Am I Not a Brother?

Freedom Trail

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Geography is not an indoor sport! Get out and explore New York State!


Physical Geography

Human Geography

Economic Geography

Regions of NYS

Montauk Pt.

1. Montauk Lighthouse

Troy Rescue

2. Troy- Nalle Rescue

Douglass Plaque

4. Douglass Home Site

Smith Land Office

6. Peterboro: Gerrit Smith Land Office

Gordon Execution

7. The Tombs:
Gordon Execution


8. Face of Frederick Douglass
Onondaga Historical Society

Ulster Courthouse

9. Ulster County Courthouse in Kingston, NY

African Burial Ground

10. African Burial Ground

Freedom Trail North


The struggle to abolish slavery is an integral part of the historic legacy of New York State. Since the colonial days under the Dutch rule up to the passage of the 13th Amendment, people across the state, both black and white, worked hard (and often without recognition) for freedom.

Many people do not know that New York was a slave state until the 1820s. New York City had one of the largest slave markets in the colonies. Southerners who settled in Upstate areas brought slaves with them. As a reminder of that institution, African-Americans in the Hudson Valley still celebrate Pinkster, a Dutch version of Pentecost in May. (A good place to see Pinkster in practice is Philipsburg Manor in Westchester County).
The most famous New York slave, who later became a leader in the abolitionist and women’s rights movement was Sojourner Truth, from New Paltz (Ulster County). 

In the early 19th century, religious revivals spread through the state, especially along the newly-built Erie Canal. This is the origin of the anti-slavery movement in New York. Slavery was considered a sin, and immediate abolition was demanded. Many citizens, both black and white, helped fugitives (often called “Freedom Seekers”) escape to Canada. They were part of a secret network known as the Underground Railroad. Many homes and churches from Long Island to Buffalo still stand as landmarks to this secretive and illegal operation. Some are well-documented, and others are questionable. Many are lost -  long ago torn down to make room for new development. 

The Freedom Trail has often been discussed from a historical perspective. We, of course, should also be interested in its geography. Why was the Empire State so important to the fight against slavery?

First is its position, with a long border with Canada, close to the large population centers of both Ontario and Quebec provinces. New York was the last stop on the railroad before it reached the “Promised Land.”

Secondly, New York also was positioned between New England and the Midwestern States. Thanks to the Erie Canal, much of the nation’s commerce passed through the Empire State. New York City became the dominant port and the nation’s financial center. Upstate cities and villages of all sizes flourished as well. But there was more than goods that passed back and forth across the state. Ideas moved up and down the canals and the Hudson River too. It was no geographic accident that Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Henry Highland Garnett, Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Gerrit Smith were New Yorkers by choice. This was Ground Zero of the Freedom Movement. 

There has been a renewed interest in researching the Underground Railroad in the last few years. Some excellent work is being done in New York, revealing new information.  Here are ten historic sites in New York State that stand today as honored landmarks of the Freedom Trail:

1. Montauk (Long Island): It was here the slave ship Amistad first touched American soil. This ship had been taken over by the slaves themselves. After a long legal battle, the Supreme Court pronounced their freedom.
2. Troy: On the corner of First and State Streets there is a plaque commemorating the Charles Nalle Rescue, led by Harriet Tubman herself in 1860. (see the photo on the right). 

3. Auburn: Speaking of Ms. Tubman, her home in Auburn (Cayuga County) is a must visit on the FTN. (See the Central New York Section.)

4. Rochester: The Flower City is home to both Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. You can visit her Madison Street home, and a very impressive exhibit about Douglass at the Rochester Museum and Science Center.

5. Oswego County: This Central New York county has one of the best documented sites on the Underground Railroad anywhere. Visit their website at
This city on Lake Ontario was the ideal place to send Freedom Seekers on their way to Canada.

6. Peterboro (Madison County): This small town was the home of Gerrit Smith, one of forgotten leaders of the abolitionist movement. His home is gone, but the land office remains as a museum. (Mohawk Region)
Coming in the fall of 2005, the National Abolition Hall of Fame will induct their first five nominees: Gerrit Smith, William Lloyd Garrison, Lucretia Mott, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman.

7. Manhattan: The old City Prison (or “The Tombs”) in Lower Manhattan (Broadway) was the site of the execution of Captain Nathaniel Gordon for slave trading in 1862, the only such execution in American history.

8. Syracuse: In 1851, citizens, black and white, in Syracuse defied the Fugitive Slave Law, and forcibly freed William McHenry (a.k.a. “Jerry”). A monument in Clinton Square commemorates this event. (Central New York Section) Also, nearby at the Onondaga Historical Society Museum there is a wonderful exhibit on the Underground Railroad in Central New York. They display the "Faces", figurines found in the cellar of a known UGRR station. Who carved them?

9. Kingston: At the Ulster County Courthouse, Sojourner Truth won the freedom of her son, the first such victory for an enslaved person in a court of law. Later on in life, she became one of the most powerful speakers of both the abolition and women's rights movements.

10. Manhattan: In 1991, the African Burial Grounds were discovered at 290 Broadway.  These forgotten citizens of colonial New York have finally received proper recognition long overdue them.  Their bodies were reinterred in 2003, and a visitor interpretive center will open in October 2005. 
(see photo at the left compliments of

Of course, this is a very small sample of the monuments to freedom found in New York. Others are mentioned in different sections of this website.

Visit a new webpage on the Underground Railroad Stations of New York State, complete with a map of nearly 300 stations!

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Human Geography

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