a push to expand the teaching of northern slavery upon the turn of the century before the influence of the Klan would take hold. This is evident in the textbook Stories of New Jersey by Frank R. Stockton. This book was published in 1896 and the copy analyzed was printed in 1904. The inside cover indicates the book originated from a Princeton classroom before finding its way into the Library of Congress. It is worth noting that this book is back in reproduction and the Amazon description of the book reads that it was “so popular over the years in NJ schools that it has in itself become a part of New Jersey’s history”. This book possesses a unique feature that is exclusive to this book and none other, even textbooks today. This feature is an entire chapter dedicated to the history of enslaved individuals in the state from 1626-1867. What this chapter says about slavery in the state is incredibly unique, especially for its time of publication. The section begins with Dutch settlers bringing enslaved individuals over with them in 1626 to develop the inhospitable land and form their colony. Enslaved individuals were expendable and would do the labor that would normally require a far more physical toll on the body. They became the largest group of workers in the booming iron industry, logging, and of course, the plantations popping up across the land. In 1664, the Dutch surrendered their colonies to the English empire. In this exchange, many changes would appear in the lives of those original settlers, but slavery was not changed. Slavery remained in this state for over 200 years after this point. This early slavery history even includes an entire section on how Perth Amboy, New Jersey, was the slave trade capital in the north and distributed enslaved individuals throughout the northern colonies. This was all true. While other texts around this period ignore this history, this book sought to put a spotlight on it. Following details of the atrocious conditions the enslaved people in the state faced and the lack of large plantations like the south, it noted that large numbers of individuals owned one or two enslaved individuals. This kept slavery as a pivotal force in the community and essential to its economy. If this text was utilized in the classroom to the fullest, many students would have learned a genuine and dark history of the establishment of the state’s institutions. However, this very insightful history becomes inaccurate regarding the abolition of slavery.
The first half of the telling of northern slavery from Stories of New Jersey is remarkable with its depiction of northern slavery for its time, but that narrative falls apart when reaching the abolition of slavery in the state. While it does portray an accurate picture, much of it is far from the truth. The first comes in the debates over the gradual abolition act of 1804. The book describes it as Quakers becoming abolitionists; the three-fifths compromise made their view under the law that these were people, not property, and entitled to the same rights. The opposition saw slavery as an economic necessity as the work they were doing was dangerous. These were undesirable jobs no one wanted to do in their society. This debate over the issue does remain close to the reality that transpired. The text makes a crucial error in stating the gradual abolition bill that allowed the abolition of slavery on one’s twenty-first birthday passed in 1820 rather than 1804. This alteration of the date creates a precedent that the abolition of slavery was far faster and more efficient. It creates the idea that New Jersey’s policy was successful and had no issues with its implementation. Further errors found in the section support this idea that the solution the state implemented was successful. When discussing the results of the act it directly states, “in 1840 there were still six-hundred and seventy-four slaves in the state, and by 1860 only eighteen slaves remained, and these must have been very old”. These numbers couldn’t be further from the truth as slavery was still going strong by the 1850s.
What is missing from the Stories of New Jersey textbook are those who were wrongfully enslaved. The text leaves out the dark reality that a percentage of slavery occurring in the state was children who were supposed to be free. The 1804 Gradual abolition act forced some of the children born to enslaved mothers into a life of enslavement until their twenty-first birthday. The census of children being born from 1804-1835 to exclusively enslaved mothers shows five hundred and forty-one documented children. It is estimated that in the year 1850, while documentation may say two hundred and thirty-six, far more were illegally in service. The text also does not acknowledge the abolition of slavery in its entirety in 1866. The wording makes it appear it ended gradually by 1860 citing the success of the gradual abolition act. This misinformation will impact generations to come as it was the definitive history of the state. It took until 2008 for the New Jersey government to finally formally apologize for its slave-owning past and its failure to step in and end its illegal perpetuation. Though it may not be the most perfect telling of the history, it’s evidence that people were trying to teach the injustice that happened within their state. Slavery was not relegated to a small part of the civil war, rather it merited its own chapter dedicated to the hardships and debate over its abolishment. While this book is making its way into classrooms, so is the Klan. The Klan would attempt to rapidly spread in the education field and in the coming decades as part of its resurgence. This growth would ultimately transform the history of northern slavery.
The Klans’ takeover of northern education and purging of the history of not just northern slavery, but the entire institution is seen within the textbooks of the 1920s. The 1924 textbook An Elementary History of New Jersey by Earle Thomson is dramatically different from the textbook from 1904. What distinguishes this book aside is absolutely no mention of slavery of any kind. This textbook was definitely used within the state, as in the preface the author thanked superintendents and principals who commissioned a book to express their shared view of the truly important history and to add tools that would enhance student understanding. The schools this particular book was used in included Union, Hackensack, Newark, and Westfield. There may have been more schools adopting this book, however, those are unmentioned by the author, and no indication is left on any of the Library of Congress documentation. The book directly states that “children should be taught in some detail the history of their own state and of its part in the development and progress of the country” while omitting a major part of their history. The larger shocking piece is that only the conflict of the Civil War is discussed. There is no lead-up; it just dropped the reader right into the conflict. It appears that only the victory of the war was significant, but not what they were fighting for or even the amendments that followed. This text is pivotal to understanding the shift in the classroom. The lost cause ideology had reached the apex of its hold on the classroom. The removal of all mention of slavery or black Americans was done to illustrate how unimportant the black community was and how futile any action to promote equality was. However, its removal may have been far more purposeful than just a desire to push this lost cause ideology.
The Klan had far larger ambitions than just the omission of slavery from educational material during the 1920s. The book The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition by Linda Gordon sheds light on this exact time period. The Klan was a notorious hate group created in the aftermath of the Civil War but it saw a resurgence in the 1920s. This revived Klan was stronger in the North than in the southern states of the nation and focused on the education system of the time. Their priority was the recruitment of white American youth to continue their organization into the coming generations. This involved integration of the Klan into the material taught in schools. The Klan and those associated with them edited the material to reflect the beliefs of the organization. This makes recruitment easier as the Klan reflects the morals and values secretly supplanted into the minds of susceptible students. This was most evident in the teaching of history in the classroom. Klansmen in positions of authority in schools such as superintendents used their influence to alter texts found in the classroom. This involved the recreation of textbooks to fit their nefarious agenda. The lack of a mention of slavery or even the leadup or aftermath of the civil war in the 1924 textbook is evidence of known involvement. It’s unclear if any of the principals or superintendents credited in the textbook are Klansmen, but the influence is quite evident. The textbook states, “This book is in no sense a complete history of New Jersey, the author hopes that its study may prove an inspiration to the purple to become an upright citizen of his community or state”. The absence of this major time period in the state’s history is done in a way to not invoke question. Unless there is other supplemental material taught in the classroom, the dark history of the state and the nation are removed from the collective memory. This book directly shows how “the amnesia of slavery” occurred not only in the state of New Jersey but across northern states. With the widespread recruitment push for new Klansmen, anyone learning in schools around this time would have no recollection of northern slavery’s existence. All the work in the decades past to bring this history into the classroom has been completely undone. Any book touching on the subject would have to start from scratch if the goals of those behind the book were successful.
Following the end of the Second World War, the U.S. would revisit the teaching of northern slavery. The post-war U.S. began to enter a period of civil rights and reforms as the Truman administration began to assist in the abolishment of segregation. This gets reflected in the 1947 U.S. history textbook American History by Howard Wilson and Wallice Lamb. This textbook is fascinating due to its creation. The book states that the author’s intentions for writing the textbook were to “include history and perspectives from this great nation that have been forgotten or removed over the years”. This indicates that the creation of the book was to teach a history that includes information removed by the Klan and other parties. The authors attempted to devise a history from the ground up that includes lost information including slavery. It kept its promise by including a simplified version of the slave trade and the quantity of forced labor employed. The text also looked into how the institution of slavery was a fundamental part of colonization in the Americas. It may not be the most perfect of tellings as it leaves the atrocities that faced the enslaved individuals out. This is significant as it leaves out the horrors that faced enslaved individuals. It creates the notion that this was a great injustice on the part of the colonists but was not as horrific as the reality of the situation. It keeps the reader, most likely a white student, separated from the event allowing no remorse for the actions of their forefathers to the black community. This was the last instance of slavery mentioned till the causes of the Civil War. There are two chapters dedicated to the development of agriculture and industry in the northern states and the southern states, but there is no mention of slavery whatsoever. What this does is reinforces the idea that slavery was there, but it wasn’t important in the continued development of the nation. The practice of slavery was only significant in establishing a foothold on the land. It makes the institution and the horrors faced by the enslaved people insignificant to economic development. However, coverage of the Civil War period possessed an interesting take on the content.
The 1947 textbooks’ stance on the Civil War and its aftermath indicate a deviation from the stranglehold of the Klan in education. The period leading up to the war has an interesting take on slavery. The text neither condemns nor supports either side of the debate on slavery. It creates this awkwardly neutral state when describing the situation that caused the suffering of so many. This is important as the goal appears to not anger those with sentiment in support of slavery. The author appears to be holding back their opinion on the matter and not getting into depth on the horrific reality. The text does have an allusion to the idea that the northern states either abandoned or abolished the practice. It describes this trope of the north being “abolitionist”, that there was no one within the state that opposed slavery. Following the end of the war, it does something unique to this text. The textbook described the reconstruction period in a way to appear successful rather than what happened in reality. The book described Reconstruction as establishing property in the south with 40 acres and a mule proposition. It describes how many would remain in the south as they were given property. What is also interesting is that it discusses the surge of newly freed black individuals getting into office as they finally received the right to vote. The book describes the downfall of the reconstruction as due to irresponsible spending of tax dollars and the creation of the Klan forcing black Americans to stay out of government and politics. The text portrays the Klan as the villain in reconstruction. It signifies a shift in public opinion and the elimination of their grasp on the education system. Information that pushes back on the lost cause narrative by showing that Reconstruction was sabotaged is making its way into schools. The neutral dialog however does indicate their presence is still there. The Klans’ limited presence is also indicated by the book leaving out many important details such as lynchings, or even the Great Migration of Black Americans to the north for work. These events had the potential to paint the Klan that existed at this time rather than the early organization during the reconstruction era in a negative light. The Klan may not have been as strong as they were in the previous decades, but was still a prominent organization throughout the nation, especially in the north. The textbooks telling of slavery does reinforce the notion that slavery was exclusively a southern problem, but this is not the first time this will occur.
Northern slavery’s absence in the classroom may not have been excluded due to racist involvement in the material. The relegation to slavery being exclusively southern is an issue that perpetuates to this modern day. This trend is one that Mr.Vikos, a former high school history teacher is very familiar with the pattern of returning to relegating slavery to exclusively the south. Mr. Vikos taught in Brooklyn from the late 1960s to the late 1990s. His insight into the teaching of northern slavery illustrates how racism is not the only factor in the removal of this information. In the late 60s, his school was facing a large influx of black students due to the end of segregation in 1963. The school would become nearly 100% black by 1975 and the teachers wanted to teach material that reflected the classroom’s demographics. This involved teaching northern slavery when the pre-Civil War era would arise in the classroom. “Students did enjoy the content at first, but as the years went on there were an increasing number of issues. The first was general confusion as students would get confused on what side slavery was on during the actual conflict. The second and most important issue was the lack of care. The students had no interest in learning about slavery that occurred here (New York)”. Eventually the teaching of northern slavery would be reduced as issues with the content would arise. “Readings on northern slavery were present in the classroom, but the likelihood anyone of the students remembered them a decade later is highly unlikely”. The teaching of northern slavery was present, but students would be the driving factor in its reduction. Eventually, the material would return to the idea that the north were free states and the south was slave states. There is a cycle of the subject of northern slavery appearing and then disappearing. The topic becomes introduced, it reaches a height where the issue is really focused on, and then an outside force acts, reducing the discussion back to the beginning. This trend can be seen between the textbooks from 1874 to 1924 with the Klan removing the material and again from 1947 to the 1970s when student interest would reduce its discussion. This trend would continue into the modern day. This becomes evident with the current lack of understanding of northern slavery even though the material is now present in almost every classroom in northern schools. The decades from the 1980s to the mid-2010s only serve to continue this trend.
To prove this theory of the teaching of northern slavery being a cycle, the decade of the 1980s serves as a point to see the material reintroduced. The 1980 textbook American History Review Text by Irving Gordon illustrates an interesting trend in the telling of history. This book was used in Port Richmond High School in Staten Island, New York throughout the 1980s and into the early 90s. The textbook immediately began with the colonization of America and the triangle trade after establishing a background on the New World. It also does a fantastic job of illustrating the population differences between the enslaved population and the white Europeans. This detail is that “slavery was found as a common practice throughout all English thirteen colonies”.Through discussing early American slavery, the inclusion that it existed within the entirety of the nation does allow the student reading to understand that the institution of slavery was in fact present in the north. Continuing the traditional organization structure, the textbook only mentions slavery only at the colonization of America and prior to the Civil War. This structure continues to assist in undermining the severity and longevity of the institution of slavery. When it begins to discuss the pre-Civil war era, it does call out hypocrisy. Though it may be two paragraphs, it sheds light on the hypocrisy of northern slavery. This hypocrisy was the north participating in slavery while simultaneously vilifying the south for participating in the exact same practice. This is significant as this is the first textbook examined to touch upon this issue. Not only does it bring to light northern slavery, but the textbook condemns the north for criticizing southern slavery before it abolished the practice fully within its states. Upon reaching the point of reconstruction, the textbook’s messages begin to shift.
Though time long since passed the time of Klan involvement, the telling of the history still bears its scars. The language of the text leads to assumptions with the vocabulary used to describe the black community at different points. In the beginning, they were described as “Africans” who then transitioned into being referred to as “enslaved” individuals. In the years during reconstruction, they are referred to as “Black”. However, once reconstruction ends they become “negros”. What this shows is the perpetuation of the lost cause mentality through the vocabulary. The idea of referring to black individuals as “negros” in this text is to establish the notion that the black community during the point of reconstruction and after are two different kinds of people. There also are present many allusions to what is going on in the north but the reality is vastly different. An example of this is the education system constructed in the south during Reconstruction. It stated “Negros, as well as whites, were guaranteed free compulsory public education by the reconstruction constitutions of the southern states. However, after the southern whites regained control, Negros received schooling that was segregated and inferior”. This line does highlight the notion that there was segregation and inferior education in the south but makes it appear that it was not a problem in the north. Segregated schools were prominent in the north as well and in some cases persisted far longer than they were legally able to. What this wording does that becomes commonplace is make the south sound like a racist and discriminatory place and paint the northern states in a light that is far from the reality that existed. The textbook does a decent job of illustrating the regression of the discussion of northern slavery. It may establish the institution existed in the north, but it lacks descriptions of the conditions. The text also regresses to race-charged wording linking its connection to the history of previous Klan-influenced textbooks. This would change as the nation entered the 1990s.
The discussion on northern slavery would continue due to its prioritization. The 90s would be a point where the material on northern slavery would begin to grow once again. Starting in 1996, Mr.Vikos would be responsible for approving textbooks for schools in the central headquarters. When asked about the criteria for what textbooks got approved, he would respond with the topic of slavery. He recalled how “many textbooks would just have a paragraph or two on the subject of slavers as a whole. It is impossible to cover all of the slavery in a single book, how do you do it in one paragraph? A textbook would only get passed if it discussed the social, political, and economic factors of both the north and the south”. He would stress the economic section as this would be the deciding factor of slavery’s perpetuation for both the north and the south. What was illustrated was a reinvigoration of the content. This was an individual who was passionate about bringing this information to the classroom and was in a place to do so. With the discovery of the massive burial of enslaved individuals in Manhattan a few years prior, there was a draw into teaching northern slavery.
As time progresses into the modern day, the pattern of the rise and fall of northern slavery’s discussion in the classroom only becomes more rapid of a cycle. Three different versions of the American Pageant textbook by Thomas Bailey, David Kennedy, and Lizabeth Cohen illustrate the perpetuation of the rise and fall of northern slavery in the classroom. The editions in question are the 2006, 2013, and 2016 versions. What makes these books unique is that they are currently in use in schools in New Jersey. The ones examined were in the possession of students actively using them in the classroom. What makes this even more interesting is the parts that were changed. The beginning chapters detail the triangle trade and the enslavement of the native American populations and the African populations. It even includes how slavery reach the American colonies in 1619 from captured slaves en route to Spanish colonies diverted to Virginia. The wording is almost exactly word for word between editions, so uniform it’s almost conspicuous. The differences become starkly relevant when the discussion of American slavery comes to question.
The three discussed American Pageant textbooks present differences that illustrate the increase and decline of the topic of northern slavery. Each book possessed a section dedicated to slavery between the founding of the nation and the civil war, slavery prior to the civil war, and a chapter on reconstruction. The differences become apparent in the first few paragraphs of the section. The 2006 edition was altered to include a deeper perspective of northern slavery following the revelation that attempts to include the material were unsuccessful. This is evident as the edition remarked that in the north there was freedom being attained, but there was more hatred of black Americans than in the south. This gets reinforced by the story of an individual who was born enslaved in the south, sold in New York City, and was eventually freed after eight years of servitude and the conditions she lived in after gaining freedom. The textbook accurately portrayed the conditions of slavery, and by covering the north before the south in the description of slavery, it gives the impression that slavery was equally horrible in practice throughout the nation. The 2013 edition states that northern slavery was just small farms with no large-scale plantations. It goes into detail about how New York abolished all of its slavery and possessed far better-living conditions than the south. This entirely changes the established narrative that slavery was a horrible practice. The text almost glorifies the practice of slavery in the state of New York. The 2016 edition resolves these issues by taking the best aspects of the two together. It largely emphasizes the story of the enslaved woman by giving it its own dedicated page. It includes an interesting insight into the northern slavery perspective. It does an excellent job of discussing how “few northerners were prepared for the outright abolition of slavery”. It goes in-depth at looking at the economic issues facing the north if it were to abolish slavery and the general view of the population wanting reform rather than abolition. The description of the popular view of the time feeds into a clearer understanding of the northern hypocrisy. This being the desire to abolish slaves in the south rather than within their own borders. The combining of the best of the two prior editions is the greatest strength of the sixteenth edition. Due to its publication date, the revised text containing a large amount of northern slavery material could be due to the political climate in 2016. The contentious political election sought to reinvigorate the discussion of slavery, especially that of northern states. This may be only speculation due to the recentness of this change, but outside forces like that are indicators of material like this being reintroduced based on the previously analyzed patterns in the earlier textbooks discussed. The three different textbooks indicate a falling point in the 2006 edition due to the reinvigoration in the 90s, a low point in 2015 as northern slavery was no longer in style, and then a spike in 2016 due to a shifting political climate.
What the analysis of these texts indicate is a disturbing trend of periodically increasing and decreasing the teaching of northern slavery in the northern states. There are large and periodic appearances of this under-discussed material and it appears to almost be predictable.
We begin to see it untaught in the classroom in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. This was due to the material being largely sourced from the New England Primer, a book that focused on basic language, mathematics, and civic education. The exclusivity of this textbook would fuel the “lost cause” ideology. This ideology was the belief that the south was justified in fighting for slavery as reconstruction failed, proving black individuals could never be equal to their white counterparts.The discussion of northern slavery begins to increase in the mid-1870s based on the material from Condensed U.S. History from 1874. Though the description of events leads much of the history of northern slavery out, it does make its appearance known. Entering the 20th century we see a boom in the discussion of the material. In the textbook of the history of New Jersey, Stories of New Jersey, there is a detailed history of slavery in the state. It goes as far back as the Dutch and only gets slightly inaccurate in the end with the eventual abolition of the institution. This revolutionary discussion of the material comes crashing down in the 1920s. This is illustrated by the 1924 textbook An Elementary History of New Jersey. Its lack of not only the discussion of slavery in the north, but the absence of the entire practice is the ultimate goal of the “lost cause”. It indicates the idea of the Klan using education as a way to indoctrinate young and new members, and this came at the price of editing textbooks to reflect their views on society. Textbooks and educational material would bear the scars from this alteration for dedicated to come.
The coming age of civil rights reform would attempt to distance itself from the past. The restructuring of this discussion of northern slavery is illustrated in the 1947 textbook American History. Its limited appearance shows that the topic once again rose into the discussion. From the perspective of a history teacher from the late 60s to the mid-1970s, coverage began to increase once again to a clear point in the late 60s as schools finally began to become more diverse due to an end of segregation. Northern slavery’s discussion then began to fall in the 70s as the civil rights movement would lose its ground in the years following Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. The discussion on northern slavery would reach a low in the 1980s and gets illustrated by the 1980 history textbook American History Review Text. It may call out the North but it shows clear evidence of promoting the “lost cause” mentality due to its racially charged language. The 90’s would see a rise in the discussion of northern slavery again as the discovery of the largest enslaved cemetery in the nation would be found under Manhattan. The depth of the discussion on northern slavery reached a height in 2006 with the American Pageant 13th edition. It includes a detailed section on slavery in New York and that the horrors of slavery were present in the north. It even details how northerners viewed the practice as unjust but did little to nothing to end it within their states while criticizing the south. From this height there is a dramatic fall in the 2013 edition of the same textbook. It led to the idea that slavery was small in the north and that it was far better in conditions than in the south. It also creates the illusion that it was abolished by the 1860s rather than continuing throughout the civil war. Lastly, we see a jump in the discussion emerging in 2016. The American Pageant textbook’s 16th edition rectifies this issue of a decrease in the discussion. It adds material from the 2006 edition and expands on the practice and conditions of northern slavery. It’s unclear what the cause of this shift could be, but one could only speculate it was done out of a response to the changing climates and the increased national discussion on the longevity of the impacts the institution of slavery had on the nation.
With these trends highlighted, it’s important to note that there has never been a steady teaching of the material. Teachers have struggled with finding ways to get the material across without creating unnecessary confusion. The importance of this subject is unparalleled as its atrocities have never truly been righted. The perpetuation of these trends creates a lost history of the horrifying events that unfolded beneath the feet of students. They can adequately describe the atrocities that happened in distant states but are oblivious to the same atrocities that happened only a few miles away. The lack of a focus or understanding of what happened in the backyards of both teachers and students alike truly creates and perpetuates the “the amnesia of slavery”.
There is hope however that this continuous issue does get brought to light in the classroom. The awareness on the part of the students and teachers alike can see an end to its repetition. Teachers bringing this issue to the forefront and explaining to students that slavery happened here, and that it goes undiscussed, may inspire students to speak up when this topic is left out. Activism on this issue is key to maintaining its presence in the classroom and that these forgotten lessons never become forgotten again.
Bailey, Thomas, David Kennedy, and Lizabeth Cohen. The American Pageant. 13th ed. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning, 2006.
Bailey, Thomas, David Kennedy, and Lizabeth Cohen. The American Pageant. 15th ed. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning, 2013.
Bailey, Thomas, David Kennedy, and Lizabeth Cohen. The American Pageant. 16th ed. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning, 2016.
Blight, David W. Race, and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001.
Gigantino II, James J. “The Curious Memory of Slavery in New Jersey, 1865-1941.” New Jersey Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 6 (1): 35–55. 2020, Academic Search Premier doi:10.14713/njs.v6i1.188. Accessed 9/28/22.
Gigantino II, James J. The Ragged Road to Abolition: Slavery and Freedom in New Jersey, 1775-1865. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.
Gigantino II, James J.“‘’The Whole North Is Not Abolitionist’’.” Journal of the Early Republic 34 (3): 411–37. 2014, Academic Search Premier doi:10.1353/jer.2014.0040. Accessed 9/28/22
Gordon, Irving L. Review Text in American History. New York, NY: AMSCO School Publications, 1980.
Gordon, Linda. The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W.W. Norton & Company, 2018.
Jay, Bethany, and Cynthia Lynn Lyerly. Understanding and Teaching American Slavery. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2016.
Lapsansky-Werner, Emma J., Peter B. Levy, Randy Roberts, Alan Taylor, and Kathy Swan. United States History: The Twentieth Century. 19th ed. California. New York, NY: Pearson Education, Inc., 2019.
Lapsansky-Werner, Emma J., Peter B. Levy, Randy Roberts, Alan Taylor, and Kathy Swan. United States History: The Twentieth Century. 19th ed. Texas. New York, NY: Pearson Education, Inc., 2019.
Mydland, Leidulf. “The Leg of One-Room Schoolhouses: A Comparative Study of the AME…” European journal of American studies. European Association for American Studies, February 24, 2011. https://journals.openedition.org/ejas/9205.
New Jersey. Laws, Statutes, Etc. An act for the gradual abolition of slavery … Passed at Trenton . Burlington, S. C. Ustick, printer 1804. Burlington, 1804. Pdf. https://www.loc.gov/item/rbpe.0990100b/.
Pearcy, Mark, “We Are Not Enemies”: An Analysis of Textbook Depictions of Fort Sumter at the beginning of the Civil War, The History Teacher, Volume 52 Number 4, Society for History Education, August 2019
Swinton, William. Swinton’s Condensed United States: A Condensed School History of the United States: Constructed for Definite Results in Recitation and Containing a New Method of Topical Reviews. New York, Chicago: Ivinson, Blakeman & Co., 1871.
Vikos, George and Greenstein, Andrew. Conversation at Marina Cafe, Staten Island NY, November 14th, 2022
Westminster Assembly. The New England primer improved: for the easy attaining the true reading of English, to which is added, the Assembly of Divines, and Mr. Cotton’s catechism. Boston: Printed for and sold by A. Ellison, in Seven-Star Lane, 1773. Pdf. https://www.loc.gov/item/22023945/.
Wilson, Howard E, and Wallice E Lamb. American History. Schoharie, NY: American Book Company, 1947.
Wolinetz, Gary K., When Slavery Wasn’t a Dirty Word in NJ, New Jersey Lawyer, February 15th, 1999
Pearcy, Mark, “We Are Not Enemies”: An Analysis of Textbook Depictions of Fort Sumter at the beginning of the Civil War, The History Teacher, Volume 52 Number 4, Society for History Education, August 2019, p.611
 Pearcy, “We Are Not Enemies”: An Analysis of Textbook Depictions of Fort Sumter at the beginning of the Civil War, p.596
 Samuel Wood & Sons, Beauties of the New-England primer p.4-21
 Samuel Wood & Sons, Beauties of the New-England primer p.22-30
Westminster Assembly. The New-England primer improved: for the more easy attaining the true reading of English, to which is added, the Assembly of Divines, and Mr. Cotton’s catechism. Boston: Printed for and sold by A. Ellison, in Seven-Star Lane, 1773. Pdf. https://www.loc.gov/item/22023945/ ,p.29-31
Mydland, Leidulf. “The Legacy of One-Room Schoolhouses: A Comparative Study of the AME…” European journal of American studies. European Association for American Studies, February 24, 2011. https://journals.openedition.org/ejas/9205.
Blight, David W. Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001.p.255
Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory p.257
Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory p.287
 Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory p.283
Swinton, William. Swinton’s Condensed United States: A Condensed School History of the United States: Constructed for Definite Results in Recitation and Containing a New Method of Topical Reviews. New York, Chicago: Ivinson, Blakeman & Co., 1871, p. 235
 Swinton, Swinton’s Condensed United States: A Condensed School History of the United States p. 236
 Swinton, Swinton’s Condensed United States: A Condensed School History of the United States p. 288-291
 Swinton, Swinton’s Condensed United States: A Condensed School History of the United States p. 237
 Wolinetz, When Slavery Wasn’t a Dirty Word in NJ
 New Jersey, An act for the gradual abolition of slavery.
 Gigantino II, James J. “The Curious Memory of Slavery in New Jersey, 1865-1941.” New Jersey Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 6 (1): 35–55. 2020, Academic Search Premier doi:10.14713/njs.v6i1.188. Accessed 9/28/22.
 Gigantino II, James J. “The Curious Memory of Slavery in New Jersey, 1865-1941.” p.36
 Gigantino II, James J. “The Curious Memory of Slavery in New Jersey, 1865-1941.” p.37
 Thomson, An elementary history of New Jersey P.v
 Thomson, An elementary history of New Jersey P.ix
 Thomson, An elementary history of New Jersey P.150
Gordon, Linda. The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W.W. Norton & Company, 2018. p.2
 Gordon, Linda. The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition p.65
 Gordon, Linda. The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition p.67
 Thomson, An elementary history of New Jersey P.iv
 Gigantino II, James J. “The Curious Memory of Slavery in New Jersey, 1865-1941.” p.36
In the Spring 2022 semester, Dr. Nancy Hagedorn of the Department of History led a group of history students to develop a Digital History of Slavery and Runaways in New York.
As part of the history department’s efforts to help students develop historical research and digital technology skills, students created an innovative, public history using arcGIS Story Maps.
The project was conceived as an applied history course to introduce students to digital history methods and techniques by focusing on New York runaway ads. The class began by reading about digital history and its methods and uses, and then extensively about the history of runaways and slavery generally. Finally, the class focused on slavery in New York and New York City specifically. To facilitate the class’ digital history research and answer questions about slavery and runaways in New York, members compiled a database of New York runaway ads using transcribed ads culled primarily from the Freedom on the Move database at Cornell University. The class input data on 641 runaways between 1730 and 1811, and also compiled census data on slaveholding in New York State using the Northeast Slave Records Index at Lloyd Sealy Library and John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
More information on the project can be found online.
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.
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
BeneaththeFloorboards:Whispers of the EnslavedatMarlpitHall 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.
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.
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 lyricsguiding 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 namedJohn 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 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.
An Educator’s Perspective on Teaching the Voices of Enslaved People in New Jersey as Part of Local History
by Robert Fenster
Few high school history textbooks have much to say about Black people in the northern colonies and states. While coverage of the evils of slavery has dramatically increased since I was a student in the 1980s, the focus has predominantly been on enslaved people in the south and not enslaved northerners nor free Black people. Slavery is mentioned 14 times in the New Jersey Student Learnings Standards from 2020, but the only connection to slavery in New Jersey is 6.1.8.History CC.4.a: “Explain the growing resistance to slavery and New Jersey’s role in the Underground Railroad.” The standard implies that New Jersey was a hotbed of abolitionism instead of the dark reality: the gradual abolition law in 1804 maintained slavery for life for those born before its passage, and the so-called Act to Abolish Slavery in 1846 replaced slavery with apprenticeship for life. The ratification of the 13th Amendment didn’t merely free the slaves in states that were in rebellion, but also 16 people who remained enslaved in New Jersey in December of 1865.
Is it at all surprising that most students graduate high school in New Jersey unaware of the enduring nature of this institution or the experience of Blacks in the north? Although it might be argued that malignant forces are behind a whitewashing of New Jersey history, it seems more likely that a collective reductionism is at work here. There are only so many days to “cover” the curriculum, so some simplification is necessary. It’s easier for students to understand the binary depiction of the southern enslaver states being evil while the north is celebrated as the home of abolition. That sort of teaching is oversimplified and not only does injustice to actual history, but to the lives of thousands of men and women who were enslaved in New Jersey, as well as the lives of free Black people. This essay shares my ongoing pedagogical journey, and provides some suggestions for my fellow educators who wish to improve student understanding of the history of Black people in New Jersey.
Although modern textbooks include the death of biracial Crispus Attucks at the Boston Massacre, overall Black participation in the actual American Revolution is typically relegated to a sidebar or absent altogether. Graham Russell Hodges describes the American Revolution as a Black revolution, “the largest slave revolt before the Civil War.” Hodges indicates there is documentation for at least 18,000 Black individuals who fought for the British, with the possibility of tens of thousands more having served in an effort to throw off the oppressive shackles of the colonial governments.
At a week-long National Endowment for the Humanities seminar on Slavery in the Colonial North in 2020 at Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow, New York run by Leslie Harris and Jacqueline Simmons, I saw the buildings where enslaved people toiled, and heard from expert tour guides who shared how historians pieced together so much of the history of the manor. It inspired me to focus more on slavery in New Jersey. I went to my county clerk’s office and found birth certificates and manumission records of enslaved people from our town and prepared a lesson plan incorporating these primary sources. My students were taken aback especially to see names familiar to them among the enslavers. In addition to discussing how the descendants of the enslaved people might feel about their history, the students also considered what the descendants of enslavers might think about their family’s past. That lesson in and of itself was impactful, but I was acutely aware it didn’t do enough to explore the lives of enslaved men and women.
Well-intentioned teachers sometimes make cringe-worthy mistakes. There are lessons I did early in my career (and, truth be told, even more recently) that were tone deaf at best. It seems as if every year there’s another incident where a misguided teacher somewhere in the United States steps knee deep into controversy by running a slavery simulation. The vast majority of teachers know such a lesson has no pedagogical value and runs the risk of inducing trauma. A cursory search for lesson plans online still finds dozens of “walk a mile in their shoes” lessons, where educators think they can responsibly and effectively get students to learn by pretending they understand what an enslaved person went through, usually done through some kind of journaling activity. Although I believe it can be useful to consider what enslaved people might have been feeling, it’s ultimately presumptuous and reductive to suggest students would be able to have that level of empathy and understanding. The temptation to work solely in the affective domain when dealing with slavery and other atrocities should be resisted.
Many enslaved people were actively prevented from learning how to write, creating a dearth of first-person documents in comparison to white contemporaries who kept journals and wrote letters. There are a number of insightful enslaved person narratives, but when trying to keep to New Jersey history it is a bit challenging. There are a handful of narratives written by white contemporaries, like William Allinson’s Memoir of Quamino Buccau, A Pious Methodist. Although Allinson is an abolitionist, he uses his subject as a prop to further his political cause rather than illuminate the individual he is writing about. This focus belies an utter lack of interest in the enslaved person’s internal life and somewhat limits the usefulness of the text. Historians are left to construct meaning out of other resources like fugitive notices, laws, tax registers, censuses, travel logs, registers of free Black people, and manumission records. New Jersey has a fairly robust set of available documents, making the work of historians easier than in several neighboring states.
My evolving goal as a history teacher is three-fold: depict enslaved people as complex individuals who exercised their agency in a variety of ways, examine the ugly reality of slavery in our town, county, and state, and empower students to become historians themselves by examining the wealth of resources available to them on local history.
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The study of agency is absolutely essential to shift student understanding from a one-dimensional conception of hapless victims to recognizing the humanity and complexity of individuals. Enslaved people’s agency was exhibited on a daily basis in a wide variety of ways. When students would ask me “Why didn’t they fight back?” I used to foolishly accept their premise and engage in a conversation about weaponry, psychology, and geography. Although those are all worthy of examination in a larger conversation on the subject, the fact is they fought back in innumerable ways. Agency was exhibited through armed revolt, breaking equipment, arson, working slowly or poorly, poisoning, feigning illness, self-harm, self-liberation, negotiation, and the development of an enslaved culture through language, families, community, religion, and music.
Jigsaw lesson plans are best used when the specific content is less important than the larger concepts. Examining the organized rebellions of enslaved people is an excellent opportunity to use this approach to its maximum efficacy. Students can research the Stono Rebellion, the New York Conspiracy of 1741, Gabriel’s Conspiracy, the German Coast Uprising, and Nat Turner’s Rebellion, for example. I have my students identify key figures, provide a description of the events, and then require them to find a way to frame the event as a successful endeavor. Students, of course, recognize the limits to their success, but by going beyond the reductionism of “Were they emancipated as a result of their rebellion?” it provides a key lesson.
Incidents of self-harm present a challenge to educators. We want students to understand the lengths to which enslaved people would go to assert their agency, but want to be careful about triggering existing trauma on the subject of self-harm. I’m still grappling with how much focus to put on the subject, but have used some narratives of enslaved people and newspaper articles to at least touch on the subject, if not dwell on it. The National Humanities Center has a collection of suicide-related items for teachers to consider using in their curriculum. There are also an array of primary and secondary accounts of self-mutilation, such as the report of the “Desperate Negro Woman” in the Staunton Vindicator who “deliberately cut three of her fingers off, taking two licks at them” with an axe. Needless to say, educators should tread lightly in this area, keeping a keen eye out for the reactions of their students.
Small acts of sabotage are more challenging to document as they likely would be chalked up to accidents or the natural wear and tear on equipment when tools would break. I don’t use any primary sources for this, but there are quite a few descriptions in narratives of enslaved people describing particular incidents that occurred prior to their emancipation. More dramatic forms of resistance like arson tend to capture students’ imagination such as the Albany fires of 1793.
We used to speak of “runaway slaves,” but both terms have undergone a transition for similar reasons. As Katy Waldman pointed out, “To reduce the people involved to a nonhuman noun was to reproduce the violence of slavery on a linguistic level; to dispense with it amounted to a form of emancipation.” Similarly, Daina Ramey Berry writes about the self-liberated: “[T]heir emancipation reflected a level of agency—a public showing of their personhood—and for them, escape was not a crime.” Students can benefit by examining enslavers’ advertisements about the self-liberated which reveal so much about their assumptions and beliefs about their “property,” and often unintentionally expose the skills and accomplishments of the individuals in question.
Giles Wright wrote that the American Revolution was “the cultural metamorphosis of Africans into African Americans.” However, students rarely consider the creation of a common culture to be a form of resistance without being led to that conclusion. I’m still working on developing plans to help students see enslaved people as something more than one-dimensional figures. I found the Historic Hudson Valley’s People Not Property interactive website particularly useful in helping students make the connection. Modules on the poetry of Phylis Wheatley, the celebration of Pinkster, and the role of extralegal marriages help students better understand how oppressed people can offer resistance through assertions of their own humanity. It helps students understand that these individuals were not passive victims who allowed their oppressors to defeat them at every turn.
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When I was given the opportunity to participate in the New Jersey Council For Social Studies grant “Telling our Story: Living in New Jersey in the 1770s” focusing on the lives of lesser known individuals during the American Revolution, I knew from the outset I wanted to research Black people from Somerset County, and ideally, from Hillsborough, the town I teach in. I’d read Elaine Buck and Beverly Mills’ powerful book If These Stones Could Talk. The Revolutionary War service of William Stives gets particular attention along with his decision to settle near Hillsborough after the war. The Sourland Mountain ridge runs 17 miles from Lambertville to the western end of Hillsborough, so my students would recognize various geographic locations from his life story. However, since the authors’ work had gained significant attention, I wasn’t sure my focusing on his life would do much to elevate Stives’ story.
I spent several afternoons at the Somerset County Library in Bridgewater, poring over their local history holdings. Having never done much in the way of local history research, it took awhile to orient myself as to what was available, but before long I encountered a number of promising leads. The most significant came from the Somerset County Historical Quarterly, an outstanding publication compiling historical essays and primary source documents, which ran from 1912 to 1919. It was all I could do not to get lost reading unrelated articles about Hillsborough and nearby towns. However, the article entitled “Revolutionary War Record of a Somerset County Slave” in the 1914 edition utterly captivated me. The story of an enslaved man named Samuel who served as a substitute for his enslaver in exchange for the promise of freedom takes several awful, though not surprising twists. Samuel’s two years of service, including fighting at the battles of Long Island, Princeton, Monmouth — and the very local Millstone — ended in two leg wounds and the broken promise of his enslaver. Decades later, in his mid-80s, Samuel sought a pension for his service, but was repeatedly denied his just due because the pensions board claimed he had not proven his service. Ultimately, the New Jersey legislature passed a law specific to Samuel, providing him $50 a year for the remaining few years of his life.
Chasing down information on Samuel Sutphen (as he came to be called later in his life) was both challenging and invigorating. It’s been decades since I was a college student doing research in the basement of Alexander Library at Rutgers University. I had hoped to revisit the same location for both nostalgic and practical reasons (the holdings at Rutgers are quite impressive), but Hurricane Ida made that an impossibility. Instead I relied mostly on internet-based research and was able to gain enough materials to prepare a structured academic controversy for my students. The activity incorporated materials on the multiracial Marbleheaders, and Black participants Benjamin Whitecuff, Colonel Tye, and Prime. Frankly it is a work in progress in need of development, but my students saw the breadth of Black participation in the war instead of merely seeing the battles through the eyes of the white officers.
When I mentioned my desire to learn about enslaved people in Hillsborough, I was pointed towards the biography of Silvia Dubois, a formerly enslaved woman who received her freedom after a physical altercation with her enslaver. Dubois self-liberated after the encounter and negotiated her freedom in exchange for promising never to return. Her story is remarkable, but chronologically was outside the purview of the grant. Nonetheless I read a series of items about her story and took notes for a future lesson plan. In the meantime, I encountered an article about her grandfather Harry Compton written by Kenneth E. Marshall. In turn, this led me to Marshall’s book Manhood Enslaved: Bondmen in Eighteenth- and Early Nineteenth Century New Jersey, in which he focuses on the lives of three enslaved men, including the aforementioned Quamino Buccau. I liked the idea of examining a second Black man from the time period who had not served, but instead experienced changing circumstances during the American Revolution. With many enslavers off serving in the militia or Continental Army, numerous enslaved people used the opportunity to liberate themselves, negotiate better conditions for themselves, or rebel in other ways.
In examining the experiences of various individuals based on limited and sometimes questionable documentation, it is crucial that students understand that there are limits to what we can definitively know. Many students struggle with history because they struggle with nuance, wanting everything to be crystal clear. For me, the shades of grey are what make history fascinating, and the use of deductive reasoning a great and wonderful challenge. The best conversations in the classroom are the ones where students have honest disagreements about historical interpretations with equally compelling logical arguments to support their positions. What we can do to help them is to identify particular facts and events that serve as anchors. Quamino Buccau, in his teens, was forced to watch executions of enslaved people accused of arson and other crimes. Because Allinson never bothered to ask his subject how he felt about his experiences, we are left to speculate about how such experiences would impact an individual and their subsequent behavior. When he converts to Christianity after hearing what he believed to be the voice of God, a fascinating dichotomy occurs. Some, like Allinson, hold him up to be a model enslaved person, the very proof the abolitionist is seeking to demonstrate the notion that Black people could become responsible citizens imbued by their faith in religion. His subsequent enslaver, however, looked at his religiosity as something inappropriate and suspect. Kenneth Marshall raises fascinating questions about how an enslaved person might show interest in Christianity to curry favor with their enslaver, and how that in and of itself might be an assertion of agency. There’s a lot to unpack here and it may be something that cannot be easily converted into a one- or two-day lesson plan. That being said, a discussion of religion and agency is definitely important in the coverage of slavery.
Conducting this type of research and lesson planning is simultaneously rewarding and humbling. Even as I create a useful lesson plan that I will share with other educators and likely use for the rest of my career, I reflect on how many years I didn’t adequately address the subject matter in my classes. And I recognize that despite including them in the opening paragraphs of the essay, I have yet to develop resources and lessons on the lives of free Blacks in New Jersey. There is always more work to do, but at least we’re going in the right direction.
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We want our students to be more than passive receptacles of knowledge that we distill. There are myriad critical thinking activities we can provide, but perhaps nothing could surpass doing the actual work of historians. There are thousands of primary and secondary source documents available online, in historical society archives, and in government offices. For example, in West Hartford, Connecticut, students participated in the Witness Stones Project, researching their town’s sordid history in connection to slavery. Beginning with an Advanced Placement US History class and then spreading out to lower grade levels, students dug into historical archives to learn more about the lives of enslaved people, commemorate their lives, and create lasting tributes through the placement of historical markers. Although Covid-19 continues to present obstacles for some research, there’s no reason that our students here in New Jersey can’t start doing similar work to the West Hartford students in an effort to elevate the stories and voices of forgotten people from our local communities.
 Giles Wright, “Moving Toward Breaking the Chains: Black New Jerseyans and the American Revolution,” in New Jersey in the American Revolution, ed. Barbara J. Mitnick (New Brunswick, NJ, Rivergate Books, 2005), 113.
 Elaine Buck and Beverly Mills, If These Stones Could Talk: African American Presence in the Hopewell VAlley, Sourland Mountain, and Surrounding Regions of New Jersey, (Lambertville, NJ, Wild River Books, 2018).
 Abraham Van Doren, “Revolutionary War Record of a Somerset County Slave,” Somerset County Historical Society, Volume III (1914), accessed February 6, 2022, http://hdl.handle.net/10929/46268.
Quamino was born near New Brunswick, New Jersey in 1762. Young Quamino had a complete family unit when he was living in Somerset County. Despite describing Quamino as “compliant,” his contemporary biographer William Allinson described a horrific episode where young Quamino was forced to watch a fellow enslaved person burned at the stake as punishment for alleged crimes. At no point in the memoir or in any other documentation is Quamino described as rebellious or uncooperative. Much of this is attributed to his religious conversion and subsequent piety. Allinson essentially uses Quamino as the model version of a benign, non-threatening Black man as a means of condemning the institution of slavery, consistent with Allinson’s abolitionist views. Allinson’s book is described as a memoir, including numerous quotations directly from Quamino, but neglects to offer a physical description of the man, the names of his siblings, or many of his inner emotions and rationale for his behavior.
At age nine, Quamino was essentially rented out to an enslaver in Poughkeepsie, New York. He was separated from his family and upon the commencement of the Revolutionary War was unable to have any communication with his “master” (and thereby his family). From roughly age 9 to 18, he remained in New York, but in 1780 was unexpectedly returned to his original enslaver and reunited with his family. Allinson wrote, “Overcome with this too sudden announcement, he burst into a violent and uncontrollable fit of crying, and for hours cried aloud as though he had been beaten — unable to answer questions, or to stay his emotions at the kindest efforts to pacify him.”
How do you think each of the following may have contributed to his uncontrollable response to the news?
Shock that his situation would ever improve.
Joy at the prospect of being reunited with his family.
Separation from his family caused emotional deprivation.
The experience of enslavement is a form of mental and physical torture.
Consider the implications of each of the items in a response of two or three sentences.
Back in Somerset County, Quamino had a religious experience, claiming that God had spoken to him, thus beginning his period of devout faith in the Methodist religion. His enslaver looked suspiciously upon enslaved people’s faith, believing it could interfere with maintaining a degree of ignorance and thus make them less “serviceable” as workers. He even suspected Quamino’s position was a pose, designed to gain a level of respect from others in the community. Consequently, he would criticize and may have beaten Quamino for participating in religious services, but Quamino accepted the consequences and maintained his personal beliefs.
As there is only one source for this information, we have no idea of how sincere Quamino’s religious conversion was, but either way, one could argue that maintaining his faith was an exercise of autonomy and personal agency.
Two Options to Consider:
A. Quamino was wholly genuine in his religious conversion, and was willing to deal with any obstacles in his path to exercise his faith.
B. Quamino was less than 100% genuine in his conversion, but believed that some degree of deception would provide him some degree of social standing.
Describe in two to three sentences how each of the options would mean that Quaminowas exercising personal agency.
In 1788, he married Sarah, an enslaved woman who lived nearby. She was soon sold and moved five miles away, allowing them to see one another as infrequently as once a week. When Quamino’s enslaver died around 1789, he was passed onto one of the enslaver’s sons. Several years later, he was beaten by his enslaver. Quamino told him he refused to work for him further, a tactic that some other enslaved people had used to demand being sold to a new owner. In some locations, the relationship between enslaver and enslaved was perceived as a sort of social contract with obligations flowing in both directions. “Unjustified” abuse might be grounds for “slave quitting” depending on local customs. Although enslaved people might be aware of instances of slave quitting via word of mouth, nothing was in the law, thus employing this tactic was enormously risky for Quamino.
Consider the possible outcomes of this risky decision.
Three Possible Outcomes to Consider:
A. His enslaver could have rejected the claim and then worsened his treatment of Quamino.
B. His enslaver could agree to sell him to a new enslaver whose treatment of Quamino could be the same (or worse).
C. His enslaver could agree to sell him to a new enslaver whose treatment of Quamino would be an improvement.
Which of the following seems the most likely outcome?
If you think the outcome would have been A or B, would Quamino have regretted his decision of refusing to work?
Why was it difficult for Black Americans to enjoy the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as stated in the Declaration of Independence?
Quamino was sold to a new enslaver, who did not seem to have used physical violence against those he enslaved. Quamino even arranged for his new enslaver to purchase Sarah, allowing the couple to live together as husband and wife. In 1806, Quamino was manumitted through an elaborate process that included having to testify before a committee to demonstrate that his freedom would not be a burden upon the state of New Jersey. Sarah died in 1842 and Quamino lived to around 1850 (age 88). They had at least two sons together, although it appears at least one of them was sold as an infant.
 Frontispiece of William Allinson, Memoir of Quamino Buccau, A Pious Methodist