This year we are celebrating New York State’s acquisition of John Brown Farm 125 years ago. And it is good that we are.
But let us also recall a 200th Anniversary linked to the John Brown Farm – a connection that has particular importance this year as we witness a voter suppression spree around our country. Two hundred years ago, that was us–our New York ancestors–enacting explicit rules to keep blacks from voting.
John Brown and his family came here to the Adirondacks as part of an effort to counteract New York State-sponsored suppression of voting rights for black men.
We are now seeing a wave of voter suppression efforts in states controlled by Republican legislators fearful of losing their majority power. Well, guess what? That’s exactly what was going on here in good old New York back in the early 1800’s. We New Yorkers apparently were leaders in voter suppression. We even put it into the state constitution! That’s more than the states are doing today.
The publication of a new book about the Underground Railroad in the Adirondacks, focusing on its supporters and their good work in the Town of Chester in Warren County, rides a high wave of public interest in this dramatic chapter of our history. No bookstore lacks a full-frontal display of Colson Whitehead’s explosive novel The Underground Railroad, with Oprah’s golden imprimatur on the front jacket.
Regional scholarship is booming: in just the last decade, books and articles have documented Underground Railroad activity in Indiana, Buffalo, Detroit, Vermont, New York City, Pennsylvania, and the long flanks of Lake Champlain. Tom Calarco’s The Underground Railroad in the Adirondack Region (2004) is still the most inclusive, best synthesized, and detailed account of goings-on inside and all around the Blue Line. And cultural tourism in the region has gained immeasurably from the opening of the North Star Underground Railroad Museum at Ausable Chasm — the work, in great part, of two independent researchers, Don and Vivian Papson of Plattsburgh. » Continue Reading.
The Lake Champlain Basin Program will host Don Papson, co-founder of the North Star Underground Railroad Museum, as he presents “The Champlain Line of the Underground Railroad” on Thursday, March 9, 2017 at the LCBP office in Grand Isle.
Papson, a historian and author from the Adirondack North Country, will discuss the history of the Underground Railroad along Lake Champlain’s western shore. » Continue Reading.
Last weekend, the Saratoga Historical Society in California celebrated the 200th birthday of Mary Ann Day Brown, wife of radical abolitionist John Brown. The milestone was observed a few weeks prior to her actual birthday (April 15) to coincide with the Blossom Festival…. but, wait. Doesn’t John Brown’s body lie a moldering in his grave in New York State? Yes, it does, in the Adirondacks near Lake Placid. The grave of his second wife Mary however, is at the other end of the country, in Saratoga, California’s Madronia Cemetery.
It is all rather ironic since the life of Mary Ann Day started 200 years ago on April 15, 1816, in Granville in Washington County. Mary was a quite ordinary woman of the 1800s: quiet, modest, godly, and usually poor. Scores of thousands such lives pass unnoticed; history tends to remember women of wealth, beauty or offbeat wackiness if it recalls their existence at all. » Continue Reading.
A biographer who has written extensively about John Brown, a civil rights activist who marched in Selma and a memorial honoring a youth leader who introduced countless city youth to the Adirondacks will highlight John Brown Day 2015.
The annual event will be held Saturday, May 9, from 2 to 4 pm at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site in Lake Placid. It is free and open to the public.
Speakers at the event, an annual celebration honoring the life and legacy of abolitionist John Brown, include biographer Louis DeCaro and civil rights activist Dr. James H. Carter. » Continue Reading.
The sight of maple sap bubbling away in an evaporator pan, the sweet smell in the air and the camaraderie of sugarin’ season are welcomed signs of spring here in the Adirondacks. It also has an interesting history; there is a connection between maple sugar production, slavery in the United States, and socially responsible investing.
Early settlers watched Native Americans slash the bark of mature maple trees during the “sugar month” (even today the full moon in March is called the “Sugaring Moon”). As the trees released their sap from these gashes the clear sweet liquid would be funneled through a series of concave pieces of birch bark stitched together with reeds to the base of each tree where a sealed birch bark basket stored the sap. » Continue Reading.
Black history in the Adirondacks has an anecdotal quality, maybe because the numbers of black Adirondackers have been so few. Here’s a story of a black homesteader who was good friends with John Brown. There’s a barn that may have sheltered fugitives on the Underground Railroad. Outside Warrensburg is a place in the woods where a black hermit lived. And so on.
The temptation – and I should know; I’ve been a lead offender – is to make a sort of nosegay out of these scattered stories, pack them all into a story by its lonesome, a chunky little sidebar, and let this stand for the black experience.
It makes a good read, and it’s efficient. And it’s wrong. It reinforces the idea that the black experience in this region was something isolated, inessential. It ghettoizes black Adirondack history, and this wasn’t how it was. » Continue Reading.
The Adirondack Almanack is a public forum dedicated to promoting and discussing current events, history, arts, nature and outdoor recreation and other topics of interest to the Adirondacks and its communities
We publish commentary and opinion pieces from voluntary contributors, as well as news updates and event notices from area organizations. Contributors include veteran local writers, historians, naturalists, and outdoor enthusiasts from around the Adirondack region. The information, views and opinions expressed by these various authors are not necessarily those of the Adirondack Almanack or its publisher, the Adirondack Explorer.
General inquiries about the Adirondack Almanack should be directed to editor Melissa Hart.
To advertise on the Adirondack Almanack, or to receive information on rates and design, please click here.
Recent Almanack Comments