Village was founded as slavery was ending
in New York State. According to a law
enacted in 1799, enslaved people were
to be emancipated (or freed) on July 4,
1827. The law had many clauses, so that
not everyone was freed immediately. For
instance, males born before 1799 were
not to be emancipated until they turned
28 and females until they turned 25.
everyone of African ancestry was enslaved.
Many people were part of the "free colored"
population. Some of these men and women
had been freed by their enslavers, some
were born free, and some escaped enslavement
in the South by running to the North.
of African ancestry in the United States
have been referred to by many different
names. In the nineteenth century, although
whites used such terms as "colored," people
proud of their African heritage would
often refer to themselves as "African."
This is demonstrated by associations and
organizations formed by the members of
African communities, such as the African
Free Schools, the African Dorcas Society,
the African Mutual Relief Association,
and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion
Church. Even so, most documents of the
period used terms like "colored," "nigger,"
to census records and New York City Directories,
most of the founders of Seneca Village
were "free coloreds." City Directories
recorded the names, addresses, and occupations
of many heads of households. Most of the
Seneca Village inhabitants migrated to
New York from Virginia, Maryland, Connecticut,
and New Jersey, although many came from
elsewhere in Manhattan.
York City in the 1800s
was a rapidly growing, ethnically mixed,
and crowded port city. The laboring classes
carved out neighborhoods for themselves,
living in tenements, shanties, and unstable
wooden houses built on former marsh and
conditions were often horrendous; as a
result, death was common, particularly
among the young.
city was divided into wards, and there
were three so-called "Colored Wards,"
each with its own flavor and reputation.
The area now called Foley Square was home
to the Sixth Ward, which began as a working-class
African American neighborhood. The African
Burial Ground was rediscovered there in
the 1840s, Irish immigrants also moved
there. Five Points, also in the Sixth
Ward, was known as the city's most notorious
African Americans were subjected to
the worst housing conditions in the
downtown neighborhoods, those with the
financial means jumped at the chance
to move to an open, airy, and rural
space in northern Manhattan. This is
one of the many theories why African
American males began to settle "uptown"
in the Seneca Village area. A move away
from the dark cellar apartments and
dank tenements to a family plot of land
with a wooden house, built by household
members or perhaps through a community
effort, must have been appealing.
day" was customarily on May 1.
reason for the trek northward was that
land was relatively inexpensive compared
to the prohibitive prices for land downtown.
It was nearly impossible for African
American laborers to purchase land downtown.
And until the early 1800s, a state law
made it difficult for African Americans
to own land through inheritance.
New York State Constitution of 1821
required African American males to own
$250 in property in order to qualify
for the suffrage--that is, the right
to vote. They also had to prove that
they had paid taxes and lived in the
state for three years. The state Constitution
also gradually eliminate property requirements
for white males, so that all white males
had the right to vote.
land in Seneca Village ensured the land-owner
the right to vote. By 1850, African
American Seneca Villagers were 39 times
as likely to own property as other African
Americans in New York City. The idea
of voting, and having a say in how the
government makes decisions, appears
to have been very important to Seneca
Villagers. In 1855, there were approximately
12,000 African American New Yorkers.
Of these, only 100 males could vote.
Ten of these voters lived in Seneca
the 1850s, Seneca Village was an integrated
community of African Americans and immigrants
from Germany and Ireland. Irish immigrants
entered the United States in large numbers
in the 1840s, fleeing a great famine
that resulted when the potato crop failed
and there wasn't enough food to feed
the people. Single women arrived first,
followed by single men and eventually
1855, at least 264 people lived in Seneca
Village. Approximately 30 percent were
European, predominantly Irish. Few documents
have been uncovered that tell about
the immigrant population of the village,
so less is know about them. However,
two Irish residents of the village would
later become infamous political leaders
in New York City's Tammany Hall.
were George Washington Plunkitt, shown
here, and Richard Croker.
segregation, discrimination, and conflict
elsewhere in the city, it appears that
Seneca Village residents lived in relative
harmony. For example, Margaret Geery
was the midwife in Seneca Village. According
to birth records, Ms. Geery delivered
children for African Americans and whites.
African Americans joined Germans and
Irish in worship at All Angels' Church,
and buried their dead side by side in
the church cemetery.