Like its subject, Historic Hudson Valley’s new website about slavery in the Colonial North has a lot of layers.
Titled People Not Property, the website uses words, pictures, and films to share stories about enslaved men, women, and children in eight states, including New York.
Much of the content is about the estate of Adolph Philipse, which encompassed 52,000 acres along the Hudson River. The hub of his plantation was a gristmill on the Pocantico River in Sleepy Hollow, now known as Philipsburg Manor.
Historic Hudson Valley uses that mill to educate visitors about its past. Inside the manor house, for example, is a transcript of Philipse’s “property” at the manor in 1750, including 10 enslaved men, five enslaved women, and eight enslaved children along with cattle and horses. Four of the men are listed as “not fitt for work.”
The website reveals that the manor’s history was whitewashed as late as the 1970s. In a 1972 film titled “The Mill at Philipsburg Manor,” white actors portrayed the mill workers who were, in fact, black and enslaved.
To correct that misrepresentation, Historic Hudson Valley uses contemporary films starring actors of color to tell stories about enslaved people such as Caesar, who was the miller at the manor, and Jack and Parthenia, who were a married couple in Pennsylvania. There are also films about a slave ship and about two rebellions in New York City.
Most of the films run less than 5 minutes. The exception is a 25-minute dramatization titled Runaway, about an enslaved woman at the manor who aids two enslaved men fleeing New York City. The film is based on a advertisement for an enslaved fugitive.
In one of the films about Jack and Parthenia, Historic Hudson Valley’s director of content, Michael Lord, comments that the essence of enslavement is “the ultimate lack of controlling your own destiny.”
“It’s always in somebody else’s hands,” Lord states. “As much as you try to make the best of that situation, you always know in the back of your head that you are going to wake up one day and you’re going to be separated from your family.”
To best navigate People Not Property, start with the sitemap, which lists the website’s content.
Tim Lamorte is an award-winning journalist who has spent more than two decades documenting life along the Hudson River.