Underground Railroad

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The struggle to abolish slavery is an integral part of the historic legacy of New York State. Since the colonial days under the Dutch rule up to the passage of the 13th Amendment, people across the state, both black and white, worked hard (and often without recognition) for freedom.

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Many people do not know that New York was a slave state until the 1820s. New York City had one of the largest slave markets in the colonies. Southerners who settled in Upstate areas brought slaves with them. As a reminder of that institution, African-Americans in the Hudson Valley still celebrate Pinkster, a Dutch version of Pentecost in May.

The most famous New York slave, who later became a leader in the abolitionist and women’s rights movement was Sojourner Truth. In the early 19th century, religious revivals spread through the state, especially along the newly-built Erie Canal. This is the origin of the anti-slavery movement in New York. Slavery was considered a sin, and immediate abolition was demanded. Many citizens, both black and white, helped fugitives (often called “Freedom Seekers”) escape to Canada. They were part of a secret network known as the Underground Railroad. Many homes and churches from Long Island to Buffalo still stand as landmarks to this secretive and illegal operation. Some are well-documented, and others are questionable. Many are lost – long ago torn down to make room for new development.