Too often, visitors to Historic Hudson Valley properties assumed that enslaved people in the Northern states experienced more freedom and better conditions than their Southern counterparts.
To counter this assumption and provide a more complete picture of the institution, the organization completed an elaborate interactive website entitled People Not Property, which reveals what it really meant to be enslaved in the North, including the Hudson Valley.
“We wanted to do a little myth-busting and find the neglected stories of enslaved people — how they lived, how they survived, and what challenges they faced,” says Elizabeth Bradley, vice president of programs and engagement at Historic Hudson Valley.
Turns out that the more than 80 individuals highlighted lived lives limited in legal and economic rights. No matter where the bondage took place, be it Schuyler Mansion in Albany and down the valley to New York City — including two Historic Hudson Valley properties, Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson and Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow — enslaved people attempted to retain their dignity despite their circumstances.
At least 23 slaves lived at Philipsburg Manor, working the elaborate mill. Historic Hudson Valley has been interpreting their stories since the 1990s. Other slaves at Van Cortlandt Manor, a much smaller property, engaged in a plot to run away.
The project, which received support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, is the result of decades worth of research, took three-and-a-half years to complete, and involved the work of almost three dozen people.
The final product — an interactive documentary presented in a website — is broken down into several segments, including reenactments, videos, interviews, and infographics based on primary documents. One such document is a calculation of how much income the system denied to a miller at Philipsburg Manor named Caesar, whose owner participated in the slave trade, said Bradley.
In New York, laws provided for a gradual emancipation beginning in 1799, but bounty hunters could still track down runaways up to the Civil War, and many prominent citizens continued to benefit from slave-trade profits.
“As late as the 1840s, enslaved laborers were still listed on the New York census,” said Bradley.
To view the documentary, go to peoplenotproperty.hudsonvalley.org.