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In 1613 what is believed to be the first permanent settler in New Netherlands, now New York City, was put ashore from a Dutch sailing ship. Jan Rodrigues, a free man of color from Santo Domingo carried with him tools and provisions and was tasked with establishing trade with the Indians for the Dutch. His presence is documented because the following year legal problems arose with fur traders. Rodrigues married a native and when the Dutch returned for him he chose to stay and establish his own trading post. In commemoration in 2012 Broadway between 158th and 218th Streets was designated Juan Rodriguez Way. nycgo.com

From Native American, Dutch and African trading roots grew a city, and eventually a state, populated with independent, freethinking individuals from a wide variety of countries and ethnicities. Their origins shaped policies on settlement, enslavement, protest and abolition for the next 250-years and beyond.

People of color always played a significant role in New York and nowhere were they and their actions more important than on the Adirondack Coast. The number of existing sites associated with interactions with blacks there is overwhelming but with a little effort and selectivity visitors can craft a journey into some unique and, in some cases little known, aspects of the American experience. visitadirondacks.com

                

Champlain claimed Plattsburgh, NY, originally settled by the Mohawk and Mohican Indians, for France in 1609. Traders passed through the area but it was not until the French ceded the land to the British in 1763 that the region was fully explored and in 1785 Zephaniah Platt established a settlement. A Heritage Trail and Birding Trail have been created and are available to visitors. cityofplattsburgh-ny.gov

The Clinton County Historical Museum sets the tone for any visit to the area. The museum provides an overview of regional history from pre-colonial times. This small gem relates the big picture through the telling of “small” stories brought to life through artifacts, documents and paintings. Highlights of a visit include information on the 80-100 slaves who accompanied the original settlers, a diorama of the Battle of Plattsburgh and tales of Plattsburgh’s 1838 Stone Barracks and Hospital Building, the nation’s first hospital to treat shell shock (PTSD). Clintoncountyhistorical.org and @CCHA_MUSEUM

                

The Federal Kent DeLord House was constructed in 1797 for William Bailey. The house and 3-acres were purchased in 1811 by Henry DeLord and remained in the family until 1913. The British occupied the house during the Battle of Plattsburgh in 1814. Guided tours of the house showcase furniture, priceless portraits including a 15th-century Dutch painting and 140 pieces of Canton china. The house is the oldest structure in the city. kentdelordhouse.org

                

A monument honoring Samuel de Champlain is located on the shoreline across from the house. The 12-ft. statue is located in a park and the Riverwalk Trail begins at the monument.

Babbie Rural & Farm Learning Museum is so filled with treasures that you should be prepared to spend a few hours there. This 20-site complex interprets rural farm life in the 18th to early 20th-centuries through demonstrations and interactive experiences using original antiques. Festivals and educational programs are regularly scheduled. babbiemuseum.org

A chasm is a gap in a vertical canyon between steep walls and a perfect and accessible example of this phenomenal formation is Ausable Cavern. The Potsdam Sandstone, 2-mile chasm, first viewed by Europeans in 1759, begins in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks. Outstanding features are the 70-ft. high Rainbow Falls, 8-ft. Horseshoe Falls and Elephant’s Head and Split Rock formations.  An exciting menu of activities is available including Lantern Tours, rappelling and an adventure trail that requires a harness. A museum in the Welcome Center offers an orientation film and an overview of the chasm in the form of a diorama. Ausablechasm.com

The Underground Railroad has become one of America’s iconic institutions although much mystery continues to surround its operation and operatives. We know that it existed from the first days of the nation and at that time most enslaved individuals ran south. There were “main lines” as well as numerous branches and current research illuminates the role of both free and enslaved blacks as both abolitionists and UGRR workers.

No museum better or more comprehensively documents the story of one of the most important routes, New York’s Champlain Line, than the North Star Underground Railroad Museum. More than 5,000 freedom seekers passed through the state. Founded by historian Don Papson, the museum is located a short walk from the chasm and recounts the area’s history through individual stories of courage and poignancy. There are two outstanding films and a display on religious denominations and their stance on slavery. northcountryundergroundrailroad.com

In conjunction with a museum visit it is possible to take a tour of the surrounding hamlets and sites that served as havens on the UGRR. The trail consists of churches, homes and barns where abolitionist meetings were held and escapees were hidden. This tour gives visitors a real sense of distances traveled and the dangers involved.

The Comfort Inn and Suites Plattsburgh is centrally located, offers all the standard amenities plus WIFI, fitness center and complimentary parking and breakfast. plattsburghcomfortinn.com

                

Plattsburg Brewing Company is adjacent to the hotel. It features handcrafted beers including the War of 1812 Plucky Rooster Ale, made from 17th-century ingredients. Dinner and a drink here is a perfect way to end this part of the trip. plattsburghbrewingco.com                

The Dutch West India Company (DWIC) was founded to monopolize Dutch trade in 1621. They desired to control New Netherlands (New York) and in that year they sent settlers to construct Fort Orange in what is now Albany to establish a presence that would keep other nations away. Labor was needed and by 1655 the DWIC, who initially owned all the slaves in the colony held 150 slaves and a number of freedmen. nycgo.com

Settlement north of NYC was slow and to spur growth “patroonships” were offered. These huge land grants were given to private individuals to rent land to tenant farmers. Under the Dutch blacks had rights including land ownership. In 1664 the British took over, actively promoted the slave trade and made NY the North’s largest slave state. Albany, the oldest chartered city in the country, was at the heart of the colonial Dutch world. #discoveralbany and Albany.org

Crailo State Historic Site is the only museum dedicated to the presentation of 17th-century Upper Hudson Valley Dutch culture. The farm was once part of the million-acre Patroonship of Rensselaerswyck. The home was built in 1707 and named after an estate in the Netherlands. Highlights of the guided house tour are the defensive gun ports, the kitchen and the main exhibition area that replicates the living space and features everyday objects. It is believed that “Yankee Doodle” was written here in 1755.

“A Dishonorable Trade: Human Trafficking in the Dutch Atlantic World” is a temporary exhibit currently on view that is spectacular, comprehensive and unique. Spread throughout a number of galleries the exhibition takes visitors from Africa into the 17th-century world of Dutch slavery. Interpretive panels and artifacts advance our understanding of this aspect of history. 

In 1797 construction began on the Ten Broeck Mansion. The Federal home was remodeled over the years with most of the furnishings being in the Greek Revival-style. The largest number of slaves ever held here was 19 and their stories are part of the tour. The most interesting is that of Suzanne who was freed but had to give one day’s free labor weekly. Highlights include the original Federal spiral staircase and a newly discovered wine cellar.

The bricked up wine cellar was found when work was being done. It is filled with bottles including an 1878 Rothschild. The culmination of the tour is a peek inside where many of the bottles are still in the packing straw casings. tenbroeckmansion.org and @TenBroeckACHA

Stephen And Harriet Meyers were prominent black figures in Albany. Stephen, a former slave, and his wife were instrumental in the abolitionist movement, the UGRR and the founding of several newspapers from the 1830s to 1850s. Their 1850s residence has been documented as a meeting place for the Vigilance Committee and haven for more than 550 fugitives. Tours of the 3-story home can be arranged while the home is being restored. @URHPCR 

From the moment individuals were enslaved in the New World they began to find ways to escape and just as there were always freedom seekers there was always some form of Underground Railroad and always people willing to assist them. The people who advocated the abolishment of slavery came to be known as abolitionists and the earliest incarnations of the movement took place in Philadelphia. In 1688 Germantown Quakers penned a document denouncing slavery, the first in the nation, the first step toward the banning of the institution by the Quakers in 1776 and the entire state in 1780. In 1775 Thomas Paine wrote "African Slavery in America," the country’s first publication that promoted emancipating the slaves and outlawing the practice. That same year “The Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage” was formed as the first American abolition society.  

During the early years of the 1800s abolitionists were a microcosm of US society, whites, Native Americans, free and enslaved blacks, women and congregants of all religions, working both in tandem and at odds. Contrary to popular belief all abolitionists did not have the same ideology and basically fell into three categories. Emigrationists wanted blacks to be freed and transported to Africa or other foreign ports, separatists wanted blacks to live in their own region within the US and Integrationists desired equal rights for blacks. These abolitionists relied most heavily on the use of “moral suasion.” They believed that Americans, as essentially “good” people, could be made to see that slavery was immoral and anti-religious and thereby end it.

By the 1820s many abolitionists began to realize that moral suasion was no match for the lucrative and deeply entrenched system and a new, more aggressive, group of abolitionists came to the forefront. They sought an immediate end to slavery and the establishment of equal rights. These were individuals willing to act, risk incarceration and even death for their beliefs and there was an immediate backlash, riots and laws governing the actions of abolition societies.  

David Walker, a freeman, published the 76-page “An Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World in Boston, Massachusetts” in 1829 and is credited with being the match that lit the flame of radical abolitionism. The appeal sanctions aggressive defense of one’s rights. He disavowed emigration and wrote, "America is more our country than it is the whites—we have enriched it with our blood and tears." During this era abolitionists’ ground zero migrated north from Philadelphia to Upstate New York partially due to the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 and the black exodus to Canada for safety.

John Brown, from Elmira, NY, is the radical we are most familiar with and he is often cited as being a dominant factor in the start of the Civil War. Gerrit Smith’s actions were equally if not more significant and his story is fully interpreted in Peterboro, NY at the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark.

Smith purchased his father’s business at the age of 21. He was a radical abolitionist and as a billionaire he used his funds freely to support the cause. He financed Douglass’ North Star newspaper with a contribution of $100 monthly, backed Brown’s Harper’s Ferry raid, funded Harriet Tubman, donated 20,000-acres to Oberlin and established black colonies on 120,000-acres. Additionally he operated an UGRR station of which it was said, “There are yet two places where slaveholders cannot come, Heaven and Peterboro.” All of the noted abolitionists of the day visited the estate as well as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, his first cousin and a founder of the women’s movement.

 Visits to the estate begin in the Visitors Center with an orientation film. Exterior tours include several dependencies the most historic of which is Smith’s office. The site is original and was where he met with important figures. Plaques are located around the grounds and present a window on his life and times. gerritsmith.org

After being denied space for a meeting Smith invited the NY State Anti-Slavery Society to meet in Peterboro. The building in which the meeting was held is now The National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum. After meticulous research 1800’s abolitionists are inducted based on their commitment, actions and lasting influence. An introductory video is available on the first floor after which visitors proceed to the museum and Hall of Fame on the second level. Highlights of the tour are the inductees’ bios and the abolition timeline. Nationalabolitionhalloffameandmuseum.org

Recently the role of America’s waterways in UGRR history has begun to be explored. The construction of the Erie Canal changed the history of NY and took on importance for African Americans both enslaved and free.  The canal connects with the Hudson River in Albany and was part of the UGRR route that Frederick Douglass used most often. The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor is 524-miles long, includes 4 canals and is listed on the National Register.

Chittenango is a village within Madison County named after the Oneida word meaning “river flowing north.” The village owes its initial growth to the development of the Erie Canal and Chittenango Canal Boat Landing. Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum offers visitors an interactive look into life in a canal town and aboard a canal boat. This was once a 3 bay dry dock facility where supplies were taken on and boats were repaired. Tours begin with a 5-minute video and proceed to the exterior sites. The site is listed on the Haunted History Trail of New York State.

African Americans worked on the boats, in the docks and settled in the villages. There are documented cases of passengers informing slaves on board boats that they are free under NY law and urging them to flee. The most infamous incident aboard a boat is that of the 1850 passage of the black Harris Family on route to Canada, The family was so harassed that the wife jumped overboard with her baby. She was rescued but the baby died. The husband was put off the boat with a cut throat and walked beside it for 20-miles prior to being rescued by an abolitionist. Eventually the crew was arrested, tried and fined. http://clcbm.org

 “Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer's wife.” When Lyman Frank Baum penned these words he could have had no idea the impact his book, The Wonderful Wizard of OZ. would have on generations to come. While most people consider it a book for children it is also a timely social commentary on events of the era and an indelible part of popular culture. Are there adults that can’t recite at least two quotes or sing a few lines from “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”? Baum was born in Chittenango, New York and it is there that you can follow the yellow brick village sidewalk and take a personal journey back to OZ in all its incarnations.

His mother-in-law inspired him to publish some of the stories he had told over the years to his children and Mother Goose in Prose was a success when published in 1897. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published in 1900 and at $1.50 a copy it was an instant hit. He would go on to write a total of 14 books in the Oz series and numerous other works under pseudonyms. Baum died on May 6, 1919 and twenty-six Oz books have been written since his death. In 1939 a film version, based on the original, opened. The movie does not closely adhere to the book, elements of the book are left out, alterations were made and Dorothy’s original silver slippers were changed to ruby slippers to take advantage of the new Technicolor technology.

The museum pays homage to all the film versions as well as Broadway’s The Wiz and there are displays of memorabilia, costumes and collectibles including André de Shields unique red production tee shirt. Baum’s Bazaar gift shop is outstanding and it really does offer “all things Oz.” http://allthingsoz.org/oz-stravaganza  

Annually during the first weekend of June Oz-Stravaganza! Is held in the village. The highlight of the weekend festival is a parade that features stars from the films and Broadway. oz-stravaganza.com

You can ease on down the road to another fantasy fulfilling homage to The Wizard of Oz, the $20-million Yellow Brick Road Casino. This boutique casino offers 14 table games, more than 200 slots, is completely non-smoking and is designed thematically around The Wizard of Oz. Flying Monkeys in various poses adorn the ceiling, there is a Baum book display and a red poppy field is woven into the carpet. The Oz highlight here is the Cyclone of Cash. A unique booth, with a sounds and flashing lights, allows guests to step into a swirling tornado and grab as much money and prizes as possible within a limited time period complete with soundtrack and flashing lights. The Yellow Brick Road Casino is an especially good choice if you have a disability or mobility issues because it is on one level and everything is totally accessible. ybrcasino.com       

Don’t leave the area without a stop at Allie B’s Cozy Kitchen, the creation of Kizzy Williams. The Albany Soul Food restaurant is named in honor of her South Carolina mother whose recipes are menu staples. This restaurant is so popular that they regularly sell out four days a week. alliebs.com and @allie_bs_cozy_kitchen

                

Travel Tip:

Reading Don Papson’s book, Secret Lives of the Underground Railroad in New York City: Sydney Howard Gay, Louis Napoleon and the Record of Fugitives, is an ideal way to maximize your trip. These previously unpublished records provide insight into the times and lives of men like Douglass, Garrison and Still.

 


 

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