The Hudson River is an estuary between New York Harbor and Albany/ Troy. This convenient transportation artery was certainly an important link in the Underground Railroad.
Foster Memorial AME Zion Church was founded in 1860 by Amanda and Henry Foster, Rev. Jacob Thomas, and Hiram Jimerson. Amanda Foster, considered the "Mother of the Church," was the driving force in the formation of the congregation whose first meetings were held in her confectionery store. Born in New York in 1806, Amanda, in possession of her "free papers," obtained employment as a nurse to Arkansas Governor Conway. While in Arkansas, she contributed to the Underground Railroad movement by using her "free papers" to help a young fugitive slave girl escape. She moved back to New York in 1837 and established her business in Tarrytown where she met and married Henry Foster around 1845. In 1865, after five years of the congregation meeting in the Foster confectionary store and other business establishments, construction of the church began with funds donated primarily by the local Dutch Reformed and Methodist congregations. During the Civil War, members of Foster AME helped to provide food and shelter to fugitive slaves escaping to Canada, and also provided assistance to those fugitive slaves who decided to settle in Tarrytown. Like most AME churches, Foster AME is a religious and social crossroads for the black community, providing a meeting place for worship and a place for public interaction.
Harriet Tubman escorted her charges to Canada through Philadelphia and New York State, developing an extensive support system of friends and associates ( Station Masters ) in the Hudson River Valley. It is known that she traveled through Peekskill was an active member of the AME Zion Church in Peekskill and had friends here
New York City and the Hudson River Valley formed a natural combination of resources and geographic advantages to create major routes for the underground railroad. There are many well established connections to the historical underground railroad in this area. However, the secrecy and misdirection that was necessary due to the very nature of the underground railroad makes it difficult to research. Information, that was kept hidden in order to serve its purpose and to be successful in helping escaping slaves to their freedom. Thus, much of the history has been forgotten and lost. One community where a fortuitous combination of circumstances allowed actual structures and oral history to survive is Peekskill, New York.
Peekskill is situated on the banks of the magnificent Hudson River, it is a city with a rich history of pre-colonist Revolutionary War and Civil War involvement. By the 1800 the Hudson River and the railways from New York City encouraged many to build simmer homes along the river. Noted abolitionist and Clergyman, Henry Ward Beecher was a Peekskill resident from 1861 to 1878 and his famous sister Harriet Beecher Stowe often visited him here.
There is a " Tunnel " in Peekskill with the entrance and exit disguised as a property marker. It is well documented and indisputable that Henry Ward Beecher was a abolitionist, so it is should be no surprise that he had a " Tunnel " constructed on his Peekskill property to secure slaves seeking their freedom. According to the Underground Railroad Curator of the National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior, the tunnel on our tour of the " Underground Railroad " sites is, to date, the only documented surviving tunnel in the country. There are several buildings and properties with anecdotal connections to the Underground Railroad that are now being researched. One of these buildings is the African American Episcopal Zion Church built in the mid 1800’s that has a false panel behind the pulpit that was use to hide fugitives. Also, the home of William Sands that may be in the book of " Amawalk Society " a Quaker organization that was in Peekskill. It was known to help runaways on their way North. The house was built as early as 1882 and was the residence of John Sands at that time.
The properties in the City of Peekskill for the " Underground Railroad " are, the MacGregory Brook, except where covered over by Center and Park Street. That it flow’s today as it did in the 1800’s and that this shallow brook still runs strong after close to 200 years is exceptional. Runaway slaves seeking freedom came to the Hudson River by boat and followed MacGregory Brook to the safety of the Safe House which concealed runaway slaves in a secret room which was accessed by a secret stairway. The AME Zion Church, where there is a hiding place behind a secret panel, William Sands home and the unique Tunnel on the property of abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher. These properties combined show a character of the Underground Railroad that may not be matched elsewhere. By chance, all of these sites, are in close proximity to each other and are still completely intact.