The Very Clever Catherine Blake and the Kenmore Hotel

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.

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Albany’s Early Anti-Slavery Movement and its Black Abolitionists

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.

1834

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.

Courtesy: Refusing Ignorance by Marion Hughes

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.

Copyright Julie O’Connor 2021

More Lost History; Albany First Black Medical College Graduate Ernest Angus

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.

Dr, Thomas Elkins

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.

Courtesy Find-A-Grave

Note: In 1895 Black physicians across the country would establish their own medical association, the National Medical Association.

Copyright 20121 Julie O’Connor

William Henry Johnson; Albany’s Forgotten Black Civil War Soldier

If you research Black soldiers from the North in the Civil War you will mostly find references to what were known as the “Colored Troop” (CT) regiments formed in 1864. (Black men weren’t permitted to serve in the Union Army until late 1863. ) The most well-known of these regiments is the 54th Massachusetts memorialized in the movie “Glory”. In New York State 3 CT regiments were raised. About 100 men from Albany served in 54th Massachusetts and the New York colored regiments

If you dig deeper you will find stories of Black men who served in white units, like William Lattimore, born in Albany in 1844, who enlisted with the 78th NY (known as the “Saratoga Regiment”) in late summer 1861. He was severely wounded at the battle of Fort Stevens defending Washington D.C., but served until the War was over. Today the number of men who were allowed into these white regiments (for a variety of reasons) is estimated to be between 5,000 – 6,000, but new stories are found all the time, and it’s quite possible there were many more.

Finally, there are men who served in an extraordinary capacity. One of those was William Henry Johnson. Johnson was born in Alexandria, Va. In 1833, but raised in Philadelphia. In 1850/51 he came to Albany; it appears that he quickly became associated with Stephen Myers, who was by then the supervising agent for Albany’s Underground Railroad (UGRR) helping enslaved Blacks from the south find freedom.

In 1852 he married Sarah Stewart.

Her father, John G. Stewart, had been born a free man in Albany, and became a barber. He was active in the Black community and in anti-slavery activities. In 1831 he started publication of “The African Sentinel”, the second Black newspaper in the U.S. He went on to attend some of the first National Colored Conventions (the only forum for free Black men to discuss political issues of the day- since most of them were denied the right to vote, even in the North). Stewart is linked to Stephen Myers and the UGRR as early as 1831 – it seems quite possible that Stewart’s wife Leah was related to Myers’ wife Harriet.

But in 1855 the couple left Albany and re-located to Philadelphia. There Johnson continued to be active in UGRR activities, and assumed a large and outspoken role in the Black community. He was part of a group of known as “The Leaders” who formed the “Frank Johnson Guard”, a militia organization associated with the Black members of the UGRR. (There were similar militias in Harrisburg, Cincinnati, New York City and Binghamton.) Local white militias would not permit Black men to join, and the Black militias were left mostly not bothered by the white community, because it thought Black men would not fight, couldn’t fight and it was all show.

In August 1859, on the eve of a parade by the Guards, who should appear but John Brown, in the company of Frederick Douglass.

Brown urged the Guard members to tone it down at the parade, to not us use intemperate language, for fear they would rouse suspicions about the Harper’s Ferry Raid, planned for later in the year. Johnson, who had been prepared to deliver a thundering incendiary speech, agreed. In October Brown returned to Philadelphia in an effort to recruit Black men to serve with him. Since Johnson was expecting his first child Brown refused to let him volunteer.

In December 1859 after the failed raid Douglass and some members of the Guard in Philadelphia scrambled. Douglass, who had been discussing plans with Brown and helping him raise money for several years, wired his son in Rochester to destroy documents and fled to New York City. We think the Johnsons returned to Albany.

In April, 1861 shots were fired at Fort Sumter and the War began. Initially Johnson applied to the local Albany militia, but was refused the opportunity to enlist. So, Johnson and other Black men made their way to Connecticut, and associated themselves with the 2nd Connecticut Volunteer Infantry formed in May 1861. Their status is not clear; there are sparse military records for these men during the first years of the War, when Black men were prohibited from fighting. They existed in a sort of limbo, although Johnson does refer to his “enlistment”.

But Johnson sent dispatches from the War front to the Boston newspaper “ The Pine and Palm” (published by James Redpath*, who would become John Brown’s first biographer.)In the dispatches it appears the Johnson and the others MAY have been allowed to participate in all activities of the the Regiment, but he refers to himself as an “independent.” They traveled with the Regiment to bivouac at Camp Mansfield in Washington D.C., and were part of the encampment. Johnson and the other fought in the bloody first Battle of Bull Run in July 1861 (a huge Union loss).

After the 2nd infantry was disbanded ( there was 3 month enlistment duration because the Union was confident it would lick Johnny Reb in no time), Johnson and his group attached themselves to the 8th Connecticut Regiment, calling themselves the “8th Colored Volunteers”. While with this regiment he fought at the Battle of Roanoke Island in North Carolina under General Burnside in February 1862. Johnson became ill and returned to Albany, but military records appear to indicate that some of the other Black men with whom he volunteered remained in military service until the end of the War**

Johnson was in Albany when the prohibition against Black soldiers in the Union Army was lifted. He then became the chief recruiting officer in the Albany area for the 54th Massachusetts Regiment and the NYS Colored Troop Regiments.

1864

After the War Johnson went back to barbering (his shop was on Maiden Lane), and established himself as a major force in Black politics in the Albany and New York State. He’s credited with being a prime mover behind the first New York State equal rights legislation, enacted in 1873 and the successful effort to de-segregate Albany public schools in 1873.

He became so well known that in August 1875 the now famous Black sculptor Edmonia Lewis (from East Greenbush and Albany) presented him with a bust of Charles Sumner at the A.M. E. Church on Hamilton St.

Throughout the late 1800s Johnson continued to work on behalf of equal rights for the African American community, culminating in the Elsberg Bill, signed by Governor Theodore Roosevelt, that officially de-segregated New York State Public Schools.

Circa 1900

Sadly, Johnson died almost a pauper at the Little Sisters of the Poor on Central Ave., six months after his beloved Sarah, in October, 1918. They are buried at Albany Rural Cemetery in unmarked graves. (We only know because Paula Lemire, Cemetery historian, has found plot maps.)

*Redpath is credited as being one of the group of Blacks and whites who created the first Memorial Day in Charleston in 1865, by honoring the graves of Union soldiers who died in a Confederate POW camp.

**More research needs to be done on the role Johnson and other Black men played in military combat in the early days of the War. Juanita Patience Moss in Forgotten Black Soldiers Who Served in White Regiments During the Civil War makes a good start. Johnson’s autobiography includes tantalizing references – the Black men may have trained together, rather than with the main regiment, but he also refers to a large number of Black men in the 8th Connecticut camp. About 30 years later a local newspaper makes a point that it’s a shame that Johnson is not eligible to collect a pension.

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

John G. Stewart – Albany’s First Black Newspaper Publisher

John G. Stewart is cited in hundreds of books and websites that describe that fight for the eradication of slavery and for equal rights and social justice. We suspect you have never heard of him; frankly neither had we until a couple of years ago. Stewart was the second publisher of a Black newspaper in the U.S.

The first Black newspaper, Freedom’s Journal, published in New York City, closed in 1829 after two years. In 1831 Stewart started The African Sentinel and the Journal of Liberty. Its publication was brief… maybe 8 to 10 months. but it had a critical impact on the fight to end slavery and the battle for equal rights for African Americans.

History books reference the newspaper and then move on; not because writers are ignoring Stewart, but because so little is known about him. So we thought we would try to find out what we could, and how he fits into our history.

Stewart was probably born a free man in Albany about 1800. He first appears in the city directory in 1824 as a barber at 37 North Pearl St. We have no idea where he was educated, probably in the African School in Albany established in 1811 by a handful of free Black men in the city. (Albany was among no more than half a dozen cities with a school for Black children at the time.)

Sometime in the 1820s he married Leah Profitt, daughter of a free woman in the city.

There’s very little evidence of Stewart’s daily life in Albany. We know he was a barber. In the 1831-32 city directory there’s an ad for Stewart’s barber shop on the corner of State and Pearl streets. It’s the first we’ve ever seen by the owner of Black business in a general publication at that early date. It leads us to believe he was fairly well-known and respected in both Black and white Albany (and probably a very good barber).

He was a member of the First African Baptist Church, a gathering place for black activists beginning in 1821. It was in this church in 1827 that the Albany African-American community celebrated the abolition of slavery in New York State on July 5th 1827, and its pastor, the Rev. Nathaniel Paul, gave a sermon on abolition that was re-printed and shared across the country.

It was one of about a dozen black churches in the U.S. where Black liberation theology – not only freedom for those still enslaved, but also the need for equal rights and racial justice for all African Americans in the entire country, took hold.

The Rev. Paul and some of his congregation are mentioned in newspaper reports of the first case in Albany involving an alleged fugitive slave in 1829.

In January 1831 the forthcoming publication of The African Sentinel was announced in The Liberator newspaper, published by William Lloyd Garrison in Boston. The Liberator would become the most widely read anti-slavery newspaper in the U.S. and Garrison would become president of the American Anti-slavery Society. Stewart would serve as its agent in  Albany in the early years of its publication. This demonstrates that there were already strong linkages among network of Black and white abolitionists and proponents of equal rights across the Northeast, including Albany. These would strengthen and grow.

In his newspaper proposal Stewart makes it clear that there should be, “.. .at least one public journal conducted by a colored man and devoted to the interests of the colored population throughout this country..”

He then lays down the gauntlet.

 “Descendants of Africa! Will you not arise with the dignity of MAN and each proclaim am I not a MAN and a BROTHER?

In Spring 1831 Stewart published the first issue of his paper. Its motto was “I tremble for my country when I think that God is just and that his justice cannot sleep forever (T. Jefferson)”. Clearly it was meant to be a challenge.

Stewart’s newspaper lasted maybe 8 months and there are few extant issues. (Because of its rarity and importance, a single issue sold at auction for $27,000 5 years ago.)

Most of what we do know about The African Sentinel comes from reprints of article in copies of other newspapers that survived. Stewart reported the general news of the day, usually interpreting the impact it would have on the Black community. He also reported news of particular interest, like the progress of the Wilberforce Colony recently established for African-Americans in Canada – both Rev. Nathaniel Paul and his brother Rev. Benjamin Paul were deeply involved.

But he was also fierce. In no uncertain terms he opposed the settlement of Black Americans in Africa, an idea that was quite popular in the time. Stewart made it clear the U.S. was the home and country of Black Americans and they weren’t going anywhere.

The death knell of the newspaper may have been its response to the deadly and violent slave rebellion in Virginia lead by Nat Turner in August 1831. In a letter to the editor of the Albany Argus in October 1831, Stewart gave no quarter. He excoriated Northerners who would support Southern slave-holders, and he only condemned part of the violence. What he published was incendiary. It was the equivalent of throwing a hand grenade.

The slaves have a perfect right derived from God Almighty to their freedom. They have done vastly wrong in the late insurrection, in the killing of women and children; but still it is not to be wondered at. Their struggle is the same principle as the struggle of our fathers in ’76. I hope they may achieve their liberty eventually by fair and heroic means, in a brave and manly conflict with their masters.”

We suspect that sentiment, supporting armed rebellion by enslaved populations, was a bridge too far for most subscribers. The African Sentinel folded shortly thereafter.

But Stewart did not stop his activism. He remained adamantly opposed to colonization, and was part of a a local Albany group in opposition. In 1833 he first attended the National Convention of Free Men of Color in Philadelphia, and served on several committees.  He would attend the 1834 Convention in New York along with another barber and fellow parishioner Charles Morton. Morton would be the agent for The Liberator in Albany for almost a decade.

Older members of the Albany African Baptist Church has attended earlier conventions, and began to create linkages between the men, Black and white, who would form the basis of the anti-slavery movement (and much of the Underground Railroad -UGRR ) in this country for the next three decades. John G. Stewart and Charles S. Morton followed in their footsteps.

Although not identified specifically as a member of the Albany’s UGRR Stewart is associated as early as 1831 with Stephen Myers. Myers would become the manager of Albany’s UGRR. In 1842 Stewart (and we believe Morton as well) teamed up to edit the newspaper Stephen Myers published The Northern Star and Freeman’s Advocate.

Sadly, John G. Stewart disappeared from the city director in 1845 and in 1852 Leah is listed as a widow. Charles Morton passed away at about the same time.

After the deaths of Stewart and Morton the publication of The Northern Star became infrequent and sporadic.

Stewart’s daughter Sarah married William H. Johnson in 1852. Johnson came to Albany around 1850, and worked in the UGRR, served briefly in the Civil War, became the most prominent Black politician and activist in post-War Albany. He’s credited with writing New York State’s first equal rights law in 1873.

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

African American Men from Albany in the Civil War; the 54th Massachusetts, NYS “Colored Regiments” and an African American serves in the 77th “Saratoga Regiment”

By the end of the Civil War roughly 175,000 black men (10% of the Union Army) served as soldiers in the U.S. Army, and another 19,000 served in the Navy. About 4,500 men from New York State served in the War. So far we’ve found the names about 90 men with links to Albany.

Black men were not allowed to serve in the Union Army until 1863 when Massachusetts raised the 54th regiment of “colored troops” in spring 1863. These are the men whose gallantry and courage are portrayed in the movie “Glory”. By early 1864 New York State finally raised 3 regiments of colored troops – the 20th, the 26th and the 31st. About 3,000 men from New York and elsewhere enlisted in this regiments, and in similar regiments mustered in the other Union states. Other Black men served in the Navy before 1863, scattered on various Union ship as cooks and stewards.

The 54th Massachusetts

We’ve identified 10 men from Albany County (mostly from Albany city) who served in the 54th Massachusetts.

  • Charles Bell – age 20, waiter, private
  • William Briggs – age 21, waiter, private
  • William Everson – age 19, laborer, private
  • William Francis – age 30, waiter, private
  • Benjamin Helmus – age 21, waiter, private
  • James Jones – age 33, waiter, mustered out as Sargent
  • Edgar Morgan – age 20, laborer, private
  • Alexander Thompson – age 25 laborer, private
  • John Titus age 21, laborer, private
  • George Alfred Wilson – 23, laborer, private

Bell, Briggs, Everson, Francis, Helmus, Jones, Morgan, Thompson, and Titus went to Massachusetts, and enlisted as a group on March 29, 1863, and became part of Company E. All but two of the of the men, Bell and Wilson, are identified as being present at the attack of the 54th on Fort Wagner in Charleston, South Carolina. Although the attack was unsuccessful it proved to the nation that Black men could fight with courage, bravery and skill. The Confederate soldiers buried the dead Union soldiers in a mass grave, and in a gesture of utter contempt, threw the body of their white commander Col. Robert Gould Shaw in the same pit. Later Shaw’s father wrote, “We would not have his body removed from where it lies surrounded by his brave and devoted soldiers. … We can imagine no holier place than that in which he lies, among his brave and devoted followers, nor wish for him better company. – what a body-guard he has.”

While some of the men from Albany were wounded, all but one survived – William Briggs died from his wounds a number of days after the battle. Some of the wounds were horrendous, and left many of the men serious disabilities from gunshot and bayonet wounds.

Alexander Hill from Hudson died in Albany in 1876; his death was attributed to the wounds received at Fort Wagner.

NYS Colored Regiments

The 20th, the 26th and the 31st regiments were raised in in New York City in Spring 1864. While many people were not totally on board with NY establishing African American regiments the State was having difficulty meeting its enrollment quotas, and the draft was despised. We’ve identified about 50 men who were born or lived in Albany County who served in these regiments.

Most of the Albany men were members of the 20th and 26th regiments, the first two established. Many of the volunteers were from outside of the city; farmers and laborers from Bethlehem, Coxsackie, Rennselaerville, etc. Most were in their late teens or early 20s. We need to do more research to find out more, but we can tell you some about two of the men.

William Latour was an older man, age 38, and a barber when he enlisted in the 26th NY (CT). His father Henry was born enslaved on the farm owned by the French aristocrat émigré the Marquis de La tour du Pin who fled to this area in the 1790s after escaping the guillotine in the French Revolution. When they purchased their farm in Watervliet Madame La Tour was shocked that General Schuyler and others advised that they would be unable to sustain the farm without slaves. It appears that when the family sold the farm before their return to France in 1798 they freed those they had enslaved. (There is no mention of slaves in the description of the farm used for the sale.) Most of the those previously enslaved made their way to Albany city, and appear as free people in the very early city directories. Henry was one of the Black men who attended the first New York State Colored Convention held in Albany in 1840, and played a pivotal role in aiding the escape of the fugitive Charles Nalle in Troy NY in 1859. (In the nick of time Henry arrived with a wagon and whisked him away, with the help of Harriet Tubman.)

Sylvester Dorsey was born in Ithaca and enlisted in the 26th in 1864. He was also 38. After the War he settled in Albany (we think that there was a family relationship with the family of John Titus who served with the 54th Massachusetts). In Albany he married Frances Johnson, a member of a leading Black Albany family. He was a blacksmith by trade, and in 1879 he was the armorer for the Albany Zouave Cadet Company (which would become part of the 10th NYS National Guard). In 1910 the history of the Company was published and this description of Sylvester Dorsey in 1879 appears:

“Many of the exempts (note: this means members of the Company) will remember the faithful old servitor, and will the dispute the truth of the present day saying about all “coons” looking alike. Dorsey has an individuality all his own, and as the members of the old Guard conjure up his shining ebony face there will come trooping many recollections of happy days gone…”

(By 1879 many members of the Company were young and merely “playing” at being a soldier, yet Sylvester Dorsey had actually served in the War.)

Other Colored Troop Regiments

Based on information from various data bases we found another 40 or so additional African American men born in Albany who served in the other “colored” regiments across the North and in the Union navy who enlisted in places as diverse as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Maine.

Black Men Who Served in White Units

No one really knows how many African American soldiers served with white regiments in the Civil War. A low estimate is about a 1,000, and they are thought to have been mostly “contrabands”, enslaved men who made it to Union positions, and served as cooks and officer valets and stewards in white regiments.

But what we found turns that theory on its head. In late summer 1861, at the very start of the War, William Topp Lattimore , an African American born in Albany enlisted in the 77th NY (the “Saratoga Regiment”). Their grandfather, Benjamin Lattimore, who had been one of the few Black Revolutionary War soldiers, settled in Albany in the late 1790s. He had been instrumental in creating the first African school in the city and had been a major mover and shaker in the Black community. His son, Benjamin Lattimore, Jr., followed in his father’s footsteps. He was an active member of Albany’s African American political and social community, an ardent abolitionist and a member of Albany’s Underground Railroad (UGRR). In 1847 he pulled up stakes and moved his large family to a farm he purchased in Moreau N.Y. in Saratoga County just south of Glens Falls. There he continued his UGRR activities.

he time the War started both William (Billy as he was called) had lived in Moreau for 14 years. He enlisted and fought side by side with the white men with whom he had attended school and church.

Billy re-enlisted (he may have been the only African American soldier, or one of a few who served at Gettysburg), and was seriously wounded at Fort Stevens in 1864. After the War Ben became a rolling stone, traveling across the country, finally ending up as a porter at a San Francisco Hotel for several decades. Billy first went to New York City and then came back to the farm after his father died in 1873. For the rest of his life he would remain proud of his military service and was an active member of the 77th NY GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) Association for Union Army veterans. He attended every encampment and reunion, and often served as an officer of the Association.

We aren’t sure if the enlistment of the William Lattimore is a complete anomaly or similar enlistments happened across the North. We do know, based on picture of Billy in a large GAR re-union he was very light skinned (the family is listed variously as Black or Mulatto in different census data.) There is no indication in any military active service or pension records that either brother was not white. It’s a mystery that’s worth pursuing.

Here is the list we have so far of Albany men who served in colored regiments or the U.S. Navy,

  • Alexander, John – U.S. Navy
  • Anthony, Andrew 8th US CT
  • Anthony, Fleetwood – 29th NY CT
  • Baker, Charles – 26th NY CT
  • Becker, John Henry – 20th NY CT
  • Brent, William – 2nd Cav CT
  • Brown, Jackson – 20th NY CT
  • Bulah, Joseph – 11th Heavy Artillery CT
  • Burns, William – 26th NY CT
  • Cain, Andrew – 26th NY CT
  • Cambridge, Samuel – U.S. Navy – “Grand Gulf”
  • Cane, David – 26th NY CT
  • Ceasar, John – 31st CT – KIA in Petersburg
  • Champion, Theodore – 26th NY CT
  • Cisco, John 20th – NY CT (also listed as 31st CT)
  • Crummel (Cromwell?), James – 5th Heavy Artillery CT
  • Curtis, Milo – 20th NY CT
  • Darby, George = 26th NY CT
  • Dickson, Albert – 26th NY CT
  • Dickson, Peter – 20th NY CT
  • Dickson, Richard – 26th NY CT
  • Dickson, William – 26th NY CT
  • Diffenderf, Henry – regiment unknown
  • Dixon, Robert – 26th NY CT
  • Dorcey, Abraham – 20th NY CT
  • Fletcher, Harvey – 26th NY CT
  • Green, Zebulon – 11th Heavy Artillery CT (also appears to be listed as sailor and 24th CT)
  • Groomer, Solomon – 26th NY CT
  • Habbard, Luther – 26th NY CT
  • Hallenbeck, William – regiment unknown
  • Harden, Steven – U.S. Navy “Mohongo”
  • Harding, George – 8th US CT
  • Holland, George – 20th NY CT
  • Harding, Morris – 26th NY CT
  • Holland, George – 20th NY CT
  • Hollin, Samuel – 26th NY CT
  • Holmes, Poliver – 26th NY CT
  • Houzer, Richard – 3rd CT
  • Ingold, George – 29th NY CT
  • Jackson, Abram – 26th NY CT
  • Jackson, Anthony – 36th NY CT
  • Jackson, Charles – 11th Heavy artillery CT
  • Jackson, Jacob – 26th NY CT
  • Jackson, Jerod – 26th NY CT
  • Jackson, John – 31st CT
  • Jackson, Joseph – 26th NY CT
  • Jackson, Prime – 31st CT
  • Jackson, Robert – 26th NY CT
  • Jackson, Samuel – 26th NY CT
  • Jackson, William – 26th NY CT
  • Jackson, William Henry – 11th heavy artillery CT
  • Jarris, Henry – 26th NY CT
  • Johnson, Daniel – 26th NY CT
  • Johnson, David – 26th NY CT
  • Johnson, Henry – 20th NY CT
  • Johnson, Nicholas – U.S. Navy
  • Johnson, William – 44th NY (may be in accurate)
  • Johnston, Henry – 24th CT
  • Jones, Davis – 20th NY CT
  • Jones, Solomon – 1st CT and 1st CT Cavalry
  • Keyser, Zacariah – 26th NY CT
  • Kniskern, Harrison – 61st NY (may be inaccurate)
  • Lavendar, Benjamin – 11th Heavy Artillery CT
  • Lawyer, George – 20th NY CT
  • Lewis, Peter – 26th NY CT
  • London, George – 26th NY CT
  • London, Michael Thomas – 26th NY CT
  • Manuel, Charles – 26th NY CT
  • Marco – 30th NY – probably inaccurate
  • Moore, John – 41sr CT (New Hampshire)
  • Morgan, George – 14th Rhode Island CT
  • Morgan, Henry – 11th Heavy Artillery CT and 14th Rhode Island CT
  • Morgan, Luther- 20th NY CT
  • Murphy, Charles – 20th NY CT
  • Nash, James -26th NY CT
  • Nash, Samuel – 26th NY CT
  • O’Neil, William – 26th NY (also listed with 31st CT)
  • Panton, Charles – no regiment listed CT
  • Raymond, J.S – 5th CT Cavalry (Mass) CT
  • Richard, Hart – 26th NY CT
  • Richard, Scott – 26th NY CT
  • Rix, Ambrose – 144th NY (probably inaccurate)
  • Rondout, John – no regiment listed
  • Saulter (Salter), Isaac – 26th NY CT
  • Sawyer, George – 30th CT
  • Scott, Richard – 30th CT (also listed as 26th NY CT)
  • Smith, William – 8th CT
  • Smoke, Josiah – 20th NY CT
  • Smoke, William – 31st CT
  • Snyder, Thomas – 18th NY (probably inaccurate)
  • Spanberg (Speanbergh), Henry – 91st NY (probably inaccurate)
  • Sternbergh, Lorenzo – 26th NY CT
  • Sternberg, William – 26th CT
  • Stewart, John – 26th NY CT
  • Stewart, William – 29th NY CT
  • Sutphen, James – 31st CT
  • Swailes, Thomas – U.S. Navy – U.S. Saratoga
  • Swan, Elisha – 26th NY CT
  • Sylix, Andrew – 20th NY CT
  • Teabout, Joseph Henry – 11th heavy artillery CT
  • Ten Eyck, Anthony – 20th NY CT
  • Thompson, John – 20th NY CT
  • Thompson, Prime – 26th NY CT
  • Thompson, Lysander – 26th NY CT
  • Tilson, John – 26th NY CT
  • Titus, George – regiment unknown
  • Van Cruren, Peter – 6th cavalry CT
  • Van Slyke, John – 26th NY CT
  • Van Slyke , Samuel – 20th NY CT
  • Vroman, Daniel – 26th NY CT
  • Ward, Phillip – 31st CT
  • Weddington, George – 20th NY CT
  • White, John – 11th Heavy Artillery CT
  • Wilbur, Noruse – 26th NY CT
  • Williams, Edward – U.S. Navy “Sebago”
  • Williams, Henry – 20th NY CT
  • Williams, James – 20th NY CT
  • Wilson, Frank – 8th CT
  • Wright, Major – 26th NY CT

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Helena R. Goines, Albany’s First African American Teacher

Circa 1880

For many decades the first African American teacher in the Albany School District was thought to be Harriet Lewis Van Vranken who began teaching in 1915, and who subsequently became the first African American social worker in the city. However, new information has come to light and we’ve found that Helena R. Goines started teaching in the district two decades earlier in 1895. We couldn’t have corroborated what we found without the help of School District staff; Alicia Abdul – Librarian, Albany High School and Paula Tibbitts, Assistant to the Superintendent.

In the late part of the 19th century African American women began to emerge as a force to be reckoned with. Some doors opened and others were pushed open. Increasingly their voices were heard, and they entered fields previously denied to them; education, law, medicine, and science. They began to organize and mobilize to create institutions to serve their communities, including day nurseries, old age homes, and hospitals. Helena Goines would become part of this group.

Helena was born in 1868, likely in New York City (because her father, John Butler, is listed in NYS Civil War registration records in the City in 1863.) John was probably from the Mohawk Valley (Schoharie or Oneida County), and her mother Eliza Goines Butler from Pennsylvania. It’s quite possible John and Elizabeth met in Philadelphia where she lived and he had family. The family first appears in Albany in the City Directory and the 1875 Census living at 352 Hamilton St. between Dove St. and Lark St. – John Butler, Eliza Butler, Jim Butler and Nellie (Helena) Butler. When Helena began school, she would have attended an integrated school – probably District School 16 at 201 Hudson Ave. below Swan St. It was the same school building which her brother Jim, five years older, had attended, but until Fall, 1873 when Albany integrated its schools, it had been the Wilberforce School, a segregated school for African American children.

Circa 1880

Within a couple of years, the family moved to the 100 block of Third St. in Arbor Hill and the children attended attend District School 22 just around the block on Second St. When Helena was about 11 her father died. Mrs. Butler and the children moved to Elm St. between Dove St. and Swan St. Around the time of their father’s death there appears to be have been a major family break. Jim and Helena started using their mother’s maiden name, Goines, as their surname – which they would retain for the rest of their lives. At the time of his death John Butler appears to have been living apart of from his family. (Further evidence of the break is John Butler ‘s burial in Albany Rural Cemetery, while Mrs. Butler, Helena and Jim are interred elsewhere.)

Albany High School

Eagle St., corner of Steuben St.

In 1883 Helena passed the admission test for Albany High School, then located on the corner of Eagle St. and Steuben St. (The County Courthouse is there today.) Only a decade before Arabella Chapman, older sister of Helena’s best friend Harriet, was the first African American child admitted to the High School in 1873 when Albany schools were integrated. Helena graduated in 1887 from the English Division from the High School (we think she may have only been the third African American to graduate in that first decade.) She then pursued a yearlong course at the High School and was awarded a Graduate Teaching Certificate in 1888. (Again this may have been a first.) Her accomplishment was so significant woman it was reported in the New York Age a newspaper that focused on African American life and accomplishments across the country.)

Teaching in Delaware

In 1889 Helena became a teacher in a “colored” school in the Wilmington, Delaware segregated school district, where she remained for at least 4 years. (Wilmington seems to be an odd choice, but, based on some old census data, quite possibly some of her mother’s family may have lived in Wilmington.)

Return to Albany

In 1895 Helena returned to Albany, becoming part of the corps of substitute teachers for the school district. In 1896 she was appointed to a permanent position in School 14 at 70 Trinity Place. The following year she appears in District records as a teacher in School 12 on the corner of Washington Ave. and Robin St. Helena remained at School 12 for about a year.

1894
1894

Queens

In Fall, 1898 she took a position in Jamaica, Queens at a much enhanced the salary. Jamaica was still a segregated school district. It wasn’t until late 1900 when Governor Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation that prohibited children of any race from being excluded from any school in New York State.

Her brother and mother soon joined her in Queens. Helena continued to teach in Queens schools in Jamaica and Flushing for another 25 years or so.

Newspaper accounts of the time document Helena’s activities among a group of African American women who were creating new social and political institutions for the Black community in New York City and the country, including the wives of W.E. B, Dubois, one of the founders of the NAACP, and Mrs. Adam Clayton Powell, wife of the immensely influential reverend of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Manhattan. These women were the supporters of the first “Colored” YWCA in New York City, and the Utopia Neighborhood Club that supported the development of what is today’s Urban League. They were the women who were members of the National Association of Colored Women, a driving force behind the activism of African American women across the U.S. at the local level. Many were supporters of the African American contingent of the Equal Suffrage Party in New York City that worked to secure the vote for women.

Helena passed away in Queens in 1944. She’s buried in Ballston Spa Cemetery, along with her brother Jim who died in 1906 and her mother who passed away in 1922.

Note: There is compelling evidence that Helena was also Native American. Her mother’s death certificate lists her race as Native American. When Helena died there was a single heir, Jennie Brock in Philadelphia. Jennie identified as Native American in the 1940 census. It appears that the surnames Goins/Goines is closely associated with the Native American population in Philadelphia dating back to the early 1800s.

Julie O’Connor M.L.S

(Special thanks to Lorie Wies, Local History Librarian, Saratoga Springs Library who found the original newspaper article that indicated Helena received a teaching certificate.)

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Michael and Susan Douge: Albany’s African American Power Couple

We’ve been taking a deep dive into the African American population in Albany in the 1800s, to try to get a sense of what their lives were like before the Civil War -the defining event of the century., and after.
One couple, Michael and Susan Douge, stands out for their dedication for decades – to their community and to the causes of abolition before the Civil War and equal rights after the War. They were perhaps the most influential couple in Albany’s African American community during the 19th century.
Michael was born in New Yok City in 1804, son of a freeman. There is some evidence that his father had been enslaved in Haiti, but made his way New York after the slave revolt in the 1790s. Susan was born in Albany; we know little of her origin story. Census data indicate her mother, Mercy Franks, was born in Dutchess County in the 1780s; she’s identified as a free woman in the 1820 Albany census. She may have been married to John Franks  who appears in the 1833  city directory.  By 1844  Mercy is identified as a widow. The Franks may have once been enslaved by the Franks family in the Hudson Valley who were slave importers and sellers for several generations.
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In 1827 the Freedom’s Journal, the first African American newspaper in America (published in New York City) carried the wedding announcement of Michael Douge (New York City) and Susan Ames (Albany) on April 25, 1827 . The ceremony was performed by Rev. John Chester of Albany’s Second Presbyterian Church.
In 1830 Michael is identified as a hair dresser, living and working at 14. South Pearl, close to State St.
By the time Michael was in his late 20s he became publicly involved in Albany’s African American community. In 1831 the Albany African Clarkson Society (Thomas Clarkson was an Englishman who campaigned vehemently against the slave trade) held a major event, including a procession, accompanied by music through the streets celebrating the 4th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in New York State; Michael Douge gave the major address.
Throughout the 1830s he continued his involvement. He writes letters to  The Liberator the anti-slavery newspaper published by William Lloyd Garrison. He was one of the founders of the Philomethean Society, a Black literary association in 1835, (modeled after a similar society in New York City); an officer in the “Colored Person Union” of Capital District (est. 1837) dedicated to moral improvement and education of the Black population, and active in a group vehemently opposed to African American colonization in Liberia and elsewhere, outside of the United States.
Both Michael and Susan were active in establishing the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Albany.
In 1833 Susan was one of the founding members of the Female Lundy Society. (The Society was named after Benjamin Lundy, a white abolitionist who published the newspaper “The Genius of Universal Emancipation”);it was dedicated to charitable works in the African community and anti-slavery activities.) In 1837 she was also part of the group of Black women that established Albany’s Female Lovejoy Society. (Elijah Lovejoy was a white abolitionist and newspaper publisher murdered in Ohio in 1837 for his anti-slavery views. His murder shocked the nation.)
In 1840 Michael was an attendee of first New York State Convention of Colored Citizens , which happened to be held in Albany. The same year he was part of a group of men who lobbied to establish a publicly-funded school for Black children as the city had done for white children. Ultimately they was successful and by the mid-1840s the Douge’s daughter Catherine Mary was a teaching assistant at the segregated Wilberforce School for African American children. (Although records indicate that the Douge children, along with children of some other African families may have been allowed to attend white schools.)
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In 1843 he was part of a group of men, including, Rev. Benjamin Paul (one of the founders of the Black Wilberforce Colony in Canada), Thomas Paul (the noted teacher in Albany and Boston and one time William Lloyd Garrison printing apprentice),  and Benjamin Lattimore and William Topp (active members of the Underground Railroad in Albany) who presented an address to Governor William Seward, thanking him for what he had done for the Black community. (Seward would go on to be a U.S. Senator from New York State and Lincoln’s Secretary of State.)
During the 1830s and 1840s the Douges were busy raising their children – (Catherine) Mary, (Susan) Cornelia, Francis, Julius , and John. Michael’s barbershop seems to have thrived. In early Albany city directories they’re listed various as living at 14 South Pearl St., just in from State St. Through the 1830s and early 1840s they remain in the South End, living in in various locations on South Pearl St.
At one point in the mid-1830s the Douges lived at 9 Plain St,, owned by Benjamin Lattimore, Jr. Lattimore was one of the first Albany men to attend Colored Conventions (the first national expressions of abolition and political equality for African Americans). He was a friend of William Lloyd Garrison, and anyone of consequence in the early days of the anti-slavery and political equality movements in the 1830s. It’s safe to assume that through him and others the Douge family shared similar linkages to the world outside Albany. These would come to include Frederick Douglass, who had close ties to many white and Black abolitionists in the city.
By the mid-1840s the Douges moved to 100 Franklin St,. where they remained for a number of years.
While teaching the Wilberforce School Mary married the principal Henry Hicks. Sadly Henry died only a few years after the marriage; in 1855 Mary is identified as living with her parents and her two small children, along with her younger brothers.
Abolition is a Douge family affair. When Mary was just 17 she became a subscriber to Frederick Douglass’ Northstar newspaper. (In 1853 Michael and other local prominent African American abolitionists gathered at the A.M.E church to endorse the Frederick Douglass Paper\ the successor to the Northstar.)
By the mid-1850s the Douge sons had assumed the role held by their father. and were participating in the Colored Conventions and delegate selection for Frederick Douglass’ nascent National Council for Colored People.
After the Civil War Mary went south to teach freed Blacks under the auspices of the Freedman’s Bureau while her parents raised her children. Susan continued her activities with the Female Lundy and Lovejoy Societies.
Michael appears to have been slowing down, but he did play a role, along with his sons Julius and John in Black Republican politics in the city. Julius was also one of a about a dozen prominent African American men in the city who lobbied the Board of Education to permit Black children to attend local (white) public schools, and to admit Black children to the Free Academy (High School) over a number of years (In 1873 they were successful.)
Julius was cut from the same mold as his father, and was soon a member of the African American Masonic Lodge and the Black chapter of the Oddfellows The Douge men were members of the Charles Sumner Association – a mutual aid society for African Americans in Albany (its motto was “ We care for our sick and bury our dead”), as well as the Burdett-Couts Benevolent Association.
But the battle for equal rights was not over. Mary Douge Williams stepped up for women’s suffrage, and became a vice president of the newly formed Albany Woman’s Suffrage Association in 1880. There is a wonderful description in a suffrage newspaper of very dignified Mary leading a contingent of African American women, including her mother Susan, then in her late 70s, to register in Arbor Hill (where the Douges were now living at 25 Lark St.) and vote in the School election of 1880. (This was the first time New York State allowed women to vote.) We know that Mary and Susan voted in subsequent years.
Then tragedy struck. Michael died at the age of 79 in late 1883 and Mary, at age 51, less than six months later in 1884. (Their children Cornelia and Francis had both passed in 1859.)
But Susan continued to play an active role in her community as a member and sometimes officer of both the Lundy and Lovejoy Societies until she died in 1897 at the age of 92. She would live to see her grandson Robert Douge become only the second Black man to graduate from Albany Law School in 1890.

Michael and Susan Douge and other family members are buried in Lot 3 Section 99 of Albany Rural Cemetery.

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Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

James Gardner: The first African American Graduate of the Albany College of Pharmacy

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James Gardner was born in 1864 just before the end of the Civil War to William and Elizabeth Gardiner.
His father William was a barber. By the early 1850s he been active  for some time in Albany African equal rights politics, and attended several New York State Colored Conventions.
In the 1850s he was the Vice President of the Albany Vigilance Committee, tasked with financing Albany’s Underground Railroad (UGRR) to help fugitive slaves escape from South.
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After the Civil War he was very active in the Republican Party, and a member of the group of men who lobbied the Albany Board of Public Instruction to desegregate Albany Schools. Elizabeth was active in Albany’s African American female charitable organizations – the Female Lundy Society and the Female Lovejoy Society. Mr. Gardiner was trustee of the African Baptist church.
The family lived for several decades on Second St. (first at #49 and then #67) in Arbor Hill in the close knit community bounded by Hall Place, Third St., Lark St. and Livingston Ave.
William Gardiner was fast friends and a business partner of Dr. Thomas Elkins. They were both officers of the Vigilance Committee, and involved in other political and community affairs. Elkins was the only black druggist in Albany in the 1800s, and during James’ childhood Elkins lived with the family. We think that it was the influence of Elkins that led Gardner to attend the Pharmacy College.
Gardner graduated from the Albany College of Pharmacy in 1888 when it was co-located with Albany Medical College on Eagle St. between Lancaster and Jay Streets. He was vice president of his class and won a cash prize of $20 from the Alumni Association for the best graduation thesis on “Percolation”.

Albany College of Pharmacy co-located with Albany Medical College on Eagle St.

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The same year he married Caroline Deyo from Jefferson St.; after their marriage they lived with his parents. His best friend, Robert Douge, served as his best man. In 1890 Douge would be only the second African American graduate of Albany Law School. In the late 1890s the couple moved to Livingston Ave.
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After graduation Gardner worked for the drugstore owned by Clement & Rice at the corner of Broadway and Clinton Ave., Huested’s Pharmacy at the corner of State and Eagle Streets, and for Thomas Pennington at his drugstore in Saratoga Springs (he was the only black druggist in the city at the time).*

State St., just below Eagle St.

It appears Gardner also had a love of music, spent some time working for a music store at 46 North Pearl St., and listed himself in several city directories as a music teacher But it’s also quite possible that it was difficult for Gardner to find employment as a druggist because of his race. (Thomas Pennington recounted the serious problems he encountered in Saratoga Springs because of racial prejudice.)
Sadly James died in late 1901 at the age of 37. He was found drowned in the river off New York City. We have been unable to discover the details. Why was he in New York City? How did he drown?
Caroline outlived James by another 18 years; never re-marrying and working at various jobs, including seamstress.
*Thomas Pennington apprenticed with Dr. Elkins in the mid-1850s, and they remained lifelong friends. The presence of Pennington in Albany speaks to the relationships in Albany and the larger world ante-bellum world of African American activism against slavery and for equal rights. Pennington’s father, the Rev. James Pennington was the president of the National Colored Convention in Rochester in 1853, attended by two Albany men – Stephen Myers who ran the Albany UGRR and William Topp, a member of the UGRR and of its Vigilance Committee. Pennington’s association with Elkins again demonstrates the outsize role and political importance of Albany, in both African American politics and the anti-slavery movement in the ante-bellum period.
Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

An Ordinary Woman Doing Extraordinary Things: C. Mary Douge Williams

Mary Williams was born Catherine Mary Douge in Albany in the 1830s to Susan and Michael Douge. Michael was born in Albany around 1800. More research is needed, but we think his father may have been part of the slave revolt in Haiti in the 1790s.

By the 1830s Michael and Susan were leaders of the African community in Albany. Michael was a barber, and through newspaper accounts of the time we can see that he was in the middle of everything that affected the community socially and politically; advocating tirelessly for the rights of his people. Meanwhile Susan was organizing the Female Lundy Society, the first African-American women’s charitable organization in the city. They were both deeply involved in support of the African M.E. Church.

In the early 1840s we find the family living on Plain St. in Albany in a building owned by Benjamin Lattimore. Lattimore was one of the first Albany men to attend the earliest Colored Conventions (the first national expressions of abolition and political equality free Blacks in the U.S.). Lattimore was a friend of Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison and anyone of consequence in those movements.) So it’s safe to assume that Douge family had similar linkages to the world outside Albany.

In 1847 Mary became an assistant teacher in the segregated Wilberforce School for African children in Albany. It was here she would meet her first husband, Henry Hicks, who was at one point principal of the school. Although Henry died in 1853 Mary would teach at Wilberforce for another 6 years or so.

We lose track of Mary until after the Civil War. Despite the fact that appears to have been suffering from TB she ventured south to Virginia and South Carolina to teach children and adults recently freed from enslavement. She would have taught under the auspices of the Freedmen’s Bureau. (One of the assistant commissioners of the Bureau, J. Sella Martin, was the husband of her childhood friend Sarah Lattimore. )

While in South Carolina Mary met her second husband, Andrew Williams, and the couple returned to Albany.

In 1880 we find the couple and their daughter Susie living with Mary’s parents at 25 Lark St.*In that year the New York State Legislature enacted a law permitting women in New York to vote in school elections. This is known as the “School Suffrage” law. Lillian Devereux Blake, the president of the New York State Women’s Suffrage Association had lobbied tirelessly for the law. She and others used it as a catalyst to establish women’s suffrage societies around the state. The first meeting of the Albany group was held in March, 1880.

The immediate goal of the women was to get the word out about the School Suffrage and get women registered to vote in the school commissioner election on April 15 . Mary was in the thick of it. We can only depend on spotty newspaper accounts of the time, but at least 6 African-American women from Arbor Hill voted. (We suspect there were more.) They included Mary, her mother and Julia Myers, daughter in law of Stephen Myers, superintendent of Albany’s Underground Railroad.

Mary was committed to women’s political equality. She would become the Vice President of the Society, and remain in that position for at least 2 years (she and her mother voted in 1882).

The importance of Mary’s participation in the Society as an officer can’t be underestimated. It tells us that Albany’s women suffrage activities at that time included women of color, unlike other areas of the country. It’s quite possible that she may have been influenced through her family’s personal connections to Douglass, who was one of the only 2 Black men to sign the “Declaration of Sentiments” at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 advocating political equality for women. Or even Susan B.Anthony herself who had close personal connections with members of the African American anti-slavery and temperance community in Albany for decades.

It speaks to Mary’s significance in Albany, both in the White and African American communities, and the esteem in which she was held. Mary died in 1884. In her death notice it refers prominently to her membership in the Suffrage Society. That mention makes us think that she was proud of her role in the political equality movement for women, and she understood its importance. Her father was afforded full voting rights in 1870 with the passage of the 15th amendment. Yet she and her mother and other women who had worked tirelessly to improve their world would be denied that right for another 50 years until the passage of the 19th amendment. We suspect that reactions ranged from grave disappointment to outright fury.

Copyright 2021  Julie O’Connor