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Owasco Reformed Church

The interior of the Owasco Reformed Church, displaying the columns and balconies.

February is Black History Month. I was visiting with Pauline Johnson, the great-great-grandniece of Harriet Tubman, recently. She asked me what I was going to write about. I thought about the families who migrated here from Adams County in Pennsylvania in 1793. Also, our first pioneers from Orange County, who arrived in 1789. They settled along both sides of the lake and at Baptist Corners. Few people realize they brought their slaves with them. It was slave labor that helped clear the forest alongside their owners and build the cabins and barns for the livestock.

The 1800 Census of Aurelius lists the families in Owasco who owned slaves. Owasco was part of Aurelius then, and did not become a town until March 30, 1802. There is minimal record of the slaves' names. I know that Benjamin De Puy (also De Pew) left in his will the provision for his heirs to care for “old Dine and old Betsy.” The 1800 Census shows two freed slaves in his household. The same record shows Cornelius Van Auken with two freed and one slave. Anthony Van Etten owned two slaves in his household. Peter Howard and Moses Courtright also listed two freed slaves in their household. The following others in the census each enumerated one slave in their household. They were: Samuel Hornbeck, Andrew Van Etten, Roelif Brinkerhoff, Martin Cuykendall, Samuel De Pew, Henry Rorick, Andrew Van Little, Tilly Bathrick, Matthew Bevier, Peter Howard, Daniel and Samuel Bevier. Josiah Bevier had one slave whom he manumitted in 1821. His name was Shippo, and he was a member of the Owasco Reformed Church. The history of the church reveals that the slaves sat upstairs in the balconies.

This old paper is in the archives of the Owasco Reformed Church. It reads:

Whereas by a law of the State of New York passed the Eighth day of April, in the Year Of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and one, it is enacted that it shall and maybe lawful for the owner of any slave to manumit the same by obtaining a Certificate from the Overseer of the Poor of the Town where such owner resides.

Now, therefore know ye that we the overseers of the Poor of Owasco duly appointed for the year 1821 on the application of Josiah Bevier of said town to manumit a certain male negro slave by the name of Ship aged thirty Eight years do in consequence of said law and applications and on examination of said slave agree and certify that we deem the said negro Slave capable of supporting himself by his labor, and do by these present receive the same Ship as a free Citizen of the said Town Of Owasco and hereby discharge the said Josiah Bevier or his heirs, Executors or administrators from all claim which the said town might otherwise have or his estate on account of any future inability of the said negro Ship.

Given under our hands this 22nd day of August 1821.

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James I. Stryker

David Bevier Overseers of the Poor

The 1810 Census of Owasco still shows some families owning slaves. Benjamin De Pew, Cornelius Van Auken and Anthony Van Etten each had two freed slaves. Samuel De Pew had one freed slave, and Abby Prince had two freed, also. Martin Cuykendall's one slave was now free and still resided with him. Matthew Bevier, Samuel Hornbeck and Cornelius Van Auken each still owned one slave. The surprise for me was seeing John Hardenbergh, the founder of the city of Auburn owned seven slaves, one who was freed. We know the names of two of his slaves. Their names were Kate and Harry Freeman.

Moses Courtright still owned four slaves, and the family record at Van Etten Cemetery shows the esteem it had for “Major,” or Thomas Courtright, their slave who took their name. He is buried along the line with the family, and the unsuspecting visitor might think he was a member of the family. He was loved, for he was buried with them and they thought enough of him to have a fine tombstone engraved with his name. We know Thomas, too. We know he gave $10 of his hard-earned money to purchase the first bell for the church. We discovered recently in the Sand Beach records that Thomas and his bride, Cornelia E. Drove, were married by the Rev. Samuel Robbins Brown, pastor of Sand Beach Church on Nov. 22, 1854.

Where are all of these slaves buried? We know some are at the back of Van Etten Cemetery, but without a record of their name on a stone. Perhaps some are buried at Parsell Cemetery on Martin Road, which has many of the Brinkerhoff brothers buried there.

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Laurel Auchampaugh is the Owasco historian and can be reached at the Owasco Town Hall from 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoons or at owascohistorian@centralny.twcbc.com.

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