Ella Madison was born in 1854 in Saratoga Springs, New York. Her parents were John and Caroline Robinson. Her sister, Caroline Victoria (usually called Victoria) was married to Solomon Northup‘s son, Alonzo. (Alonzo and his family later moved to Weedsport in Cayuga County). It was reported that Ella, while a teenager, had relocated to New York City, and marched in a parade in 1869 that commemorated the passage of the 14th Amendment, which guaranteed citizenship rights to former slaves. Her mother died that year, while visiting her daughter, Caroline, in Washington County, New York. [Read more…] about African American Stage Performer Ella Madison
The Dannemora Prison Break of 1928
On July 29, 1928, Herbert R. Mackie, an inmate at what was then known as Clinton Prison (today called the Clinton Correctional Facility) in Dannemora was being escorted to a practice session for the prison’s band. He told an officer that he had forgotten something, and asked for permission to return to his cell. He was not seen again by prison staff for six weeks.
He was not at liberty during most of that time, however. He was still within the facility, busily digging a tunnel that would be a key part in what seems to have been a carefully planned plot for Mackie to escape the prison with fellow inmate Otto Sanford. [Read more…] about The Dannemora Prison Break of 1928
The Albany African American Home Social Club
In a book titled Aristocrats of Color: The Black Elite, 1880-1902, author Willard B. Gatewood includes a few sentences about Albany, NY’s Home Social Club. According to Gatewood, it “represented the pinnacle of the city’s black social structure.”
Portraying the club as an aristocratic, elitist organization seems unfair, based on my research. Yes, the club’s membership included some black professionals over the years, but among its long-term adherents were waiters, barbers, and railroad porters. [Read more…] about The Albany African American Home Social Club
Soldiers’ Tales from an Old Cemetery in Oswego County
There are a number of tombstones in the Feeler Family Cemetery in the Village of Cleveland in Oswego County, but two stand out.
Unlike the other twelve grave markers, these two are inscribed with the names of the deceased. Both of the men whose graves are marked were African Americans, and both served in the Army during the Civil War. [Read more…] about Soldiers’ Tales from an Old Cemetery in Oswego County
A First Lady’s Failed Adirondack Cure
In the summer of 1892, the wife of President Benjamin Harrison, Caroline Scott Harrison, became extremely ill. She primarily suffered from tuberculosis, but experienced complications from pleurisy and the accumulation of fluid in her chest. Medical treatment of T. B. at the time mainly amounted to having the patient rest. For this reason, it was felt that a stay in the Adirondacks offered the best chance for restoring the First Lady’s health.
Early in July, the journey from Washington, D.C. to Loon Lake was undertaken, via a special train. The Troy Daily Times dutifully reported on the train’s progress. It arrived in Troy in the wee hours of the morning on July 7, then proceeded to White Creek, Rutland, Vermont, Rouse’s Point, and Malone, reaching the latter place at 10:30 am. There, a crowd that included some local officials met the two-car train, but the President asked that they refrain from cheering, so as not to disturb his sick wife. [Read more…] about A First Lady’s Failed Adirondack Cure
North Country Teacher Taught Southern Freedmen
Back-to-school time perhaps brings back, for adults, the memory of a favorite teacher. But of those who are so warmly remembered, how many can elicit this wish by a former student of a 19th century teacher?
“If I could be permitted, how gladly would I again fill up the wood-box in your room and kindle the fire on your hearth…”
Those words came from the prestigious African American preacher, Rev. Daniel Webster Shaw (who, interestingly, was the son of a former slave, Harriet Shaw, with whom Solomon Northup was acquainted in Louisiana). “If I have done anything, or come to anything worth while, it is all mainly due to your timely helpfulness and godly admonition,” Shaw wrote. “I think of the school days on the Tache [Teche, a bayou in Louisiana], and all the kind ways in which you helped me to start out in life.” [Read more…] about North Country Teacher Taught Southern Freedmen
The Law That Saved Solomon Northup, And Others
The amazing, and fortuitous, rescue of Solomon Northup was made possible by a New York statute that was signed into law, and became effective, on May 14, 1840.
Following the 1808 ban on importation of slaves into the U.S., enacted by Congress, the kidnapping of free blacks for sale as slaves became a larger problem. The ban reduced the “supply” of slaves, and with “demand” unchanged, prices rose, along with the potential profit for kidnappers. In 1817, in a description of a kidnapping case, the City Hall Recorder noted that, after 1808: “the practice of kidnapping was commenced, and has been carried to an alarming height.” [Read more…] about The Law That Saved Solomon Northup, And Others
Madame Sherri: Early 20th Century NYC Show Business
Research projects sometimes take unexpected, but fascinating, twists and turns. I had reason a few years ago to look into the case of a woman called Madame Sherri. She is mostly known for an unusual castle-like house built for her in a rural area of New Hampshire–its ruins are now popular with hikers and lovers of the odd and mysterious.
My investigation dragged me far from New Hampshire–to the world of cabaret reviews in New York City, the vaudeville circuit, and “soldier shows” (popular during World War I, with Irving Berlin’s “Yip Yip Yaphank” being the most well-known). And, for good measure, toss in a scandal involving sex and blackmail. [Read more…] about Madame Sherri: Early 20th Century NYC Show Business
45 Years a Slave: Westchester Case Confirmed Story of Enslaved British Man
On the 12th day of August in 1857, a young girl was brought before Judge William H. Robertson in his chambers at Katonah in Westchester County, New York. Over 30 years after slavery had been legally banned in the state, the matter before the judge was whether she should be set at liberty.
Local constable Zeno Hoyt had found the 5-year-old girl, named Ellen, at the home of David A. Griffin in Ossining, where she was in the charge of two ladies. One of them, Louisa Kerr, was present at the hearing, which came about because Ellen’s grandfather, with the assistance of attorney John Jay, had instituted proceedings to have her placed in his custody. [Read more…] about 45 Years a Slave: Westchester Case Confirmed Story of Enslaved British Man
Slave to Fiddler: Utica’s Joseph Pell
I wrote an article about early black musicians in New York State back in December, but I decided to omit Joe Pell from that piece for two reasons. He seemed never to have been a full-time musician (as were the other performers in the article), and, in December, nearly all the information I had on Pell came from his obituary, and obituaries are not always the best place to locate objective, unbiased information about a person.
I have since been able to confirm much of what was written upon his passing, and I present here an annotated obituary of this talented and beloved black performer. My annotations appear within square brackets. [Read more…] about Slave to Fiddler: Utica’s Joseph Pell