Recently historians have been extensively researching the problems of African American women African American women joining with white women to fight for the right to vote. In most instances white suffragists ignored Black women working for the cause, and in the worst case they actively discriminated against African American women.
But new research has yielded a remarkable discovery from Albany in 1880. In that year Black and white women in Albany joined together to fight for women’s suffrage. It started in early 1880 when the New York State Legislature enacted a law (known as the “School Suffrage Law) allowing women to vote in school elections in April, 1880.
C. Mary Williams
When the Albany Woman’s Suffrage Society was formed to organize women to actively participate in the vote it included an African American woman, C. Mary Douge Williams, was selected as a Vice President for the 11th Ward, in what is now known as Arbor Hill. The inclusion of an African American woman in this effort was nothing short of groundbreaking; there is no evidence this was happening anywhere else in the nation. And the result of Mary’s involvement was startling.
The Suffrage Society leadership appears to have made an excellent strategic decision in its choice of Mary Williams. In 1880 there was no more well-respected family in Black Albany than the Douges. Mary was the perfect choice to organize Albany’s African American women to vote. She was 48 and her family lived at 25 Lark St. near the corner of Livingston Ave., close a small enclave of the people who had represented the powerful and elite of Albany’s Black community.
Mary was quite successful. The April 1880 “National Citizen and Ballot Box” edited by Matilda Jocelyn Gage* reported, “…half a dozen colored females headed by Mrs. C. Mary Williams, Vice President of the County Woman’s Suffrage Society went to the place of registration in Eleventh Ward and had their names enrolled. They were followed by an immense crowd of white and colored people, and when they issued from the place of registry on the street, were cheered in an hilariously boisterous fashion. Mrs. Williams is a stately mulatto of considerable education and refinement.”
We found the names of 28 women who successfully voted in the 1880 School Suffrage election (based on reporting from newspapers of the time). Of these women, almost 1/3 (9) were African American, yet at the time African Americans made up less than 2% of the city’s population.
Who Were The Women?
Mary Williams was the daughter of Michael and Susan Franks Douge. At a young age Mary became a teacher in Albany’s segregated Wilberforce school, and subsequently married the principal Henry Hicks. After his death and the Civil War she went to Virginia and South Carolina to teach Black children. There she met and married Andrew Williams; the couple returned to Albany, and lived with her parents.
Susan Douge voted in the 1880 election as well; she was 74. She was born free in Albany, the daughter of Mercy and John Franks from Dutchess County. (It’s quite possible that Mercy and John were once enslaved by the Franks family of the Hudson Valley and New York City which included several generations of slave importers and traders.) Susan had been a founder of the African American Female Lundy Society in Albany in 1833. The Society was named after Benjamin Lundy, a fiery white abolitionist publisher of a well-known anti-slavery newspaper. (Lundy visited Albany in the late 1820s and made quite an impression.) It provided mutual relief and aid to members of the African American community, aided freedom seekers who came through Albany to escape slavery, and supported the efforts of both Black and white abolitionists.
Michael Douge was said to have come from a family that left Haiti during the 1790s Revolution in that country. He was a well-known barber and member of the Underground Railroad (UGRR) in the Albany from its earliest days. He was major figure in local Black civic affairs, and attended the first New York State Colored Convention, held in Albany in 1840, as well as subsequent local conventions. After the enactment of 15th amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1870, which permitted Black men to vote, Michael was an integral part of the Black Republican politics in the city.
The Douges were the “power couple” of African activists and anti-slavery abolitionists in Albany for decades, dating back to the 1820s. Their marriage in 1827 was announced in “Freedom’s Journal”, the first African American newspaper published in the U.S.
Most of the other African American women who voted in 1880 shared similar backstories.
Ann Bell was 67, the widow of Henry Bell who had been a trustee of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME)Church. In 1880 she was living at 169 Second St. in Arbor Hill, supporting herself as a laundress. Living with her was her son Charles, who worked as Pullman railroad sleeping car porter. Charles had served in the 54th Massachusetts, the first “colored” regiment raised in the North during the Civil War. He survived the Battle of Fort Wagner (memorialized in the movie “Glory”). In 1880 Ann was president of the Female Lovejoy Society, founded in the late 1830s. The Lovejoy Society was another female African American mutual relief association. (The Society was named after Elijah Lovejoy, a white radical abolitionist newspaper publisher murdered in 1837 by an angry anti-abolition mob in Illinois.)
Living with Ann was her sister Diana Williams, age 68, who also voted in the 1880 school election, and Diana’s husband John Williams. John had served as a trustee of the AME Church with Henry Bell. In the 1840s and 1850s John Williams was a member of the UGRR. After the 15th amendment was enacted he became active in Republican politics, and in the successful effort to de-segregate Albany public schools in 1873.
Frances Butler Dorsey, age 42, lived at 156 Third St. with her husband Sylvester Dorsey. He had served in the 26th NY CT (colored troop) regiment in the Civil War. In 1880 he was the armorer of the Albany Zoave cadets of the 10th NY National Guard unit (white) at 80 State St. In 1880 Frances was a member of both the Lundy and Lovejoy Societies.
Frances’ father John Butler had been a barber on the city and we believe he was member of the local UGRR. He had also been an active member of the local African Temperance Society, a group that included many members of the UGRR. Frances’ uncle was Dr. Thomas Elkins (her mother’s brother), a well-known Black physician, dentist and pharmacist. Elkins was a key member of the Albany UGRR Vigilance Committee, and conducted induction physicals for local men enlisting in the 54th Massachusetts in the Civil War.
Her younger sister Isabella was married to Thomas Sands Pennington. Pennington was the son of Rev. James W. S. Pennington, a key figure in the anti-slavery fight for decades. He was a close friend of Frederick Douglass; Pennington performed the marriage between Douglass and his first wife Anne Murray, immediately after Douglass’ escape to freedom. Her brother-in-law Thomas had apprenticed under Dr. Elkins in the 1850s when Frances was a teenager (and was probably a member of the city UGRR), and served in the 20th NY Colored Troop regiment in the Civil War. In 1880 he was the only Black pharmacy owner in Saratoga Springs.
Matilda Leggett was 29 and single. She lived at 158 Third St. (next to Frances Dorsey) in Arbor Hill with her widowed father Henry. He had been employed by the Delavan House Hotel, along with Stephen Myers, who was the head of the UGRR in Albany at the time. In the 1880 census Henry is listed as a cook and Matilda as keeping house.
Both Matilda’s parents are identified as being born in Schodack, NY in Rensselaer County in the 1820s. Based on available historical data we believe their families had been enslaved at one point by the Leggett family which spanned the Hudson Valley to New Yok City. (The Leggett-Hunt African Cemetery has recently been re-discovered in Hunt’s Point in Brooklyn. )
Julia Lawrence Myers was 35, had 2 children and lived at 169 Third St. (very close to Frances Dorsey and Matilda Leggett). She was the wife of Stephen Myers Jr., son of Stephen Myers who had been the supervising agent of UGRR in Albany in the 1850s. Her husband was employed at the New York State Capitol. It’s quite possible her father Peter Lawrence may also have been a member of the UGRR. Both her father and husband were active in Republican politics in the 11th ward in Arbor Hill in 1880. In 1919, long after the death of both her husband and father Julia was active in Albany County Republican politics.
Anne Shelve was 43 and lived at 49 Lark St. (close to Susan Douge and her daughter Catherine Williams) with her husband Dyer, a hotel waiter and their 3 children. She and her husband were relatively recent transplants from the District of Columbia. Her husband was very active in Republican politics for many years. Ann was member of both the Lundy and Lovejoy Societies in 1880.
Sarah Sandford Smith was 58. She was born in Albany. Sarah was the only Black woman who voted in 1880 who did not reside in Arbor Hill. In 1880 she lived at 410 Madison Ave. just below Lark St. (the house was destroyed by fire in 2017) with her husband Joseph A. Smith. For decades Sarah was a stewardess on the People’s Line, which sailed steamboats between Albany and New York City (in the late 1850s her daughter Mary Jane joined her). The Line transported so many freedom seekers before the Civil War the boats were sometimes called “abolition ships”. Sarah was a member of both the Lundy and Lovejoy Societies, and had served as an officer in both organizations at various times.
Joseph was originally from Charleston, S. C., the son of a white merchant and an enslaved mother. His father sent him North about the time of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. He had an extensive career working as a steward/butler and concierge in private homes and hotels, and appears to have used those connections a peripheral part of the UGRR in the 1850s. In 1880 he was the head usher at the United State Hotel in Saratoga Springs. (His book “Reminiscences of Saratoga”, published in 1897, is fascinating.)
Why Did so Many Black Women in Albany Vote?
There are many reasons, but first and foremost, women had been excluded in the 15th Amendment. African American women in Albany stood shoulder to shoulder with Black men since the early 1800s, creating an African American community where they could live as free Black people (although slavery didn’t end in New York State until 1827). They had fought for education for their children, had been instrumental in the establishment and survival of the Black churches that were the foundation of the Black community, and they too had been part of the fight against slavery and worked in the city’s UGRR.
The real answer may be quite simple. The newspaper stories of the time recount white women being refused the right to register to vote, or if registered, actually vote. They were often harassed, ridiculed and even physically threatened at polling places. No law enforcement came to their defense; no judge would help them. But that appears not to have happened in the polling places where there was active involvement of Black men – specifically in the 11th ward of the city. Although there were small Black-only enclaves in the ward, it was not segregated, and it appears to be the one ward in the city, based on the addresses of women who voted in 1880, where white and African American women were allowed to register and to vote without incident.
*Gage co-authored with Stanton and Anthony the first three volumes of “A History of Woman Suffrage” in 1879.
Adam Blake Jr. , was the adopted son of Adam Blake Sr., enslaved by “The Good Patroon” at the Van Rensselaer Manor. That mansion was on Broadway in North Albany.
Adam Jr. was born free about 1830 and worked his way up from waiter to restaurant owner to hotel owner. In 1879 he opened the Kenmore Hotel on North Pearl St. (yes, that Kenmore that’s still there). It was the most modern and luxurious hotel in Albany at the time. Blake leased the building, but it had been built to his specifications.
Sadly, Adam died suddenly in summer 1881, at the age of 51, just a couple of months after his oldest son passed way. One can only imagine the grief of his widow Catherine – her husband and first born child had died within 6 months. Catherine was barely 39 , and had 3 daughters and 1 son, all under the age of 10, to raise.
But Catherine was tough. Many people thought she would sell the hotel, take the money and leave. She didn’t despite a number of offers. Now was her opportunity. She ran the hotel for the next 7 years, still under her husband’s name. The Kenmore thrived. And Catherine became well-known and liked in Albany. It’s clear that she and Adam had been partners in business and in life. But few people knew that the best hotel in the Capital City of the largest state was managed by an African-American woman.
In addition to the Kenmore she went into real estate development, and bought land and built houses in a couple of areas of Albany. She became one of the richest women in the city. But like her husband she never forgot those who hadn’t fared so well. She was instrumental in the establishment of the Women’s Exchange, a place where talented women (Black and white) with skills , like fine needlework, could sell their items (think an 1880s brick and mortar Etsy).
In 1887 she pulled off one of the smartest business moves ever. A father and son named Rockwell wanted the Kenmore desperately. She turned them down repeatedly. They finally managed to secure a lease on part of Hotel to try to force her out. Not deterred, Catherine went to building owners surrounding the Hotel, including the new YMCA on Steuben. She secured access to top floors and a couple of ground floor businesses. She broke through walls on the top floors to create hotel rooms, moved the office and some other rooms like parlors on the ground floor, AND the main entrance. The Rockwells were left with a little island in the midst of a Hotel that now covered upper parts of a city block, and almost no access to their island.
Clever Mrs. Blake had outwitted the Rockwells. But about a year later Catherine decided to sell. Because she had enlarged hotel it was worth more, and she cut a slick and lucrative deal for hotel furnishing and contents, and of course, the reputation and goodwill of the Kenmore.
Despite her wealth Catherine wasn’t insulated from racial discrimination, which increased even in the North after the Civil War. In an 1884 letter she noted that many white Americans continued to think of Black Americans as “lazy, stupid and thriftless”.
Catherine and her children remained in Albany for a number of years. Her son Carroll Blake went to Cornell and obtained an engineering degree in the mid-1890s. Two of her daughters married. By 1900 Catherine and one daughter were living with her son and his wife in Brooklyn.
The Capital Repertory Theatre has moved to a new location on North Pearl St. north of Clinton. The building started out as a National Biscuit Co. (Nabisco) bakery in the early 1900s, manufacturing its first product Uneeda biscuits.
The biscuits were a huge hit. It was a time when people were very concerned about safe foods, adulteration and spoilage. Uneeda biscuits were packaged in a version of waxed paper (think Saltines). This made them a step above the grocery store cracker barrel and protected from damp. The bakery was on Pearl for decades until it moved in the late 1950s to Fuller Rd. and Railroad Ave. where it located its last Albany operation… Millbrook bread.
While cruising through old copies of “The Liberator”, the most prominent anti-slavery newspaper in America in the 19th century, I came across a small article from May 3, 1834 that sheds new light on Albany’s Black activism in the early part of the 19th century.
We know a lot about what happened several decades later, but very little about the formative years. In 1827 New York State abolished slavery. ( New Yorkj State was late to the party.)
By 1831 Albany’ had become a hotbed of Black agitation for abolition of slavery in the South and equal rights in the Black community – very much earlier than white abolitionists in the city. While most historians focus on Black activism in Philadelphia, New York City and Boston at that time, Albany was the 9th largest city in America in 1830, and had a Black population of between 700-800. African Americans in Albany were mad as hell about slavery in the South and NYS failure to provide them an opportunity to vote with the same rights as white men.
Members of the Black community had already successfully intervened in court cases that were attempting to send several people (a woman and 2 children) back to the South to be sold in the slave markets in 1828 and 1829.
And then in April 1834 they made their next public move. A “runaway” from a slave state was captured and held in jail (it was at the corner of Howard St. and Eagle St.).According to the article 100 “Negroes” stormed the jail, thronged the jail guards and constables, and rescued the “runaway” and got him away. It appears the guards whomped on the liberators and they didn’t punch back (very smart). Wow.. just wow. . I reached out to a number of historians and they’ve never heard of this.
The men who stormed the jail probably represented at least 1/3 of adult Black men in the City. The article indicates the action was so well-coordinated and timed, it had to have been a planned, not spontaneous (as other such later actions were other cities). And the date of 1834 makes this the earliest incident of this kind that has been described. in the country. Most “liberations” went down in the late 1840s and 1850s.
There are no names identified in the article, but we know who some of the likely suspects are. John Stewart and Michael Douge were fiery 30 something activist barbers.
Stewart had briefly published an incendiary newspaper “The African Sentinel” in 1831 that supported direct action against slavery and slave owners.
His best friend was Charles Morton. Both were agents of The Liberator.
Ben Lattimore, Jr. was the son of the man who had been the leading Black activist in Albany for 20 years, and had stepped into his father’s shoes. The family was probably the wealthiest Black family in the city at the time (they owned a lot of property and ran a thriving grocery store).
In 1834 Ben had recently married a woman born enslaved in Pittstown, Rensselaer County in 1812. Lattimore is identified as a member of the Albany Underground Rairoad (UGRR) , and 1 of 2 Black officers of the Eastern NY Anti-Slavery Society. In 1847 he bought a large farm in south of Glens Falls in Moreau for $3,000 and set up his own UGRR operation with Black and white men in the area.
Other men probably included Stephen Myers, a waiter who would become the supervising agent of the Albany UGRR in the 1850s and William Topp who would have been barely 19.
Topp would later become a wealthy tailor, member of the UGRR, and friend of the white abolitionists Susan B. Anthony, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips and Frederick Douglass. The group probably included Richard Thompson, who owned an eating house and fruit store (who would become the supervising agent of the Underground Railroad in Albany in the 1840s; Benjamin and Shiperd Paul whose uncle Rev. Nathaniel Paul founded the first Black Church in Albany in the 1820s; John Chambers -another barber, and John Briggs whose son William who would be killed in action while serving with the 54th Massachusetts, the famous “colored” regiment that stormed Ft. Wagner in the Civil War.
Jonathan was born in Albany to Phoebe Brooks (Broecks) and John Kidney in 1760 into an old Dutch and English settler family.
In July 1777, at age 17 he was drafted as a militia man in Col. Gerrit Lansing’s Regiment, under the command of General Philip Schuyler. Albany was a hot bed of revolutionary spirit and men of all ages were members of the various militias (think of the militia as today’s National Guard vs. a standing army – in the Revolutionary War that was the Continental Army). The members of the Albany Committee of Correspondence, Safety and Protection, the group that took charge of Albany County during the Revolution were imbued with an especially zealous revolutionary spirit and were especially harsh when dealing with suspected Loyalists and shirkers.
The information we have about Jonathan’s War service comes from his pension application. His regiment was first ordered to Fort Edward, but then fell back to fight in the Battle of Bennington. They were then ordered to Saratoga, but missed the Battle. In the aftermath of the Battle his company was assigned the duty of escorting the “Convention Army” (the British and Hessian prisoners of war who fought under Burgoyne) across Massachusetts to Boston.
In 1778 he served a brief militia tour of duty in the vicinity of Cobleskill and Schoharie. In 1779 he again served with another local militia group, this time in the Mohawk Valley.
In fall 1782, when he was about 23, he was among a group of men who sailed on the privateer “Scammel” from the New England coast. (In addition to Jonathan’s apparent adventuresome spirit, there was a lot of money to made as a member of a privateer crew.) In 1782, while most of the Revolutionary War hostilities had ceased, the Treaty of Paris between the United States and Great Britain had not yet been signed – technically America and Great Britain were still at war.
Prisoner of War
In his 1833 pension application Jonathan deposed:
“We sailed out on the cruise about a fortnight and were then taken in about a days sail off Sandy Hook, by the British Frigate Jason – the 50 gun ship” being in Company with her. Part of the Crew of the Privateer was put on board the“Jason and a part of them on board the Renown I was put on board the Renown and taken into New York. I was then transferred to the old Jersey Prison Ship – I remained a prisoner until May following when Peace was proclaimed. Parts of the time I was confined onboard the Jersey Prison ship and part of the time onboard the Hospital ships.”
The Jersey was a the most notorious of the British prison ships. It lay at anchor off in Wallabout Bay, near what is today the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It was a hell hole of disease, starvation, abuse and death. Men were crammed below decks where there was no natural light or fresh air and few provisions for the sick and hungry. Thousands of men were kept confined in quarters designed for 400 sailors. Diseases of all kinds were rampant. There are estimates that as many as a dozen prisoners died each day. More American men died aboard the British prison ships than in the total of all Revolutionary War battles.
The pension application says,
“I recollect that the news of Peace was publicly read onboard the Jersey Prison ship to the prisoners and we were immediately discharged. We went out up with a flag to Dobb’s Ferry. I stopped at _ Point, where I received two days provisions by the direction of the Commanding officer. Then I went to Newburg where the army there lay. I there got six days of provisions and a half pint of rum and then came home to Albany in a sloupe.” (Note: the Treaty of Paris that ended the War was not signed until September, 1783, but there were exchanges of prisoners starting late winter of that year.)
Men who were released from the “Jersey” were said to have been “walking skeletons”. Jonathan indicated that he and his fellow prisoners were unable to travel on foot more than 5 miles a day as a result of their weakened condition.
After The War
Like most young men Johnathan returned to his home in Albany and became a blacksmith living most of his life near or on Hudson Ave. just east of South Pearl St, with his smithy on South Pearl near State St. In the early 1790s he married Hannah Van Zandt from another old Dutch Albany family and they started their own family. He lived a most ordinary life, like most of the men who fought, with one notable exception.
After the War Jonathan became an artillery devotee. We have this from Munsell’s Annals of Albany (Vol. 10):
“It was said that when the Old Artillery Company was formed, soon after peace was restored (note after the War ended), the state having no field pieces to supply them with, a suggestion was made by someone who had been in Mr. Van Rensselaer’s (Note: Van Rensselaer was the Patroon) service that there was probably one or more iron cannon among the rubbish in his old storehouse, and search having been made, two iron four pounders were found in the cellar and taken out. They were fetted up and used until the state replaced them with brass field pieces. It was one of those guns which became famous in the hands of Jonathan Kidney and was long used for firing salutes from Robinson’s Hill on all suitable occasions. He called it the “Clinton” in honor of George Clinton.”
Jonathan’s love of the booming cannon continued for decades. Munsell also reports that in 1829, upon the swearing-in of Martin Van Buren (who lived on State St.) as Governor of the State, a salute of 33 guns one for each thousand majority vote,’was fired by Jonathan Kidney’s old field piece on Robinson’s Hill. (Robinson’s Hill was the area west of Grand St. and north of Madison Ave., up to about Eagle St.) That salute made news across the country.PoliticsLike many who fought in the War for Independence Jonathan became politically active. He had fought for the new nation and wanted a say in what it would become.
He would, over time, become what we think of today as a Jacksonian Democrat. Many of them started out in the 1780s as followers of Thomas Jefferson – anti-federalists who were opponents of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution because it gave too much power to the Federal government.
The Green Street Incident
The story of what happened with Jonathan, the Constitution and his cannon in 1788 is told several ways. All stories begin in the same way. There was a parade on August 8th and Jonathan and his cannon were positioned on Green St. near State St., just up from Broadway.
In one story, the parade is made up of anti-federalists were marching against ratification, and prepared to burn a copy of the Constitution. Jonathan was at the ready to lend appropriate sound effects. In another version the parade consisted of people in support of the Constitution, and Jonathan had hauled his cannon to disrupt the procession, but he never got his chance because the parade route was changed at the last minute.
In yet another version the parade is made up of Federalists marching in favor of the Constitution. When they reached Green St., as planned, a skirmish ensued. And so the story goes, “A cannon had been procured, and heavily charged; and the excitement was so great, that it would undoubtedly have been discharged upon the line of procession, had not Mr. Kidney prevented it by driving the end of a file into the fuse, and breaking it off.”
Hannah died in 1833 and Jonathan in 1849, having lived to the venerable age of 88. Upon his death the Albany Journal noted, “Jonathan kidney was born in this city, where he has resided for eighty-eight years. He was consequently one of the oldest connecting links between the past and the present. He has sustained through life a blameless reputation, and died, as he lived, greatly beloved by his descendants and universally respected by all who knew him.
”One obituary claimed Jonathan still owned that cannon until the day of his death.
Jonathan is buried in Albany Rural Cemetery in Section 75, lot 23.
For over a century Dr. George Carter was thought to be the first Black graduate of Albany Medical College. But I recently discovered there was a much earlier African American graduate – Dr. Ernest Angus. He graduated from Albany Medical College in 1885, at the top of his class.
His story is wonderful and sad. Ernest Angus came to the U.S. from Antigua in 1881 at the age of 17 with other members of his family. They settled in Albany and by 1883 he was enrolled in Albany Medical College. Back then the College was located on Eagle St. about 4 blocks south of State St.
Black newspapers of the time report him working with Albany’s Dr. Thomas Elkins. Elkins was a Black man who was tutored by Albany Medical College professors in the early 1850s, but never officially became an MD, although the entire city treated him as if he was a physician. He was appointed by Albany’s Mayor Nolan to serve as a local district physician. You may know the name Elkins from Albany’s Undergrounds Railroad (UGRR). He was a member of the Vigilance Committee.
While in med school Ernest also worked for Thomas Pennington. Pennington was the son of a famous Black abolitionist, the Rev. J.W. Pennington. In 1884 Pennington owned the only pharmacy in Saratoga Springs operated by a Black man. Thomas Pennington and Thomas Elkins were the best of friends. When Pennington was in his 20s he apprenticed with Elkins, at the same time Elkins was a member of the UGRR.
Angus graduated with a College prize.
By 1886 Angus was living in New York City. Ultimately he decided to settle in Clarksville, Tenn. By then it appears only Ernest’s father had survived. (There are several burials at Albany Rural Cemetery in 1884 that appear to be his younger siblings.) Sadly, Mr. Angus died in 1887 and is buried in Clarksville. Dr. Angus married a young Black teacher from Arkansas in 1890.
His future looked bright, and he appears set to accomplish great things. In the same year his name appears as one of a group of Black physicians who are holding a convention for Black doctors in the South. At this time most southern (and some northern) Black doctors were denied admission to local medical societies. Their participation in the American Medical Association was not a thing (although it appears that a couple of Black physicians in the North were allowed to join).
Sadly, Dr. Angus contracted tuberculosis. He went to a sanitarium in Colorado Springs, but died there in 1892, barely 28 years old.
Note: In 1895 Black physicians across the country would establish their own medical association, the National Medical Association.
The Old State House (now the Court of Appeals Building) located on Eagle street between Pine and Columbia streets was erected in 1843.
The offices of the Comptroller and other state officials were situated in this building. The soft marble for the structure came from the Mt. Pleasant prison quarries, later renamed Sing Sing. A competent engineer, Andrea Dubre – serving a life sentence for murder, was found among the prison population, and assigned to supervise the task. He would mark each piece of marble prior to its shipment to Albany to indicate exactly in what position the stones belonged in cementing together the building.
When an attempt was made to cement the marble together, neither architect Henry Rector, superintendent Jonathan Lyman, nor master mason David Orr could determine from the marked hieroglyphics the proper order of the stones. The engineer-prisoner was confronted and the key demanded. He balked, telling them “you can probably get out new stone a good deal quicker than you can work out my system.
”In order to arrange the correct matching of the marble, State officials decided it was necessary to bring the prisoner who marked the quarries to Albany to solve the masonry jigsaw puzzle. The officials said they’d take him to Albany and force him to put up the building. He refused. They offered to move him to an Albany prison rather than Sing Sing. He refused that as well. The inmate said he would not migrate and decipher his inscriptions unless he was promised a full and unconditional pardon.
Dubre was brought to Albany and put up at the Old Eagle Tavern. He was taken under guard each day to the construction site, and watched closely as he untangled the puzzle he had created.
Once the work was completed, Dubre stood in the portico of the finished building. Governor Marcy arrived bearing a roll of paper; he handed it to Dubre. It was his pardon. Dubre left the columned portico a free man.
The ex-convict left history with an architectural mystery never solved. Within the entrance was a flight of marble stairs leading to the second floor. It curved upward without visible support except from the wall on one side and an iron railing on the other. Architects eventually came from far and wide to study the stairs, yet it was never determined exactly what held them up.
Cities change; sometimes the change is slow and sometimes rapid.. but they change. They reflect the people who live in them and their changing needs. We think that no other place in Albany demonstrates this type of change as well as one block on Washington Ave. between Partridge St. and North Main Ave.
In the early 1800s this area was probably farmland, several miles away from the populated area of the city. But in the late mid-1840s it became a Roman Catholic Cemetery. At that time it was bounded by Washington Ave., Erie St., Lancaster St., and North Main Ave.
The original purchaser was probably St. Mary’s Parish because it’s usually known as Sr. Mary’s Cemetery today, but by the late 1860s and 1870s it was known also known as Cathedral Cemetery and St. Joseph’s Cemetery as well. Although there was a small Roman Catholic lot in the State Street Burial Ground (it would later become Washington Park) dating back to about 1800, as a huge influx of mostly Irish Catholic immigrants poured into Albany it became inadequate. St. Mary’s become the primary Catholic cemetery in the city. In the 1860s, about 20 years after Albany Rural Cemetery (ARC) was founded, the Catholic Diocese created St. Agnes Cemetery in Menands, but burials in St. Mary’s Cemetery continued. But the city was expanding at an explosive pace. The population grew rapidly after the Civil War, and the invention of first the electric trolley, and then the automobile made it possible for residential development to expand west from downtown.
By 1910 or so land was at a premium and city officials were working to remove the few private cemeteries in city. A newspaper notice from 1914 says the disinterment of at least 8,000 bodies will be begin in the next week; but that appears to have been delayed. A 1916 article says disinterment is imminent and refers to 2,000 bodies. We may never know number of removals.
The City of Albany purchased the cemetery land (about 8 acres) around 1920 , and then subsequently property on Lancaster St. (that at the time ran between Partridge St. and North Main Ave, parallel to Washington Ave).
There were lots of idea about what it should be, including a miniature golf course (all the rage at the time). But it was decided it should be a park – St. Mary’s Park and playground; it opened around 1925. In the mid-1930s the park was expanded, and the Erie St. boundary disappeared – extending area to Partridge St. And it so remained a park for about 2 decades.
In 1945 part of the property was transferred to New York State. Prior to World War II the State Teacher’s College had plans to expand its facilities, and construct a gymnasium and other buildings. But those plans were de-railed by the War, and would be de-railed again after the War.
The Barracks Village
Before World War II there was a severe housing shortage in Albany. Post-War the shortage became a full-fledged crisis. Men came back from the War had shared bedrooms as boys; they now had wives and children and nowhere to go. Several generations of families were crammed into small houses and apartments. It was that way across the country. Yet building takes time, so New York State decided it needed to construct temporary housing for veterans across the state.
In Albany it selected the St. Mary’s Park land owned by both the State and city. Old military barracks were trucked in from the western part of the state and converted to housing. A street grid was laid out:, water, sewer, gas and electric lines were run, and concrete sidewalks poured. There was even a village post office and a small playground The village was designed to accommodate 250 families in apartments and 150 single men who would be living in dormitories -attending school on the GI Bill. Newspaper articles of the time report there were 700 applicants.
The first 22 families moved into their new homes in October, 1946.And everything was wonderful until it wasn’t.
The little veteran’s village was meant to be temporary, but NYS authorizing legislation was extended twice. By 1952 it was still occupied, although the buildings were deteriorating and several had to be evacuated. NYS offered it to the City – the city declined because it was building Albany’s first housing project in North Albany. Things got messy; the remaining families were evicted, and in 1954 all traces of the village was razed.
St. Mary’s Park and Playground Again
By 1956 St. Mary’s Park was turned into a playground again. This time it was much expanded, with a large wading pool (it was concrete and knee scrapes were legendary), the addition of tennis courts and a baseball diamond. Off to one corner on North Main Ave. the Naval Reserve Center was built about the same year.
The High School
In 1966 Albany decided to build a new high school in St. Mary’s Park. The area to be used was identified as 27 acres. The existing high schools, Albany High on Western Ave. and Philip Schuyler in the South End, were old, deteriorating, out-of-date and over-crowded. Additionally, they were concerns raised by the NAACP about the lack of facilities and programs (compared to Albany High) in Schuyler High School which had a majority Black student body.
But this is Albany and things sometimes move like molasses in January. Finally the first pilings for the new high school for sunk, but they had rusted out by 1970 (O Albany).
After a new start, a multi-million dollar cost over-run, and charges of corruption and graft among contractors and politicians the new Albany High School opened in January, 1974, amid rumors it was haunted.
The Haunted High School ?
Well, Albany High IS built on an old cemetery. And almost every time something new was built on the site remains from the old cemetery were found. During the first transformation to a playground newspapers reported that remains of 2 individuals were found; at least one body was found when the Barracks Village was built; another when the site returned to a playground in the 1950s, and in 1972 during high school construction workers found the remains of two individuals from the cemetery. Who knows what lies beneath?
Most everyone has heard of the Harlem Hellfighters. It was the all-Black regiment that fought with great courage and distinction in World War I. It was the regiment in which Sgt. Henry Johnson fought, and for his bravery he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President of Obama in 2015.
In late August, 2021 the entire Hellfighters regiment received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award Congress can bestow. The Medal dates back to 1776 when it was first awarded to General George Washington. There have been less than 200 recipients in 250 years.
You probably know that Sgt. Johnson was living in Albany when he enlisted in the Hellfighters. But you may not know that there were at least 44 other men from Albany who enlisted in the Hellfighters as well, and fought bravely alongside of him. They have been overlooked for about a century and it’s time to give them their due, and tell you about them.
Who were the Harlem Hellfighters?
The Hellfighters was a segregated, all-volunteer regiment mustered in World War I. (The U. S. Army wouldn’t be de-segregated for another 41 years, in 1948 after World War II, by President Truman.) The regiment started out as the 15th NY National Guard (known as the 15th Infantry) and subsequently became part of the U.S. Army as the 369th Infantry.
The men who served came from across New York State and even outside of the State. But the bulk of enlistees were from Manhattan – and most of those from Harlem, which is how the refiment got part of its name.
The men called themselves the “Black Rattlers”. The French called them “Hommes de Bronze” – Men of Bronze. But it was the German name that stuck, “HollenKampfers” – Hellfighters – because they fought like demons from Hell.
Company C – The Men from Albany
So far we’ve identified 45 men from Albany who enlisted in the 15th. We’re confident there are more, but we can’t confirm their military records. Almost half of the men enlisted on the same date – May 15, 1917. We think it’s a safe assumption they went to enlist as a group – both in Albany and New York City. This was 5 weeks after President Wilson declared war on April 9, 1917, and 4 days before a universal draft was enacted. The rest of the initial Albany contingent enlisted later that month and in June (Sgt. Henry Johnson enlisted on June 5, 1917) and July. This group became the nucleus of Company C (a/k/a Albany Company) of the 15th.
In July, 1917 the initial enlistees from Albany reported to training camp in Peekskill. We presume most of the men, even given disparities in age (18 to39), knew one another. There were overlapping groups – the men who lived in Arbor Hill, including a small group of boys who had all attended School 6 on Second St. together, and a group railroad porters. Some of the men had also been members of a very popular Black baseball team the Hudson Giants.
At Peekskill they met the commander of the 15th – a white lawyer from New York City, Colonel William Hayward. Later that summer they were sent to Camp Whitman near Poughkeepsie. During that time the Unit was federalized and became part of the U. S. Army. They were then sent to training camps in the South. The men met with increasing levels of racial discrimination and harassment by civilians and white troops the farther into the South they went. This culminated in the physical assault by white troops of one of the soldiers of the 15th. . Both white and Black soldiers rushed to his defense.
Hayward was a strong advocate for his men. He imposed strict discipline and implored them to ignore racial taunts and insults. Confrontations among white soldiers and civilians, and other Black units had resulted in deaths in the past, but after the attack he ensured his men were sent back to New York.
Hayward concluded it would be best to ship the 15th to Europe as soon as possible. He discussed the need for this with General John Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), who reluctantly agreed. After several attempts they sailed from New York City, reaching France in late December, 1917; they were among the first American troops to reach Europe.
In their first months in France the men of the 15th weren’t assigned to combat; they performed general labor duties. The deployment of Black troops was a problem for Pershing. His nickname was “Black Jack” because he had previously commanded an all Black unit. But history gives him mixed reviews about his feelings regarding Black soldiers’. While he appears to have strong affection for their loyalty and valor, in his memoirs he indicated they lacked certain abilities. In 1931 Pershing wrote:
“It is well known that the time and attention that must be devoted to training colored troops to raise their level of efficiency to the average was considerably greater than white regiments.”
Colonel Hayward urged Pershing to let his men fight. But it was clear there were large numbers of white troops who would not willingly go into combat alongside Black troops. Black and white regiments had fought in the same line of battle in the last days of the Civil War. And they fought together up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War. But Jim Crow in the South had spread to the North by 1917. Black and white troops side by side in the trench warfare of World War I wouldn’t work .
The French were desperate for whatever help the Americans could provide, but Pershing was loathe to place U.S. troops under other Allied command. Finally, Pershing relented, and permitted the 15th to fight under French officers, rather than just serve merely in a support role. As Colonel Hayward put it: “Our great American general simply put the black orphan in a basket, set it on the doorstep of the French, pulled the bell, and went away.”
At about the same time in March, 1917 that the 15th received its final, formal federal designation as the 369th infantry it was sent to fight under French command. Race was rarely an issue for the French Army. White soldiers and Black troops form the French Colonial territories in North and West Africa had long fought together.
After training under the French the 15th went into combat May, 1918. They wore American uniforms, but used French helmets and carried French rifles. On May 15, 1918 Sgt. Henry Johnson, while on sentry duty, displayed his courage. He and Pvt. Needham Roberts were attacked by German soldiers. Though wounded, they refused to surrender, fighting in hand-to-hand combat. Johnson killed multiple Germans and suffered 21 wounds.
The 15th went on to fight at Belleau Woods in June 1918. Jim Reese Europe, the Hellfighters’ famous bandleader Europe, who brought jazz to France, was injured in a German mustard gas attack outside the village of Maffrecourt where the Hellfighters’ had trained. They continued to aggressively fight their way across France. Casualties started mounting in Company C. In July Privates Charles Jackson, William Randall and George Simmons were wounded; in August Private Cornelius Banks.
At one point when a French General wanted the men to retreat Colonel Hayward told him they would not, “They move forward or they die”, he said. Hayward called them “the Black Tigers”. A captured German colonel is alleged to have said, “They are devils” “They smile while they kill and they won’t be taken alive.”
The Hellfighters pursued he Germans methodically, advancing from trench to trench, where they rested at night. Cpl. Robert DeGroff, on his return to Albany, told the Knickerbocker Press a story about the Germans and the 15th: “.. the Germans tried to capture one of the Negro troops to keep him as a “souvenir”. The German officers tried to take one of the men and send him to the Kaiser, he said. Every night for four months they made attempts by coming to the trenches and speaking in English, hoping to deceive the men into believing them Englishmen”.
The Bravery of the Hellfighters and Company C
In the Helfighters’ last major offensive in the Meuse-Argonne in September, 1918 Company C was said to have taken “hideous and continuous casualties”. At least eight men were wounded, many of them severely: Sgt. Alfred Adams and Privates Robert Green, Robert DeGroff, Merritt Molson, Wlbur Putnam, Clarence Sickles and William Vedder. It was during this push that the Hellfighters captured the key German position in the French town of Sechault. In October Privates Robert Blackwell, Albert Johnson and George Walker were wounded.
Cpl. Robert Degroff described the last push:
“On our left were French, Moroccan and Algerian troops.. A fierce rain, followed by thunder overtook us. It rained all night. The ground was soaked and made our advance difficult. However, we held out and managed to take five hills from the enemy. We flanked them and the best they could do was retreat to their inside lines. Our chance came, the day of the great American drive, when 750,000 of our soldiers marched forward in a solid mass to drive the enemy from their trenches, and found me in the Champagne sector our division facing a great enemy barrage.
September 28, the day of the great drive, we received orders to advance. As we went over the top hundreds of German airplanes hovered over our heads throwing great bombs which wrought havoc in our lines. It was on this day we suffered our greatest casualties. Despite the fierce enemy machine gun fire, we continued to advance; our lines remining unbroken. We struck the enemy fierce blows on their left flank. “
At that point Cpl. DeGroff was hit in the back and neck by machine gunfire. The next thing he knew, he was waking up in an army hospital.
The 15th was the first Allied unit to reach the Rhine. By the end of the war the Hellfighters had spent 191 days in combat, more than any other American regiment. At War’s end the 15th had suffered 1,500 casualties, more than any other American regiment.
For its valor and courage, the Hellfighters was presented with the Croix de Guerre by a grateful French government. The citation read:
“Under the command of Colonel Hayward, who though injured, insisted on leading his regiment into battle, of Lieutenant Colonel Pickering, admirable cool and brave, of Major Cobb (killed), of Major Spencer (grievously wounded), of Major Little, a true leader of man, the 369th R. I. U.S., engaging in an offensive for the first time in the drive of September 1918, stormed powerful enemy positions, energetically defended, after heavy fighting in the town of Sechault, captured prisoners and brought back six cannon and a great number of machine guns,”
We know of three men from Company C who received individual awards of the French Croix de Guerre – Sgt. Henry Johnson, Sgt. Alfred Adams and Sgt. Arthur Tucker, and possibly a fourth, Sgt. Merritt Molson. (171 men in the Hellfighters received individual medals from the French.)
The soldiers who had enlisted in late Spring, 1917 were quickly demobilized. The regiment returned to the United States in early December. It was first to come home; the Hellfighters were part of large parade on February 17, 1919 on Fifth Ave. in New York City, and then up Lenox Ave. through Harlem, among cheering crowds.
And then they returned to their homes. While there was a period of brief celebrity, their accomplishments in the War seemed to matter little in Albany. The men from the 15th attended a large dinner for all returning veterans, and in March, 1919 there was a special dinner in honor of Sgt. Henry Johnson., at which Colonel Hayward spoke.
Most of the men returned to their previous jobs if they were lucky. A couple of men appear to have been provided jobs in the State Capitol as porters or messengers by Gov. Al Smith.
Some, like Henry Johnson, had been so severely wounded they were unable to work at the physical labor jobs they had before the War, so they were left to drift. The story of his bravery and courage had been used by the U.S. government to attract Black men to enlist and to sell War Bonds. Yet he was unable to find steady employment in the city that had lauded him as a hero. Unlike many others his military record does not indicate he was wounded in action, and it appears he didn’t receive a veteran’s disability pension. Johnson contracted tuberculosis and slowly succumbed to alcoholism. He traveled the country, and gave several speeches. In one which raised a furor in newspapers across the country he railed against the racism of the U.S. military and the country in general. He died virtually penniless in 1929 at age 32. He’s buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Veteran’s Organizations -Separate But Equal?
Veterans received a lump sum payment of $80 upon separation from service. There were no general pensions for World War I veterans, only meager disability pensions even for those for who whom there were records, and system for computing and disbursing pensions inadequate. Efforts by the federal government to facilitate private sector employment for returning veterans were not successful (especially for Black veterans), nor were vocational training programs.
And so veteran’s organizations were formed to advocate on behalf of the men who served. But even they were segregated. There was the Admiral Coughlan Post 25 of the VFW in Albany, established in the early 1900s for the local men who had served in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection. There were several Black members (including one man who went on to serve in Company C 16 years later – Sgt. Albert Johnson.) But that was a time before Jim Crow racism had spread from the South to the North.
We will never know exactly what happened, but a March 16, 1919 article in the Albany Argus indicated that 17 Black men who served in the Hellfighters were admitted to the Coughlan Post. But there was a proviso – as soon as they found 25 Black men they were to establish their own VFW post. Later that year the Albany Hellfighters established their own VFW post – the Lorillard Spencer VFW Post 119. It was named after Major Spencer who had been in charge of the 3rd Battalion of the 15th, (in which Company C served), and was said to have had a special affinity with the “colored troops” as he fought alongside them. He too was severely wounded by machine gun fire in the September, 1918 Meuse offensive. The first known address of the Spencer VFW Post is 641 Broadway in 1921. Sgt. Albert Johnson, who had once been a member of the Coughlan Post was the first Commander of the Spencer Post.
There were other Black men from Albany who served in World War I – some we believe fought overseas, but others who probably never saw combat and remained in the U.S (Approximately 400,000 Black men served in World War I.). They started their own American Legion Post, the Walter Dixon Post 966, which some of the members of the Hellfighters joined as well. Private Walter Dixon was a young man from Albany who enlisted in the 15th; ; he died in training camp in Peekskill in July, 1917. (In 1944 in the midst of World War II the Dixon Post changed its name to the Henry Johnson Post.) The first Commander of the Dixon Post was James H. Harder.
Who Were theAlbany Men inCompany C?
This is a list of the some of the men from Albany who served with the 369th (most served in Company C – “Albany Company”) gleaned from military and census records, and old newspapers. We believe there are more we have been unable to find.
Sgt. Alfred (Maurice) Adams – born Albany (attended School 6 in Arbor Hill;); lived 83 Orange St at time of enlistment. Enlisted 6/15/17 in New York City – age 20. Severely wounded in France. August, 1918. Awarded Croix de Guerre. After the War he employed as Red Cap porter at Union Station for over 30 years, and lived most of his life on North Lake Ave.
Sgt. Albertus (Bert) Anderson – born Camden SC; lived 23 Spruce St. Employed as coachman in 1915. Enlisted 5/22/17 New York City – age 30. After the War worked in a scrap metal business.
Pvt. Leroy Baker – born in Rensselaer, NY. Lived in Albany as child. Enlisted 5/15/17 in New York City – age 18. Killed from “accidental wounds” June 29, 1918 in France.
Pvt. Cornelius Banks – born Albany (attended School 6 in Arbor Hill); lived 59 Third St. Enlisted 9/21/17 – age 19. Severely wounded in France August, 1918. Banks was a founding member of the Spencer VFW Post. Immediately after War he was living at 66 Third St. and working as a porter. At one point he worked for New York State after War, He lived in Arbor Hill and Sheridan Hollow most of his life. In his later years he worked in construction.
Frank Bembry – born Canton NC; lived 49 Spencer St. Enlisted 7/15/19 – age 32. Deserted 11/17 in New York State.
Pvt. Robert Blackwell – born Easton, MD; lived 167 Third St. He was a married railroad porter at time of enlistment. Enlisted 5/15/17 – age 25. Wounded in France October, 1918. Early member of Spencer VFW post.
Pvt. Harold Caesar – born Rensselaer, NY; lived 146 Sheridan Ave. Enlisted 5/15/17 – age 20. He was active for many years in the Spencer VFW Post, and a member of the Albany Inter-Racial Council formed in 1929. Employed as a chauffeur and mechanic after the War.
Sgt. Walter Cobbs – born Danville, VA; lived 207 Railroad Ave., Catskill (Mother and rest of family lived in Albany.) Enlisted 4/18/18 – age 22. Brother of Pvt. William Hellicous. Early member of the Spencer VFW Post. Truck driver before and after War.
Pvt. Henry Cole – born Albany; lived on Third St. Enlisted in NYC on 5/15/17 – age 36. Married. Employed as cook at the Hospital for the Incurables before and after the War. Brother-in-law of Pvt. James Harder, first Commander of the Dixon American Legion Post.
Bertham Davis (rank unknown) – born Albany; lived 223 Myrtle Ave. Enlisted age 23. Married with one child. When he returned he continued his employment as an elevator operator. Active in the Spencer VFW Post in early days,
Cpl. Robert DeGroff – born Pittsfield, MA; lived 64 Irving St. Enlisted on 5/17/17- age 27. Married. Wounded September, 1918. Returned to his job as a porter at the NYS Capitol and appears to have subsequently become a construction worker in Albany. He was an early member of the Spencer VFW Post.
Pvt. John Dixon – born in Wilmington, DE. Pvt. Dixon enlisted in the 15th in June, 1916 when he was 38. He was only man we found to enlist before President Wilson’s Declaration of War. At the time of enlistment he lived in New York City. He was initially in Company F, then transferred to Company C, and moved to Albany after his discharge.
Pvt. Julius Dixon – born Ballston Springs, NY; lived 22 Bleecker St. in Albany Enlisted 7/14/17 – age 19.
Pvt. Walter Dixon – born Albany; lived 168 Third St. Enlisted 7/25/17 – age 18. Died October, 1918 of wounds received in action in spring, 1918.
Cpl. William Myers Freeman – born Albany; attended School 6 in Arbor Hill, lived 199 Third St. Enlisted 5/15/17 – age 21. (Great Great Grandson of Stephen Myers, supervising agent of the Albany Underground Railroad.) Founding member of Spencer VFW Post, and Commander in the 1930s.
Pvt. Robert Green – born Albany; attended School 6 in Arbor Hill; lived 664 Broadway. Enlisted 7/14/17 – age 18. We know little about him except that before the War he played first base for the very popular Tri-City Hudson Giants Black baseball team. He was wounded in France September, 1918. Immediately after the War he was working as a chauffeur. He was a founding member of Spencer VFW Post.
Pvt. William Hellicous – born Catskill NY; lived with family at 17 Second St. Enlisted 5/15/17- age 22. Brother of Sgt. Walter Cobbs. Died in training camp September, 1917.
Pvt. Charles Jackson – born in Great Barrington, MA; lived 23 Monroe St. Enlisted 5/19/17 – age 29. Severely wounded in action July , 1918 and severely wounded again October, 1918. He was a railroad porter before and after the War. Founding member of Spencer VFW Post.
Pvt. George Jackson – born Kinderhook, NY; lived 173 ½ Third St. with family. Teamster prior to enlistment. Enlisted 4/30/17 – age 26. Cousin of James Harder, first Commander of the Walter Dixon Post, and lived with Harder family for decades.
Sgt. William Jackson – born Montgomery, AL. Enlisted in NYC 5/15/17 – age 25. Served in Company F of the Harlem Hellfighters. Moved to Albany after the War. Member of the Spencer Post.
Sgt. Albert Johnson – born Lynchburg Va.; lived 183 First St. Married with 1 child a time of enlistment. Driver for a trucking Co. Enlisted 5/17/17- age 37. Wounded in France October, 1918. Awarded the Croix de Guerre. Johnson’s initial military service was in the Philippine Insurrection in 1900 in which he served on the U.S. Navy Gunboat “Helena”. Immediately after the War he is was appointed as a messenger at the Capitol by Governor Al Smith; he served in that position for decades. He was the first Commander of the Spencer VFW Post.
Sgt. Henry Johnson – born Winston- Salem, NC; lived 35 Monroe St (draft registration card lists his address as 53 Spencer St.). His employment is listed on his registration card as a laborer at the Albany Coal and Wood Co. Enlisted 6/5/17 – age 23. ((The registration card also shows he “made his mark” and it was witnessed, which indicates he was probably illiterate – not an uncommon circumstance for men raised in the South where education of Black children was not a priority.) Awarded Croix de Guerre with the Gold Palm (one of the first Americans to receive the Croix); awarded Medal of Honor posthumously 2015.
Pvt. James Johnson – born Albany; lived 312 Orange St. Enlisted 3/29/18 – age 27. (Tried to enlist in 5/17, but rejected for failure to meet physical requirements.) After the War he became a bank messenger/porter for the First Trust Bank and worked there for several decades. He was active in the Spencer VFW post for many years.
Pvt. Charles Jones – born Elmira, NY; lived 55 Monroe St. Porter NY Central Railroad at time of enlistment. Enlisted 6/18/17 – age 26. Railroad porter after War. (Probably brother of Pvt. Louis Jones.)
Pvt. Louis Jones – born in Elmira, NY; lived 166 Third St. (next to Pvt. Walter Hallicous). Enlisted 5/15/17- age 25. Railroad porter before and after War. (Brother-in-law of Pvt. Charles Jackson; probably brother of Pvt. Charles Jones.) Appears to have left Albany in 1920s.
Pvt. Robert Lodge – born Albany; attended School 6 in Arbor Hill. Enlisted 5/15/17 in New York City – age 20. We think he was the great nephew of John Lodge, who served in the 20th NY “colored troop” regiment in the Civil War. Early member of Spencer VFW Post. Died 1920.
Sgt. George McNamara – born Ballston Spa, NY; raised by grandparents in Albany. Enlisted 5/15/17 – age 35. At time of enlistment, he was a widower living on Dove St. working in a livery stable. He was active in the early days of the Spencer VFW post. After the War he was porter at the Capitol, living on Market St.
Cpl. Foster Molson – born Binghamton NY; lived 49 North Swan St. with family. Enlisted 9/9/18 – age 33 Before the War he was the captain of the very popular Tri-City Black baseball team the Hudson Giants. Brother of Sgt. Merritt Molson. Moved to Queens, NY by mid-1920s.
Sgt. Merritt Molson – born Binghamton; lived 49 North Swan with family. Enlisted 5/15/17 – age 18. Wounded September, 1918. Brother of Cpl. Foster Molson. He was star track and field athlete at Albany High School and right fielder for the popular Tri-City Black baseball team the Hudson Giants. Enlisted in senior year. Returned to high school after War. Active in the early days of the Spencer VFW Post. Graduated Howard University School of Dentistry in 1923 and established a practice in Queens, NY. (Said to have been awarded by Croix de Guerre in History of the Negro in the Great World War, W. Allison Sweeney, 1919.)
Pvt. George Morgan – born Cobleskill, NY. Enlisted 5/15/17 in New York City –age 39. Active in the early days of Spencer VFW Post. Resided 643 Broadway (a boarding house close to Union Station) and worked as a railroad porter in 1920 after the War. Pvt. Clarence Sickles lived in same boarding house.
Pvt. Wilbur Putnam – born Albany; lived 175 Church St. Enlisted 8/16/17 – age 21. Severely wounded in France September, 1918. In 1920 he was living with his family on Dongan Ave. working as a construction laborer. Boarding with the family was Pvt. Edward Taylor.
Pvt. William Randall – born Virginia; address in Albany unknown. Enlisted 5/15/17 in New York City– age 29. Severely wounded in France July, 1918. In 1925 he was working as a porter at Union Station.
Pvt. Augustus (Aubry) Reddick – enlisted from Haverstraw NY, 5/15/17 – age 28. Served in the Company F of the Harlem Hellfighters. Moved to Albany after War and was an early member of the Spencer Post.
Pvt. Clarence Sickles – born Albany; grew up next to Pvt. William Freeman on Third St. At time of enlistment lived 89 Orange St. Enlisted 5/15/17 – age 33. Initially in Company F; subsequently transferred to Company C. Severely wounded September, 1918. In the 1920 census he is married and living in same boarding house at 643 Broadway as Pvt. George Morgan, working as porter at Union Station.
Pvt. George Simmons – born Saratoga Springs, NY. Enlisted in NYC 8/17 – age 31. Wounded July, 1918, Moved to Albany after War. (Probably brother of Pvt. William Simmons.)
Pvt. William Simmons – born Saratoga Springs. Enlisted Albany 9/17 – age 23. (Probably brother of Pvt. George Simmons.) We believe he returned to Saratoga Springs after the War.
Pvt. Arthur E. Smith – born Chatham, NY; address in Albany unknown. Enlisted 5/15/17 – age 30. 1920 census lists him as a teamster for a coal company.
Cpl. Edward Taylor – born Hartford, NY; lived 175 Church St. (same address as Pvt. Wilbur Putnam) Enlisted 9/17/17 – age 24. He may have been part of the famed James Reese Europe jazz band of the 369th that took France by storm and created a world wide phenomenon.
Pvt. Lynwood Taylor – born Ashland, Va.; lived in Harlem. Enlisted 6/17. Honorably discharged 7/17 due to physical disability. Moved to Albany after discharge, and in the 1920s was a member of the Walter Dixon Legion Post.
Cpl. William Thomas – born Augusta, Ga.; lived 119 Third St. Employed as an elevator operator. Enlisted 5/15/17 – age 20.
Sgt. Arthur L. Tucker – born Albany NY; lived 5 Chapel St. Enlisted 5/15/17 – age 20. Before the War he was short stop for the very popular Tri-City Black baseball team the Hudson Giants. Awarded Croix de Guerre. In the 1920 census he’s living with his parents on Chapel St. and working as an elevator operator at Whitney’s Dept. Store on N. Pearl St. (Also living in the home was William Brent an elderly Black man who served in the Civil War in a “colored” regiment.) By 1930 he had married, had 4 children, and was living on Third St. and still working at Whitney’s. Tucker was founding member of the Spencer VFW Post for years, and served as Commander several times. He became very active in the county VFW. In later years he was a member of the Albany Inter-Racial Council and the Booker T. Washington Community Center in Arbor Hill.
Pvt. William Vedder – born Schoharie NY; lived 62 Orange St. Enlisted 5/17/17 – age 28. Severely wounded September 29, 1918. Vedder appears to have lived in Albany after the War for a while, but then returned to Schoharie.
Pvt. Harrison Vroman (Vrooman) – born Schoharie NY; lived 62 Orange St. with Pvt. Vedder. Enlisted 5/17/17 – age 20. Vroman returned to Albany after the War, making his home in Arbor Hill. Before the War Vrooman played center field for very popular tri-City Black baseball team the Hudson Giants. It’s quite probable his grandfather was Thomas Vroman, from Schoharie County who served with the 26th NY “colored” regiment.
Pvt. John Wallace – born Selma, Al. Enlisted in Albany 5/15/17- age 39.
Pvt. George Russell Walker – born Catskill NY; attended School 6 in Arbor Hill; lived 240 Livingston Ave. Enlisted 5/15/17– age 18. Severely wounded October, 1918. He was active in Spencer VFW Post for many years.