Event honors the memory of the nearly forgotten New Paltz African ancestors

Visitors to the African American Burial Ground on Huguenot Street in New Paltz read the historical marker commemorating the site. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Visitors to the African American Burial Ground on Huguenot Street in New Paltz read the historical marker commemorating the site. (photos by Lauren Thomas)

When the Huguenots left Europe to escape religious torment, they knew a little something about oppression. So how did it turn out that those humble Protestant Christians who founded New Paltz came to own slaves?

Much of it came down to the vast, wild tracts of land ceded to the first settlers of the Hudson Valley and New York State in general. With huge fields to tend and communities to build, white colonists turned to the slave labor opened up at first by Dutch and then English slavers.


“Slavery was a reality in the Hudson River Valley,” said A.J. Williams-Myers, a black studies professor with SUNY New Paltz.

William-Myers lecture at Historic Huguenot Street’s Deyo Hall came as part of the solemn yearly commemoration of New Paltz’s slave cemetery. Discovered in the late 1990s, after being lost and forgotten for more than a century, the graveyard is the final resting place of New Paltz’s earliest black residents. Due to the efforts of several residents, there is now a historical marker and bench marking that site.

Williams-Myers noted that history often gave the Dutch some credit for their benevolence toward African slaves. While they allowed their forced workers to eventually gain freedom in New Amsterdam through indentured servitude, “they kept the children.”

While slavery is thought of as a Southern institution, the professor told his audience it was important to remember that New York was built on the back of slave labor. By 1790, there were roughly 21,000 people enslaved in the state.

Edgar Rodriguez was one of the 15 or so people who helped find the graves in the late ’90s. He said it all began with a clue from an old newspaper article in the archives at Elting Memorial Library.

“It was primary source information. The article said that the reporter had observed ‘a group of about 40 Negroes going north on Huguenot Street.’ We raised the question — there’s no cemetery north,” Rodriguez said. “That started the process.”

There are 7 comments

  1. Ron Turner

    No, Rodriguez was not part of any group, as he well knows, as there was no “group” to find this graveyard. I found it, brought it to the Race and Racism committee along with new information about Sojourner Truth, and what is that saying about fathers and stolen credit? “Groups” came pouring in for self-acclaim after I showed up with information about the graveyard and today I STILL now more about it than anybody has mentioned? Funny, that? I also own the oldest European structures in southern Ulster, and it all sits on top of pre-historic cellar and trench. Once I uncovered the trench, that was it.

  2. Ron Turner

    Oh, and the “Sojourner” bit?

    You have never heard “There shall be one law unto the homeborn as it is to the stranger who sojourneth amongst you?” That is as old as Moses? Stop.

  3. Ron Turner

    The Cyrus Freer that lived in my house kept a diary about the black man who lived next door, I mean, the black man got a piece of land from a DuBois and got to build his house there on what is Mulberry Street. Then, when Carol Smith was working out Franklin printing and simultaneously sitting as Village Board Trustee, she had the little 1852 house torn down. I put photos of the house on the web a year or so ago. The folder at the assessor office has everything in it about that parcel except one document? That is missing a “Demolition Permit” from the Village Building Department. Trustee Smith didn’t bother with that formality, that was only for the neighbors.

  4. Ron Turner

    View Bug is a photo site with a photo of the former slave house taken in 1998 or such? It is the first photo on the first page under “Most Viewed”. the photo of the former slave house that was torn down by a village “trustee” without a demolition permit from the village is the single “most viewed” photo. Who knew. The photos are under the name “sojourner”. There are other photos of the same site on the corner of Church and Mulberry that are what is there today, a swale for the drainage run off that is the buried branch of Tributary 13. Drainage is important to the discovery of lost site, my house’s site , the black man’s house’s site and the sites of the homes around the Huguenot Street black graveyard.

  5. Denise Campbell

    For the 4 years I stayed and graduated from New Paltz University visited the Huguenot cemetery several times and never once knew anything about the slave sometimes I find that a bit surprising to just find out about that now what a pity no recognition from the residence of the New Paltz community….so dissapointed

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