"Black History Month is a time to reflect upon the important contributions of African Americans to the United States,” says Mark Thorne, senior history specialist and museum manager at Montgomery Parks in Maryland. Thorne manages the relatively new Josiah Henson Museum in Bethesda, Maryland, which tells the story of an enslaved man who freed 100 people from bondage, and, through his diaries, inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe’s bestseller, "Uncle Tom’s Cabin."
The following Black History sites in the Northeast excel at illustrating stories of bravery and resilience in the face of the horror of slavery in the United States.
The history of slavery on Shelter Island dates almost as far back as the history of slavery in The New World. In 1653, Nathaniel Sylvester married Grizzel Brinely, who owned an African family — Hannah, Jacquero, and their daughter, Hannah. The Sylvesters were the first Europeans to colonize Shelter Island, establishing a Sylvester Manor, a provisioning plantation for the Barbadian sugar trade. An ongoing archaeological site, more is being discovered every day about the enslaved who lived here.
INFO: Special events throughout the year; 80 N. Ferry Rd., Shelter Island; 631-749-0626, sylvestermanor.org
The Joseph Lloyd Manor is known not so much for the Lloyd Family as it is for Jupiter Hammon, a man enslaved on the Lloyd Plantation. Hammon, one of the first published African Americans, wrote about the moral conflicts of slavery and freedom in the late 1700s from an insider’s perspective: a rarity in the 18th century. In 2020 the house was dedicated as a national literary landmark in honor of Hammon.
“We believe that there were 10 to 15 people who were enslaved at this house at any given time, which is a huge number for Long Island, so most white households only had two to three enslaved people. So we have projected here on the wall about 50 names of individuals that have come up to the surface by going through those records, and we’ve installed an audio visual installation,” notes Lauren Brincat, curator at Preservation Long Island.
INFO: Tours by appointment throughout Black History Month; 1 Lloyd Ln., Lloyd Harbor; 631-692-4664, preservationlongisland.org
Mary E. Bell, a laundress-turned AME Zion Church leader, lived in this home built by her father, Selah Smith, in 1872. Bell led the Church’s Varick Society of Christian Endeavor, a social group that hosted dinners, events, and service programs like food banks. On the National Register of Historic Places, the Mary Bell House is available to tour by appointment.
INFO: Tours by appointment; Saturdays 10 a.m.; Admission is $10, $5 for students, free for children under 5; 66 Railroad Ave., Center Moriches; 631-878-1855, ketchaminnfoundation.org
While many people know that Harriet Tubman, the “Moses of her people,” freed 70 enslaved people in Maryland, and might also know about her role as spy and informant for the Union Army, most don’t know about her later years in upstate New York. Tubman moved to Auburn in 1859, and became friends with Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. Tubman was a women’s rights advocate and ran a home for the indigent elderly. You can tour this site by appointment, and visit Tubman's grave in nearby Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn.
INFO: Although there are no set tours for now, call 315-252-2081 to arrange one. You can visit her grave any time; 180 South St., Auburn, New York; 315-882-8060, nps.gov
Frederick Douglass lived in Rochester for 25 years from 1847-1872. It was here that he published his abolition newspaper, The North Star, and gave his famous 4th Of July speech, while slavery was still legal in the United States. “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.” On this self guided driving tour, see where the Douglasses lived, where the North Star was published, the home of his friend and co-suffragist and abolitionist Susan B. Anthony and other locations important to Douglass’ life.
INFO: Self-guided tour; Rochester, New York; douglasstour.com
In 1839, the ship Amistad, carrying over 40 illegally captured African men and women, was found off the coast of Long Island and towed to the New London Customhouse. The Africans, who had killed the Amistad’s captain and were attempting to sail home, were transported to a jail in New Haven. Thanks to local abolitionists, and former President John Quincy Adams (who pleaded the Africans’ case in court), they were freed. The New London Customhouse maintains a permanent exhibit about the Amistad, along with other maritime relics and memorabilia.
INFO: Open Wednesday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday and Friday 1 to 5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.; Admission is $7; 150 Bank St, New London, Connecticut; 860-447-2501, nlmaritimesociety.org
Upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe, President Abraham Lincoln purportedly stated, “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this Great War.” Stowe first composed what became the book "Uncle Tom’s Cabin" as a serialized story in the Washington, D.C., abolitionist newspaper, The National Era. It went on to become a bestseller, firing up the antislavery movement in the United States.
INFO: Tours of the home that Beecher Stowe lived in for 23 years (next door to Mark Twain’s house) are offered Thursday to Monday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Admission is $20; 77 Forest St, Hartford, Connecticut; 860-522-9258, harrietbeecherstowecenter.org
At age 20 in 1839, Frederick Douglass came to abolitionist New Bedford as a fugitive from a Maryland plantation. In his autobiography, "My Bondage and My Freedom," Douglas wrote, “On the (New Bedford) wharves I saw industry without bustle, labor without noise, and heavy toil without the whip.” He found that through hard work as a ship caulker, he could earn a decent living: enough to buy his own home. By dint of his charismatic demeanor, oratorical power, and intellectual prowess, Douglass became an influential figure in the abolitionist movement. The New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park offers exhibits and programming of Douglass’ time here, with relevant programming during Black History Month.
INFO: Open Thursday to Sunday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Admission is free; 33 William St., New Bedford, Massachusetts; 508-996-4095, nps.gov
The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitors Center, and the Harriet Tubman Underground RR Byway are premier attractions on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. There’s no better place to learn the story of Tubman’s long and heroic life. In addition to her derring-do as conductor on the Underground Railroad, when she led 13 groups of enslaved people through harsh, dense, and unrelenting landscapes, Tubman served as a Union spy, nurse, and scout during the Civil War. In her later years, Tubman traveled with Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, on the lecture circuit, from her home in upstate New York. She was buried with military honors in 1913 at the age of 93.
INFO: Open Tuesday through Sunday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Admission is free; 4068 Golden Hill Rd.,
Church Creek, Maryland; 410-221-2290, nps.gov
It’s inconceivable that Josiah Henson is not a household name. His “Slave Narrative” — his diaries, published in 1849, through which he documented the daunting task of freeing more than 100 fellow slaves — became the basis of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book, "Uncle Tom’s Cabin." The book became such a bestseller, in fact, that Henson was invited to England to meet Queen Victoria in 1877. Nearly 140 years later, Queen Elizabeth presented President and Michelle Obama with documentation of that auspicious event. All this is chronicled in well-curated exhibits at the Josiah Henson Museum in Bethesda, Maryland — on the property where Henson was enslaved. Although Henson became famous, he would claim throughout his life, “My name is not Tom and never will be.”
INFO: Open Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday 12 to 4 p.m.; Admission is $5; 11410 Old Georgetown Rd., North Bethesda, Maryland; 301-765-8790, montgomeryparks.org
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