This website is host to my experiment with writing a Master’s thesis in the digital domain. The source materials I’ve posted are my own transcriptions of materials I’ve gathered from a number of repositories. Please see my Bibliography for more details.
A little background on why I’m writing this:
The goals of my study are to document and illustrate patterns of African American settlement and mobility during the period of gradual abolition of slavery (1799-1827) in and around Poughkeepsie, New York, and to employ these data in an analysis of the geographical networks that connected free and enslaved African Americans throughout the region and shaped the establishment of free black communities in the post-emancipation period of New York history. Using maps, census data, legal and municipal records and secondary scholarship, I plan to show that the patterns of movement and settlement among Dutchess County’s African American population during this period provided individuals with opportunities to overcome the isolation of slavery and servitude on rural smallholders’ farms, to know others and to become known in widely dispersed networks that would eventually evolve into more densely settled –and segregated – black communities.
I will focus on six family groups in order to illustrate the existence of these networks, which helped individuals to counter the restrictions placed on their movement, behavior, and social and economic mobility. Those individuals whose circumstances and legal status bound them to a particular place, or severely limited their movement, had to rely on these networks in order to situate themselves within the widely dispersed African American social structure. Those who were sold from place to place, or who, in freedom, transgressed the boundaries imposed upon them by the local Overseers of the Poor acted as points of connection between community members over time and across geographical space.
At the same time, I want to draw attention to the limited nature of African American freedom and citizenship, circumscribed as it was by local government officials. Poughkeepsie’s Overseers of the Poor had broad authority to order the removal of individuals, white or black, whom they deemed unable to care for themselves or their families, or whose morality others in the community called into question.