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  • Writer's pictureNia Clark

S4 E2 The Black Elite in Antebellum New York City Part 2

Updated: Sep 28, 2023



George Downing and family circa 1890s (Museum of African American History)














Part 2 of an introduction to the Black elite or "the colored aristocracy" in antebellum New York City that also highlights some of the prominent Black leaders of the era. The Black experience in the city prior to the Civil War varied and was contingent upon different socioeconomic factors. New York's Black elite were often educated, entrepreneurial and socially-minded, similar to the more embellished portrayals on the HBO series, “The Gilded Age.” However, many leaders among the Black elite were also heavily involved in the liberation of African Americans and played important roles in the anti-slavery movement. Others took a keen interest in the education of Blacks, which was seen as a both a privilege and a vehicle of upward mobility. Still, others became prominent religious leaders, which were highly revered positions at the time. Black high society of the 19th century has historically been an under-explored part of American history, in part, because of the stereotypes of African Americans formed during Reconstruction. Guests in this episode include Professor Carla Peterson, author of the book, Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City.


The shares or the...property, the lots of land in Seneca Village were bought by Joseph and Elizabeth Marshall, and when Joseph Marshall dies, which is in the late 1820s...the lots become those of Elizabeth Hewlett. And in her will, she leaves them to her daughters. So she's the one who then, deeds the lots to Mary Joseph Lyons, who is then married to Albro Lyons. And because Rebecca has already died, they go to Peter Guignon. So that's how that generation inherits the land. But yes, Albro Lyons has the land and holds onto it." ~Carla Peterson

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Guests in this episode

Carla Peterson

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