For Immediate Release: December 12, 2019
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New York City played an important role in the effort to abolish slavery nationwide, and to assist those seeking to escape it.
On the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to America, LPC wanted to bring greater awareness to the city's abolitionist history by telling the story through designated landmarks that embody it.
New York – Today, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) launched an interactive story map called New York City and the Path to Freedom. New York City played an important role in the effort to abolish slavery nationwide, and to assist those seeking to escape it. In observation of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to America, LPC wanted to bring greater awareness to the city's abolitionist history by telling the story through designated landmarks that embody it. Through narrative text, images, maps, and multimedia content, the public can learn the important history behind these buildings.
"The designated landmarks highlighted in this story map form an impressive collection of physical spaces that help tell the story of abolition and the Underground Railroad in New York City," said Landmarks Preservation Commission Chair Sarah Carroll. "As we reflect on New York City's legacy of both slavery and abolitionist activities, I hope New Yorkers will be inspired by the stories of abolitionists who took great personal risks to house enslaved individuals and to publicly advocate for abolition."
"New Yorkers will now have an interactive guide to discovering our city's contribution and significance to the Abolitionist movement," said Deputy Mayor of Housing and Economic Development Vicki Been. "I want to commend the Landmarks Preservation Commission for moving beyond a plaque to developing the Story Map, which gives viewers a deeper understanding of the importance of history and place."
Organized by borough, LPC's story map documents designated buildings associated with the multiple ways people and institutions engaged with the anti-slavery movement before the Civil War, whether through political and religious activism or by housing freedom seekers as part of Underground Railroad networks. The map also highlights landmarks associated with New York's free black communities established in the 19th century in the period before nationwide emancipation.
In sharing the story of abolitionist activities, the story map is also frank about the reality of slavery in New York City and its ties to the South. Slavery was present in New York City from its earliest European settlement, with the first enslaved people brought to New Amsterdam in 1626, and total emancipation was not achieved until 1827.
Brooklyn had a rich abolitionist history before the Civil War, and important buildings with documented associations to the Underground Railroad remain standing today. In the early 19th century, Brooklyn's economy relied heavily on the storage and export of agricultural products shipped from the Southern slave-holding states, yet its waterfront location and large population of free African-Americans made it a hub for abolitionist activity. The story map highlights nine New York City landmarks associated with the Underground Railroad, including residences where enslaved individuals were housed, religious institutions that offered them aid, and a rural African-American community that provided refuge and the opportunity for landownership. LPC also mapped a three-mile walking tour stopping at these nine landmarks that together tell the inspirational story of Brooklyn's role in fighting for freedom for enslaved African Americans.
Before the Civil War, Manhattan was home to more than 10,000 free African-American residents and a dedicated community of abolitionists from all races and social classes. With its population concentrated below 34th Street, anti-slavery and Underground Railroad activities took place across Lower Manhattan. This story map highlights two buildings with documented abolitionist history have been designated as landmarks, as well as the historical site of Seneca Village, a free African-American community located within an area of today's Central Park.
Until slavery was abolished in New York in 1827, Long Island, including Queens County, had one of the largest populations of enslaved persons in the North. Pockets of abolitionist activity nonetheless thrived, particularly in the progressive Quaker community of Flushing. This story map highlights two designated landmarks in Queens associated with the Underground Railroad, including a farmhouse owned by a prominent family of anti-slavery activists, and the local Friends Meeting House, which had advocated for abolition since the early 18th century.
Although enslaved individuals accounted for 10 to 23 percent of the population of Staten Island during the colonial period, in the first half of the 19th century, an increasing number of free African Americans chose to settle on Staten Island because land was available and inexpensive. Progressive individuals and abolitionists also moved to Staten Island around this time, forming an enclave known as Elliottville. This story map highlights four designated landmarks associated with this history on Staten Island, including residences of prominent figures in the local abolition movement, and the free African-American community of Sandy Ground.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission is the mayoral agency responsible for protecting and preserving New York City's architecturally, historically and culturally significant buildings and sites. Since its creation in 1965, LPC has granted landmark status to more than 37,000 buildings and sites, including 1,440 individual landmarks, 120 interior landmarks, 11 scenic landmarks, and 149 historic districts and extensions in all five boroughs. For more information, visit www.nyc.gov/landmarks and connect with us via www.facebook.com/NYCLandmarks and www.twitter.com/nyclandmarks.