The African Presence in Scarsdale, NY
By Phyllis C. Murray
The Cemetery of Saint James the Less Episcopal Church in Scarsdale, NY has thirteen stones to mark graves of enslaved Africans who died while escaping to freedom: these graves are among others in the church cemetery. (Estes Gannett)St. James the Less was built in 1849.
In that document for the purpose of
encouraging agriculture, the company
agreed to furnish colonists as many
blacks as they conveniently could.
These blacks they brought from the
West Indies. Negro Slavery existed in
the county almost from the first white
The Dutch recruited settlers with an advertisement that promised to provide them with slaves who would accomplish more work for their masters, at less expense than white farm servants who must be bribed to go thither by a great deal of money and promise. (Staples)Enslaved Africans were owned by people in all walks of life, including artisans, merchants, clergy, mariners, and gentlemen.(Kruger) It may be noted that the Native Americans were also captured and enslaved. The captured Indians who might have been of considerable use as guides have been given to soldiers and priests. (Goodwill)
As labor was scarce throughout the colony and free immigrants preferred to earn their livings by farming, New York merchants depended on slave labor to operate the port and supplement the pool of skilled craftsmen in such trades as ship building, carpentry, and printing. Enslaved Africans were employed in heavy transport, construction work, and domestic labor as well as in farming and milling.(Foote)
Every family who could afford it invested in this brand of industry filling of several vessels exclusively for the slave trade and the bringing to New Netherlands a large invoice of the colored population of the torrid zone. One of the greatest wants of the colony was skilled labor and indeed, labor of any kind.(Lamb)
The role of slaves in the agricultural North was reflected in the dwellings in which their owners housed them. Slave farmhand~ were reduced to near invisibility by being stuffed into garrets, back rooms, closets, and outbuildings. Occasionally, large slave holders designated a particular structure for their slaves, generally a small outbuilding distant from the main house. But most made no special provision and like Sojourner Truth's owner, packed their slaves away in a cellar where, Truth remembered, the inmates, of both sexes and all ages slept on damp boards, like a horse, with a little straw and a blanket. (Berlin) The following has also been documented: In life, slaves lived in attics, hallways and beneath porches, cheek to jowl with their masters and mistresses.(Staples)
The Quakers brought enslaved Africans with them from Long Island. Circa 1698 Africans captives were brought from the coast of Guinea and landed at Rye in the interest of Frederick Philipse.(Griffen) Land in the river counties was held partly as manorial grants and partly as freehold. There were nine manors which were all created under English sovereignty. In Westchester County Fordham(1671), Pelham(1667), Philipsborough (1693), Morrisania(1697), Cortlandt(1697), and Scarsdale (1701); in Uster: Fox Hall(1672); in Albany: Rensselaer(1685 and Livingston(1686). (Reynolds)
By act of December 10, 1702, no person could employ, harbor, conceal or entertain at his house, outhouse or plantation, slaves other than his own without their masters consent. (Goodwin)
1703-Colonel Heathcote wrote home to Secretary
"The Indians complain that their children,
who were many of them bound out for a
limited time to be taught and instructed
by Christians were, contrary to their intent
of their agreement transferred to other
plantations and sold for slaves, and I don't
know but there may be some truth in what
they allege. (Goodwin)
It may be noted that the Native Americans, once sold into Slavery, were sent to the Bermudas and Holland.
Re. Letter by Cal. Heathcote to Secretary, Manor of Scarsdale Nov. 9,1705
As for my thoughts of this Society's having
appointed that good man, Mr.Neau, as catechist
to the Negroes and lndians,it is undoubtedly a very
good work; it takes great pains Than he needs, by
going from house to house to perform his office;
I believe it as effectual to appoint set times in having
them together at the English church, or at least so
many at once as may be proper, and catechize and
instruct them. (Griffin)
On Oct. 24,1706 An Act to encourage the Baptizing of Negro, Indian and Mulatto Slaves finally passed the Assembly and later received the Royal assent. Be it enacted by the Government, Council and Assembly, etc., that the Baptizing of any Negro, Indian or Mulatto Slave, shall not be any cause or reason for the setting them or any of them at Liberty. The Act soothed the fears of masters, and, as the church registers attest, baptizing became frequent. (Goodwin)Between 1664 and 1788 this practice was recognized and treated as an integral part of the slave system.(Goodwin)
In the African Burial Ground Newsletter Spring 95, Dr. Wilson writes the following:
The Society for the Propagation of Gospel missionaries, catechists, and colonial clergymen propagated the Gospel as an efficacious and attractive device for slave control. They
stressed the notion that Christian enslaved Africans would make them docile and therefore much better slaves.
It was customary for slaves to become members of their masters“ church; a gallery in the church-building was reserved for their use and the ministers baptized and married and buried them. And the farms' burial grounds for the slaves was often set aside. The location of some of those places is still remembered. (Reynolds)
In 1712, eleven years after the formation of the Manor of Scarsdale, the inhabitants numbered only 12, of whom four were white, the remaining eight were slaves (Scharf)
Enslaved Africans accounted for two-thirds of Scarsdale's and three-quarters of Morrisania's population. Both of these communities were the private domains of single families, the Heathcotes in Scarsdale and the Morris' in Morrisania. Both families retained very large retinues of slaves to care for a small group of whites.(Haley)It may be noted that
Colonel Heathcote's estate included a grist mill on the Mamaroneck River and a sawmill high up on that river. Heathcote build mills for sawing boards and grinding grain; all for the advantage of his tenants. (Hultz)
Col. Heathcote was Mayor of New York City in 1712 at the time of what was later called The Rising of Negro Slaves. This disaster of 1712 was quickly suppressed by the military;21 slaves were executed, most of them burned alive; six committed suicide and unnamed amount were imprisoned. (Hanson) However, Goodwin stated the following:
21 were executed either by hanging, burning or by being broken on the wheel.
By 1712 An act for Preventing, Suppressing and Punishing Insurrection of Negroes and other Slaves was passed. (Goodwin)Thus we may note: In 1712 New York's legislature stiffened the slave code. It reiterated earlier legislation which had limited slave gatherings to three individuals, denied slaves the right to buy or sell anything without their masters.
consent, and granted the master absolute discretion in punishing his slave short of life or limb. The 1712 legislation went on to stiffen criminal penalties by adding rape, arson and mutilation to the list of crimes warranting the death penalty. Even more detrimental to the slave population, however, was the requirement of a 200 pound security before any slave could be manumitted. Very few masters, even if they wanted to, could afford 200 pounds (Haley)
In 1712, the Manor of Scarsdale was reported to have eight slaves, of whom two were males under sixteen, two were females over sixteen.(Hanson)
The Weed House located at 972 Post Road was built in 1750 as part of a 55 acre farm. The Edgewood School was built in the old apple orchard of the farm in 1918. During the remodeling of the Weed House in the 1920's, vestiges of slave quarters were discovered~(See Scarsdale's Heritage Homes by Hultz)
John Stanton, a free black man of Westchester County, died in 1718 . By the time he wrote his will, he had acquired nearly 800 acres of land. His land in Eastchester had been granted to him by John Clark, whose daughter Ealse Stanton had married. Stanton also owned 100 acres in SCARSDALE, and 650 acres in Bedford. He left most of his land (750) acres to his sons, Joseph and John.(See The People of the Post Road by Mills & Craughwell Varda)
Literacy was a key component in the religious indoctrination of slaves. Many future leaders of slave rebellions were literate: Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner (See Chronicle of World Slavery)
We may also note that slaves kept account books, tracked crop production, managed plantations because of their literacy. (Wheeler) This fact is personified in the operation of
the Philipseburg Manor Upper Mills in Tarrytown. This early Grist Mill was operated by enslaved Africans~â€Supervisory roles within these and other industries were often filled by enslaved Africans. Some enslaved Africans--including a few owned by the Philipse family were used in the Atlantic slaved trade. These people worked on the ships as cooks, translators, navigators and deckhands. (Higgins, Dickstein, Vetare)
An Act for Duties and Taxes Passed, June 17, 1727
stated the following:
FOR every Negro Slave(Male or Female) of four Years & upwards Imported directly from Africa, the quantity of five ounces of Silver Pillar or Mexico Plate, or forty Shillings in bills of CREDIT made Current in this Colony.
FOR every Negro, Mullato or Indian Slave (Male or Female) of four Years of Age and upwards, Imported from all other places by Land or Water the Sum of four pounds in like money. ( HHV)
In a list of slaves taken April ye 5th, 1755 by Joseph Sutton:
David Barker, one male slave;
Richard Palmer, one female slave;
Jonathan Cornell, one male and one female slave;
*Richard Cornell Jr., one male and one female slave;
Benjamin Griffin, one female;
William Griffin, one male and three females,
gave total of sixteen.(Scharf)
*Richard Cornell was the first Quaker to settle in Scarsdale, purchased 300 acres.
Johnathan Griffen's will also established a fund to assure that none of my slaves be chargeable to the Parish and directed further, that when he died the slaves should have their freedom. (Hurtz)
Thomas Hadden(1691-1761) was a resident of SCARSDALE. His holdings in Scarsdale included two houses, a barn, cider mill, out buildings and a 150 acre farm that extended from the Post Road to the Bronx River. The bequests in his will suggest that at his death, (in 1761) Thomas Hadden had fathered a mulatto family by one of his female slaves. All but the last few sentences of his will are dedicated to providing for his female servants and his seven mullato children, ensuring their well-being after his death. He required that all my Negroes be Exempted from Slavery and Wench Rose was given a house on the north side of his farm. (See People of the Post Road by Mills& Craughwell-Varda).
Thomas Hadden, Scarsdale... Leaves to 2 Negro slaves the use of a house at the north end of my farm, adjoining the road bounded west by brook and W by J/Fosters land~ -Frees all his slaves, and the executors are to take some care that they are learnt to read. All lands are to be sold by executors. Feb.19, 1761(See Wills of Early Residents of Westchester Co. NY)
Lazerus Heady was one of seven illegitimate children of Thomas Hadden. He left instructions that the children be taught a trade, learn to read and be given 25 pounds to start their lives and be exempted from slavery. Lazerus (with no surname) is listed in the 1790 New Castle census as head of a family of ten free blacks. ( Lupennetti)
The Quakers were the first to take action to free slaves held by their members. In 1767 Purchase Quarterly Meeting the following minutes to the yearly meeting stated: lt is non-consistent with Christianity to buy or sell our fellow men for slaves-during their lives and their posterity after them, then whether it is consistent with a Christian spirit to keep those in slavery that we have already had in possession by purchase~gift, or other ways.(Griffin)
John Peter Delancy owned a family of slaves. A statement of manumission made by John Peter at the time of his purchase of a female slave in April, 1806:Manumission is to take place at the end of eight years from the first day of May next, which will be in the year 1814-provide, however if the said Betty should have a child or children during her servitude she will serve one additional year for every child before she is entitled to her freedom. (Wheeler)
Please note the following:
As was accepted in many, the institution of Slavery was no mystery or anathema to the DeLancy family. How many slaves were in service at Heathcote Hill - as the estate was known, is not clear but scattered references to them by their various names indicted that there was a good number. A grand daughter writing of John Peter stated that he owned a family of slaves and that red, a colored boy, was given to my mother when she removed to Coopertown. (Wheeler)
By 1782 nearly all enslaved Africans owned by New York Quakers had been given manumission papers. Quakers also required themselves to train their former slaves to earn a living and to find a place to live.(Singsen)
When Quakers of Purchase liberated their slaves, they settled them up on their rough
lands in the northwestern portion of the town of Harrison. Thus, the Negro community still existing north east of White Plains had its beginning. Some of the enslaved Africans freed in the northern portion of the county collected into a smaller settlement near Bedford.(Griffen)
The Silver Lake Cemetery off * Buckhout Road in The Stoney Hill in Harrison is a burial place for black CMI War veterans and freed slaves. Abolitionist Quakers donated Stoney Hill to their freed slaves during the Revolutionary War. The former slaves founded the cemetery in 1796. The ownership of the cemetery, on Lake Street near the White Plains border, has been debated. (Pastemack-Joumal News)It must be noted that
Boukhout is the name of a small Muslim Village in Senegal, West African. In Africa the
letter c does not exist in the alphabet, thus, Afrikan and Boukhout may be found as to African and Bouckhout. I visited Boukout, Senegal in 1991. In an essay which is included in Encounters with Living History, I wrote the following:
The spirit of interdependence still exists. It means survival. in any society. The African
community that existed in Harrison was cohesive. It provided a refuge for the Africans
who were fugitives or freed. This final resting place should be protected and respected.
It may be noted that the tombstones still have CT or CA etched to remind us of the presence of Colored Troops and Colored Army in the Civil War. The US Government paid for these headstones. (Seraile-Lehman College) Joseph Griffen-Private buried in black Cemetery on Buckhout Road, Harrison Military Gravestone.(Quinn-Caro) He exemplifies
the many Africans who have served our country in every battle to secure the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness for American citizens.
Thomas burial ground on the Purchase college campus is one of the few integrated burial sites, with slaves buried alongside slave owners. (Bicero, Journal News)However, we must
note that William Popham is buried in the cemetery of Saint James the Less in Scarsdale.
"The 1790 Census counted 28 slaves in Scarsdale. Greenleafs New York Journal and Patriotic Register ran an advertisement in 1790 for the return of an escaped slave from a Mrs. Cornell of Scarsdale.(Reische)
The 1790 Census Lists the name of the owner and the number of slaves owned.
Secord, Frances (1)
Barker, Gildbert (1)
Cornell, John (1)
Thompskins, Jonathan Esq. (4)
Popham, William Esq.(3)
Several public notices of the time deal with slaves in Scarsdale. Jonathan G. Tompkins and Benjamin Cornell, poormasters, announced August 10,1791 that a Negro named Prime and a woman named Belle, belonging to Ferris Cornell, were under 50 and of sufficient ability to provide for themselves, a similar notice in 1804 concerned a slave of Abigail Cornell.(Hanson)
Dr. Sherrill Wilson has made the following observation:
This enslaved ˜human property as been passed from
one generation to another among slaveholders, used to
pay debts, stand as security for the purchase of land and
other goods and commodities, taxed and branded, given
as wedding gifts in probate records, willed to assorted
family members upon the death of the master.
About the time, 1799, the Legislature took steps for the gradual abolition of slavery. From this time on the slaves in the town slowly diminished until, the colored population numbered 35 souls. This was nearly the end of slavery in the town, and in 1835 not a slave remained Reported by Bartholomew Ward of the town of Scarsdale County. (Scharf)
In 1800 the inhabitants numbered 258. of these 224 were whites. The remaining were
colored of whom 24 were slaves.(Schaff)20 had been freed(Hanson) However,
Bartholomew Ward in Scarsdale on October 27,1801 gave notice that he owned an infant slave, Dorothy aged 5 months.(Hanson)
In 1817, NY State Governor Daniel D. Tompkins, a Scarsdale resident, made a recommendation to the Legislature for an abolition of domestic slavery in the state. This act, if passed, would take effect on July 4,1827. In accordance with this proposition the Legislature passed an act on the 31st of March 1817, and at the prescribed time slavery
was ripped off the statute books of the state of New York. (Shonnard).
In 1820 the inhabitants numbered 329/42 colored.
In 1855 the inhabitants numbered 445 including 29
Thompkins was Vice President of the United States 1871-1825 and founder of the NY
State Historical society. The Extract from an adder on the Life and Service of Governor
Thompkins by the Honorable Hugh Hastings, Historian of the State of NY.reads as follows:
Of all the able men who have occupied the chair of governor
of New York State, none ever sustained the onerous and over
whelming responsibilities with more conscientiousness, or
guarded the destinies of his state and his people with more fidelity.
He was more than a great man; he was a great patriot, a great
martyr. He gave his services, his fortune, his reputation, and his
life, that his country should maintain its position among the
nations of the earth, and for the transcendent results he achieved, he
deserves the imperishable gratitude of this country. Amen
THE EARLY AFRICAN PRESENCE IN SCARSDALE
In the 1860 Census, the Scarsdale Village had 530 total residents. Fifty residents were of African heritage. Thus, nine percent of the total population were of African heritage.
Westchester Quakers were active in the Underground Railroad. Scarsdale stories tell of slaves hidden in barns and in secret cupboards, on Mamaroneck Road.(Singsen)
There was strong abolitionist sentiment in Scarsdale and the underground railroad sheltered escaping slaves, sending them on their way north. The Quaker families of east Scarsdale were active in the operation and John Carpenter was one of the leaders. (Hansen)
While on a tour of Wayside Cottage in the 70s, the guide reported that the Wayside Cottage on the Post Road was thought to be a part of the Underground Railroad. Seemingly, there is an opening in the fireplace which leads to a passage that extends under
the Post Road. The tunnel under the Post Road between Wayside Cottage and the Underhill house was part of the underground Railroad, some surmise. However there is a cavity in the ground in the rear of the Underhill house, but that was probably a root cellar.(See Lederer-More About Scarsdale).
In 1977 the African American residents of Scarsdale met at the Wayside Cottage to
discuss the ways and means of approaching concerns about incidents which impacted on
the general well being. Thus, a variety of measures were taken by community officials which eradicated racial profiling straight-away.
If we examine the fact that three mills in New Rochelle offered meals and lodging -warmth and safety. Two were owned by abolitionist farmers other mills and churches must have been involved.(See Quinn-Caro) Thus, if underground stations and routes were concentrated in some free state, the grist mills, powder mills and cider mills of Scarsdale must have been involved.
In 1915 seven houses were built on Saxon Woods Road by Mr. Peterson and
Mr.Johnson, both were African Americans. These homes were occupied by the
(293) George and Jessie Peterson;
(299) Eugene and Julia Peterson;
301 Idella Peterson Pitt and Edmund Peterson
(307) Ester Johnson
(305)Edmund and Charlotte Peterson:
(311) Howard and Susie Johnson
*The Pit Family dates back to the early 1800s. The barn located on the property of George and Jessie Peterson was brought to that site from Yonkers by George Peterson. The barn is one of the oldest in Westchester County. (Peterson)It is unfortunate that one of the early homes which reportedly housed runaway slaves was torn down, recently.
The World War II Monument in Boniface Circle documents the presence of Scarsdalians that served our country in a time of war. This WWII monument also reveals the names of three members of A Scarsdale Family of African American decent: The Pitts Family. The names of three troops: Leon Pitt, Martin B. Pitt and Theordore E. Pitt are now a part of Scarsdale History.
Hazel Gill, granddaughter of Ester Johnson, graduated from the Quaker Ridge School. Gill, now 86 years old recalls the one room schoolhouse in Quaker Ridge. However, Ms Gill also recalls how she was not permitted to attend the segregated Scarsdale High School after graduation. "All African American students had to attend Mamaroneck High School which was a long distance form their Scarsdale home." However, Alfred Surya Peterson, the grandson of George Peterson, attended the Quaker Rige four room schoolhouse and graduated from Scarsdale High School in 1952. He recalls the following: " You could go there(the Village) and shop etc. But mostly we went to White Plains and Mamaroneck where we had relatives who attended church." Nevertheless, Surya , like his ancestors, served in the U.S. Military. Surya served in the United States Army form 1952- 1955; Scarsdale native William Peterson, served in the U.S. Navy in WWII, and Scarsdalian Douglas Upshaw served in the U.S. Army in WWII. These were Scardale's Black soldiers:
Black American soldiers fighting to secure the rights of others. Black Soldiers drafted into the US military services to secure the same freedoms African American could not enjoy in Scarsdale or anywhere else in America until after the Civil Rights Legislation was passed in the 60s.
These Black American soldiers, like their predecessors, were fighting in major battles at home and abroad. Lest we forget the heroism of Crispus Attucks: the first man to die for American Independence in 1770. Nicholas Biddle, the first American to die for the Union during the Civil War 1861 and Benjamin O. Davis, the firs Black General in the History of the USA who serve in three wars: the Spanish American War, World War I and World War II. Unfortunately, segregation in the armed forces did not end until President t Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981.(Henry Dabbs)
The Garner, McCants, and Thompson Families have attended Trinity Lutheran Church for over fifty years. The family extend from a long line of Lutherans from Selma, Alabama..The Trinity Lutheran Church of Scarsdale congregation occupies the former home of Alexander Baxter Crane. The building, already in the shape of a cross, was converted into a church in 1951. Stonehouse Road got its name from the home of the Crane Family. (See More About Scarsdale)
Mr. Al Surya (Ernest) Peterson, the great grandson of George Peterson, attended the
Quaker Ridge four room schoolhouse and graduated from Scarsdale High School in 1952.
It may be noted that the African American children of domestics and persons employed by the town of Scarsdale also attended the Scarsdale Schools.
By 1970 African American professionals were homeowners in Greenacres, Fox Meadow, Edgewood, Heathcote and Quaker Ridge. Professionals of African descent have
been on the educational staff as well And today, the African presence constitutes less than 2% of the total population of Scarsdale,NY..This is in sharp contrast with the 9% of the past inhabitants who toiled for centuries to make this community habitable. Across the Bronx River Parkway in Edgemont there still stands a small building used as slave quarters on Old Army Road.(Colonist and Commuters.)
Today, as we venture into the 21st Century we are challenged by the need to record the history of the enslaved Africans of the North: the African coppers, navigators, planters, brass casters, carvers, weaver, fishers, sailors and builders whose productive labor in a sea of misery laid the foundation for the economic development of Scarsdale and other towns and villages. And lest we forget, the historian Ira Berlin estimates that one slave perished for every one who survived capture in the African interior and made it alive to the New World--meaning that as much as 12 million more captive Africans perished along the way.(Staples) This Middle Passage and its watery holocaust , another sea of misery, in the Atlantic Ocean is depicted in Renewal: a mural, by Tomie Arai. The mural commemorates the discovery of the African Burial Ground and honors the ancestors of New York's African American descendant community. (US General Services Administration Public Buildings Service New York.) These events have yet to reach the history books. Thus, it is prophetic that The New York State Legislature mandated the following on April 20, 1994:
In order to promote a spirit of patriotic and civic service and obligation and to foster in the children of the state moral and intellectual qualities which are essential in preparing to meet the obligations of citizenship in peace or in war, the regents of the University of the State of New York shall prescribe a course of instruction in patriotism, citizenship and human rights issues, with particular attention to the study of the inhumanity of genocide, slavery, and the Holocaust, to be maintained and followed in all the schools of the state. This would be a just beginning of an almost forgotten history.
Phyllis C. Murray, Author
Photo: Esther Purdy Johnson's home. 307Saxon Woods Road
Alfred Surya Peterson photographer