The Circle Association's
African American History of Western New York state
1770 to 1830







21st century




Early Dutch settlers brought slaves from Angola and Brazil to work their new farms in the Hudson Valley. Slavery continued in New Netherland and in the succeeding British colony and State of New York over the next two centuries. At the end of the eighteenth century, New York had the largest number of slaves of any northern state. "That every child born of a slave within this State after the fourth of July next, shall be deemed and adjudged to be born free . . ." From the Laws of 1799, Chapter 62 [13036]


Was Buffalo's first non-aborigine settler Black?   A Colonel Thomas Proctor reported in 1791 that the only two non-Indian settlers living in, what is now called the Buffalo NY area, were a white trader, Cornelius Winne, and his partner, Joseph Hodge. He said Hodge had lived among the Seneca Indians since 1771, many (perhaps fifteen) years before Winne came to the area, "spoke their language fluently, and had an Indian family." Hodge, sometimes called "Black Joe" or referred to as a "Son of Africa", was an escaped slave who operated, with his Indian wife, a trading post. Once the number of white settlers increased, the Senecas were forced to move from their Buffalo Creek home to the Cattaraugus Creek reservation, and Hodge moved with them while continuing to assist as an intrepreter between the Senecas and the whites.

[There is some question about the previous sentence taken from Farley's article. The other account has it that "Hodge (and family) left Buffalo for one of the Indian reservations in Canada. The Senecas did not move out of Buffalo Creek until after 1842-- Hodge would have been pretty old by that time. Buffalo.
A man known as "Sunfish" lived at the mouth of Cornelius Creek (this no longer exists, but it would have been close to Hertel Avenue, and emptied into the Niagara River) with his brother. During the Sullivan campaign in 1779, he was reportedly "in command" of a Seneca village at Conesus, Livingston County.
Mary Jemison's autobiography talks about two fugitive slaves who were farming along the Genesee River who she stayed with after Sullivan's army burned the Seneca villages in 1779.
Probably Sunfish and Hodges wouldn't have been in Buffalo prior to 1780 which was when the Senecas and others moved to Buffalo Creek (there had been earlier camps here, but no major villages) in numbers from the destroyed villages in the Genesee valley and temporary refugee settlements around Ft. Niagara. The earliest reported illustration of Buffalo is a depiction of an Indian Council with Americans, British and Quakers in 1793-- at least one of the people shown is African-American (or African-Canadian, or African-Indian since we don't know who he was).
[UBarchivist 5/16/00]

However there is the Journals of Henry A. S. Dearborn covering the General's council with the Indians at Buffalo Creek in 1838, contain some references to Ezekiel Lane. One of them reads:

"The interpreter's name is Lane, who reported in Seneca what the Wyandots said & Strong our interpreter gave it to us in English. Lane informed me he was the first white man born west of Utica. He had his birth in Buffalo in 1786, when there was only one other house besides his father's, and that belonged to a Negro, who kept a little shop to trade with the Seneca Indians." [First Buffalo Landowner]

Notes of Joseph Landon, A Surveyor Who Reached Buffalo Creek in 1796, and Settled here in 1806: "A man by the name of Winnie [Winne] and old black Joe kept a little whiskey shop on the margin of the Little Buffalo Creek in the rear of the mansion House." [Carnell University collection]

Sept. 15, 1797. The Treaty of Big Tree (near Geneseo) is signed with the Senecas. The present path of Main Street in what now the Parkside neighborhood is cut through the wilderness the same year. They sell their 1.3 million acres of land to Robert Morris for $100,000, and are restricted to five reservations on the Niagara frontier: Tonawanda, Allegany, Cattaraugus and Tuscarora Reservations as well as Buffalo Creek Reservation (a few blocks from what would be the Buffalo harbor; by 1850, Buffalo Creek Reservation will be abandoned and cleared for development.).
Chief Red Jacket is paid a $600 signing bonus and guaranteed $100 a year for life.
Former Indian captive Horatio Jones (Handsome Boy) acts as one of the interpreters.
Land around the area of the future Letchworth Park is ceded to Mary Jemison, over the protests of Red Jacket.
Morris's sale to the Holland Land Co. is now completed.

The standard history has that Buffalo (known in 1798 as New Amsterdam) was founded by Joseph Ellicott (yes, of the same family which befriended African American Mathematician and Architect Benjamin Banneker) an agent of the Holland Land Company, in 1801. The place became a military post in 1812, and was burned by the British in 1813. It was rebuilt at the close of the war and was chartered as a city in 1832. [Chazanof]


Western New York was a hotly contested area claimed by both the states Massachusetts and New York. In 1788 two whites, Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham purchased 6.5 million acres (at 6 cents an acre) from Massachusetts, and made a treaty with the Seneca Indians (the actual owners of the land) for 2.5 of these east of the Genesee river in what is now Rochester. Phelps and Gorham deeded one hundred of these acres in what the Senecas called Irondeqoit, to a "Son of Africa" (Black male) known as Ebeneezer "Indian" Allan. "Indian" Allan's wife was the daughter of a freed Black slave, Captain Sunfish, and a white woman. Allan later sold the land. A Colonel Rochester and two associates purchased in 1803. Thus, Rochester, New York (not incorporated as a city until 1830), was once owned by a Black man. It should be noted that one of Allan's sons also had children by a white woman, and many of their descendents (some of whom changed their name to Allen) no longer acknowledge their African heritage. Also see 1810.


Prince Taylor was a black revolutionary war veteran. In May 1791, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison visited Tayor's farm. According to Madison's doary, they claim to have seen no sign of civilization along the lake until they met a Black man employing white indentured servants to work his farm. [read article - see memorial - references]


When you see Fugitive Slave Act most people think of the powerful ruling of 1850. But there was an earlier rule, the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793.


1795a. Another early non-Indian settler in the Rochester area was an Asa Dunbar, a Black salt miner. He and his opened and settled in a clearing on Irondequoit Bay which would later become the North East corner of Rochester. The Dunbars later left for Canada.

1795b. In January, Charles Williamson purchases the slave Hans, the first black in Bath, from Rensselaer Schuyler for $250.



Thomas James is born a slave in Canajoharie, NY. [more on Thomas James]


Jamestown's Catherine Harris is born in Meadville, Pa.


Colonel Rochester settled in Dansville with Black slaves he brought from Maryland. Rochester then frees the slaves, ten of which travel with him to a place on the Genessee river south of Irondeqoit, the beginning of Rchesterville, incorporated (1927) as Rochester.


Although there were more than ten slaves living in in Rochesterville, there remains just a single record of a birth of a slave in Monroe County.



1813a. On the evening of December 30, the British and their Indian friends burned Buffalo and neighboring Black Rock. Among those killed was African American Robert Franklin. [burning of Buffalo]

1813b. Jermain Wesley Loguen is born. See 1837, and 1855. More on Loguen.



1817a. Austin Steward (1793-1869) was born a slave in Virginia but transported to Canandaigua by his master who got in to financial difficulties. He was freed in 1813 and was a friend of abolitionist groups who helped him go to school in Victor. In 1817 he moved to Rochesterville (now Rochester) and opened a meat market on West Main Street. At first, whites destroyed his signs of business, but soon the business became popular among all citizens. For more details on Steward see Austin Steward timeline.

1817b. The American Colonization Society is established to transport freeborn blacks and emancipated slaves to Africa, leading to foundation of a colony that becomes the Republic of Liberia in 1847. Supported by local branches, churches, and the legislatures of border states, the society's program focuses on purchasing and freeing slaves, paying their passage to the west coast of Africa, and assisting them after their arrival there.


1818. Austin Stuart founds a Sabbath School in Rochester.One of its first pupils was Thomas James who had been born a slave in Canajoharie, New York. [more]


1819. Harriet Tubman was born, Araminta Ross, in Dorchester County, Maryland. For more see Harriet Tubman timeline.


At the age of 17, Thomas James escapes slavery via Lockport and Youngstown, NY. Works on the Welland Canal in Ontario. A few months later he returns to Youngstown. [more]



1822. The poet James Whitfield was born in New Hampshire. [more]



1823a. Upon escaping slavery, Thomas James (1804-1891) came to Rochester began work on the Erie Canal and helped found the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Society. It organized as a church on Favor Street in 1827 and as Reverend James was active in the anti-slavery movement A.M.E. Zion became a stop of the forerunner of what is called the The Underground Railroad. A new church was built in 1879 and another in 1906. [more]

1823b. Fugitive Slave Case, Lockport: The Village at this early day was visited by two slave hunters from Kentucky dressed in the characteristic leggins of green. It was in the Fall of 1823, when there were large bodies of Irishmen still engaged excavating rock though the m ountain ridge. Darius Comstock, a Quaker, had a large number in his employ on the section he had under contract, and with his brother Joseph, was extensively known as a defender of the fugitive slave from the clutches of the slave-hunter. The two Kentucki ans soon pounced on a person by the name of Joseph Pickard, a barber, and arrested him under a warrant issued by Hiram Gardner, then a Justice of the Peace. The arrest was at once noised abroad, and, "Friend Darius," promptly appeared before the Justice w ith the alleged slave and Kentuckians. A large crowd of the Canal workmen were also on hand, and filled up the street in front of the office of the Justice. The office was in the second story of a wooden building, located near Brown's hat store, and was entered by a flight of stairs on the outside. While the examination was progressing, the prisoner sprang though an open window and landed among the crowd in the street below. The crowd was so great that he could not get away until the Kentuckians rushed do wn the outside stairs with drawn pistols, and again seized him. The Kentuckians were collared and dared to shoot by G.W. Rogers and others. After a war of words the prisoner, by consent of all parties, went before the Justice again, who, on carefully hear ing the case, discharged him for want of proof that he was the property of the persons claiming him. The Kentuckians, from indications by the crowd, concluded it was safest to leave Lockport. Comstock was heard to say that "the prisoner could never be taken away from Lockport by the slave-hunters." The circumstance is interesting, from the fact that it was the first and, we believe, the only case of the kind that ever occurred in our history.


1827a. Slavery is "abolished" in the State of New York!!!
[Don't applaud yet, actually only slaves born before 1799 were free (see 1812). Those born between 1799 and 1827 were required to work a few more years. Further, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 came from a Buffalonian American President, Millard Fillmore. See 1850.] Also see 1835a, 1847c&d, 185d,e&f, 1851c for various Western New York slave disputes.

1827b. On July 5, Austin Steward gave Rochester's New York Emancipation Day Speech. For more details on Steward see Austin Steward timeline.









21st century




Since 4/96,

visitors to the African American History of Western New York.

This page is one of many maintained Scott Williams for The Circle Association. Any suggestions, comments, or additions CONTACT US. Please mention the name of this page in your letter.