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Monday, January 30, 2017

The Joseph Belt Case’s Impact on NYC’s on Black Residents, 1848

By Richard White

“The case has caused a great deal of excitement among the colored population, the Court room and the avenues being densely crowded…” This was the reportage in New York City’s Morning Courier on December 27, 1848 concerning the case of alleged fugitive slave from Maryland, Joseph Belt, before State Supreme Court Judge, John W. Edmonds, at City Hall. The case intensified African American sentiments so much that they held a meeting on Christmas night to record their concerns.

The case arose from the seizure of an alleged runaway slave beginning on December 20, and the quick action the same day by Judge Edmonds to prevent his forced departure. Judge Edmonds’ hearings began three days later in order to allow attorneys time to prepare. In Gateway To Freedom (2015), Eric Foner describes Belt’s chief attorney, John Jay II, as emerging “as the city’s leading lawyer in fugitive slave cases”(page 112). Jay’s studious arguments, and Edmonds’ sympathy for Belt, resulted in the defendant’s freedom on December 29. However, “the colored population” did more than pack Edmonds’ courtroom. They staged a rally, which has been a neglected aspect of the Belt case.

Led by a civil rights activist, Jeremiah Powers, a protest meeting was organized in Terence Hall on Church Street on December 25, no doubt due to the pressing nature of the case. As Chairman, Powers orchestrated the writing a five-part resolution that underscored their anger, as reported the next day in the New York Tribune. Section 1, for example, emphatically declares that the kidnapping of Belt “is an alarming outrage upon all the social and civil rights and guarantees of the citizens of New York.” Section 2 states that the case “affects the security of every colored man, woman, and child in the City.” Sections 3 and 5 refer to the principles “of the process of law” and ”due process” in any case like Belt’s. However, when these two legal principles are ignored, then Section 4 mandates that “no colored person ought to allow themselves to be arrested as a slave upon any conditions whatsoever: at the risk of life itself….they should deem it a question of life and death, to be settled on the spot….” This pointed language entails no reading between the lines.

Edmonds’ decision to free Belt sparked a display of deep relief that was covered across this State. On December 30, for instance, the Geneva Gazette, described the final scene as follows: “[Belt] was borne in triumph from the City Hall by a large company of colored people who rent the air with acclamations of joy,” and apparently left the City. Due to circumstances in New York City at the time, a black man was not enslaved, and freedom prevailed.

About the author: Richard White's articles have appeared in Civil War History, The Journal of Negro History, and other publications.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

From Boyhood to the Battlefield and Beyond: Cherry Creek Seven at Verdun at the end of The Great War

By Sharon Howe Sweeting and Joanne Mansfield

CHERRY CREEK NY November 2016 

Kindled by the eyewitness accounts written by Private Donald D. Curtis to his father Edgar, we researched the other six lads traveling with the Buffalo New York Regiment called into service on July 15, 1917, and drafted into the US Army as the 106th Field Artillery on August 4, 1917. Our lads enlisted in June/July 1917 but most did not travel overseas until June 1918 following training at Camp Wadsworth, South Carolina.

A letter headed “Somewhere on the Atlantic” dated June 1918, describes the journey with the flotilla including the troop carrier, destroyers and smaller vessels and introduces us to the lads. First we meet Curtis’s friend Harold [Harold Blaisdell], and then Fowler [Laverne Fowler]. Next we meet Abbey [Charles Abbey], Dick [Richard Langworthy], Dub [Hobart James] and Hub [Ray Hubbard].

“We Cherry Creek fellows have been together a great deal, playing 500 [Rummy]. Our band plays twice a day – morning and afternoon. They are improving too. ” [Hub plays the bugle.]

“I hear they got a couple of submarines off the Jersey coast yesterday. They put up all the important news they pick up on the wireless. I see Harold a great deal. There is a Y.M.C.A. man on board so we can get books. You can’t get away from the Red Cross or the Y.M., they are everywhere.”

“Harold and I are sitting behind a life boat writing. We have a wonderful view from here. Just water everywhere but it is such a pretty color. . . . Probably Dad is up the lake fishing now. We might be sailing on Chautauqua now only this ship is about as wide as those boats are long.”