You have only until September 25 to see a small but moving show on Huguenot Street about slavery in New Paltz. To coincide with The Slave Dwelling Project’s Joseph McGill and Terry James, Historic Huguenot Street (HHS) has recently curated a new exhibit to explore the topic of slavery in New Paltz.
This exhibit centers around wills and other documents dating from the late 17th century through the early 19th century from the HHS Archives, as well as a late 18th-century slave collar from the HHS permanent collection. A highlight of the display is the account book of John Hasbrouck that records his work as a freeman, as well as the wages and goods he received as payment between 1830 and 1839.
The first records of slave acquisition by the French Huguenot founders of New Paltz began in 1674 with the purchase of two enslaved people in Kingston. The Huguenot families who settled New Paltz are known to have enslaved Africans, as evidenced by the documents on display. Contrary to the common misconception that slavery was practiced in the U.S. only in the South, Northern states were also dependent on enslaved African labor in the 17th and 18th centuries to build their homes and communities, to work their farms, and to serve as domestic servants and skilled artisans. Slavery was practiced in what is now New York as early as 1626 by the Dutch and was perpetuated by the British through the 18th century. Even after the American Revolution, slavery was not legally abolished in New York State until 1827.
A descendant of Huguenot Street, Mary Etta Schneider has said, “It is important to acknowledge the paradox inherent to this community’s use of enslaved African labor. My ancestors fled France for religious and political freedom. Before leaving France they saw their own families tortured, enslaved, and killed. Yet these emigrants came to the New World and, for their own personal gain, forced other human beings to labor against their will.” By exploring the narrative of Northern slavery through tours, programs, and exhibits such as this, Historic Huguenot Street hopes to reveal the true story of the street, not just from the perspective of slave owners, but from the perspective of those enslaved who also helped build our community.
The free exhibit will be on display in the DuBois Fort (81 Huguenot Street) through September 25. See huguenotstreet.org for hours.