in Research Archives
1800 Census of Yorktown Heads of Household
A great many published works have been written concerning slavery in America; a Bibliography of Resources of the African-American Experience in the Hudson River Valley before 1827, from the Field Library in Peekskill, lists 129 sources! Some of these sources cover Westchester County, but little is known of the history of African-Americans in Yorktown and its surrounding communities.
In the next several years, the Westchester African-American Heritage Trail will be established and dedicated. The focus of the trail will be to identify sites in Westchester County that have served significantly in shaping the lives of its black residents. In the City of Peekskill, three sites have been positively identified as stops on the Underground Railroad. A dedicated team of volunteers, Sisters in Support, Inc., is working hard to establish an Underground Railroad museum in that city, to reach and teach more people about this areas African-American history.
Yorktown, too, has a history that is worth sharing, and like Peekskill and surrounding communities, it contains sites that have played a role in the lives of its black residents.
Act of Manumission
On February 22, 1788, the New York State Legislature passed an act that allowed New York slave owners to free their slaves, providing they were old enough and able to care for themselves and secure a means of support. This Act of Manumission was probably well received by the large number of Quakers who resided here. By the mid-1700s, most Quakers had taken a stand against the institution of slavery. Many Quakers actually purchased slaves from their owners in order to procure their freedom.
One month later, on March 7,1788, York Town (as it was spelled in early town documents) was officially established, and its residents were faced with new responsibilities in self-governing. One of their duties was to choose the Overseers of the Poor, whose duty it was to examine each slave to be manumitted and determine his or her ability to be self-sufficient.
According to the first Federal Census of 1790, there were 40 slaves and 28 free black residents of York Town, 17 of whom lived with four black heads of households: Jacob, Ocho, Michael and Santee. (Only three other Westchester communities, out of 21, had less slaves proportionate to the population and a higher percentage of free blacks to slaves: Salem, Pound Ridge and North Castle, strong Quaker communities.) In that census, Richard Hallock, a former Long Island Quaker, was not listed as a slave owner in York Town; yet he was the first to officially free a slave here, according to the 1788 Act of Manumission. On August 14, 1794 Cato, age under 50, was given his freedom.
The 1800 census lists Cato Blackman as a Head of Household, living with four other free black residents. He was counted in the census immediately following Richard Hallock, his emancipator, and Richard Hallock, Jr.
Five more slaves were freed by the time the 1800 census was taken, yet the number of free blacks dropped to 17, as did the number of slaves, which was cut in half. There is no mention of the previous four black heads of households, yet at least one, Ocho (Auchero or Ochro Peterson), appears in the 1810 and subsequent censuses. There is no sure way of knowing what became of the unaccounted for slaves and free blacks in the ten years between the first two censuses. It is possible there are records missing from 1800 that would change these numbers. Slavery was still legal in New York, and some or many slaves may have been sold by 1800. Certainly, childbirth, disease and accidental death kept the life expectancy of the general population low. It would seem that the toll on the poor and enslaved would be even greater.
According to the Overseers of the Poor records, town money was paid out in 1802 for doctoring, nursing and boarding Cato, a black man which was later repaid with the sale of his house and clothes. In 1804, an additional reimbursement to the town of $7 was made with the sale of Cato Hallocks watch. Cato (Hallock) Blackman was not listed in the 1810 census and no doubt died of his ailment.
By 1810 the black population had risen again. By an act of legislature, all negro children born of slaves in New York after July 4, 1799 were required to be registered. Six children were registered in York Town by 1810, yet that does nothing to account for the swell in slave numbers to 65. In fact it is offset by 6 adults who were manumitted during the same period, according to town records. By comparing slave owners in the 1800 census and those of the 1810 census, it can be clearly seen that residents of York Town continued the practice of slavery.
Not only did the slave population grow by 1810, but the number of free black residents rose from 17 to 127, living in 63 households, 14 of them black households. The Quaker practice of buying slaves and freeing them may have accounted for some; the March 29, 1799 act of the New York Legislature, which provided for the gradual abolition of slavery, no doubt gave incentive to others to do likewise. Free black men and women from other areas may have also traveled to Yorktown to work on the large farms, typical of the area.
Following the War of 1812 against Britain, New York City grew as an important commercial center in the northeast. The farms and mills in northern Westchester provided much of the staples needed for the citys burgeoning population and economy. The population of Yorktown also grew and the large farms were carved up into smaller ones, relying on family members to do the work, rather than slave labor.
In 1817, New York State passed another act declaring all slaves to be free on the 4th of July, 1827. It was clear to those who continued the practice of slavery, that it would soon become a liability to them. By 1820, only 5 slaves were listed on the census. Four of those were manumitted (according to the 1788 Act of Manumission) over the next five years.
In spite of the reduction of 60 slaves, the free black population in the same period also dropped, from 127 to 75. Cities along the Hudson River, like Peekskill, grew and prospered from the river trade to New York City, the most efficient means of shipping at the time. Much of the free black population flocked to the river cities where housing and jobs were more plentiful.
By 1830, according to the census, there were 89 free black residents in Yorktown living in 36 households, 14 of them black households. The Old Croton Dam, which was opened in 1842 to provide fresh drinking water to New York City, brought many immigrants, mostly Irish, to Yorktown. They provided a much-needed labor force. African-Americans found jobs during this time in the many foundries established, in Peekskill, for work on the dam. Following the Emancipation Proclamation, the 1870 census for Yorktown listed 8 black Heads of Households (nearly half that of 1830): Daniel, James and William Johnston (Johnson); two Andrew Jacksons; Henry and William H. Harrison; and Thomas Thompson. All of these family surnames appear in Ethel L. Jacksons book My Memories of 100 African-American Peekskill Families, along with Peterson, Brown and others. Of the black residents who remained in Yorktown, several families grew and prospered during the remaining 19th century.
By 1900, there were 48 black residents in Yorktown, but of these only 30 were born in New York. Fourteen of the remaining 18 came from Virginia and worked as servants and laborers.
The earliest marriage on record in Yorktown between two African Americans is found in the records of the First Presbyterian Church located on Route 202, at a time when it was divided into two congregations. The Rev. Silas Constant of the First Presbyterian Church, took his followers in 1806 and formed a new Congregational Church, which was located on Granite Springs Rd. He served as its pastor until 1825 and performed the first baptism there on Prince DeVoe, a free black man, on February 6, 1825. Prince DeVoe and Susan Horton (a slave of Stephen Horton who was manumitted on March 29, 1825 by his will) were married at the Congregational Church on April 8, 1826. From 1840 on, many black marriages, baptisms, and deaths were celebrated at the Congregational Church, continuing at the First Presbyterian Church after the two congregations reunited in 1865.
Ebenezer Peterson and Daniel A. Johnston were the first Yorktown African-Americans to serve in the military. Ebenezer Peterson enlisted on January 4, 1864 in Tarrytown, NY for three years and served in the 26th New York US Colored Troops. The 26th infantry trained on Rikers and Hart Island in NYC and fought in three engagements during the war: Johns Island, So. Carolina July 5 and 7, 1864; Gregorys Farm, So. Carolina December 5 and 9, 1864; and McKays Point, So. Carolina December 22, 1864.* He is buried in the East Yard Cemetery on Granite Springs Road.
Daniel A. Johnston (formally Johnson) served in the 38th US Colored Troops which was engaged in a battle at Deep Bottom, Va. on Oct 1, 1864 and in the battle of Chapins Farm, Va. Sept. 29 and 30, 1864. His brother, William Henry Johnson, was the first African-American to own property in Yorktown. In 1868 he owned a half-acre lot with house on Gomer Street and after his death in 1896, his wife Eliza Jane owned the house until her death in 1907. Their father Cato (or Katoah) Johnson was born in Putnam County c. 1795 and was married to Hannah Peterson. Cato, Hannah, Daniel, his wife Sarah Elizabeth Higgins, and William and his wife Eliza Jane are all buried in the East Yard Cemetery, along with many family members.
School records that have survived from District 4 (Crompond) show that children of black families attended school regularly and in healthy numbers. George Sands, an African-American who lived in Somers in the 1800s, left a diary which describes very typical family pursuits, both business and social, traveling to other Westchester communities and New York City by coach and ship.
The African-American Heritage Trail
The East Yard Cemetery on Granite Springs Road was established by the Congregationalists after 1806, and a section of the cemetery contains the graves of about 30-40 black members, some possibly former slaves.* * This cemetery, and site of the former church, will be listed as a site on the Westchester African-American Heritage Trail. Also to be listed is the First Presbyterian Church. The church cemetery has a monument dedicated to the all-black First Rhode Island Regiment that lost their lives in Yorktown during the British raid on the Davenport House in the Revolutionary War.
Other sites being considered are the Amawalk Friends Meeting House and the Davenport House, both locally landmarked historic sites in Yorktown and both believed to have sheltered slaves on the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad followed watercourses, and the Hudson River was a main artery. Yorktowns proximity to Peekskill and the close relationship between its black citizens naturally provided a link in the trail.
* For more information on NY States Civil War U.S. Colored Troops, go to www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/nycdoc/html/usct01.html
** The following is a list of known African-Americans buried in the East Yard Cemetery:
For more information visit the Freedom Trail web site at www.freedomtrail.org.
Written by Linda L. Kiederer
The image[s] of ... Frederick Douglass, [is a] scaled-down version[s] of much larger JPGs available through the National Archives and Records Administration web pages. They can be found among NARA Select Audiovisual Records web pages devoted to Pictures of the Civil War. Douglass, Frederick; half-length. 200-FL-22. Used with permission.
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