"The Society of Negroes Unsettled":
The History of
Slavery in New Paltz, New York
By Eric J. Roth
Historic Huguenot Street Library and Archives
Table of Contents
Foundation Laid: 2
some basic elements defining slavery in
Society Unsettled: 6
relations between masters and
as Property: 11
issues of ownership, manumission, and
after Manumission: 18
the first bittersweet taste of
Society still Unsettled: 20
coming to grips with all aspects
of our heritage
Link to PDF version of article
The Foundation Laid: some
basic elements defining slavery in New Paltz
The issue of slavery is a controversial one. Even today,
communities are still grappling with the question of how to discuss
the subject fairly without turning it into a political minefield.
The subject is not a pleasant one, and is supercharged with the
issues of forced labor, family separation, poverty, violence,
racism, miscegenation, and rape. But the subject must be confronted
if an accurate picture of early American society is to be formed.
Indeed, the worst approach to history is the one that promotes
silence. Thus, the main focus of this essay will be to bring the
issue of slavery out in the open for discussion, examination, and in
the end, one would hope, some degree of understanding and
Founded in 1677 by a small group of French Huguenots, the
settlement of New Paltz in New York's Mid-Hudson Valley emerged
during the next two hundred years as an "isolated, conservative,
tightly-knit farming community" whose unique history has been much
celebrated and studied in recent times. Often overlooked is the
fact that African slaves provided the town of New Paltz with an
abundant supply of labor for use in the farms, mills, and homes
during the town's first 150 years. The institution of slavery thus
provided the Huguenots and their descendants with much of the labor
upon which to build their communities, prosperity, and
The historical record of slavery in New Paltz begins in 1674,
three years before its founding, when Louis DuBois, purchased two
African slaves at a public auction held in Kingston, then called
Esopus . The two slaves ran away from DuBois the following spring
and were picked up elsewhere in the colony by a man named Lewis
Morris of Barbados. From 1675 to 1680, Morris and DuBois engaged in
a lengthy custody battle for the two slaves, with Morris claiming
that the two slaves were kidnapped from his plantation in Barbados
and sold illegally to DuBois. The final outcome of this case is
unknown and no further mention of Anthony or Susan is made in any of
the three wills made by DuBois.
Despite DuBois' difficult experience, more slaves were brought to
New Paltz to support the settlement's growth. The Deyo family bought
slaves in 1680 and 1694. Catherine DuBois, widow of Louis DuBois and
since remarried to schoolmaster Jean Cottin, baptized a slave girl
named Rachel in 1703 and later set forth the conditions for her
manumission in her will dated 1712. It is uncertain whether the
executors actually carried out the manumission . Throughout the
next 125 years, references to slaves continually appear in the
historical records of the settlement. In 1703, there were 9 slaves
out of a total of 130 residents of the town . By 1755, as in the
rest of the state, slavery was a very well-established part of the
New Paltz community: the census from that year lists 28
slaveholders, who collectively owned 78 slaves over the age of 14
years with the large majority of slaveholders (82%) owning between
one and four slaves . The largest slaveowners were Solomon DuBois
and Abraham Hardenbergh, each of whom owned seven. The overall
population of New Paltz grew rapidly to 2,309 in 1790, when there
were 77 slaveholders owning a total of 302 slaves, or 13% of the
population. Thirty-eight households now owned 1 to 3 slaves, and 25
households owned 4 to 6. Eleven households now held between 7 and
14, with the largest slaveholders coming from well-established third
and fourth generation French and Dutch families such as Hasbrouck,
DuBois, Freer, Wynkoop and Vandermark.
Before discussing more specific aspects about slavery in New
Paltz, it is important to understand a major difference between
slavery in early New York as compared to slavery in the
plantation-era South, which unlike Northern slavery, has long been
well-documented and understood. Through the examination of local
documents such as census, legislative and court records, wills,
account books, receipts, inventories, and correspondence, it is
possible to uncover some of the stories of the individuals who bore
so much of the economy of early New Paltz upon their backs; from the
records, one can gain some understanding of the harsh and
restrictive characteristics that defined the lives of slaves in
relation to the comparatively easy and unrestricted lives of their
owners. The occasional and fragmentary nature of the records,
however, necessitates placing such evidence within the larger
historical context of slavery in early New York. According to the
groundbreaking dissertation on the slave family in New York by
historian Vivienne Kruger:
The central feature of New York and northern slavery was that
most slaveholdings were small and contained only from one to five
slaves. Because of the small size of the holdings, slave family
members were usually owned by separate masters and forced to live
apart÷. Slavery created artificial black demographic conditions in
New York: a small overall black population, low black population
density, unbalanced adult sex ratios, and a random rather than
familial distribution of slaves into white households
This concept is vital to understanding the nature of slavery in
New Paltz. Slaves did not work in plantation gangs or live in
community with other black slaves. The slaves would have had much
less contact with other Africans, but would have been largely
integrated into the white community, albeit clearly as inferior and
vulnerable members. Large gatherings of slaves were prohibited by
the white slaveowners, who feared the possibility of rebellion and
violence. As a result, slaves lived and worked more closely with
their masters in the North than in the South.
The large majority of slaves in New Paltz and elsewhere in New
York State were probably brought from Africa and the Caribbean.
Historians have shown that the Atlantic slave trade was a very
fickle and complex business network, and at various times during the
17th and 18th century, slaves were imported from a variety of places
in Africa, including Madagascar, the Bight of Biafra, the Gold
Coast, the Ivory Coast, the Guinea Coast, Congo, Angola, and Nigeria
. Other slaves were imported from points in the Caribbean and
South America such as Barbados, Cuba, Santo Domingo, Jamaica,
However, tracking the origins and experiences of individual
slaves before their arrival in New Paltz is very difficult. There is
scant information in local historic records about where the slaves
may have originated. Newspaper advertisements and other documents
occasionally make mention of slaves wearing specific types of
braids, or of being "very black" or "of the Madagascar color," but
generally give no further information as to their origins. In the
rare case of the two runaway slaves of Louis DuBois mentioned
earlier, the records suggest that the two slaves were originally
from a plantation in Barbados before being sold to DuBois. However,
whether they were born in Barbados or in Africa is unknown.
After the slaves were purchased and brought to New Paltz, they
were typically housed in the basements, kitchens, or attics of their
owner's homes, although some may have been housed in outbuildings as
well. The most telling and reliable source relating to slave housing
conditions are found in the memoirs of the great abolitionist and
former slave Sojourner Truth, who in her youth was a slave of the
Hardenbergh family in the town of Marbletown, just outside New
Paltz. "Charles Hardenbergh's [1762 Manor] house served both as his
dwelling and a hotel, but he housed his slaves in the damp cellar,
all in one room. Here they slept, according to÷[Truth's]
recollection, on straw laid on loose floor boards, which in turn
rested on an earthen floor. The floor was often wet, and water could
be heard sloshing under the floor boards" . In other accounts,
Truth recalled the damp, cold cellars of her owners that housed
slaves of all ages and genders, and noted the small windows that
admitted little light, and loose and uneven wooden floorboards .
Although exceptions probably did exist and the living conditions
provided by different owners must have varied to some extent, slaves
generally lived in cold, dark, wet, crowded, uncomfortable
basements, cellars, attics, kitchens or outbuildings without
adequate lighting or bedding provisions. In most cases, in regard to
material comforts, the lot of the slaves left much to be desired,
and little for which to be thankful.
Historians have shown that the majority of the slaves in early
New York worked as field-hands, construction laborers, and as
household servants. However, others, specifically men, became
skilled craftsmen who were called upon to perform more specialized
tasks such as caulking, blacksmithing, bricklaying, barrel-making,
carpentry, animal husbandry. Others worked as butchers, sawyers,
millers, and even iron-workers. Men and women often worked at very
different tasks, with men working mostly outdoors on the farms or
buildings, or in workshops, while women chiefly worked in the
kitchens and at other domestic chores, although sometimes helped out
with agricultural work as well. In discussing this issue,
Williams-Myers writes that:
Slaves were involved in the production of almost every item
used or consumed on the farm: from such simple items as brooms,
ladles, and cords of firewood for use year-round to more elaborate
ones such as barns and Dutch cellars in which roots, vegetables,
cider, milk, butter, and meat were stored for preservation. As
with farm work, males and females shared domestic chores but with
a clear division of labor by gender. Women were often found in the
kitchen cooking, cleaning house, washing, and caring for their
owners' children as well as being integrally involved in the
production of linens and woolens for home consumption and the
colonial markets .
In contrast, references have been found to men working at mowing
grass, cutting hay, splitting firewood, mending fences, thatching
roofs, butchering hogs, handling horses and oxen, threshing wheat,
clearing fields, growing hemp and tobacco, and making shoes, canoes,
nets, and paddles. Still others ran errands for local shopkeepers or
on other business . Sime and James, both slaves of New Paltz
Judge and former State Legislator Peter LeFever are listed in 1808
and 1809 in his account book for "schoring timber" . Two
separate runaway slave advertisements posted in 1762 and 1784 by
Michael DeVeaux of New Paltz, a ship captain in the freight
business, indicate that slaves were used in the shipping and
shipbuilding industry as well . As a slave ten-years-old,
Sojourner Truth reportedly "did hoeing, carried fish, and ran
errands" for a fisherman and tavern keeper in present day Port Ewen.
Later, as a slave of John Dumont in West Park, she worked at
plowing, hoeing, and reaping, and is reported to have worked so hard
that other slaves taunted her with being a "white folks' nigger"
Information about the relations between slaves and their masters
is scattered among many different types of documents, including
letters, wills, court records and other legal documents, narratives,
and newspaper advertisements. Some documents show examples of
whites, both slaveholders and non-slaveholders, having humane
relations with slaves, and in some cases, even extended an effort
into making their lives more comfortable and less demeaning. The
role of Quakers and Presbyterians, for example, in helping slaves
reach freedom and in some cases allowing them as freemen into their
communities is well documented . It is noteworthy that, in a
letter written in French by Louis Bevier of Marbletown, who was
neither Quaker nor Presbyterian, he expressed his views that slave
families should be kept together and should even be allowed to
choose their own masters.
Jacob Decker had promised in his lifetime that the Negros and
Negresses being one family would be sold together and that they
would choose their master, and his children did not want to do
otherwise. The Negros and Negresses had chosen to remain with the
minister of the Paltz and the children have consented provided
that the minister gave them two hundred and twenty pistols (form
of French currency) for the Negroes and
Other documents also provide evidence of at least fair relations
between some slaves and their masters. Account books, receipts, and
other financial records show that slaves often ran errands and
handled small financial transactions for their owners, providing
evidence that some slaves were trusted with a limited degree of
freedom. Further, a letter written in 1803 from Hillitje DeWitt to
an eight year old girl named Hylah Bevier of the town of Rochester
hints at a congenial and warm relationship between the family and
their slaves. In the letter, Hillitje writes "Remember my love to
all the black people, to Philip and Ben, especially who are the
oldest" . Also, Williams-Myers has also shown that some masters
afforded slave mothers with respect and would not sell slave
children without consulting with the mother first to find for the
children a suitable home .
But these cases are rare, and archival records indicate that
there was a significant degree of enmity existing between masters
and their slaves in Ulster County. For instance, in 1695, the
Kingston Court, "Ordered that if three or more Negroes gather at
unseasonable hours, except upon a master's business, such Negroes
shall be whipped or each master must pay a piece of eight for his
Negroe's freedom" . Other crimes for which slaves could be
whipped include theft and assault. In one such case in 1718, "James
(Negro slave of Aldert Kiersteden) apprehended for burglary and
breaking open the door of the mansion of Capt. John Rutsen last
Saturday night, is sentenced to be whipped on the naked back round
Kingston, with five lashes at seven places and ten at the County
House÷" . In a similar case in 1716, Jan, a negro slave of John
Crook is convicted of stealing money from his master under
encouragement of a free woman named Hillegonda Van Slichtenhorst.
The court ruled that Jan was to be whipped twenty-five lashes on the
naked back, and his master was to pay a fine of three pounds"
A particularly grim case from 1741 illustrates how vicious some
of the crimes and punishments could actually be, and how little
tolerance or mercy the courts allowed for slave misdoings. Tom, a
slave of Rebecca Freer, was found guilty of several crimes, both
heinous and trivial, against a couple of women, including sexual
assault and insolence. The Court ordered that Tom be punished
separately for each crime. For insolent remarks alone, it was
ordered that Tom receive "75 lashes at the whipping post, 50 lashes
the next day, and 30 lashes the day after that." For the sexual
assault, Tom was hanged" . In an even more gruesome case of
public execution in 1696, a negro slave of Peter Crupel (Crispell)
named Tham was found guilty of murdering a negro woman and
"sentenced to be hanged till dead, to have his throat cut and then
be hanged in a chain for an example to others" . In yet another
case, a slave was executed for the murder of Colonel Wynkoop in
1793, and in 1730, "Harry, Negro slave of Zacharias Hoffman, is
charged with having attempted at Shawagonck to kill his master with
an axe" . Also listed in the records are references to two
slaves murdered in 1747, although no further information is given
. And in yet another, slaveowner Jan Hooghtyling was fined five
pounds in 1695 for an assault made by his slave Kuper on Pieter
Slaveowners had to keep in mind the possibility of violent slave
rebellion, particularly in the cities. Two frequently discussed
incidents occurred in New York City in 1712 and 1741 and another in
Albany in 1793. Another similar incident was narrowly avoided in
Kingston in 1775. In this particular case, which must have seemed
far too close to home for the New Paltz slaveowners, a number of
slaves, under the leadership of two slave men named York and
agreed that one group would converge to fire the homes of the
whites; another would beat the drums to muffle the cries from the
victims; and a third group would kill the people as they fled the
burning buildings. At the time of the planning, it was rumored
that, if the uprising proved successful in the opening stages,
African slaves in the Kingston area would be joined by six hundred
neighboring Indians÷. Before York and Joe and their
co-conspirators could carry out their attempt to gain their
freedom, whites moved quickly to squelch the plot...The two along
with about eighteen other slaves were questioned and subsequently
imprisoned because of the strong evidence against them. That
evidence was the considerable amount of confiscated 'powder and
shot' found in their possession .
It was common for slaves to run away from their masters, even
though the very act often incurred harsh punishments if caught.
Kruger's study has shown that there were two major reasons that
might motivate a slave to run away. First, slaves often ran away
when facing the prospect of major change in their ownership,
frequently at the death of the master, and second, they also ran
away to visit distant family members and loved ones. Sometimes both
of these motives contributed to the decision to run away,
particularly when the death of the master resulted in the separation
of family members. Other slaves may have fled from particularly
cruel masters as well.
The existence of newspaper advertisements offering rewards for
runaway slaves in Ulster County gives testament to the slaves'
fierce desire for freedom from their masters. In fact, the problem
became so great, that a group of slaveowners in New Paltz banded
together in 1810 to form the "The Society of Negroes Unsettled"
which raised money to search for and apprehend runaways .
Contained within this document are notes on the routes that escaped
slaves were suspected to have taken. It is not surprising that many
of the slaves were thought to have gone to northern and western
portions of the state, particularly the counties of Otsego, Yates,
and Montgomery, although there is also suspicion of at least one
slave heading northeast towards Vermont.
Additionally, newspaper advertisements provide some of the most
detailed information about slaves, particularly in regard to their
physical appearance. For example, an advertisement in the Country
Journal and Poughkeepsie Advertiser from 1788 lists a runaway slave
of John A. Hardenbergh of New Paltz. This slave, named Caesar "was
about 19 years old, near six foot high, speaks good English and
tolerable good Dutch÷Had on when he went away, a pair of tow cloth
trousers and homespun jacket, and wool hat" . When a slave named
Prince ran away from his master in 1762, he was described as being
"about 28 years old, about 6 feet high and slender÷he is much of the
Madagascar color and smooth skinned. Had on when he went away a
Kersey coat, leather breeches, and a white linen shirt" . Tom, a
runaway slave owned by Henry Weller of Montgomery in Orange County
wore "a callico pattern vest, nankeen overalls, half boots, blue
coat, patched on the sleeves, one pair of new tow trousers and shirt
and blue fade casimer coat" . Another runaway slave named
Ephraim donned similar clothes during a flight from his owner Reuben
Cash of Minisink in 1811. This advertisement, listed in "The
Plebian" from Kingston, gives an even more detailed description of
the slave's appearance.
Ran away from the subscriber, on the 20th February, a Negro Man
by name of EPHRAIM, otherwise called Frim, 26 years old, and about
five feet 8 or 10 inches high, and very black, having his hair
(commonly) braided, with two braids before and two behind. He had
on when he went away, a striped woollen shirt with a checquered
collar, his coat, jacket and trousers grey homespun fulled cloth,
a black castor hat partly worn, and a pair of soal'd suwarrow
boots, which having been trod back, were cut open and closed up
perhaps four or five inches on the heel .
In discussing this very issue, historian A.J. Williams-Myers
shows that "What is evident from these advertisements is that those
who became runaways did so, when it was possible, with an adequate
amount of clothing, either that of their masters, or their own÷. It
would appear that slaves held by wealthy owners were maintained
rather well. For those owners not so well off, the welfare of their
slaves mirrored their socioeconomic stratum, the welfare of all
slaves remained such only as long as they chose to remain obedient
to the master class" .
The case of Sojourner Truth affords a personal account of a
master's cruelty toward his slaves. During a speech given by Truth
in Kalamazoo, Michigan during the Civil War, Truth answered the
question of why she hated the white people by undoing the collar of
her dress and baring her arms to the shoulders, "showing them
covered with a perfect network of scars made by the slave master's
lash" . In another instance, when a free Sojourner Truth
regained custody in court of a son who had been sold illegally to an
Alabama slaveholder, she soon discovered that he had been severely
beaten, showing large welts on his back and scars all over his body"
. Another story told by Sojourner Truth involved a neighboring
Englishman's slave named Robert, who used to visit her in secret,
and who she later referred to in her narrative endearingly as her
first husband. One afternoon, the owners caught Robert attempting to
visit with her and, as reported in her Narrative:
fell upon him like tigers, beating him with the heavy ends of
their canes, bruising and mangling his head and face in the most
awful manner, and causing the blood, which streamed from his
wounds, to cover him like a slaughtered beast" and then proceeded
to tie Robert's hands behind him tightly with a rope. That ended
their romance and Robert was soon married off to another female
slave on his owner's farm and died soon afterward
In discussing the relations between slave and master, the subject
of "miscegenation" has been discussed with increasing candor by
historians and the general public. In discussing this issue,
Williams-Myers writes that "The closeness of the two races in a
slave society, where white men were dominant and black men were
dominated and powerless concerning family welfare and stability,
permitted the development of liaisons between white slave owners and
their black female slaves. A natural outcome of this was the birth
of mulatto children who carried the slave status of the mother .
He also suggests that there were many cases of consensual relations
between blacks and whites as well. At the time that this statement
was written in 1994, the author noted that most descendants of local
white slaveowning families preferred to ignore the implications of
miscegenation and the arrival of illegitimate mulatto children.
However, since then, several genealogists for descended families
have made diligent efforts to include all black relatives and slaves
in their family histories, a difficult but commendable endeavor.
The foundation of slavery in Ulster County, as elsewhere, clearly
involved the need to maintain strict control. Incidents of slave
violence, runaway attempts, and miscegenation occurred with such
frequency that the relations between master and slave can hardly be
described solely in terms of paternal benevolence or willing
servitude. At best, the situation was a complex and confusing one
for master and slave alike. In his book on Sojourner Truth,
historian Carleton Mabee writes that "Although sometimes she
considered slavery cruel and prayed to God to kill all whites, she
recalled, at other times she believed slavery right, adored DuMont
(one of her many owners), and confused him with God" . But there
can be no mistake that slaveowners forced the Africans into
undesirable living conditions, separated them from their families,
and forced them to work through the use of fear and the threat of
corporal punishment. Many slaves accepted their lot with
resignation. Others did not, and much violence ensued. Thus, the
phrase, "Society of Negroes Unsettled," first coined by New Paltz
slaveholders in relation to escaped slaves, aptly describes the
frustrations of the larger enslaved community who resented their
station and desired a better life.
People as Property: issues of
manumission, ownership, and regulation
Prior to the Act of 1799 that established the mechanism for the
gradual abolition of slavery within the state (to be discussed later
in this essay), manumission was a very rare occurrence in Ulster
County. Of 207 wills of slaveholders between 1696-1816 listed in
Ulster County, N.Y. Probate Records by Gustave Anjou, only
five provided for the manumission of their slaves . Only one of
these five wills was made by a Huguenot, Catherine Cottin, who was
then living in Kingston; the other four were made by Dutch settlers.
The case of Catherine Cottin's efforts to free a slave woman named
Rachel is an interesting one. Catherine Cottin had been in the
Kingston area since 1661 when she arrived their with her family,
which included her father Matthys Blanshan, her first husband Louis
DuBois, and brother-in-law Antoine Crispell, all of whom were
Huguenots with origins in French Flanders. During the Esopus
Massacre of 1663, Catherine, her three children, and several other
family members were taken prisoner by the Indians during a raid on
Kingston. They remained in captivity for several months before being
rescued by Dutch soldiers. Is it possible that Catherine's
experience as a prisoner could have influenced her decision to free
Rachel? Catherine made a specific mention in her 1712 will that a
manumission letter written for Rachel in 1709 "shall remain in force
and be properly observed." All records of Rachel disappear after
Catherine's death in 1713. An indenture from 1714 transfers the
ownership of another slave, Dina, to Catherine's second husband Jean
Cottin, but makes no mention of Rachel. The indenture also
stipulates that Dina was to be freed at Jean's death .
The Last Will and Testament of William West, dated 1738, frees a
slave family and gives to them "horses, cows, hoggs, ploghs,
harrows, wagons, sleds and tools" and made them heirs to his estate.
However, West did not free all of his slaves, as one slave girl
named Pegg was bequeathed to a woman named Mary Damport . The
Hendricke family of Kingston also provided for the manumission of a
slave. In his 1700 will, Dirck Hendricke bequeathed to his wife his
"entire estate of houses, lands, horses, cattle, negroes, debts,
etc., on the condition that my negro-boy Sampson, born in my house,
shall be free from slavery after the death of my wife, without any
objection from anyone, but on the condition that if he, during my
wife's life has not shown her obedience, my wife may dispose of him
and sell him, without objection from anyone, or else to give him
away" . In the will made by Dirck's wife Gritie dated 1708-9,
she states that "My negro by the name of P. shall be free from
slavery, and nobody shall use him for my sake or for any other
reason÷" . In a rare gesture of provision for her freed slave,
Gritie bequeathed to P. one-third of her entire estate and several
other specified goods and wealth, including a portion of her house
and lands in Kingston, a young bull, farm tools, money for pork, and
household items such as a bed, pillows, cushions, and coverlets. Is
it possible that P. is actually Sampson, or was P. another person
entirely? In another instance from 1809, Peter LeFevre promises to
two of his slaves, Sime and James, that he will free them after nine
to ten years provided that they serve him "faithfully and honestly
and at the end of the said term obtain a certificate of the Poor
Masters as the Law required" .
These acts of compassion were by no means standard for the time.
Most slaveowners (and virtually all of the slaveowners of New Paltz)
chose not to free their slaves, but instead preferred to bequeath
them to family members. Ironic examples abound, such as the 1731
will of Hugo Freer, who "in Consideration of the love, good will and
affection which I have and doe bear towards my loving Children
Rebecca and Elizabeth Frere÷do fully, freely, Clearly and absolutely
give and grant to the aforesaid Rebecca and Elizabeth, their Heirs
and Assigns a Certain Negor boy called Tobias now in my possession"
. Huguenot and New Paltz patentee Jean Hasbrouck arranged for
the future separation of a slave child from its mother. After a
particularly long religious preamble which praises "the Lord for his
mercy considering the shortness and frailty of human life," Jean
goes on to give to his daughter Elizabeth, in addition to sixty
pounds of current money, "my negro woman named Molly, also three
books, one Testament, the Practice of Devotion, and a book of
Sermons÷on condition that when the negro woman Molly bears children,
Jacob (Jean's son) shall have the first daughter but must leave her
with the mother until she is one year old" . Using similar
language, another New Paltz landowner, Abraham Bevier passes on
possession of a slave woman to his wife in his will of 1763 . In
a pamphlet entitled the Black History of New Paltz (1986), local
historian William Heidgerd shows similar references in the wills of
several local historical figures, including Andries LeFever, Roelif
Elting, Cornelius DuBois, Daniel LeFever, Hendrikus VanKeuren, and
Abraham Een. Overall, it appears that even towards the end of
slavery in the early 1800's, masters still held complete power over
their slaves, and were very reluctant to give up that power, or at
the very least, were reluctant to give up their financial assets.
They generally opted not to free their slaves; rarely if ever did a
master free them after his death.
Though an ownership change resulting from the death of a master
was inevitable, archival records reveal numerous bills and newspaper
advertisements concerning the sale of slaves at other times as well.
It is difficult for us today to truly imagine the anguish of
children and teenagers being forcibly removed from their parents, or
of the forced separation of lovers and close friends. These sources
provide little to document the feelings of the slaves or their
owners. But from the documents, we know that slaves were sold for
reasons of control as well as for economic reasons, and according to
Kruger's very careful study into the reasons for slave sales, almost
never as a result of the slave's own desire . Slaveowners could
and did sell slaves who caused trouble. They also often separated
slave families by sale. Never is there a mention of a sale of an
entire slave family together as a unit. But despite this
ever-present fear of family separation, the devotion of slave
parents, particularly mothers, is readily apparent. As
Williams-Myers and other historians have shown, many slave mothers
were intensely devoted to their families, and encouraged their
children to excel in their tasks and to live honestly and without
deceit . Sojourner Truth, for example, recounted the heartbreak
that her parents suffered due to so many of their children being
sold away to other owners. "Isabella's mother probably had ten or
twelve children, Isabella being the youngest child save one, but
most of the other children had been sold away before Isabella could
remember. Isabella recalled how her parents, in 'their dark cellar
lighted by a blazing pine-knot' could 'sit for hours÷recounting
every endearing, as well as harrowing circumstance that taxed memory
could supply, from the histories of those dear departed ones, of
whom they had been robbed'" . This sentiment is supported by
Kruger's study of the slave family, which shows that:
Hard numerical data prove that the black family was physically
separated by slavery but the black family was not demolished by the
daunting New York slave system. Love and the frequency of family
survival cannot be quantified but evidence of the persistent strong
bonds between husbands and wives and between parents and children
abounds in massive anecdotal case histories of thousands of slaves
The business of buying and selling slaves necessitated the
assignment of prices for slaves put on the market. In order to
regulate these prices, the state legislature passed a law in 1775
that provided for the assessment of slaves in Orange County, which
borders Ulster County. According to this law, men were valued
slightly higher than women, and individuals between 15 and 39 years
of age were valued more highly than other age groups. The law does
not list assessments for children under 7 or for persons over 50.
The following table provides the assessments given in the law, given
in British pounds .
Slave Assessment Rate in Orange County
Age Range (in years)
Males (in British pounds)
Females (in British pounds)
These rates provide a general sense of prices that slaves could
be assessed for tax purposes. However, it is not the only source
listing the prices assigned to slaves. In Ulster County alone, 52
price listings taken from estate inventories, bills of sale,
newspaper advertisements, and court records between the years of
1710 and 1801 show considerable deviation from the prices mentioned
in the table, even when taking into consideration price variation
over time. Eighteen slaves listed as "Boys" were sold at prices
ranging between 15 and 60 pounds, although the large majority of
these were priced at over 30 pounds. The three cases of boys being
valued between 15 and 24 pounds, presumably indicate young males at
the lower end of the age range. Between 1773 and 1798, two
two-year-old girls were assessed at 12 pounds, a four-year-old girl
at 18 pounds, and a five-year-old at 25 pounds. Another girl, aged
fifteen years, was assessed at 68 pounds. Four other girls were
valued at 18, 40, 40, and 50 pounds, but no ages are listed. Price
listings of five "Men" show values of 40, 50, 76, with two at 100
pounds. The valuation listings of 11 "women" and "wenches" from
1773-1801 show assessments ranging from 40 to 85 pounds. Two of
these assessments included a child in addition to the mother.
Another price included furniture. Additionally, price listings for
four women from 1710-1729 range from 40 to 50 pounds. Two of these
four listings included a child each. Three listings for slaves
described as "old" range from 10-27 pounds. In another case, a
"woman" assessed at 13 pounds may have been an elderly lady.
Slaves were the single most expensive movable possession of a
slaveowner, sometimes even amounting to as much as one-third of the
entire estate. For example, the 1804 estate inventory of Gerrit
Freer of New Paltz contained one listing for a "Negro wench"
assessed at $100. Livestock listed in the inventory include four
"milch cows" priced together at $41.25, three yearling calves at $5
apiece, and one bay gelding at $50. Other expensive items include
one iron bound wagon assessed at $40, hay stored in the barn worth
$120, and an adorned feather bed with trimmings worth $53. A gun
pouch and horn was worth $7.50 and a "writing pot" and a "wooden
dish with onions" were assessed together at $1.25 . Likewise,
the 1774 public vendue list of the estate of Abraham Bevier amounted
to 517 British pounds and contained as its highest priced item one
"negro boy Jack" assessed at 40 pounds. Other items in this
inventory include livestock assessments from six to sixteen pounds,
a wagon for 14 pounds, a feather bed for five, and a crop of wheat
for 16 . Located in the same collection is a 1759 inventory of
the estate of Solomon DuBois listing slaves with assessments ranging
from 37 to 100 pounds. The next most valuable item listed in this
long inventory was worth a mere three pounds. Price values for items
listed in other inventories from this period include two looking
glasses assessed at $25, one clothes press for $35, six "milch cows"
for $84, two "old wagons valued at 8 pounds, a copper kettle for six
pounds, 55 deer skins for 27 pounds, and one crop of wheat for seven
pounds. Clearly, even without taking into account the ongoing
expenses of providing food, clothing, and medical expenses, owning
slaves was a major economic investment.
Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, the institution of
slavery was governed by a series of laws passed by the Colonial
assemblies and later by the New York State Legislature. A brief
overview of these laws shows the development and eventual
dissolution of slavery within the state. Slavery began in New York
with very little regulation at all, and most historians generally
agree that under Dutch rule, slavery was a loosely defined
institution. Under the Dutch, "Freed negroes were not legally
discriminated against - no racial legislation existed to restrict
their freedom to own property, intermarry with whites, or own white
or indentured servants÷. While not as legally prohibitive as slavery
would later become under the English, by 1664 the use of slave labor
in New Netherland had achieved local importance and acceptance and
was deeply entrenched" .
However, slavery became more legislated and more restrictive
after the English won the colony in the 1660's. Beginning in about
1702 and continuing until mid-century, the state legislature under
English rule passed a series of laws that restricted all activities
of the slave population, mostly out of fear of violent reprisals
such as the 1712 slave rebellion in New York City and the widespread
problem of runaways. These laws placed severe restrictions on slave
movements, rights of property ownership, use of alcohol, and
assembly, and mandated extremely harsh punishments for slaves found
guilty of transgressing these laws. Slaves found guilty of such
crimes often faced severe corporal punishments that would be viewed
as "cruel and unusual" today. Historian A. J. Williams-Myers
explains that the intent behind these harsh conditions was to create
a "hearty, obedient, docile, but dependable labor force and to make
the African stand in fear" . However, these laws also gave the
slaves a degree legal protections against some forms of mistreatment
by slaveowners, such as mutilation and dismemberment. The regulation
of slavery continued to tighten until about 1773, when a new series
of laws began to show a new attitude towards the institution. Acts
passed in 1773, 1775, 1784, 1785, and 1788 each provided slaves with
a little more freedom than before, and together led directly to the
Manumission Act of 1799, which finally set forth the process for the
gradual abolition of slavery in the state.
This act freed all children born to slave women after July 4,
1799. Male children were to become free at the age of twenty-eight,
and females at the age of twenty-five. The slaveholders were
required to register all children born to their slave women with the
town clerk under penalty of a fine and immediate freedom for the
child. When properly registered, the children were to legally become
the indentured servants of the slaveowner until they reached the
statutory age. This meant that in some cases, children of slaves
were held in servitude long after their parents were set free. For
example, a male child who was born in 1820 to parents born before
July 5, 1799 would still be required to serve his master until as
late as 1848, even though the parents would have been freed in 1827.
The owner, however, could and often did waive his claim to them, as
well as his responsibility for their support, by assigning them to
the local overseers of the poor .
Following the 1799 Act were several other acts regarding the
amelioration of slavery and its consequences. In 1801, the
legislature passed an act restricting travel in order to discourage
slaveholders from selling their slaves in Southern states before
their slaves were to become free in New York. This issue was brought
up again in 1810 and even later in 1819. Another act passed in 1802
placed restrictions on slaves' rights to purchase liquors. The
legislature passed several acts dealing with the regulation and
education of children of slaves who became paupers . But this
series of laws was nothing more than the last gasp of the dying
institution, and the freed slaves then had to solve the problem of
supporting themselves and gaining full acceptance in a difficult and
often unyielding and hostile new environment.
Although there has been much scholarship relating to the
abolition movement of the early to mid-19th century, little research
has focused on the experiences of the black community in New Paltz
as it embraced freedom from the 1820's to the 1850's. Only a handful
of essays by students and local historians serve to shed any light
on this elusive subject . The material below will perhaps
provide a starting point for further research and to urge others to
study the under-documented subject of life after slavery for African
Americans in New Paltz.
It is generally believed that throughout the mid-19th century,
freed slaves turned towards the cities, probably Kingston,
Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, and New York, for new opportunities to find
work and to establish communities together with other freed slaves.
We know from census and poorhouse records that blacks had largely
departed from New Paltz by 1870, if not earlier . The economy of
a small village such as New Paltz simply could not support this
labor force that was now entitled to be compensated for their work.
Of the freed blacks who must now must compete for employment with
white laborers, most continued to live with and work for their
masters in similar conditions as they had while slaves. Other slaves
went to work for other white landowners. In these instances, the
difference between being a slave and being free was largely one of
conception rather than one of practice. For example, an account kept
by Ann Bevier of Marbletown shows that freed slave laborers were
given just enough compensation to cover their room and board
expenses . A number of masters turned over their slaves to the
town's Overseers of the Poor, who then returned them back to their
masters along with town and state funding to provide for their care.
In this manner, slavery existed in practice longer than it did in
legislation. A small number of other freed slaves found themselves
in the county poorhouse, which offered nothing but sickness, death,
and misery for most of its inhabitants. The poorhouse, which had
been constructed in New Paltz in the late 1820's to deal with the
growing destitute population, offered its inhabitants only
impoverished living conditions, with minimal provisions of food and
water, inadequate medical attention, and ill treatment by overseers.
In 1861, the conditions were so deplorable in the Poorhouse that the
Ulster County's Board of Supervisors appointed a committee to
develop a proposal to build a new "house for colored paupers" who
were previously housed in the same building with the "insane and
lunatics" of the poorhouse. A newspaper article entitled "Should be
Done at Once" argued passionately for the passage of this proposal.
"÷Go, reader, with us, and see how these unfortunates are cared for
now; in a building not half a story high hardly fit for wood-house
you will find them confined. A sane person placed in this wretched
abode for six months, would become a raving maniac÷" .This
situation proved to be particularly disastrous for second-generation
freed slaves, some of whom spent the majority of their lives there.
Richard Pine, for example, was a mulatto who was brought to the
Poorhouse as a child along with his sister Sarah in 1844. He
periodically appears in the records there as the Poorhouse officials
bound him out to work to local farmers, but then took him in again
as work dried up or as he fell sick with various ailments. Richard
ultimately died there of consumption in 1887 .
A very few freedmen such as one John Hasbrouck were able to buy
land and support themselves and their families, although not without
hardship and instability. The first record of John Hasbrouck appears
in the New Paltz Register of Slaves, where he is listed as a slave
of Josiah Hasbrouck, a local politician and landowner who was also
elected twice to the U.S. Congress . As a literate former slave,
an unusual occurrence at best, John was able to use his education to
advantage, becoming one of the first black men in the town to own
enough taxable property to qualify to vote. Most of what we know of
his life comes from an account book, letters, and other papers of
his that are now stored at the Haviland-Heidgerd Historical
Collection at the Elting Memorial Library in New Paltz . This
account book is a rare and valuable source for the study of the
emerging freed black community in New Paltz .
The transactions listed in the ledger provide an account of the
types of work performed by John and the compensation he received
from the local white farmers who hired his services. The ledger also
shows how John gradually improved upon his record-keeping skills,
eventually developing a level of sophistication that was rare among
the area's black population. At one point, he even took out an
insurance policy on his farm worth $600. But despite all of this
sophistication, John and his family were still less equipped than
the more established white families to deal with the looming
problems of property devaluation and economic instability. By 1884,
five years after John's death, the farm no longer belonged to his
family, suggesting the possibility that the family could not afford
its upkeep. A phrase that was reportedly uttered by John's son,
Philip Hasbrouck (also known as Flip Murphy) serves to illustrate
the frustrations of his family and the newly freed black community
as they were trying to make their way in a difficult economic and
social environment: "We buy land and got stones, Meat and got Bones
. As a last note on this topic, we again turn to historian
Vivienne Kruger, whose keen insight merits extensive quotation
The staggered period of voluntary manumission and gradual
emancipation, 1785 to 1848, placed the slave family under great
stress as its members were freed individually, often many years
apart. As opposed to the South, where the slave population was
suddenly freed en masse by the Emancipation Proclamation, the
advancing union armies, and the thirteenth amendment, freedom for
slaves in most of the northern states came gradually in the years
after the Revolution. Separate ownership guaranteed separate
manumission and family disruption as the black population slowly
emerged from slavery÷Many newly freed New York blacks continued to
live as dependent workers in white households after manumission -
still separated from their families. The expectation born under
slavery that black families would live apart survived among the
first generation of freedmen. While many freedmen found it
difficult to support themselves and either lived with whites,
relied on their old owners for help, or became paupers, others
successfully established their own households and reunited their
families÷. A population that had functioned well throughout
society found sudden unemployment and job discrimination once
free. It would take 150 years after slavery to regain entry into a
broad spectrum of trades and professions, a participation they had
ironically once enjoyed as slaves. The freedom process still
It is important for present-day citizens, of which many are
descendants of slaveholders, to recognize the paradox inherent in
this community's use of African slave labor. As much we might wish
differently, the town's founders and their descendants were
slaveholders. These often celebrated individuals and families who
fled religious and political persecution in Europe forced other
human beings to labor against their will for their own personal
economic gain. They bought and sold human beings the way we would
buy and sell cars, houses, land, livestock, and pets. They provided
only cold, crowded, damp living accommodations while their own
families had larger rooms with furnishings and fireplaces. They
separated slave families for reasons of economic gain and control.
They punished slaves for trying to visit their families and loved
ones and did inflict severe corporal punishments that they only
rarely inflicted on other whites. And they participated in an
economic system that restricted the slaves' movements, assembly, and
property rights. Understandably, some white landowners may have
chosen not to own slaves, and some slaveowners treated slaves better
than others. But all participated in a society that exerted control
over a group of people taken from their homelands against their will
to support an economy from which they had no hope of deriving
 Martin, Irene. "New Paltz." The History of Ulster County:
with and Emphasis upon the last 100 years, 1883-1983. Kingston,
NY: compiled by the Historians of Ulster County for the
Tercentenary Year, 1984, p. 208.
 Christoph, Peter R. and Florence A., editors. The Andros Papers 1674-1676: Files of the
Provincial Secretary of New York during the Administration of
Governor Sir Edmund Andros. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University
Press, 1989, pp. 207-209.
 Heidgerd, William. The American Descendants of Chretien DuBois of Wicres, France. 20 volumes.
New Paltz, NY: The DuBois Family Association and the Huguenot
Historical Society, 1968, pp. 6-14.
 O'Callaghan, E.B. The Documentary History of the State of New York. 4 volumes. Albany,
NY: Weed, Parsons & Co., Public Printers, 1850, p. 966
 O'Callaghan, p. 849.
 Kruger, Vivienne L. Born to Run: The slave family in early New York, 1626 to 1827. 2 volumes.
Doctoral Dissertation, Columbia University, New York, 1985,
 Ibid., pp. 78-85.
 Williams-Myers, A.J. Long Hammering: Essays on the forging of an African American presence in
the Hudson River Valley to the early twentieth century. Trenton,
NJ: African World Press, Inc., 1994, p. 7).
 Mabee, Carleton, Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend. New York, New York
University Press, 1993, p. 2.
 Williams-Myers, Long Hammering, p. 55; Kruger, p. 167.
 Ibid., p. 25.
 Kruger, pp. 97-98.
 Heidgerd, William. Black History of New Paltz. 2 volumes. New Paltz, NY: Haviland Heidgerd Historical
Collection, Elting Memorial Library, 1986, vol. 1, p. 13.
 Ibid., p. 11.
 Mabee, p. 4-5.
 McManus, Edgar J. A History of the Negro Slave in New York. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse
University Press, 1970, p. 174.
 Undated letter in French, Louis Bevier, mid-18th century. Louis Bevier Family Papers: The
Rutgers Collection. Unpublished MSS Collection, Huguenot Historical
Society of New Paltz, NY, Inc. Translation by Victor-Guy Aboulaffia,
 Letter, Hillitje DeWitt to Hylah Bevier, 1803. Levi
Hasbrouck Family Papers: The Locust Lawn Collection 1672-1969.
Unpublished MSS Collection, Huguenot Historical Society of New
Paltz, NY, Inc.
 Williams-Myers, A.J. A Portrait of Eve: Towards a social history of black women in the Hudson River Valley,
a preliminary bibliographic resource essay. New Paltz, NY:
Center for the Study of the African Presence in the Hudson River
Valley, 1987, p. 9.
 Scott, Kenneth. "Ulster County, NY: Court Records 1693 - 1775." Washington, DC: National
Society Quarterly, volume 60 (Dec. 1972), p. 277.
 Ibid.,p. 284.
 Ibid., p. 282.
 Ibid., vol. 61 (Mar. 1973): pp. 65-66.
 Ibid., vol. 60 (Dec. 1972): p. 278.
 Ibid., vol. 61 (Mar. 1973): p. 62.
 Williams-Myers, Long Hammering, p. 58.
 Ibid., p. 59.
 Untitled document concerning Runaway slaves in New Paltz, 1810. Roelof J. and Ezekiel
Elting Family Papers. Unpublished MSS Collection, Huguenot
Historical Society of New Paltz, NY, Inc.
 Heidgerd, William, Black History of New Paltz, vol. 2, p. 15.
 Ibid., vol. 1, pp. 11-12.
 "The Newburgh Packet," Monday 19, 1797. Early American Newspaper Collection. Unpublished MSS
Collection, Huguenot Historical Society of New Paltz, NY.,
 "The Plebian," Kingston, NY. Tuesday, March 26, 1811, Early American Newspaper Collection. Unpublished MSS
Collection, Huguenot Historical Society of New Paltz, NY.,
 Williams-Myers, Long Hammering, p. 53.
 Mabee, p. 4.
 Ibid., p. 19.
 Ibid., p.5-6.
Williams-Myers, pp. Long Hammering, p. 53-54.
 Mabee, p. 5.
 Anjou, Gustave. Ulster County, NY Probate Records. New York: Published by the author, 1906.
Heidgerd, William. The American Descendants of Chretien DuBois of
Wicres, France, vol. I, pp. 6-14.
 Anjou, vol. 2, p. 39.
 Ibid., vol. 1, p. 63).
 Ibid., p. 75.
 Heidgerd, William. Black History of New Paltz, vol. 1, p.
 Ibid., p. 10.
 Hasbrouck, Kenneth E. The
Hasbrouck Family in America with European Background, Third
Edition. New Paltz, NY: Hasbrouck Family Association and the
Huguenot Historical Society of New Paltz, NY, Inc., 1986, pp.
 Hasbrouck, Kenneth E. The Bevier Family in America:
The Descendants of Louis Bevier, Patentee of New Paltz, New
York. New Paltz, NY: The Bevier-Elting Family Association and
the Huguenot Historical Society, 1970, p. 15.
 Kruger, 204.
 Williams-Myers, A Portrait of Eve, p. 9; Mabee, p. 8.
 Mabee, p. 3.
 Kruger, p. 26.
 Northrupp, A. Judd. "Slavery in New York." State Library Bulletin: History,
No. 4, Albany, NY, 1900, p. 282.
 Estate Inventory of Gerrit Freer, 1804. Gerrit Freer Family Papers (1677-1840).
Unpublished MSS Collection, Huguenot Historical Society of New
Paltz, NY, Inc.
 Accounts of Sale sold at Public Vendue, 1774. Hendricus DuBois Family Papers (1702-1927). Unpublished MSS
Collection, Huguenot Historical Society of New Paltz, NY,
 Kruger, p. 42.
 Williams-Myers, Long
Hammering, p. 45.
 McManus, pp. 174-175.
 Northrupp, p. 299.
 Two articles currently in draft stages include The Account Book of John Hasbrouck, 1839-1863, by Joan Hollister of Marist College and Sally M Schultz of SUNY New Paltz; and
Extraordinary Ordinary Lives: Two African American families in
New Paltz, New York in the generation after slavery by Ellen
James, who is a member of the African American Research Committee of
the Town of New Paltz.
 Stanforth, Joel. After Slavery: African Americans in New Paltz 1850-1870. Unpublished essay.
History Seminar with Professor Laurence Hauptmann: State University
of New York at New Paltz, 1998, p. 12.
 Account Book, Ann Bevier, 1802-1812, Philip Dubois Bevier Family Papers
(1685-1910). Unpublished MSS Collection, Huguenot Historical
Society of New Paltz, NY, Inc.
 New Paltz Times, January 18, 1861. New Paltz, NY, Haviland-Heidgerd Historical
Collection, Elting Memorial Library.
 Ulster County Poorhouse Admission Records. Kingston, NY. Ulster County Hall of
Records (300 Foxhall Avenue).
 Register of Slaves 1799-1825. New Paltz Town Records (1677-1932). Unpublished MSS
Collection, Huguenot Historical Society of New Paltz, NY,
 Account Book, John Hasbrouck, 1837-1863, Jesse Elting DuBois Assorted New Paltz, NY Historical Materials Collection. Unpublished MSS Collection, New Paltz, NY, Haviland-Heidgerd
Historical Collection, Elting Memorial Library.
 Interestingly, the ledger contains a remark made by an unknown 20th
century librarian who could not appreciate the significance of this
marvelous document. The comment, "Colored Margaret's
father-Unimportant" gives a poignant indication of the lack of
respect for the black community that was until only recently a
pervasive element in New Paltz society. Incidentally, a similar note
was found with the diary of Martha Ballard, whose diary became the
focus of the Pulitzer Prize winning A Midwife's Tale by
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
 James, Ellen. Extraordinary Ordinary Lives: Two African American families in New Paltz, New York
in the generation after slavery. Unpublished essay, working
draft, New Paltz, NY, 2001.
 Kruger, pp. 26-27.