Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Slave Owners in the Colony/State of New York: Coming to terms with a slave owning ancestor

I am currently researching and writing a new book,  about  my ancestors who lived in the Colony/State of New York during the time of the French and Indian Wars and the American Revolution. The main character is the daughter of Scots-Irish immigrants who moved from Worcester, Mass to New Hampshire and finally to New York. They lived in for a time in Schenectady before moving to Currie's Bush, today's Princetown. This daughter, Catherine Wasson married Samuel Clyde, originally from New Hampshire. Catherine and Samuel moved to Cherry Valley in 1763 shortly after their marriage. 

General Herkimer Battle of Oriskany
By Frederick Coffay Yohn -
Painting at the public library of Utica, New York.
In 1763, Cherry Valley was the frontier, the edge of so-called civilized life. The 1768 treaty of Fort Stanwix set the border between Indian Territory and the Colony just west of Cherry Valley at the Unadilla River. The occupants of the Valley and surrounding villages lived in relative peace until the American Revolution. At the beginning of the war, battles were fought in Eastern New York, sparing the West. But, on 6 August 1777 one of the bloodiest battles of the entire war occurred at Oriskany about 50 miles northwest of Cherry Valley. Lt. Colonel Samuel Clyde survived the battled that cost so many their lives. 

The following November, when most inhabitants thought the fighting season was over for the year, war descended on the Valley. A army of Tories led by Walter Butler and Native Americans led by Joseph Brant attached the Village at about 9:00 a.m. There was a small fort in the village but most of the soldiers, including the commander Col. Alden, where housed in private homes. Alden was tomahawked and scalped as he attempted to reach the fort.  

Incident at Cherry Valley Alonzo Chapel
During the attack the enemy combatants brutally killed not only soldiers but men, women, children and infants. Women were hacked to death, some dismembered. All were scalped. The lucky ones were taken captive by the Natives. One Cherry Valley farmer, out in his field at the onslaught returned home to find his wife and three children brutally murdered. A fourth daughter was still alive. At the sound of the enemy returning, the farmer hid only to witness a Tory kill the surviving daughter and scalp her. One woman was hacked to pieces, an arm landed in a tree. 

The town minister, the respected Reverend Samuel Dunlop was spared at the last moment, but witnessed the death of his wife. His grown children were killed as were his slaves. And there it is, that ugly word 'slave.' In his will dated 1775, three years before most of the people named in it were killed, Reverend Dunlop willed his three female slaves, Silvia, Priss and Nora to his wife and children. All three slave women were killed. The Scot, Wilson, Campbell, and Ritchie families all owned slaved that were killed in the massacre. How many more Valley families owned that survived?

In multiple books and stories about that fateful day is the story of the miraculous escape of the Clyde family. Catherine and her children, at the sound of gunfire, took to the woods and hid overnight in freezing rain. The were rescued the following morning after Catherine sent a young boy to the fort to find her husband. The boy is variously describe as an apprentice or a servant in later texts. In a 1898 book, The History of Cherry Valley, 1740-1898, by John Sawyer, the boy is called a slave. 

How do you, how do I, come to grips with the idea that these men, who I so admired for their grit and determination to eek out a living on the frontier, brave patriots who fought and died for our country, and their wives who stood by them and shared their fate, were slave owners. I realize that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were wealthy southern slave-owners, but I never associated slavery with middle of the road frontiersmen in Upstate New York. It saddens me to find that a minister of God owned multiple human beings. I understand that I am seeing them through the lens of time and applying my 2018 standards to people who lived 250 years ago but still, they are somehow tarnished in my mind.

See this website for a brief overview of slavery in New York.

Also see this New York slavery index of owners.

One of the books I read doing research on the Mohawk Valley was Bloody Mohawk by Richard Berleth. I found it an excellent, well written, thoroughly researched book, it has been invaluable to my own writing. I hope to publish my book, Blood in the Valley, by years end.  Read my first book, Weave a Web of Witchcraft, the story of Hugh and Mary Parsons of Springfield, Massachusetts available now at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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