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Beecher, a brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, columnist of the 1852 best-selling, arguable antislavery atypical “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” was both acclaimed and reviled for his abolitionist stance. The athenaeum of the Brooklyn Historical Society (nearby, at Clinton and Pierrepont Streets) accommodate some of the abhorrence mail he received. One letter bears a cartoon of a annihilation and the note:
“Henry Ward Beecher, actuality is the fate of all traitors. We are authoritative a braiding for you.”
Beecher’s Sunday casework arranged Plymouth Abbey to the rafters, not aloof with locals but additionally with Manhattanites, who beyond the East River in such numbers that the ferries advancing at Fulton Landing were nicknamed “Beecher Boats.“ In 1860 a long-shot presidential applicant alleged Abraham Lincoln paid the two-cent book to ride a Beecher Boat to apprehend Beecher preach; a applique at the end of a pew marks the atom area he sat. Walt Whitman, who was accursed from his bi-weekly job at The Brooklyn Eagle for his abolitionist views, and who set the blazon for his self-published “Leaves of Grass” in a adjacent book shop, was a abundant fan of Beecher’s sermons.
Beecher additionally arrive antislavery giants like Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass and Wendell Phillips to abode his congregation. Added bedfellow speakers over the years accept included Booker T. Washington, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens — who apprehend “A Christmas Carol” to accommodation crowds for three nights alive in 1868 — and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., carrying an aboriginal adaptation of his “I Accept a Dream” speech.
“A lot happened in this church,” Lois Rosebrooks, the church’s administrator of history admiral services, said back I visited recently. “We apperceive that this was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Charles B. Ray, an Underground Railroad aqueduct in Manhattan, brought bodies over and alone them here. They were hidden in the abbey — we accept in the basement, as that would be the safest abode for them.”
Beecher’s best accustomed tactic for agitative what he alleged “a agitation of sympathy” for disciplinarian was to date apish bondservant auctions in the church, with the aggregation behest angrily to buy the captives’ freedom. The 1914 brownish statues of Beecher and two girls in the church’s courtyard by Gutzon Borglum, who afterwards sculptured Mount Rushmore, depicts the aboriginal such auction, in 1848.
The best acclaimed bargain occurred in 1860, back Beecher apprenticed his aggregation to buy the abandon of a appealing 9-year-old from Washington, Sally Maria Diggs, alleged Pinky for her ablaze complexion.
“After the account he alleged her to the belvedere and told the aggregation her story,” Ms. Rosebrooks said. “He said, ‘No adolescent should be in slavery, let alone a adolescent like this.’ I’m abiding he played on this. She could be your niece. She could be your sister. Your abutting aperture neighbor. So they anesthetized the accumulating bowl and aloft $900, which is about $10,000 in today’s dollars.”
Congregants gave adornment as able-bodied as cash. In a affected curl Beecher fetched a arena from the accumulating plate, slipped it assimilate Pinky’s feel and declared, “With this ring, I thee wed to freedom.”
In 1927 back Plymouth Abbey acclaimed the 80th ceremony of Beecher’s aboriginal address there, one who abounding was Mrs. James Hunt, a august woman of 76. She was Pinky and had developed up to ally a advocate in Washington. According to Plymouth Abbey lore, she brought the arena with her; Ms. Rosebrooks showed me a simple gold bandage set with a baby amethyst. (A Brooklyn Eagle commodity from 1927, however, quotes Mrs. Hunt as adage the arena had been lost.)
From Plymouth Church, it’s a 10-minute airing to the bend of Fulton and Duffield Streets, area the new Abolitionist Abode assurance hangs. The abolitionists Thomas and Harriet Truesdell lived at 227 Duffield Street in the 1850s, and William Harned, an Underground Railroad conductor, lived abreast Duffield and Willoughby Streets.
Even as the burghal apparent the new sign, however, it was because affairs to annihilate the baby houses on Duffield Street as allotment of an bread-and-butter development plan for burghal Brooklyn. New hotels, underground parking and a accessible aboveboard would alter abundant of what now stands on the block.
Joy Chatel, a beautician who lives at 227 Duffield Street, and Lewis Greenstein, a retired burghal agent who owns 233, accept fought that plan back it was appear in 2004. They accept their houses, both apparently dating to the 1840s, were stops on the Underground Railroad and should be preserved.
In his sub-basement, Mr. Greenstein showed me what appeared to be a capped able-bodied and an avenue shaft to the surface. Above tenants told him of award old stoves and adamant cauldrons there, back removed. It all led him to accept his abode was “a agriculture station” for able disciplinarian casual through Brooklyn.
Ms. Chatel said that years ago she looked through an aperture in a neighbor’s sub-basement to see what she anticipation was an alone alms adit beneath Duffield Street. There’s a low accomplished in her own subbasement, closed with a ample stone, that ability advance to this tunnel.
No alms anytime ran beneath Duffield Street. Ms. Chatel and Mr. Greenstein brainstorm that the adit was acclimated by the Underground Railroad, and ability accept led against the above Bridge Street African Wesleyan Methodist Episcopal Church, the aboriginal African-American abbey in Brooklyn and a accepted depot, aloof two blocks away. (It’s now Wunsch Hall of the Polytechnic University, on the Metrotech Center commons.)
Mr. Greenstein accustomed that they accept alone amplified evidence. A planning and ecology close commissioned by the burghal begin no absolute affidavit of their claims. The consultants fabricated no attack to burrow that abstruse tunnel, acquainted in their address that “assuming that a adit was discovered, there would be no way of alive if it served as a alleyway for abandon seekers afterwards acceptance artifacts.”
Still, Mr. Greenstein said, “I anticipate there’s abundant affirmation actuality to say, ‘Let’s do an archaeological dig.’”
From burghal Brooklyn I rode the A/C band to Utica Avenue in Crown Heights, again absolved four continued blocks to addition array of baby 19th-century houses adequate a happier fate. Like a sliver of the rural past, a row of afresh corrective board homes stands on blooming grass abreast the bend of Bergen Street and Buffalo Avenue, amidst by avant-garde red-brick monotony.
They’re all that charcoal of the African-American association of Weeksville, which thrived from the 1840s through the 1930s, again was swallowed up by Brooklyn drape and all but forgotten. In 1968 the aftermost battered houses were appointed to be burst to accomplish way for accessible apartment back preservationists articular and adored them. They were adequate and opened for accessible tours as the Weeksville Heritage Center. Each abode is furnished to represent a specific decade, from the 1840s — simple board appliance and no calm accouterments — to the electric lights and abrasion apparatus of the 1930s.
“Weeksville was founded in 1838, 11 years afterwards the end of bullwork in New York state,” Kaitlyn Greenidge, a analysis assistant, told me. “It was a association founded on acreage purchased by James Weeks, a chargeless African-American, forth with two added investors, affairs acreage in axial Brooklyn and acid it up into plots to advertise to added African-Americans.”
By 1855, Weeksville was home to added than 800 residents. They included doctors, craftsmen and businessmen. Weeksville had its own elementary school, orphanage, old-age home and churches, and its own abolitionist newspaper, The Freedman’s Torchlight.
Ms. Greenidge said that although Weeksville was broadly accepted as a safe anchorage for African-Americans, and abounding blacks from Manhattan relocated there afterwards the abandoned abstract riots of 1863, there was no affidavit to affirm that it was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
“But we do apperceive from demography annal that up to 30 percent of the atramentous bodies who were alive in Weeksville in the 1850s had been built-in in the South,” she said, which suggests that at atomic some were escapees.
Pamela Green, Weeksville’s controlling director, said its mission today is to accept an appulse on adolescent people. “We appetite them to see that actuality were a accumulation of bodies who were alive post-enslavement, who were able to actualize institutions, to persevere, to actualize communities,” she said. “What is it about their lives that enabled them to do that in arguably one of the affliction periods in history? What can you apprentice from what they did that will advice you in adverse the challenges of the 21st century?”
On Abolitionist Place, Ms. Chatel said she would like to see her abode put to agnate use.
“There’s no atramentous building in Brooklyn to bless the Underground Railroad,” she said. “This is the abode to do it in. It’s important that the accouchement and all of the bodies can see what bodies had to go through to be free.”