Vassar College

History Department and Earth Science and Geography Department explore legacies of slavery in the U.S.

Gathering the stories of antislavery efforts in the Mid-Hudson Valley

Professor of history Rebecca Edwards is among the leaders of the new Mid-Hudson Antislavery History Project), and is involving Vassar students and faculty members in this important regional initiative. The group's upcoming "History Harvest" programs on September 15 and 16 will be asking the public to share documents, photographs, family stories, and alike, to help reconstruct the history of antislavery efforts and the Underground Railroad in the Mid-Hudson Valley.

MHAHP's first project brought the Freedom Schooner Amistad to Poughkeepsie's Waryas Park in 2006, as part of Amistad America's Hudson River Tour. The reconstructed tall ship is a symbol of resistance to slavery, and later this fall will sail to Sierra Leone, home of the original Amistad captives. Over 1600 people, including many students from local schools, toured the ship during its Poughkeepsie stay.

Reclaiming the lives of forgotten slaves

Over the past decade associate professor of earth science Brian McAdoo and his "Digital Underground" students have combined science, technology, and local history to research abandoned poorhouse and slave burial grounds in the Mid-Hudson Valley. In the process, hundreds of unmarked gravesites have been identified, and some long overdue dignity has been brought to the people buried there.

This semester McAdoo's field geophysics course is surveying the southwest corner of the St. James Episcopal Church graveyard, in Hyde Park, NY. Oral histories passed from groundskeeper to groundskeeper tell of free blacks, slaves, and fugitive slaves being buried in this section of the St. James graveyard. As in past years, because there are neither markers nor indications of graves in this area, McAdoo's students will use geophysical equipment, investigative techniques, and their human senses to find burials there. Related research of church records, census data, and personal journals will provide a glimpse into these forgotten people's lives.

Past offerings of the "Digital Underground" course have studied the graveyards at the former Ulster and Dutchess County (NY) poorhouses, as well as slave burial grounds in New Paltz and Stormville, NY.

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Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.

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