By Barbara LaMonica
Finding enslaved African-American ancestors prior to the Civil War can be very difficult. The following article, while not exhaustive, provides information on some basic records critical to this genealogical research.
From 1790-1840, the names of slaves were not listed in census records since they were considered property rather than persons. Only the names of the head of household appear with the number of slaves they owned. Enslaved individuals rarely had surnames, many, but not all, took the surname of their owners. However, there are resources that may provide clues to tracking down enslaved ancestors.
For the 1850 and 1860 census, the Federal government required that enslaved individuals be recorded separately in “slave schedules”. These schedules do provide more details about these persons including age, sex, color (i.e. mulatto), if they were a fugitive slave, if manumitted, and their physical and mental condition but no names.
1850 Slave Schedule - North Carolina
The family papers and records of Southern plantation owners contain an abundance of information such as slave registers, personal correspondence, photographs, and business account books. Sometimes in personal and business letters, the names of slaves may be mentioned. Unfortunately, many plantation records were lost or destroyed during the Civil War. However, most of the surviving papers were often donated to libraries throughout the south. A guide to these papers “Index to Records of Ante-bellum Southern Plantations: Locations, Surnames, and Collections” lists where records can be found, usually university libraries. If the area where the ancestor lived is known one can go to this guide and see if there are existing plantation records. The link below provides further information.
Click for Index to Records of Ante-bellum Southern Plantations
Eighteen-seventy is an important turning point for African-American genealogy since the 1870 census is the first one to include the names of former slaves. Therefore, after 1870, a genealogical search of records will be similar to those of European Americans; census reports, births and deaths, service records etc.
Other post-Civil war records that can illuminate ancestors’ lives include:
-1867 Voter Registration whereby Southern states were mandated to register all African American men over the age of 21 to vote. Since these records include place of birth and name this can be useful to trace back to where person was enslaved.
-Records of United States Colored Troops in the Civil War lists the over 186,000 African Americans who served in the Union Army.
-The Freedmen’s Bureau Records 1865-1874 known as the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, was established by the War Department. The Bureau supervised abandoned and confiscated property in the South and provided relief and assistance to former slaves. The bureau dispensed clothing and food, operated hospitals and schools; legalized marriages conducted during slavery, and assisted black soldiers and sailors to apply for pensions. The field office records, organized by state, contain personal correspondence from freedmen revealing their experiences in the harsh and still racially divisive society of the post- Civil War South. Here one can find former slaves’ full name, residence, and former masters’ names and plantations.
In 1807, Congress outlawed the African slave trade. However, the right to buy and sell slaves and transport them from state to state remained legal. Certain requirements applied to the coastal transport of slaves. The captain of the vessel had to provide a manifest of slave cargo to customs at the port of departure and the point of arrival. This is one of the rare resources prior to 1870 where one can find the name of the enslaved person. In addition to name, the age, sex, color, and residence of owner are provided. Annapolis, Beaufort South Carolina, New Orleans, New York are among the port records with remaining manifests.
Below is a link to the Freedmen’s Bureau records and links to other pertinent collections at the National Archives. Many but not all of these records are digitized.
Click to link to Freedmen's Bureau records
For local assistance contact the African Atlantic Genealogical Society, a member of the Genealogy Federation of Long Island. They are located in the Joysetta & Julius Pearse African American Museum of Nassau County in Hempstead
Click for information
By Josette Lee
The following is an excerpt from the Huntington Historical Society Quarterly from 1986.
To read more from this quarterly and others, make an appointment to visit our Archives!
By Barbara LaMonica
Born a slave in 1856 in Virginia, Booker T. Washington rose to become a renowned spokesperson for African Americans. Washington’s belief that African Americans could advance themselves through education in the trades and industrial arts prompted him to establish the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in 1881.
Washington was well respected as an orator and author. Of his 14 books, his autobiography “Up from Slavery” (published in 1901) became the most well-known. His writings gained him national influence in education and politics and led him to become an advisor and friend to Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. In 1901, Washington was invited to dine with Roosevelt at the White House, a radical invitation that led to much outcry from southern politicians and press.
WASHINGTON IN HUNTINGTON
When the school session ended at Tuskegee, Booker T. Washington would head north to Long Island for summer vacation and fundraising. Before purchasing a home in Fort Salonga, Washington summered at the Van Wyck Farm in Lloyd Harbor.
Van Wyck Farm in Lloyd Harbor, which no longer exists
In 2021, a descendent of the Lloyd Harbor Van Wyck family donated three letters from Washington that refer to his stay on the Van Wyck Farm. The letters are now part of the Society's collection and provide insight into his time there.
While in Huntington, Washington gave several talks at the local Opera House, as well as a commencement speech at Northport High School. He also taught Sunday School at Bethel AME Church.
Most locals know that Washington purchased a property in Fort Salonga, but it is less commonly known that he also acquired a house in Huntington Village.
According to this deed dated May 7, 1914, Henry and Fanny Brush transferred property at 43 Greene Street, Huntington to Booker T. Washington. The house still stands today and is the location of Finley’s Restaurant.
43 Green Street, today Finley's Restaurant
It is not known what Washington planned to do with the home as he passed away within a year of purchase.
By Emily Finan
Gifted to the Society by John Hulsen, Huntington’s first motorcycle policeman, these three unique trophies commemorate the donor’s participation—and success—in the Highhold Games, an annual event held by Henry L. Stimson and his wife Mabel White Stimson at their home in the Huntington hamlet of West Hills. The name Highhold was inspired by the view that the over one-hundred-acre property provided from the Long Island Sound to the Atlantic Ocean.
Each Thanksgiving Day from 1904 into the 1920s, Stimson—who served as Secretary of War under President Howard Taft, and Secretary of State under President Herbert Hoover—invited his friends, family, and neighbors to Highhold estate, through postings in The Long-Islander, to compete in a series of games including trapshooting, spar fighting, barrel racing, novelty racing, flat racing, and steeplechase. Originally held as a gesture of appreciation to his neighbors for their hospitality in allowing him to traverse their lands while foxhunting, Stimson’s games became an annual tradition that exemplified generosity and fostered community. Hundreds of people—young and old—gathered to compete, enjoy cider, coffee, and donuts at the refreshments tent, and warm themselves by the bonfire before returning home for their own holiday dinners.
Hulsen competed in the games as a child and fondly recalled standing alongside Teddy Roosevelt during a trap shooting event one year. The first two trophies he earned are mugs in the shape of barrels. The first is made of brass encircled by copper bands, and indicates Hulsen’s success in the 1915 trap shooting event; the second is made of pewter overlaid with copper bands, and notes that Hulsen won the 1916 spar fight event. The third trophy, a pewter stein awarded for the 1919 spar fight event, is notable in that 1919 marked the return of the Highhold Games after a two-year intermission caused by World War I.
Portraits of Henry and Mabel Stimson by famed portrait artist Leopold Gould Seyffert. These portraits formerly hung at Highhold and are now part of the Society's collection.
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In this photo from 1908, the white building to the left was the First Union Free School. Built in 1858, it served all grades through high school. The brick building to the right was built in 1900 and served elementary grades, while the original school was used for high school students only. Eventually this would become the site of Huntington High School located at 100 Main Street.
A high school was built in 1910. This photo shows the building around 1925. It was later enlarged in 1928 by a portico connecting it with the former elementary school building and an auditorium was also added. In 1979 the high school became Town Hall, which it remains today.
Below: Interior main entrance of Huntington High School, circa 1930.
Below: Huntington High School Girls Basketball Team, 1914. Standing left to right: Helen Lowndes, Vera Williamson, Ethel Sammis, (captain). Sitting left to right: Esther Funnell, Dorothy Burne, Jane Fleet.
By William H. Frohlich
Trustee, Huntington Historical Society
The Town of Huntington, as we know it today, extends from the Nassau County line to the Smithtown line in Commack. And, from the Long Island Sound on the north to the Babylon Town Line in the south. But, it wasn’t always that way.
The “original” Huntington Town existed from the Sound all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Babylon is a relatively “new” creation, which was carved out of Huntington. In 1842, the Long Island Railroad’s Main Line crossed the Town of Huntington through what is now Farmingdale, Wyandanch and Deer Park. Thirty years later, in 1872, a decision was made to split the town into two. All the land lying one mile north of the LIRR tracks remained the Town of Huntington, and everything lying south of that line became the Town of Babylon.
An 1858 map of Huntington
The Long Island Atlas published by Beers, et al, in 1873 shows the new town boundary line clearly, even though the survey work had been done in 1871 and 1872 before the new town had been established. When the atlas was published in 1873, it was correct!
Interestingly, Nassau County didn’t exist either at the time and is also a relatively “new” invention. (Early on there was an attempt made to call Long Island the “Island of Nassau,” but it didn’t stick.) Before Nassau County was established in 1899 it was all part of Queens County, which extended from the East River all the way to Huntington. (New York City, as we know it with its five boroughs, which included Queens County, wasn’t established until 1898.)
What many may not know is that Lloyd Neck remained part of Queens County until the early 1880s. Then, it finally joined Huntington and Suffolk County.
The original settlers that occupied the Town of Huntington bought the land from the local Indian tribes through several purchases in the mid-1600s. Our Town was criss-crossed by many Indian trails which the settlers then used as well. Many of these still exist, but today we know them as Main Street, 25A, Jericho Turnpike, Montauk Highway, among others.
The area that we now call Babylon was unpopulated at the time (sometimes known as Huntington South). That part of Huntington was used mostly as grazing land and for ocean fishing. The first resident was Jacob Conklin, born in Huntington in 1675. He built a house in the Half Way Hollow Hills in 1710 on, it is said, 3,500 acres of land. This original name for the area was chosen for its location: half way between the sound and the sea.
Sketch of the Jacob Conklin Farmhouse
Photo of the Jacob Conklin Farmhouse, built in 1710 and destroyed by fire in 1918
Legend has it that he was an impressed seaman on Captain Kidd’s ship. When the Captain put in to Cold Spring Harbor, Jacob jumped ship and ran south. According to "The Human Story of Long Island," by Verne Dyson, 1969, “One of the numerous Conklin legends, (is that) his mission was to bury treasure for Kidd; instead he escaped with the chest and from the proceeds bought the estate (land) in the Half Way Hollow Hills.” Some say he hid out in the hollow of a tree for years afraid Captain Kidd would find him!
Eventually, he built a house in what is now the Wheatley Heights area on the line between Huntington and Babylon off Bagatelle Road, and married Hanna Platt of Huntington. Unfortunately, the house burned down in 1918. The cemetery where he and his family are buried is still on the property of the the Henry Kaufman Camp Grounds.
Jacob Conklin's headstone
The history of the Town of Huntington is a fascinating microcosm of American in its early days. If you are interested in reading more about our local history, find the “Huntington-Babylon Town History,” published by the Huntington Historical Society in 1937. You can also look for the Vern Dyson book and the old maps of Huntington.
This hand-drawn map was prepared for the Town's 350th anniversary in 2003.
By William H. Frohlich
Huntington Historical Society Board Member
Currier & Ives first big selling lithograph in 1840.
The Lexington was a paddlewheel steamboat that operated in the Long Island Sound between 1835 and 1840. It was commissioned by Cornelius Vanderbilt, and was considered one of the most luxurious steamers in operation at 220 feet in length. It began service between New York City and Providence, Rhode Island.
But in 1837, the Lexington switched to the route between New York and Stonington, Connecticut, to connect with the newly built Old Colony railroad to Boston. You might remember that this was the same time that the Long Island Railroad was building the main line to bring people to Greenport. There, they would board the ferry to Stonington and get on the new train to Boston. The Long Island Railroad claimed that this rail-boat-rail route would cut the steamer journey from New York City to Boston from 16 hours to 11. The Lexington was the fastest steamer on Sound, at the time, in effect competing with the LIRR!
It is important to note that the Lexington was not aloud to leave the Sound and enter open ocean, so it couldn’t go all the way to Boston. And, it didn’t have staterooms for overnight guests.
On the night of January 13th, 1840, midway through the ship's voyage through the Sound, the casing around the ship's smokestack caught fire. Unfortunately, it igniting nearly 150 bales of cotton that were stored on deck aft of the smokestacks! (Bad idea!)
The resulting fire was impossible to extinguish, and order was given to abandon ship. The ships' overcrowded lifeboats sank almost immediately, leaving the ship's passengers and crew to drown in the freezing water. Rescue attempts were virtually impossible due to the rough water, lack of visibility, the frigid cold and the wind.
Of the 143 people on board the Lexington that night, only 4 survived, clinging to large bales of cotton that had been thrown overboard as makeshift life rafts. The ship's usual captain, Jacob Vanderbilt (the Commodore’s brother), was sick and couldn’t make the trip, and was replaced by veteran Captain George Child.
The ship was four miles off Eaton's Neck when the fire started. With the ship's paddlewheel still churning at full speed, crewmen couldn’t reach the engine room to shut off the boilers. Once it was apparent that the fire could not be put out, the ship's three lifeboats were lowered. The first boat was sucked into the paddlewheel, killing all. Captain Child had fallen into that lifeboat and was among those killed. The ropes used to lower the other two boats were cut, causing the boats to hit the water stern-first and they sank immediately.
Pilot Stephen Manchester turned the ship toward the shore in hopes of beaching it. But, the drive-rope that controlled the rudder quickly burned through, and the engine stopped 2 miles from shore. With the ship out of control, it drifted northeast and away from the land.
The ship's cargo of cotton bales ignited quickly causing the fire to spread from the smokestack to the entire super-structure of the ship.
Passengers and crew threw empty baggage containers and the bales of cotton into the water to use as rafts. The center of the main deck collapsed shortly after 8 p.m. The fire had spread to such an extent that by midnight most of the passengers and crew were forced to jump into the frigid water. Those who had nothing to climb onto quickly succumbed to hypothermia. The ship was still burning when it finally sank at 3 a.m. in the middle of the sound.
According to legend, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was scheduled to travel on the Lexington's fatal voyage, but missed the boat. This was due to discussing with his publisher the merits of his recent poem, The Wreck of the Hesperus - a poem that, ironically, also included a ship sinking. The Lexington disaster was depicted in a celebrated colored lithograph by Currier and Ives, and was their first major-selling print.
Of the 143 people on board the Lexington, only four survived: Three were rescued by the ship “Merchant,” but the last man, David Crowley, the Second Mate, drifted for 43 hours on a bale of cotton, coming ashore 50 miles east, at Baiting Hollow. Weak, dehydrated and suffering from exposure, he staggered a mile to the house of Matthias and Mary Hutchinson, and collapsed after knocking on their door. A doctor was immediately called, and once well enough, Crowley was taken to Riverhead, where he recovered.
An inquest jury found a fatal flaw in the ship's design to be the primary cause of the fire. The ship's boilers were originally built to burn wood, but converted to burn coal in 1839. They found that conversion had not been properly completed. Not only did coal burn hotter than wood, but extra coal was burned on that night because of the bad weather and rough seas. Sparks from the over-heated smokestack set the stack's casing ablaze on the freight deck. And, that fire spread to the bales of cotton stored improperly on deck close to the stack.
The jury found crewmen's mistakes and violation of safety regulations to be at fault. Hilliard testified that once crewmembers noticed the fire, they went below deck to check the engines before attempting to fight the blaze. The inquest jury believed that the fire could have been extinguished if the crew had acted immediately. Additionally, not all of the ship's fire buckets could be found during the fire. And, only about 20 of the passengers were able to locate life preservers. They also found that the crewmembers were careless in launching the lifeboats, all of which sank immediately.
The sloop Improvement, then less than five miles from the burning ship, never came to the Lexington's rescue. Captain Tirrell said he was running on a schedule and didn’t attempt a rescue, because he didn’t want to miss high tide and be late. The public became furious at his excuse, and Tirrell was attacked by the press in the days following the disaster.
Ultimately, the U.S. government in the wake of the tragedy passed no legislation. It wasn’t until the steamboat Henry Clay burned on the Hudson River 12 years later that new safety regulations were imposed.
The Lexington fire remains Long Island Sound's worst disaster. Of the 143, on board 139 perished.
An attempt was made to raise the Lexington in 1842, and then again in 1850. The ship was brought to the surface briefly, and a 30-pound mass of melted silver coins was recovered from the hull. $50,000 in cash was never found and likely had burned up. During the raising attempt, the chains supporting the hull snapped, and the ship broke apart into three pieces sinking back to the bottom of the Sound.
Today, the Lexington sections lie in 140 feet of water off Old Field Point. There is allegedly still gold and silver onboard that has not been recovered. The silver recovered in 1842 is all that has ever been found to date. There was talk of salvaging the remains of the ship about 10 years ago, but nothing came of it.
Where is the Lexington? Today the wreck lies broken up across the bottom in anywhere from 80 feet deep to 140 feet of water. The wreck is covered in wire from the various salvage operations, fishing line, and other wreckage. The bottom is very dark, cold, and extremely hazardous. The actual locations of the paddlewheel, bow and stern are known.
Location of two section of the Lexington in Long Island Sound. Point 4 is the location of the paddlewheel & Point 3 is the location of the bow. They are still there after nearly 180 years.
A copy of the inquest report that analyzes what happened and who was to blame. It also includes all the names and hometowns of those who perished.
This blog has been written by various affiliates of the Huntington Historical Society.