BLACKS, SLAVEY AND FREEDOM IN OLD PLATTSBURGH

by Jerry Bates

References to slave, slave owners and manumission are found through entries in the Town Minutes Record. They don’t reveal much detail about blacks in early Plattsburgh, but they do provide some clues that can likely be expanded upon by other historical resources.  These entries, complete with misspellings and other errors, are reproduced here from longhand as they appeared in the record.

August 9, 1794 – “To whom it may concern, we the subscribers being the overseers of the poor of the Town of Plattsburg  the County of Clinton and two of the Justices of Peace of the said county do hereby certify that the Niger (sic) man Slave  “Hick” & “Jane” his wife belonging to Thomas Tredwell Esq. now dwelling in Plattsburgh aforesaid, both appears to us to be under fifty years of age, and of Sufficient ability to provide for themselves, given under our hands this Ninth day of August in the year of our Lord One Thousand seven hundred and Ninety Four.

Benjamin Mooers      ) Overseer  of

Peter Roberts              )  the Poor

A similar paragraph follows naming “York”, belonging to Thomas Tredwell Esquire.“ who appeared under fifty years of age with sufficient ability to provide for  himself.”

The next paragraph of record is a rambling and repetitive legal statement by Thomas Tredwell that essentially states:

“in consideration of the past services of my Niger (sic) man “York” and for divers other good causes and considerations me (sic) hereunto moving Have manumitted, made free and set at Liberty and by these presents do fully freely and absolutely manumit , make free and set at liberty my said Negro man “York”….

September 27, 1794 – “Be it known to all whom it may concern That for the consideration of Seventeen pounds I Thomas Tredwell of Plattsburgh, Esquire have sold and conveyed my negro girl “Cynthia” to “Hick” her father…”

April 26, 1798 –  “The Negro man Scipio belonging to Thomas Treadwell is under fifty years of age and capable of supporting himself in witness whereof we have hereunto set our hands this twenty-sixth day of April one thousand seven hundred and ninety eight.

John Addoms  )           Overseers of

Wm. Pitt Platt  )           Overseers the Poor

Chas. Platt       )             Justices of

Eleazer Miller  )           the Peace”

A similar paragraph of the same date followed naming “two negro girls Rachel and Tamer belonging to Thomas Treadwell are each of them under fifty years of age and capable in our opinion of supporting themselves.”          Overseers of the Poor

Typical later entries of manumitting or freeing a slave were either preceded or followed by another sworn statement stating a former slave’s capability to support him or herself. Such a declaration not being present in Scipio’s case makes me wonder whether there might be a purpose in making a slave’s capability for self-support a part of the official record.

All the first entries in the record refer to Tredwell, but other prominent Plattsburgh names followed with too many to list in this blog. So, this is a good place to pause and reflect on the question, “What motivated Tredwell, first to own slaves and then to release them?” comes to mind. Some facts can help us make a reasonable argument as to motivation.

Treadwell was one of the original company with Zephaniah Platt that established the Town of Plattsburgh in April, 1785. In the apportionment of the 33,000 acres of land under the Platt claim granted by New York State, Treadwell received 900 acres. That is a lot of land to manage without help.

Treadwell and others in the company were from the Hudson River Valley. The culture of that Valley has a lot to deal with Mr. Tredwell and slavery in America.

Henry Hudson made his “discovery” voyage up the river from NYC to what is now Albany. As Henry was sponsored by the Dutch West Indies Company, he first established Fort Nassau, a trading post. It was located on a small island at what is now called Albany in 1614, two hundred seventy years before Platt established Plattsburgh. Regular flooding of the island caused the post to relocate on the site of today’s Albany as Fort Orange in 1624. This became the first permanent settlement in present New York State.

Blog 8

Map of Castle Island and Fort Orange in 1629

That settlement and its development hold the clues to Treadwell and slavery.

We’ll explore those issues and the many other entries from the Town books that followed Treadwell’s over the next twenty three years dealing with slavery in coming blog issues.

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