Monday, February 25, 2013

150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

By Anne Dealy, Director of Education and Public Information 

Lincoln and his cabinet at the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, July 1862. U.S. Senate Collection

A little over one-hundred fifty years ago, on September 22, 1862, President Lincoln took a step he had planned for months and proclaimed that as of January 1, 1863 “all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.…” This marks a watershed moment in our nation’s history, when the country began a long march toward practicing the ideals that are enshrined in our Declaration of Independence. The importance of the Proclamation is undeniable even though it did not actually free anyone. It only applied to the slaves in the Confederate States, which were not under federal control. Yet, it marked a realization on Lincoln’s part that the Union could not be preserved with slavery intact and that emancipation was essential to winning the war.
The proclamation was welcomed by the enslaved, free blacks, and abolitionists. The Republican Geneva Courier gave full support to the President’s announcement. The editors had supported abolition at least since October 1855, when the newspaper’s masthead began sporting the motto: “No More Compromises With Slavery—No More Slave Territory—No More Slave States.” The Proclamation incensed Confederates and Union Democrats. The Democratic Geneva Gazette suggested that Lincoln’s move was unconstitutional and that he had given in to pressure from the radicals in his party. The editors believed “there has been no such staggering blow against the fabric of our Union since the outbreak of the rebellion.… It will swell the ranks of the rebellion…it [will] dishearten if not to paralyze the efforts of our devoted Union army….” The Irish working class was a major component of the Democratic Party in New York and Gazette articles also played on their fears of losing jobs to black workers. A notice that a Philadelphia hotel had fired all of its white workers and hired black workers was concluded with: “Thus it is that Emancipation is coming home to the doors of the ‘poor whites.’ Hereafter we will have it—‘no whites need apply.’
Geneva Gazette, October 3, 1862

It is difficult to overstate white Americans’ inability or unwillingness to imagine a way for millions of formerly enslaved black people to live freely in “their” country. Lincoln was actively considering ways to have freed slaves colonize land in the Caribbean, South America or Africa (see this blog by scholar Phil Magness). Even many abolitionists simply could not imagine a world in which freed slaves could live peacefully among their former masters. Some, including Lincoln, feared the freed people would be subject to violent reprisals, others thought they would take vengeance on their former masters, still others thought they were incapable of supporting a democratic society. State Assemblyman Albert Andrus, who “despise[d] the institution of slavery,” could also state in 1862, “For surely no one could think of turning this black population loose upon the whites of the South, nor does any one wish them sent among us at the North.” He looked for God to deliver the nation from the slaves, “then may these States live together in peace and harmony, as one great family…”
A speech by New York Assemblyman Gilbert Dean reprinted in the February 27, 1863 Gazette is typical of the racist opinions most white Americans had: “[Soldiers]…have hearts and brains; and if you tell them that this war is to be perverted from the object for which it was undertaken, that it is now to be prosecuted for the purpose of making eleven States…a jungle like those of Africa…. I ask you to make enquiry of the returned volunteer…—ask him if you could induce him to go into this war for the extermination of the white men of the South, and the enthroning there a negro [sic] power. …[P]rogress is with our race—while the African is necessarily dependent, and that never has the negro race been capable of supporting a civil government.”
What is undocumented, however, is what the African-American community in Geneva thought about the Emancipation Proclamation, though we can assume that like Frederick Douglass, they would “shout for joy that we live to record this righteous decree.” Perhaps like Douglass and many abolitionists, the local black community recognized the significance of this move, which according to Lincoln, transformed the war into a war “of subjugation” in which “The South is to be destroyed and replaced by new propositions and ideas.”
In the end, the North won the war, and this is what happened. Unfortunately, the nation did not truly fulfill the promise of emancipation until the African-American community stepped forward in the 20th century to demand its fulfillment. On this year’s 150th anniversary of the Proclamation, we are still dealing with the legacy of slavery in the United States and searching for ways to move closer to the promise “that all men are created equal.”

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Site Manager's Day

By Alice Askins, Site Manager of Rose Hill

Rose Hill Attic

I start the day by walking Rose Hill and Johnston House.  Usually I do this two or three times a week.  With a flashlight, I walk through each room, looking at the ceiling for water spots and around the floor for signs of mice.  So far anything suspicious has turned out to be beetle wings, which puzzles me – who’s eating the rest of the bugs?  I keep watching.  From attic to basement I check each room, even the closets.  In each area I listen for anything that sounds different – dripping water, scuffling, or unusually distinct sounds from outdoors that might mean a broken window.  I also sniff the air in case anything smells damp.  (Recently Johnston House smelled a little skunky, which led me to call in our animal control guy Aaron.)  Between the two houses, I go up and down 132 steps.  “It’s good for you,” I tell my left knee.  At Johnston House I usually check the tile museum to make sure all is well there.  This is fraught with suspense, since I never know if I will be able to get the door locked again.  The tile museum has 15 more steps.

Returning from Johnston House, I pull up my monthly report for the board, and send it to Sue (our office manager).  At this point my cat wants to walk on the keyboard.  I pat him, and he settles down.

Then I update my logs for Rose Hill and Johnston House – whenever something happens I have to record it in the logs.  In this case, I report about Aaron’s visit to Johnston House to look for places where animals are coming in.  Since there are several entrance points, he recommends that we not try to trap and exclude any critters until spring.  He is going to write up an estimate.  I email him Kerry’s request that he give us options – the cost of fixing the current mesh and gravel system around the porch, vs. the cost of a new subterranean fence; the cost of a one-way door vs. him trapping the critters and taking them away.

Aaron’s visit to the Rose Hill attic is also recorded.  He’s developing an estimate for sanitizing and deodorizing it.  My goals here are to eliminate odors that might attract more squirrels, and to safeguard human health by removing all the squirrel, raccoon, bat, and bird waste.  I email Kerry and John about moving, protecting, or discarding the items in the attic before Aaron and his helper come in their haz-mat suits.  John sends me a list of the collection materials in the attic; there are also things like old boards and heater covers lying around.  This will take planning.

Recently I started drafting a family tour for Rose Hill, so I look at it again.  I have help with this project - our docent Barb is advising me, and our education expert Anne has had some terrific suggestions.  We’re organizing the tour around a letter that Margaret Swan wrote to her husband Robert, when he was traveling in 1860.  Margaret talks about visitors, church activities, the children, the farm, her father and sister, the maids, one of the farm workers, etc.   It’s a way of getting into the life of the family and the times that is unique to Rose Hill.  Anne also suggested that having kids take on the roles of characters in our story is a good way to involve them in the tour.  So I am thinking about both those ideas and trying to figure out what we should talk about in which rooms, and what characters we might invite our young visitors to play.  I pick a section of the letter and use it to discuss several first-floor rooms.

A big truck pulls into the driveway, and I look out to see what’s up.  It is the fuel oil truck, filling up the tanks for Rose Hill.  It is always good to see them.

We are making a list of the bus tour companies that bring visitors to us – including the companies that used to bring tours, but haven’t for the last few years.  We want to address the decline in bus tour traffic at Rose Hill.  We have records from 2001 through 2006, and 2010 through 2012.   Today I discover some information about 2009, so I go through and find the companies not already on our list (there are six.)  I send an updated list to Anne.  So far, I haven’t found records from 2007 and 2008.  

I get an email from Kerry setting up a meeting about the Rose Hill attic and put it on the calendar.  I email Sue about payroll hours.

A bus tour company calls scheduling tours for June and August.  I send a confirming email and synch up my calendars.

MJ (our shop manager) sends some images she is considering for new postcards.  I email back about which ones I like and why.

I work on this blog post and I email Karen about the Dove family papers for another.

When I go to sleep later, I dream that suddenly it is light until 9:30 PM, so we can see to do things around the grounds in the evening.  I am surprised, but pleased.

Some of the 132 steps

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What is History?

By John Marks, Curator of Collections and Exhibits

History is defined for us in elementary school, sometimes as “social studies”, “people of many lands”, etc. Like other subjects, it’s learned in short segments, feet on the floor and eyes forward, with an occasional field trip. Each grade level has its own area of focus – local, world, etc. – which probably will not interact with the grades above or below it. School-taught history doesn’t tend to build on itself the way that math and language skills do.

Early experience shapes many people’s feelings about history and museums. “I don’t like…” usually means you had a boring teacher and you were yelled at for touching something on a field trip.

If we (public history professionals) want to better serve people, we need to ask better questions. “Do you like history?” triggers grade school flashbacks. “What do you care about?” is personal and in the present. Anything you care about, from social justice to the stickers on bananas (seriously, I’ve met people who collect them), can be tied to history. It’s our job to make history fit you, not the other way around.

Antiques are often associated with history. If that’s your passion, that’s fine, but it’s just one small aspect of history.

 Everyday stuff (that’s a technical term, by the way) works with multiple generations. It either evokes memories or questions – “What is it? How did it fit in your pocket or take pictures?”

Appreciating photos requires no language skills or prior knowledge. We have a Facebook page where we post an old Geneva photo almost every day. Most of the comments are memories, but there are others from newcomers to the city, i.e. “Wow, I had no idea what _____ used to look like.” This is the south side of Seneca Street, seen from the corner of Linden Street, around 1952.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Helpful Horse

By Karen Osburn, Archivist

Of course, if you lived in 19th century Geneva you used a horse to get around.  Horses were everywhere and if you didn’t own your own you could rent one from a livery stable like Kirkwood Livery and Boarding Stables. The 1894 Geneva City Directory lists 9 blacksmiths and horseshoers (farriers), 10 draymen (men for hire to move heavy loads with horse and wagon), 4 harness makers, 2 hay and grain wholesalers, 3 dealers in bailed hay, 2 public hitching sheds, 3 veterinary surgeons, 3 wagon and carriage dealers, and 8 wagon and carriage makers as well as Henry King, proprietor of the Kirkwood Livery.  The 1895-96 City Directory also lists 4 livery and omnibus stables and other livery and boarding stables in the general directory listings.  I am sure there were just as many horse related businesses in Geneva in the decades prior to the 1890s, but the directories from that time period don’t have separate business listings making it difficult to verify the number of businesses connected with equines.

Imagine yourself standing at the corner of Exchange Street and Castle Street about 1890.  Picture a hot summer day and horses going up and down the street pulling carriages and wagons or carrying riders all the while stirring up small clouds of dust.  Some of the dust settles on your clothes and hair.  The smell of horses and manure wafts on the air, a smell you are familiar with and seldom notice because it is a regular part of life. The harnesses clink and jingle as the teams walk down the street and periodically a neigh or nicker sounds in the air as these magnificent animals “talk” to each other or to their drivers/owners. This sounds pretty, peaceful and romantic doesn’t it?

However, now picture yourself trying to cross the street in wet weather when the surface is coated with a slippery, sticky mixture of mud and manure.  If you are a woman, imagine wearing a longer skirt and trying not to kick this noxious mix up the back of your clothes.  If you are a man, think of your fine leather boots getting covered with this sticky smelly concoction.  Not quite so romantic is it? 

Oh, and (in your imagination) what is that you hear? People yelling “get out of the street”!  A big team of farm horses has been frightened and they plunge up and down, trying to escape their driver.  They are loose!  They pound down the street as runaways, not knowing where they want to be except away from the thing that scared them.  This is no longer a peaceful scene.

The Geneva Charter and Ordinances of 1891 addressed some of the negatives that accompanied our equine partnerships of the 19th century with at least 13 entries listed in the charter or ordinances regarding restrictions on tying, confinement, damages, grazing, breeding and the operation of hacks, carriages and/or carts.  However, the heyday of the horse was coming to a close sooner than anyone would realize. 

By 1908, only 17 years later, Chapter XV of the City Ordinances was devoted entirely to the automobile! An article in the Geneva Daily Times of May 4, 1940 mentioned that 50 years ago, 1890, Geneva’s first automobile owner, D. J. VanAuken, drove his car on a “trial spin” down South Main Street.  The newspaper mentioned the car was purchased in Rochester and shipped to Geneva via the Lehigh Valley Rail Road.  It goes on to say that automobiles were becoming quite common in New York City and that “horsemen here and elsewhere predict that the finer breeds of horses will be done away with entirely by the introduction of the automobile, and say that the market is already materially affected.”

Not only does the auto get a full chapter in the 1908 Charter and Ordinances, but horses are no longer specifically listed in the Index to the Ordinances, they are simply implied under the heading “animals” with ordinances regarding driving on sidewalks, tying them up or feeding them in the street.  Automobiles, on the other hand, are listed 9 times in the index and Dogs get 40 mentions!!!  Looks like “man’s best friend” needed a lot of regulation in 1908.

So where does our helpful friend, the horse, end up?  We all know how this story
ends, but it didn’t happen overnight.  In 1922 the Geneva Daily Times printed an article on horse sales in the August 24th edition stating the Horse Association of America declared horse sales to be up during the first 5 months of 1922 compared with the first 5 months of 1921.  The Association claimed there were 27 million horses and mules in the United States in 1922 and many horse buyers reinstating horses into some lines of work were have problems finding the right type of horse.  The article implied horse breeders should have an upswing in their business.   

I always enjoy seeing a horse whether it is under harness, or saddle or just standing in a field soaking up the sun.  Seeing a “working” horse in many parts of the eastern United States is rare, but in upstate New York you will often see horses pulling buggies or plowing fields.  Most of the Mennonites and Amish in Yates and Seneca counties use horses for daily transportation and farm work.  It is nice to know that despite the ubiquitous automobile, horses are still used and enjoyed in the Finger Lakes.

So let’s make one more visit back to our street corner on our nice day in 1890 and as we are startled by the run-away team of farm horses we see what frightened them…could it be Mr. VanAuken’s “trial spin” in his new automobile?

Monday, February 4, 2013


By Kerry Lippincott, Executive Director

The year is 1857.   James Buchanan is president. In Dred Scott v. Sandford the Supreme Court ruled that African Americans are not citizens and slaves can not sue for their freedom.   For the fourth year, the debate over whether Kansas will enter the Union as a free or slave state is fought with the ballot box and on the battlefield.  Over a two-day period in Savannah, Georgia 436 men, women and children are sold in the largest slave auction in United States history.  And in Geneva two African Americans are kidnapped with the intent of selling them into slavery.

In the fall of 1857 dry goods clerk Napoleon VanTuyl tells Daniel Prue (son of a fugitive slave) and John Hite (a freed slave who had moved with his mother from Washington, DC to Geneva) that he can get both men jobs as waiters at his uncle’s hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio.  With the promise of well-paying jobs, Prue and Hite leave with VanTuyl for Ohio

However, within a week of their departure John Prue receives a letter from his son stating VanTuyl real intent.  Somewhere between Columbus and Cincinnati, Prue had overheard VanTuyl talking with another passenger about his plans to sell his traveling companions into slavery in Kentucky.  Prue escaped and made his way back to Columbus where he wrote to his father.

In Geneva local jeweler and abolitionist Edward Barnard heard Prue’s story and got the state involved.  Authorized by the governor, Genevan Calvin Walker heads to Ohio (with Hite’s former employer Robert Lay) to get Prue, find Hite and seek the arrest of VanTuyl.  The pair found Prue working in a livery stable in Columbus.  A few days later they discover that Hite was sold for $800 to a Benton W. Jenkins who resold Hite to a judge. Upon hearing the story Jenkins is persuaded to refund the judge’s money.  Hite is found in a Louisville slave pen and sent to join Pure in Ohio

Walker’s next task is to find Van Tuyl, who is wanted in Kentucky and New York for the kidnapping of a free black person and selling him into slaver.  Rumor had it that VanTuyl fled to New Orleans after selling Hite.  By March 1858 VanTuyl is found in New Orleans and brought to Louisville where he was supposedly held in the same pen that held Hite a few months earlier.

Though found not guilty in Kentucky, VanTuyl is brought to Canandaigua to stand trial on the charge of entrapment.  On April 11, 1859 VanTuyl is convicted and sentenced to two years in Auburn Prison.  Within a year he is dead.

What happened to Prue and Hite?  Prue returned to Geneva and served in the Union Army during the Civil War.  Wounded during the war, Prue would live off of his military pension.  Once freed, it is unknown what happened to Hite.

For more information on local African American history, see Make a Way Somehow: African American Life in a Northn Community, 1790-1965 by Kathryn Grover