People Not Property: Stories of Slavery in the Colonial North

An Engaging Interactive Documentary Created by Historic Hudson Valley

In American classrooms, slavery is often presented as a southern institution. But slavery was an economic engine for all the American colonies, including those in the North. In fact, slavery persisted in the northern colonies, and in the Hudson Valley in particular, well into the 19th century.

People Not Property: Stories of Slavery in the Colonial North is an engaging, interactive documentary that tells stories of those enslaved in New York’s Hudson Valley through an impressive compilation of videos, interviews, reenactments, infographics, photos, illustrations, artifacts and historical documents. The interactive website is the result of decades of research by Historic Hudson Valley at their historic sites, including Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow, the former estate of the Philipse family in what is now Westchester County, NY.

“Despite the fact that slavery was crucial to the economic development of the American colonies, the history of enslaved people in the northern colonies has long been neglected,” said Dr. Elizabeth Bradley, Vice President of Programs and Engagement at Historic Hudson Valley. “Historic Hudson Valley is proud to share these stories of family and separation, work and community, negotiation, resistance, and perseverance with a digital audience.”

The Philipse Family of Philipsburg Manor and Philipstown in the Hudson Highlands
While the interactive website covers a wide range of topics, there is a focus on the men and women enslaved by the Philipse family, from which the town Philipstown derives its name. The Philipse family “owned” much of what is now Westchester and Putnam Counties, although the Wappinger disputed their claim to land in Putnam County, as covered in the first article of Relearning Highlands History.

The Philipse family were also among the largest enslavers in colonial New York. In addition to enslaving dozens of people on their properties in New York, the family, led by Frederick Philipse and his son Adolph, owned a fleet of cargo ships that transported thousands of enslaved people. Their trade included the use of the ship called the “Charles,” featured in the video below.

Read more about the Philipse Family and the Slave Trade.

Philipsburg Manor in nearby Sleepy Hollow was the former estate of the Philipse family and a place where at least 23 enslaved men, women and children were forced to live and work. Today, Philipsburg Manor is a National Historic Landmark where visitors learn the history of the enslaved community at the site and in the colonial North. Hear more about the historic site in The Philipsburg Manor Case Study.

One of the enslaved people highlighted throughout the documentary is Caesar, an enslaved miller at Philipsburg Manor whose years of labor helped to make the Philipse family wealthy. See a reenactment of Caesar’s Story.

You can explore the entire interactive website at peoplenotproperty.hudsonvalley.org.

Thank you to Historic Hudson Valley for deepening our understanding of the history of slavery in our area, and for bringing attention to the Hudson Valley’s ties to the international story of slavery.

Photo and video credits: C&G Partners for Historic Hudson Valley