POUGHKEEPSIE, NY — What was it like to be enslaved in Dutchess County before slavery ended here in 1829? How did the Underground Railroad work here? Who in Dutchess joined the movement to abolish slavery? Members of the Mid-Hudson Antislavery History Project (MHAHP) are working to answer these questions. They hope that members of the public, who have historical documents, family photographs, and stories in private possessions, may hold keys to this aspect of our local past.
On September 15 and 16, 2007, MHAHP is sponsoring a History Harvest in Poughkeepsie and Pawling. Members of the public are invited to bring and share documents, photographs, family stories, traditions, and any other evidence they may have, relating to the history of slavery, antislavery, or the Underground Railroad in Dutchess County. Scanner and document cameras will be available.
"We are asking individuals to bring in documents so we can create digital copies to use in research," said MHAHP chair Rebecca Edwards, a professor of history at Vassar College. "Through the power of technology, participants can keep their treasured originals and take them right home again." With assistance from the Children's Media Project of Poughkeepsie, video and audiotaping will be available for those willing to share oral traditions.
All members of the public, whether or not they have documents or oral histories to share, are invited to attend the Harvest. On display will be exhibits highlighting ongoing local research. Municipal historians, historical societies, community groups, and individual researchers are preparing exhibits on such topics as the history of slavery in Rhinebeck; investigation of gravesites at the Stormville Slave Cemetery; the life of James F. Brown, a fugitive slave who lived at Mt. Gulian in Fishkill; the abolitionist movement in Dutchess County; the antislavery origins of First Congregational Church of Poughkeepsie; Nine Partners Friends Meeting and its role in the Underground Railroad; and African-American life in Dutchess County. Also available will be free brochures for a preliminary driving tour of probable Underground Railroad sites in Dutchess County.
Several local authors will attend the Harvest to sign books, which will be available for sale, and to speak with visitors about their work. These include Dr. A. J. Williams-Myers of SUNY New Paltz, author of several books on African-American life in the Hudson Valley; Fergus Bordewich of Red Hook, author of Bound for Canaan, a national history of the Underground Railroad; Dr. Myra Young Armstead of Bard College, author of Mighty Change, Tall Within: Black Identity in the Hudson Valley; and John Polhemus, local independent scholar and co-author of Up on Preston Mountain, the history of a multiracial community in eastern Dutchess.
The Harvest consists of two mirror events. The first, on Saturday, September 15, 11am - 3pm, will take place at First Congregational Church/United Church of Christ, 269 Mill Street, located on the westbound 44/55 arterial in downtown Poughkeepsie. This event will be followed, starting at 2:30pm, by a Block Party hosted by First Congregational Church. Members of the public and all participants in the Harvest are invited to a free picnic, festivities, and music. The entertainment will kick off at 3pm with special music by the Vassar Antislavery Quartet. These members of the Vassar College Choir and Chorus will re-create abolitionist music that was performed at antislavery conventions and rallies before the Civil War. Based on hymns, patriotic songs, and even minstrel tunes, these abolitionist lyrics popularized the fight against slavery by linking it to beloved and popular music of the antebellum era.
The second History Harvest will be held on Sunday, Sept. 16, 1 - 4 pm, at the Akin Free Library on Quaker Hill, Route 66, east of Pawling. The Akin Free Library, founded by a descendant of local Quakers, contains a natural history museum and record collections, situated in a historic 1898 building. Visitors are invited to attend either the Poughkeepsie or the Pawling event, based on the convenience of date and location.
MHAHP is a non-profit organization founded in 2006. Its mission is to bring together scholars, educators, and interested members of the public to research and interpret the history of antislavery and the Underground Railroad in the Mid-Hudson Valley. The group hopes to make this critical aspect of our past more visible to the public, especially young people, through such initiatives as the Harvest exhibits, driving and walking tours, and other interpretive projects. MHAHP seeks to place this history in the broader context of slavery, the African-American experience, and the legacies left by abolitionists to subsequent struggles for racial and social justice.
MHAHP's first public project, in October 2006, was bringing the Freedom Schooner Amistad to Waryas Park in Poughkeepsie, as part of Amistad America's Hudson River Tour. The reconstructed schooner, a symbol of resistance to slavery, recently sailed to England to help commemorate the anniversary of Britain's 1807 abolition of trans-Atlantic slaving. Later this fall, Amistad will sail to Sierra Leone, home of the original Amistad captives. More than 1600 people, including many students from local schools, toured the ship during its Poughkeepsie stay.
For more information about the History Harvest, as well as a report on MHAHP's most recent research findings, go to: www.hudsonrivervalley.net/antislavery.php
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Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.