African American History on Long Island

This post is about family history crossing into American history.  Both histories get lost and forgotten over time.  I’m certainly more aware of how my history drives my present and my future.

Today I’m posting a snippet from the archives of the Suffolk County Historical Society on Long Island, NY.  I stumbled on this a short while ago when researching my husband’s “Smith” ancestry on Long Island.  The small world factor was overwhelming to me when I learned of the connection between Henry Highland Garnet, abolitionist, activist and minister, and a distant ancestor of my husband, Epenetus Smith.  It was that first name, Epenetus, that jumped off the page at me.

Henry Highland Garnet

Henry and his family escaped slavery lived in New York City.  There Henry was educated at the African Free School.   After some time there, slave catchers attempted to capture the family.  Henry ended up with Quaker abolitionists who sent him to Long Island to escape. Henry ended up in Smithtown as an indentured servant of Epenetus Smith.  Henry worked in the tavern and was tutored by Samuel Smith.  The two remained friends for the remained of their lives.

Once the slave catchers had given up, Henry was able to continue his education and grow into a remarkable African American. – PJN

From The Suffolk County Historical Society Library Archives:

“Although one of the most well-known African Americans of the nineteenth century, Henry Highland Garnet, sadly, is little remembered today. Even less remembered are his connections to Long Island and Suffolk County. As a young fugitive slave and an outspoken abolitionist, Garnet was given shelter by sympathizers on Long Island for several years. Quakers in Westbury took him in, and later they arranged for him to go farther east and be apprenticed to Epenetus Smith of Smithtown.

Despite his birth into the bondage of slavery, the loss of a limb, and the persistent discrimination and bigotry he faced, Garnet went on to achieve great successes: he was an effective orator and writer, prominent clergyman, educator, and diplomat. He was also one of the first African Americans to be appointed as a U.S. ambassador.

Henry Highland Garnet has the notable distinction of being the first African American to speak at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. On Sunday, February 12, 1865, within days of Congress’s adoption of the 13th Amendment banning slavery, Rev. Garnet delivered a sermon in the Hall of the House of Representatives.”

 

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