Oh, Freedom! Slavery and Abolition in NYS

Freedom Quilt

Freedom Quilt by Jesse Bell Williams Telfair
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
Gift of Virginia Dwan


“Oh, Freedom!” is a project to help promote an understanding of the history of slavery and freedom movements in New York State, and to connect that history to our ongoing fight for justice today.

We are planning a series of programs, projects, and actions to celebrate this important milestone of emancipation from slavery in NY State. More information and opportunities to get involved will be posted here in the coming months. Join with us to celebrate and commemorate this bicentennial of freedom! “Oh, Freedom!” is a project jointly sponsored by Celebrating the African Spirit and the Mid-Hudson Antislavery History Project. For more information, contact: Peter Bunten, Chairman, MHAHP.

Here is a PDF version of this timeline for downloading or printing.

Emancipation, Then and Now

THEN: William Hamilton, from his Emancipation Address, delivered at the African Zion Church, New York City, July 4, 1827.
LIBERTY! Kind goddess! Brightest of the heavenly deities that guide the affairs of men. O Liberty! Where thou art resisted and irritated, thou art terrible as the raging sea, and dreadful as a tornado. But where thou are listened to, and obeyed, thou art gentle as the purling stream that meanders through the mead: as soft and as cheerful as the zephyrs that dance upon the summer’s breeze, and as bounteous as autumn’s harvest.

THE AFRICANS ARE RESTORED!  No more shall the accursed name of slave be attached to us – no more shall negro and slave be synonymous [sic] …. This day has the state of New-York regenerated herself – this day has she been cleansed of a most foul, poisonous and damnable stain.  I stand amazed at the quiet, yet rapid progress the principles of liberty have made.

NOW: David Gellman, Emancipating New York: The Politics of Slavery and Freedom, 1777-1827. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006, p. 223.
“The bicentennial of the activation of New York’s gradual abolition act passed with little fanfare in July 1999, perhaps a reflection of the ambiguous history behind that anniversary…. Time will tell whether July 4, 2027, will be another forgotten anniversary.  What is certain is that American history was fundamentally altered by the process of gradual abolition in the North, creating a story driven by and inescapable discourse of slavery and freedom.”

“The story carries important lessons for today as well.  We have witnessed the breathtaking multiplication of the sites and the speed of discourse and yet our world still very much needs to be remade in the name of justice and equality.  Change, of course, depends as much or more on what people do as what they say.  Yet if history is any guide, we will have to construct our world out of liberating discourses or the globalization of human rights surely will continue to elude us.”

See also the important address commemorating abolition, by Nathaniel Paul, antislavery activist, delivered in Albany on July 5, 1827.