Above the Helderberg Escarpment in Albany County, John Fisher (Johannes Fischer) of Berne was recorded in the 1790 Census with one enslaved person, one of the few recorded there. The 1800 Federal Census listed 30 enslaved people in the Town of Berne, among 15 families. There were eight enslaved people listed with Johannes Fischer’s family.
Jacob (Jack) Deitz was born enslaved in 1788 at Coxsackie, Greene, NY. Jack was sold to Johan Jost Dietz in 1792 when he was four years old. He was one of five enslaved people recorded in the 1800 Census in the Dietz household.
By 1830 Jack Deitz’s was the only free black family in the Town of Berne listed separately from their former enslavers.
After becoming free, Jack Dietz continued to live in a same small cabin on the Johan Jost Dietz farm for the rest of his life and worked as a paid laborer for his former master. Jack Deitz married Elizabeth Acker before 1816 (there are no known children).
After Elizabeth died in 1816, Jack married Diana Abbott, with whom he had several children. When Diana died in 1834, she left Jack with at least five children to raise. Jack died in 1848 and he and his two wives, plus several of their children, have their names inscribed on his monument in the Berne and Beaverdam Cemetery. The tall monument was erected in 1862 when two of his daughters died; four short, white columns once chained together surround the stone.
Also, in the 1830 Census in Berne, Johannes Shafer had a 10 to 24-year-old male in his household. When his will was proved and recorded on Dec. 12, 1853, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church received some land and Jacob Deitz, “a colored man,” received $100, a year after Shafer’s death.
Slavery was abolished in New York State in 1827 so categorically Ms. Dietz was not a slave. Her family may have been enslaved in the earlier period but in 1838 if she is a “native” New Yorker, she is a free woman. It was only because of the 1850 fugitive slave law where many who had escaped from the south and settled in New York fled to Canada and later campaigns by the Klan and prejudiced groups that routed Blacks out of the countryside areas.
In 1853 the design and detailed specifications for an electric railway in the city of New York appeared on the cover of Scientific American. Frederick Douglass reported its designer was William Deitz, a black man from Albany. Possibly a son of people enslaved in the Albany hilltowns or Schoharie County. William was born in 1821 and newspaper accounts indicate he was a servant in the household of U.S. Senator Charles Dudley in Albany. When Dudley died in 1841, Deitz remained in the family home and soon became a trusted advisor and business agent of Dudley’s immensely wealthy widow, Blandina Bleecker Dudley.
Illustrations, from above: early picture of the Johanne Fischer-Thomas Wood House’s slave quarters (building to the right); Jack Deitz Monument from Berne and Beaverdam Cemetery as drawn by Mrs. Amber Velia Ball, 1886; sketch of the cabin of Jack Deitz made by Amber Velia Ball, daughter-in-law of Robert Ball who bought the Jack Deitz cabin after Jack’s death (the cabin was probably located on the bank of Fox Creek, near the end of Rock Road; the illustration was found in the Jacob Ball House when it was being torn down in 1960 to build a Catholic Church and is now at the Berne Historical Society); brick slave quarters behind the Johannes Fischer-Thomas Wood House; and Monument to Jack Dietz and his family in the Berne and Beaverdam cemetery.