The Jacksons, Lattimores, and Schuylers
First African-American Families of Early Albany

Stefan Bielinski
and the
Colonial Albany Social History Project

Most of the people of early Albany lived their lives below the level of traditional historical scrutiny, but African Americans were practically invisible. Stefan Bielinski relieves [a little of] the historical obscurity of the African-American community and discusses the process by which it was done. Bielinski is the founder and director of the Colonial Albany Social History Project at the New York State Museum.

In the summer of 1815, an Albany businessman named Joseph Fry issued his third annual register and directory of the residents of the city. Following a conventional format, the 1815 edition began with rosters of the public officials. It then listed physicians, boat captains, city licensees, officers of Albany's banks, education institutions, other incorporated enterprises, social organizations, and the chiefs of a number of Albany based civic and moral improvement groups whom today we might call "lobbyists." The directory included population and election statistics and more miscellaneous information that Fry promised, on the directory's title page, would prove to be "other interesting Matter."

But the principal feature of what was known as "Fry's Albany Directory" was a 64 page alphabetical list of the principal residents of the city of Albany.1 Considerably larger than its more rudimentary predecessors, the 1815 edition graphically revealed that Albany was in the midst of a period of dramatic growth. Founded in the mid-seventeenth century and chartered as a city in 1686.

Albany's resident population, for a variety of reasons, grew slowly, reaching 3,498 people by the first federal census in 1790. In each of the following decades, however, the city's population almost doubled. The rapid growth was based on the maturation of the city's traditional roles as a regional market and service center, transportation interchange and jumping-off place for the West, and by its new status as capital of the Empire State. The coming of migrants from New England and other states and the arrival of European immigrants more than offset the outmigration of many traditional early Albany families. The only boundary change made before the Civil War added a populated section on the northern edge of the City in 1812. Formerly part of Watervliet, new neighborhoods called Arbor Hill and North Albany contributed substantially to the city's population. By the end of the War of 1812, a one-time frontier outpost had become one of the fastest growing urban centers in North America.2

The 1815 directory named 2,394 individuals (up from 1,596 in 1813) and listed more precisely the addresses, activities, and characteristics of not only the traditional heads of households but of a growing number of individuals who were living in the city and not under a kinship umbrella. The newest feature of the 1815 edition was explained by a notation on the last line of the preface stating that "Those persons whose names are in Italics are free people of color."

This reference to the city's African-American householders was the earliest printed manifestation of what could be called a "black community." However, Albanians of African ancestry had lived in city households for almost two centuries. During that time, blacks had accounted for between 10 to 20 percent of the city's population, had lived in 30 to 50 percent of the city's households, and, in general, had been overlooked as individuals. They rarely appeared on local government, business, and church rolls that readily identified most community members of European ancestry. But in 1815, the placement of forty italicized names in "Fry's Albany Directory" identified a significant minority group as part of the mainline city.

The addresses listed in the directory reveal that most of Albany's black households inhabited the streets near the river and the more recently developed areas on the northern, southern, and western edge of the city. (See map) They also were clustered on Fox Street, at the South Ferry, and near the intersection of South Pearl and Bassett Streets in the South End." African-American householders were most often identified with transportation-related occupations. These included two ferrymen, seven watermen, and two carters; although both Benjamin Lattimore and John Burns were identified as licensed cartmen in another section of the same directory. Six men were called laborers. Others were connected with the community's service industries : three grocers, a sweep, a butcher, a barber, a shoemaker, and four shoeblacks. Two were more exceptional (a skipper and a musician), and three others were widows. The directory listed seven free black men, including Lattimore and Burns, without indicating their occupation.

For the record, the householders identified as free people of color in the 1815 "Fry's Directory" were John Burns, laborer, Water Street; Francis Connor, shoeblack, 97 State; the widow of Fortune Cujay, 208 S. Pearl; John Edwards, barber, 14 Green; David Ervine, 53 Fox; Jacob Everston, 22 Fox; Cesar Foster, butcher, 4 Lutheran; George Golen (Golden), laborer, 51 Fox; Isaac Hawkins, grocer, 231 N. Market; Francis Jacobs, sweep master, 24 N. Pearl; Abraham Jackson, Bassett; John Jackson, laborer, Arbor Hill; John Jackson, laborer, 218 S. Pearl; James Jackson, shoeblack, 41 Division; Jack Jackson, waterman, 24 Fox; Lewis Jackson, waterman, 36 Chapel; Widow Dinnah Jackson, 31 Maiden Lane; Bristol Jackson, waterman, Bassett; John Johnson, waterman, Bassett; Benjamin Lattimer, 9 Plain; Peter Mingo, waterman, 63 Maiden Ln,; Henry Otefield, ferryman, 76 Church; William Pepper, laborer, 54 N. Market; Piars Pruyn, 59 Van Schaick; Francis Robinson, cartman, Water St.; Douw Rocket, ferryman, Lumber St.; Samuel Schuyler, skipper, 204 S. Pearl; Anthony Smith, 18 Van Schaick, James Stoutenbergh, laborer, Sand St,; Swan & Foot grocers, 16 Lydius; Cornelius Talbot, shoemaker, 75 Maiden Ln.; Charity Thompson, 65 Maiden Ln.; Jacob Thompson, cartman, 53 Fox; John Thompson, waterman, Arbor Hill, Thomas Thompson, shoeblack, 596 S. Market; Thomas Thompson, shoeblack, 1 Stuben; Jacob Titus, waterman, 22 Fox; John Top, musician, Ferry; and Francis Van Pelt, 45 Liberty.

Though the directory claimed that it would italicize the names of free people of color, it did not always do so. Those included in the alphabetical listing but not in italics, though clearly identifiable as of African background from other sources (sometimes in subsequent directories,) were Thomas Adams, 63 Maiden Lane; Thomas Allicot, 63 Columbia; Louis Davis, barber, Lodge St.; Josiah Divol (Joseph Dibble), cartman upper State; Samuel Edge, shoemaker, 3 Chapel; John Hogner (Hugener) ferryman, 5 Ferry; Stephen Little, laborer, Sturgeon St.; Francis March, skipper, 217 S. Pearl; Joseph Morris, tobacconist, 11 N. Market; and Charles Smith, laborer, 186 S. Pearl.

The listings provide the bare bones of an individual's existence. They raise compelling questions about the origins of these community residents. Where were they born? How long had they been free? What brought them to Albany? How did they live? And what were their individual and collective roles in the growth and development of the then booming city of Albany?

Since 1982, the Colonial Albany Social History Project has been engaged in a community-based research program that provides answers to some of these questions. In the course of a comprehensive sweep of Albany's historical record, the project has recovered literally thousands of references to individuals, both white and black, who meet the criteria for inclusion in the Colonial Albany Project's study population: born before the end of 1800 and can be documented as a resident of the city of Albany, or were the children of resident parents, or were married to a city resident. The total study population numbers add up to approximately 16,000 historical personages, and these "people of colonial Albany" have been under intensive study for more than a decade. Most of them were of European ancestry, chiefly the descendants of the so-called New Netherland Dutch, an ethnically diverse group of pioneers who came to America before 1664, the British -English, Scots and Irish- who settled in Albany during the English colonial period; German, French, and others from continental Europe; and a large number of American migrants, chiefly from New England and New Jersey.

During the course of this research, the project has compiled a massive file of references to contemporary people of color, both slave and free, who were born in Albany or who came to the community to serve one of the above-mentioned groups. Blacks were not named in any of the comprehensive surveys of householders for the colonial period that provided the backbone definition of the city's base population. But the African presence has been well documented in the same sources since the mid-seventeenth century.3

From the earliest days of the community, Albany traders, tradesmen, and transporters utilized black bondsmen to offset a chronic labor shortage. An even larger number of female slaves were employed as domestic and personal servants in city households. Their presence in Albany has been established in legal documents, business records, and literary sources. Slaves and their children sometimes were baptized in Albany churches but then were sold, bequeathed, and otherwise transferred as property from one owner to the next. Although the colonial census schedules reveal that Negro slaves accounted for more than 10 percent of Albany's population during the eighteenth century, the Colonial Albany Project's examination of community-based and external records could identify only a relatively small number of individuals. A projected total of the city's African Americans would approach 1,600 city people or one-tenth of a base population of about 16,000 city residents before 1800. While people of color were identified in the records of government, businesses, the courts, churches, and virtually all other community-based resources, the evidence is not detailed enough to represent this significant minority in general discussions of the home, workplace, or community decision making.4

However, individuals were identified in these records by their slave names as "Pomp," Dinah," "Widow Marselis's Bet," or, even more nebulously, as "the slave of Mr. Ten Eyck." More than a hundred documentary references to slaves "Maria and Tom" over a 120-year period have been found. How many separate lives did these references represent? Probably at least a dozen; possibly as many as a hundred. At the same time, many of those listed once in the record seem to have vanished. For example, while a city assessment roll for 1767 taxed the home of Tom Corte "the neger" at one pound, to date a second reference to that individual has not been found. In fact, prior to the 1770's the records so far encountered have not positively identified a single African-ancestry household in any way comparable to even the most modest Euro-American living units.5

Unlike Philadelphia, New York City, and other northern urban centers where free black householders and even neighborhoods appeared during the colonial period, African-American community life did not manifest itself in Albany until after the end of the War for Independence. The additional layer and conditions did not reveal the presence of a free black community in Albany, a Revolutionary stronghold where slaves were widely suspected of Seeking to defect to the British in New York City. Consequently, Albany's slaveholders, who included patriots and loyalists alike, sought to keep their bondsmen under tight control, often putting them to work on behalf of Revolutionary enterprises ranging from building to carrying, for which the individual owners were compensated.6

After the war, free blacks were among the new groups that transformed this American city. In 1790, the first federal census identified 26 free persons of color living in seven separate city households and a total of 572 slaves among an overall Albany population of 3,498. This census also recorded the high point of slaveholding in Albany, with about a third of the city's homes holding slaves. Albany slaveholders ranged from the city's commercial elite to its tradesmen, artisans, and transporters. By 1800, the number of free persons of color in the city had increased to 157 with 28 predominately African households while the slave population still totaled 526. But by 1810-a decade of dramatic change spurred by the slave emancipation legislation of 1799, a growing popular emancipation movement, the in-migration of free blacks, and the replacement of old Albany families by non slaveowning New Englanders and Europeans-free "colored" city residents numbered 501 while the slave population had declined to 251. By 1820, the last census that recorded slaves, Albany had 645 free people of color and 108 slaves in an overall city population of almost 13,000. With the free black population increasing from 501 to 645 between 1810 and 1820, Albany's free black population in 1815 would have fallen between those figures. The 40 free black householders actually identified in Fry's Albany Directory, with at least another eleven households overlooked in terms of racial composition, meant that a majority of the city's free black population would have been accounted for among those listed in the 1815 edition if they averaged only four or five members each. During the immediate post-Revolutionary era, Albany's free black population multiplied with each census (from 26 in 1790 to 1800 to 501 in 1810 and cresting at 645 in 1820). As the section that follows will show, "free people of color" (a frequently-used contemporary designation) began to emerge and establish themselves as a significant element of nineteenth-century Albany's social fabric.7

Using censuses, assessment rolls, city government records, real-property data, court and probate records, newspaper and the city directories from 1813 on, the Colonial Albany Project has developed biographical profiles for more than a hundred free black residents who meet the criteria for inclusion in the early Albany study population. After their units are reconstructed (identifying spouses and children through family reconstitution), most likely five or six times the number of people visible as heads of households will have been identified. The most well-documented of these minority community members appear to have a number of things in common which may account for our ability to piece together their lives from the existing pool of historical resources. The Afro-Albanians referred to here and identified as an African-American "middle class" were the most successful of the community's residents of African ancestry. While none of them ranked above the bottom quarter on the overall community economic ladder, they represented success in three ways. They were property owners whose holdings often included several parcels of city land. The were prominent participants in the community-based social and economic activities. And they were the founding members of the Albany families that flourished in the city during the first decades of the nineteenth century. While they are conspicuous by their absence from the known records of early Albany, two graphic manifestations of "Negro" frustration- the Fire of 1793 in which three slaves were executed for burning a significant portion of the city's central business district, and "Pinkster," a traditional springtime bacchanal where blacks were prominently disorderly, are documented.8

At the core of the Afro-Albanian middle class were several extended family groups. These families became historically visible during the three decades following the War for Independence and stepped forward to take advantage of expanded opportunities in processing and service enterprises, particularly in the area of transportation. By 1815, the city directory had identified them as significant part of the city's society. The founders of three Albany families- the Jacksons, the Lattimores, and the Schuylers- were identified as free people of color in Fry's Albany Directory. The lives of Jack and Dinah Jackson, Benjamin Lattimore, and Captain Samuel Schuyler represent significant sectors of the city's free black community, illustrate important themes in its industrial age, and are well enough documented to support a closer look.

Benjamin Lattimore died in 1838 at age 78. He was buried from the newer of the city's two Methodist Episcopal churches and was eulogized in the local papers as a soldier of the American Revolution. Lattimore's life began in Wethersfield Connecticut in 1761. By 1776, his family had moved across the Hudson River to Ulster County where they farmed and ran a ferry. At age fifteen, young Benjamin joined the Revolutionary army. He served in the New York Line for three years, fighting in the battle for New York City, suffering as a prisoner of the British, and in 1779 marching across the state in the Clinton-Sullivan punitive expedition against the Iroquois. During the war, his regiment spent several weeks in Albany. He also made the acquaintance of a number of soldiers who would later become his Albany neighbors. At the end of the war, Benjamin returned to Ulster County but soon decided to leave the family farm. Migration was an important element of the New England experience during the second half of the eighteenth century. Like so many other Yankees who saw opportunity in the west, the Lattimores had moved to New York. But, unlike other sons of New England whose forebears had come to America as part of the Puritan migration of the 1630's. Benjamin Lattimore's ancestors were African.

Reaching Albany by the 1790s with only the recommendation of meritorious wartime service, this thirty-year old began to support himself as a teamster by purchasing a city license to cart cargoes up and down Albany's hilly and narrow streets and through the city's busy yet muddy boulevards. His ambition found many sponsors in the booming commercial center among those needing goods hauled to and from the docks. Before long, he was ready to set down more permanent roots. Benjamin first lodged with his kinsman, Thomas Lattimore, a tailor then raising his own family in a house on the hill behind one of the city's main streets. In 1798, Benjamin Lattimore purchased a lot west of South Pearl Street in a newly opened area at the foot of "Gallows Hill. There he built his home; ultimately a substantial, two-story brick rowhouse. In the years that followed, he was able to invest extra income in city lots so that his property eventually fronted on South Pearl Street, one of Albany's main thoroughfares. In addition, he brought another lot located farther out on South Pearl Street from the estate of General Philip Schuyler.

Soon after arriving in Albany, Lattimore began to raise a family and to participate in community activities. First, he found a mate from among the many women of African-ancestry working in Albany households. Their son, Benjamin Jr. was born in 1793 and other children followed. In 1799, this "Negro man" was baptized in the First Presbyterian Church and was admitted to the congregation. Five years later, the Presbyterian Church sanctioned his common-law marriage to Dina, the "servant maid" of Wilhelmus Mancius, a prominent city physician. Lattimore was only one of the few "colored" male members, while his wife was among a number of African-American women who belonged to the Albany Presbyterian congregation.

By 1815, Lattimore's family and modest trucking business were established at his 9 Plain Street address. A few years later, two Lattimore families shared the home as Benjamin Jr. had married and Was starting out as a day-laborer and sometime teamster. By that time, Benjamin Sr. was a well-known community figure. In an affidavit made in 1820, he was described in a judicial proceeding as a six- foot-tall mulatto man " of irreproachable character and uprightness." He was licensed by the city government as a cartman and was a member of the Presbyterian and then of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. During the 1830s he was president of the Albany African Temperance Society. Patriarch, proprietor, and property owner, this "new man of the Revolution" had built a life that made him a prominent member of post-war Albany's black middle class.

After his death two adult sons and a daughter shared his Revolutionary War pension and his other holdings. Benjamin Lattimore left half of his estate to Benjamin Jr., and a fourth to his other surviving son, William. The remaining quarter-share was entrusted to Benjamin Jr. for the "personal use" of his sister, the widow Mary Jackson, thus protecting the bequest from any future husband's possible mismanagement.

Mainstream history books tell us that in the years following the American Revolution, Albany's character was transformed by the energy and ingenuity of newcomers from New England. With a dramatic rise in the number of free black residents appearing on community rolls during that time, we expect to be able to identify some of them from New England town, church, or other records, and from service records for Revolutionary army. We know that Benjamin Lattimore's experience was not unique in Albany and probably was duplicated many times in other New York communities as well.9

When Benjamin Lattimore moved to Albany, the southern part of the city was a developing area still defined by the elegant Georgian mansion of General Philip Schuyler, Albany's foremost Revolutionary father, great regional landholder, wealthiest man in the community, and, as the master of thirteen slaves on the census of 1790, the city's largest slave holder. Schuyler's mansion and outbuildings sat on the crest of a hill that sloped down to the Hudson River and overlooked what once was the city's common pasture lands. At the time of the general's death in 1804, Schuyler mansion commanded a view of dozen of new homes, shops, and utility buildings that constituted a major new development area for the booming new state's capital. After the War for Independence, the Albany city government began selling off South End lots to preferred clients who in turn subdivided and sold or rented these properties to new people who were taking responsibility for a home for the first time.10

Running in front of Schuyler Mansion was South Pearl Street. Along that major city thoroughfare at 204 South Pearl was the home of Captain Samuel Schuyler, who was listed in Fry's Albany Directory as a "skipper." However, the individual who was often called "Captian" was not the Samuel who was born to Sheriff Harmanus Schuyler and Christina Ten Broeck in 1757 and who lived with family members for more than seventy years. Although Captain Samuel Schuyler became prominent in his own right, the lineage of this particular bearer of the name of Albany's leading family was not among those traceable in the family histories and genealogies that otherwise commemorate the Schuyler family's preeminent position in early Albany society. The reason for the omission was that Captain Samuel Schuyler was black.

Captain Samuel Schuyler was born in 1781 (probably as a free man and possibly in New York City or New Jersey, where Samuel was a more common Schuyler family name). No surviving records have been found to link this particular Samuel Schuyler to the New Netherland Schuyler's. In the mid twentieth century autobiography entitled Black and Conservative, the African-American writer George Samuel Schuyler wrote that his grandfather had fought in the American Revolution under General Philip Schuyler and was one of the first workers at the federal arsenal at Watervliet which opened in 1813. Could that individual have been Captain Samuel Schuyler's father or uncle? By the early 1800's Samuel was living in Albany where he leased dock space on riverside Quay Street. The assessment roll for 1809 described him as a "Blackman." He was also identified as the head of a city household on the third Federal census in 1810. However, his family was represented in terms of free white membership-with a white boy and a girl under ten years old and a white man and a woman between the ages of twenty-six and forty-five. No free blacks or slaves were identified in the Samuel Schuyler household. That peculiar enumeration may be explained by the fact that no city households were listed with African-ancestry heads in 1810. In 1820, and on most other documents, however, Captain Samuel and his family were consistently identified as free people of color.

Like his neighbors of European-ancestry, Captain Schuyler married in his early twenties and raised a large family of eleven children, eight of whom lived to adulthood. Initially the operator of one of the hundreds of small rivercraft that carried cargoes between Hudson Valley ports and landings on a contract basis, Samuel Schuyler became well-known in the Albany community and along the Hudson as a boat captain or skipper. His career represented a step forward for Albany's free blacks as several of his contemporaries including John Thompson and Bristol and John Johnson joined him as householders and as river boat proprietors.

In 1810, Captain Schuyler purchased an adjoining lot on South Pearl Street from his neighbor Francis March, also a free black skipper. The captain's first son was named Richard March Schuyler. Over the next three decades, he was able to acquire most of the property on South Pearl Street between Bassett and Schuyler Streets. This Schuyler block was composed of at least fifteen city lots and was used as a coal yard and warehouse by the captain and his son, who operated the "Schuyler Tow Boat Line" for several decades. When Captain Samuel Schuyler died at age sixty-one in May of 1842, his will provided for the maintenance of his wife, the former Mary or Margaret Martin or Mortin. After her death the South Pearl Street house and other real estate passed to his children. As successful businessmen, his four sons continued their father's enterprise into the latter part of the nineteenth century.

The story of Captain Samuel Schuyler illustrates another issue related to the recovery and reinstatement of the African presence in early Albany society. A number of individuals bearing the surnames of Albany's original settlers, such as the Kips, Lansings , Van Heusens, and Van Loons, are not to be found on the traditional family trees. A few of these individuals are mentioned in family histories and genealogies, but most of them are not. Because of this exclusion, the historian lacks an important set of resources- the records, accounts, material relics, and traditions passed through generations by family members. To further complicate matters, Captain Samuel Schuyler was identified clearly as "black" or "colored" in a number of records and other documents, but was not listed as a "free person of color" in the 1810 census. What accounts for the inconsistency? Samuel Schuyler's case constitutes a prime, but by no means unique, example of how the status of free blacks was evolving in Albany's urbanizing society. Why did he use the surname "Schuyler"? Did he have a Schuyler parent or ancestor? Was he an emancipated Schuyler family slave? What is most puzzling in his case was that he was not always described as "black" in the record. One implication of this the possibility that some of those individuals in Albany records assumed to be "white," were not. It is also probable that Albany's emerging black community was larger than the so-called official records would have us believe.11

The lives of Benjamin Lattimore and of Samuel Schuyler stand out among the members of Albany's fledgling free African-American community. Revolutionary War soldier and skipper/proprietor, their success stories are engaging and even uplifting. But how representative were their specific experiences? Were the life histories of these newcomers-recoverable through available church, survey, business, probate, and literary sources-at all typical of those who made up the remainder of the city's large but unarticulated free black population? Because Schuyler and Lattimore were of the first generation of their families in Albany, their histories are comparatively uncomplicated. Their transitions from slavery to freedom was accomplished in preceding generations or at least prior to their first appearance as householders in Albany. Although disadvantaged, they quickly established themselves as fixtures in Albany's social register and they prospered. Charting their lives has been a task only slightly more difficult than researching the lives of their European-ancestry counterparts. However, most free people of color who appear to have lived and died in Albany until the 1800s, remain unaccounted for.

One approach to this problem is to shift the focus of research to an earlier period when these individuals were slaves. Unfortunately, we have not been very successful in matching the African- ancestry householders listed on the censuses, assessment rolls, directories, or other community records created during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries with the large but much more amorphous collection of references to blacks organized by their first or slave names. But again there are exceptions. A profile of a third Albany family illustrates this problem and may provide more representative example of the emerging African-American middle class.

An assessment roll taken in March 1779 identified 616 property owners in the city of Albany. A house and lot in the second ward was valued at 140 pounds and Jack Jackson was listed as the owner. Although Mary Speck and "Mongo" also were identified as householders, the roll made no specific references to their race. Another assessment made that year in October named 620 people as householders and assessed each person an amount ranging from a few dollars for widows, newcomers, and the poor, to between 500 and 3,000 dollars for active merchants and those who were being punished for less than enthusiastic support of Revolutionary cause.The October enumeration included two properties listed next to each other in the second ward in the northeastern part of the core city, each assessed at five dollars and identified as the homes of 'Old Jack" and "Young Jack." These were the only first-name-only references on the entire list. If the assessment information is linked with other community records, Old Jack possibly emerges as Jack Jackson and Young Jack as a son. Perhaps Young Jack had come of age between March and October of 1779. Or possibly his property simply had been overlooked on the March assessment. Assuming that the Jack's/Jackson's properties were owned by free residents those two householders could well be from within Albany's African-American population.

A likely approach was to find free black men with slave names. A check of our slave name reference file revealed twenty "Jacks" who could have been the individuals listed in the 1779 assessment rolls. Some had been recently freed, others belonged to exiled Tories, including the deposed royalist mayor Abraham C. Cuyler, others were simply referenced as "Jack." We could not identify either of the "Jacks" from this group but neither could we eliminate most of them. Old Jack and Young Jack would have been over twenty years of age in 1779, with Old Jack probably a generation or more older than his namesake. We then searched the extant baptism records of Albany's five eighteenth-century churches. This yielded over a hundred slave and free black baptisms. We found no "Jacks" christened during 1750s or before, but the records revealed that the children of Jack and "Beth" Jackson were being baptized in the Presbyterian church during the 1780s. At each christening, the parents were identified as "negros." Besty Jackson, "a woman of color," was listed as a member and communicant of the First Presbyterian Church in 1806. This raises the question, was Young Jack the "Jack" listed as the father in the records of the 1780s?

The 1790 federal census listed a "Jack Jackum" whose household included seven "free person of color." Jackum's second ward household was the city's only Jack-named household and also the largest cohabiting family of free blacks to appear in the first federal census. Were two generations of the family living together in the second ward house with Old Jack as the head of the household? During this period, the second ward included city property west and north of North Pearl Street and represented a concentration of "free people of color," with eighteen of Albany's twenty-six free blacks living in that quadrant of the city. The Jackson property on Orange Street was located near the northern city line in an area already referred as "Arbor Hill" and was described on the as- sessment roll for 1799 as a house and lot of modest value and as belonging to Jack" alias John" Jackson.

The federal census of 1800 listed John Jackson, "a free man," and six other free persons of color as residents of a household in the Arbor Hill section of the second ward. Jack Jackson, a "free negro," and four other free blacks identified in a first ward household located on South Pearl Street near the southern boundary of the city. Had Young Jack set up housekeeping on South Pearl Street? An African-ancestry Jack Jackson lived at that address and worked as a contract laborer for the next two decades. In addition, Abraham Jackson had been assessed as the owner of lots located in the remote part of the first ward. Valued at $140, his South End lot equaled the lowest assessment applied to any city real estate. His personal property valued at three dollars was the smallest amount specified on the entire citywide tax list. The assessment of personal property as well as real estate meant that the location, even though no building was noted, was Abraham Jackson's place of residence. Was he living in a tent, a shed or another makeshift structure? In 1800, 14 free persons of color (or almost 10 per cent of the city's free black population of 157) were living in three Jackson-named households near the northern and southern borders of the city of Albany.

An important element of the city's black Jackson configuration had changed by the time assessors made out the tax roll for 1802. That document specified two second ward parcels of land (the Orange Street house and a nearby lot) listed as being owned by "Dian" or Dinnah Jackson. For the Orange Street house and lot, her name had been inserted above the name of Jack Jackson, which had been crossed out. Jack Jackson, probably formerly known as "Old Jack," apparently had died and his widow, Dinnah, had become head of the household. Dinnah had extensive experience in the administra- tion of real estate. In 1779, Dinnah Jackson, "a free negro woman," purchased a lot north of the city from an aging Wihelmus Van Antwerpen, making her Albany's first recorded African-ancestry property owner. By 1814, she had moved a few blocks closer to Albany's residential core, to 31 Maiden Lane, a back street that was home to a number of free black families. A few years later, she gave up her home and spent her final years with one of her grand- daughters. She had already applied some of her assets to the purchase of seven lots on Arbor Hill in the northwestern corner of the city. She bequeathed this property and her personal property and savings to her six grandchildren, because by the time she made her will in June 1818 she had outlived all her children. She died a few months later.

Two Jacksons did establish themselves, and each raised families in Albany's South End. Before 1800, Abraham Jackson had married Diana, the former slave of a city merchant, and had taken up residence on his own property on Bassett Street. By 1809, he was renting dock space on Quay Street where he could barter and peddle produce and goods while also earning additional income loading and unloading cargoes and helping out the boatman and ferryman, many of whom were also identified in the city directory as "free people of color." All three of his Bassett Street neighbors - Bristol or Bristow Johnson, John Johnson, and Patrick Cole - were free black watermen and were listed in the city directory. Jack Jackson was raising his family around the corner from Bassett Street on South Pearl, a few doors away from the home of Captain Samuel Schuyler and in the same neighborhood as a number of other free black households. At the same time, two were living on the north side of the city.12

Although these sons died or left the city by 1820, the city directory for that year identified fourteen other Jackson households as free people of color. Some of these descendants of Dianna Jackson shared in the Arbor Hill houselots listed in her will. Others were able to acquire land in the South End. Each of these enclaves survived a number of historical pressures and the descendants of Old Jack and Dinnah helped form the backbone of African-American community life in downtown Albany that remained vital until after the Civil War.13

The Jacksons stood out as an African-American family group in the city directory of 1815, but they were not alone. Even then, the presence of the black Johnsons, Jenkinses, and Thompsons was marked by multiple households. Other black Albany families also evolved from those emerging during the era of the American Revolution. Their stories have become a part of any depiction of mainstream community life in early Albany. However, the question of how representative were these members of the Afro-Albanian middle class of the overall black experience is still without resolution. Admittedly we have studied Albany's African Americans from the top down. The lives of Benjamin Lattimore, Captain Samuel Schuyler, and Jack and Dinnah Jackson represent the success of the black post-Revolutionary experiences. The stories of the other 98 percent of Albany's African-ancestry population are still obscure. Despite these shortcomings, the family profiles presented above and the more general discussion of problems and approaches to African-American community history have addressed an important, yet still not understood, element of the community-building experience in the New York State.


Published in New York History volume 77:4 (October 1996), 373-94.

This essay represents the cooperative efforts of a number of dedicated individuals. Individual student interns, Research Associates, and Resource Benefactors are acknowledged In The People of Colonial Albany: A Community History Project (1994 edition), hereafter Cited as A Community History Project, a comprehensive guide to project research, programming, and services. The author notes the special contributions of Colonial Albany Project members Ruffina Baustia, Jan Ghee, Glenn Grifith, Moses Kash, Joyce Patterson, and Jean Stephens for research support in developing this article. Earlier versions were presented at the Chemung County Historical Society in Elmira, the annual meeting of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic at the University of Virginia, at the College of St. Rose, and the Duquesne University History Forum, all in 1989. An illustrated edition of the article was presented at the Columbia County Historical Society in 1990 and at the Suny College at Buffalo in 1991. Special thanks are due to Tricia Barbagallo, Thomas E. Burke, Jr., T.J. Davis, Ellen Eslinger, and Wendell Tripp for their thoughtful commentary.

1 Annual Register and Albany Directory for the year 1815: Containing an Alphabetical List of Residents Within the City and a Variety of other interesting Matter, complied and arranged by J. Fry (Albany, 1815). A complete run of these directories beginning with the first issue produced by Fry in 1813 is available at the New York State Library in Albany and also on microfilm.

2 See Stefan Bielinski, Government by the People: The Story of the Dongan Charter and the Birth of Participatory Democracy in the City of Albany (Albany, 1986): Stefan Bielinski, "The People of Colonial Albany, 1650-1800: The Profile of a Community," in Authority and Resistance in Early New York, ed. William Pencak and Conrad E. Wright (New York, 1988). 1-26: Stefan Bielinski, "Episodes in the Coming Age of an Early American Community: Albany, N.Y., 1780-1793, " in World of the Founders: New York Communities in the Federal Period, ed. Stephen L. Schechter and Wendell Tripp (Albany, 1990), 109-37. Federal Census city population totals for 1800 (5,349): 1810 (9,356): 1820 (12,630): and 1830 (24,209).

3 For an introduction to the Colonial Albany Social History Project, New York State Museum, and an explanation of its methods, see A Community History Project, chapter entitled "Historical Resources." See also Stefan Bielinski, "Building Blocks of the Past: The Community Biography Approach to Local History," The Bookmark (Spring 1991), and "Blacks in Early New York: Where are we now; Where should we go; And how to get there, "Journal of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (1984), 169-72, which explains the basic approach to recovering the histories of African Americans now used by the Colonial Albany Project.

4 After church records, wills and estate inventories have contributed the most information on slavery in early Albany: See A Community History Project under the heading of "Probate Records." The records and accounts of the city business people contain many references to work done by slaves and to the costs of their maintenance. General literary sources, particularly personal papers and travelers' accounts, represent a major resource not yet investigated by the Colonial Albany Project. See the section in A Community History Project on "Historical Resources" for a comprehensive explanation. Albany census figures for 1714 are printed in The Documentary History of the State of New York, ed. Edmund B. O' Callaghan (Albany, 1850), 3:905, and for the colonial period in general, in Robert V. Wells, The Population of the British Colonies in America before 1776 (Princeton, 1975), 111-15. The provincial census of 1714 (the only colonial enumeration of the city's slave population, as distinct from the larger county) counted 41 males and 66 females (a total of 107 slaves) out of an overall city population of 1,237. More comprehensive but regionally focused is Thomas J. Davis, "Three Dark Centuries Around Albany: A Survey of Black Life in New York's Capital City Area Before World War I," Afro-American in New York Life and History (January 1983), 7-10.

5 Copy of city Albany assessment roll for 1767 in "Philip Schuyler Papers," New York Public Library. Most individuals of European ancestry being studied by the Colonial Albany Project are identifiable as members obvious family groups and from the backbone of the community biography data base. Individual references to Afro-Albanians are archived in two additional holding files. The first is a large alphabetical file of references under first names/slaves names. These have been recovered from virtually all sources encountered, date from 1660s to the first decades of the nineteenth century, and identify individuals as slaves, negroes, or servants. A second holding file contains surname and often first name references to individuals identified in historical records or literary sources who may meet the requirements for inclusion, in the overall study population and who have been identified as of African ancestry (e.g. blacks, colored, Negro, a wench). Most of these references are from the period after the War for Independence. While still a holding device, the surname file contains materials on several hundred individuals in many cases combining information from more than a single source.

6 Particularly illuminating are Thomas J. Davis, A Rumor of Revolt: The Great Negro Plot in Colonial New York (New York, 1985), the most creative account of everyday life in a colonial city; Joyce D. Goodfriend, Before the Melting Pot: Society and Culture in Colonial New York 1664-1730 (Princeton, N.J., 1992); Vivienne L. Kruger, "Born to Run: The Slave Family in early New York, 1626-1827" (Ph. D. diss., Columbia University, 1985); Gary B. Nash, Forging Freedom; The Formation of Philadelphia's Black Community, 1720-1840 (Cambridge, Mass., 1988); and Shane White, Somewhat More Independent: The End of Slavery in New York City, 1770-1810 (Athens, Ga. 1991). Slavery and community in wartime Albany are the subjects of a chapter in my book manuscript in progress, to be titled "The Other Revolutionaries: Albany People in the Era of Independence, 1763-1783.

7 The federal census of the city of Albany for 1790 and 1800 identified principal "free person of color" as householders and aggregated the number of people in each household in a single category. Slaves were not named at all but were counted together in a separate section within the households of their owners. The 1790 census also included (but not by name) four free blacks in four predominantly white city households, thus revealing that free status for blacks had not yet taken hold in Albany. The 1800 census identified 114 individuals living in twenty-eight free black households - 11 by surnames, 17 by slave names. Another 43 free blacks lived in predominantly white households. In 1800, free and slave still were confined to single census categories. But the 1810 census represented a backward step in that it identified no free black-headed households by name, instead lumping the "all other free persons" into the household of what appears to be their closest European ancestry neighbor. By the 1820 census, "free Blacks" were accounted for by gender and age in the households of a named head of household whether he or she was white or black. Slaves also were aggregated by gender and age and included within the households of their owners.

8 For the fire, see Bielinski, "Episodes in the Coming of Age of an Early American Community," World of the Founders, 111-12. The latest and most comprehensive word on Pinkster belongs to Shane White in Somewhat More Independent, 95-111. However, all work on the subject is derivative of James Eights's reminiscent "Pinkster Festivities in Albany Sixty Years Ago," printed in Collections on the History of Albany from its Discovery to the Present Time, complied by Joel Munsell (Albany, 1867), vol. II, 323-27. Eights's childhood recollections may have been informed by Absalom Aimwell Esq. (probably a nom de plume),A Pinkster Ode for the year 1803 (Albany, 1803), a romanticized poem and the only known purported eyewitness account.

9 The story of Benjamin Lattimore (sometimes rendered Latimer) is documented as Colonial Albany Project lifecourse biography case number 8200. All information contributing to each biographical case is documented in the lifecourse biography file. See the sections on "Research Resources" and Life Courses Biographies." For Thomas Lattimore, see case 1073. For Benjamin Lattimore, Jr., see case 1071. Benjamin Lattimore's will with supporting documents is filed at the Albany County Surrogate's Court. His application for a pension as a soldier of the Revolutionary army provides a close account of his life and is found in the National Archives. Pension and probate material have been extremely useful in structuring the Lattimore profile. William D. Pierson's Black Yankees: The Development of an Afro-American Subculture in Eighteenth Century New England (Amherst, Mass., 1988), provided illuminating background on New Englanders. Leonard P. Curry's The First Black in Urban America, 1800-1850: The Shadow of the Dream (Chicago, 1981), helped shape our thinking about African American participation in emerging urban societies. Bristol Johnson (case 1051), a resident of Bassett Street, was another "Black Yankee" Revolutionary War soldier.

10 For the evolution of the "Pastures" area, see Schuyler Mansion: A Historic Structure Report (Albany, 1979), The De Witt Map of Albany in 1794 (described in A Community History Project under "Cartographic Resources"); the "City Assessment Roll" for 1799 at the Albany Institute of History and Art (described in A Community History Project under "Selective Surveys"); the real property transactions noted in the Index to the Public Records of the County of Albany, State of New York, 1600-1894 (described in A Community History Project "Real Property Records"); and the cartographic resources in the collection of the Albany City Engineer's office (microfilm set at CAP office) are the principal resources we have consulted to understand the initial development of Albany's "South End". See also Paul Huey, " Aspects of continuity and change in colonial Dutch material culture at Fort Orange, 1624-1664" (Ph. D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1988), 119-60, which describes development patterns in "the Pastures."

11 For Captain Samuel Schuyler, see CAP lifecourse biography number 8492. For the black Schuylers, see George S. Schuyler, Black and Conservative: The Autobiography of George S. Schuyler (repr. New York, 1968) For the subsequent history of Captain Samuel Schuyler's family, see Historymakers of the Hudson Valley: A Chronical of the Adams and Schuyler Families, William H. Henchey, ed. (West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company, n.d.), copy in the New York State Library. For the white Samuel Schuyler (1757-1832), see case 1764, and George W. Schuyler, Colonial New York: Philip Schuyler and his Family (New York, 1885), 2:326-64, for a sketch of him based on recollections of family members. The genealogist's dilemmas regarding these individuals are chronicled by Florence Christoph in Schuyler Genealogy: A Compendium of Sources Pertaining to the Schuyler Families in America Prior to 1800 (Albany, 1987), part 2:99-100, and part 1:145-48. Christoph's The Schuyler Families in America Prior to 1900 (Albany, 1992), provides extensive family information on these Schuylers, part 2:169-83. Captain Samuel Schuyler's sons erected a large monument to their father in the family plot located on a vista overlooking the Hudson River at Albany Rural Cemetery which opened in 1845.

12 At this point, the Colonial Albany Project has been able to establish lifecourse biographies for two members of the "Black" Jackson family. They are Abraham Jackson (ca. 1770 ca.-1816) case 413, and Dinnah Jackson (ca.1740-1818) case1142. Her will and supporting documents are filed at the Albany County Surrogate's office. The files of "John and "Jack" Jackson information held by the project are massive but still defy responsible assignment. Additional Jackson family members (ultimately accounting for as many as fifty people) will be added to the database as soon as possible.

13 The federal census for 1820 enumerated the following Jackson households within the city of Albany. The number of "free people of color" in each living unit is noted in parenthesis: Betsey Jackson (5); Nancy Jackson (6); Henry Jackson (3); John Jackson (6); Jacob Jackson (3); Peter Jackson (3); Joseph Jackson (8); James Jackson (2); John Jackson (3); John Jackson (2); Francis Jackson (5); Richard Jackson (3); John Jackson (2); Nailer Jackson (2); Robert Jackson (4). No slaves were counted in any of these households. The 1820 city directory listed the following Jackson households and noted that the head of household was a free person of color: Francis Jackson, 51 Fox; Richard Jackson, ferryman, 645 S. Market; Margaret Jackson, 63 Division; John Jackson, musician, 35 Union; Widow Nancy Jackson, Prescot; Abraham Jackson, Prescot; Widow Mariah Jackson, Herkimer; Joseph Jackson, 10 Lydius; Sylvester Jackson, laborer, 73 S. Pearl; James Jackson, laborer, 41 Division; John T. Jackson, victuller, 22 Washington; Charles Jackson, laborer, 86 Fox; Peter Jackson, barber, 511 Market; and Jacob Jackson, Laborer, 16 Quay.

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first posted: 6/25/01; last updated 3/2/16