By 1888 in America, at least 200 Black towns and communities had been established nationwide. According to an article in The Washington Post, some of these towns were modeled on Black towns that had been formed after the American Revolution and during the antebellum era – from the late 1700s to 1860.
Some communities got lost completely. Seneca Village in New York City was one of them. Destroyed to make way for Central Park, the once-thriving Black community was founded in 1825 by members of The New York African Society for Mutual Relief. Historians say the group was led by abolitionist William Hamilton, who is believed to be the biracial illegitimate son of one of America’s founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton.
Many know that Alexander Hamilton married Eliza Schuyler in 1780 and they went on to have eight children but historians say that it is also possible he may have been the father of William Hamilton.
Alexander Hamilton arrived in New York City in 1772 and William Hamilton was born a year later in 1773. It is believed that William’s mother was a free Black woman who had a relationship with Alexander Hamilton when he arrived in New York City. William Hamilton started work as a carpenter but soon became an activist after seeing the unfavorable conditions faced by his fellow African Americans.
New York had at the time passed a law that would free slaves born before 1799 but not until 1827, according to Blackamericaweb. And even though most Blacks were free at the time, their living conditions were miserable. Poor areas like The Five Points where many Blacks lived were also no longer safe for them as Irish immigrants among them started blaming them for their woes. Black people could also not buy land from Whites as they were not willing to sell to them. William Hamilton, realizing that his fellow Blacks were in need of a safe place to live, started working towards getting them one.
He first helped found the New York African Society for Mutual Relief in 1808, to provide support for the families of members who fell ill and help members buy real estate. Members were made up of real estate dealers, bookmakers, orators who support abolition, former slaves, and a mechanic. William Hamilton also helped found the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, created for Blacks who wanted to avoid the prejudice found within several white churches at the time.
The New York African Society for Mutual Relief later decided to build a safe space for Black people in the city of New York. In 1825, Andrew Williams and Epiphany Davis, who were prominent members of the society, purchased land from John Whitehead, who was a real estate protector. According to an article on NY History, Andrew Williams purchased three lots of land at $125. Gotham Gazette also indicates that Epiphany Davis bought 12 lots for $578. The AME Zion Church would purchase six more lots. The land was donated to African Americans in New York who wanted to settle in a community of their own. The community was established in September of 1825 and became known as Seneca Village.
Seneca Village developed and flourished fast as more and more African Americans decided to settle in. It was also home to a few Irish and German immigrants who lived well with the African Americans. Seneca Village was located between 82nd and 89th Streets at Seventh and Eighth Avenues in Manhattan in what is known as the western edge of Central Park.
The village was small but became a highly influential community of Black settlers who worked hard to become rich and self-reliant. The village also had three churches, two schools, two cemeteries and stores with various businesses. Landowners in Seneca Village made up the majority of the 91 Black New Yorkers who had the right to vote. Several of the African Americans were also rich enough to employ white midwives.
An idea for a centralized park in Manhattan started to develop in 1848 with the area of Seneca Village being eyed as the number one option. By 1856, several white real estate developers and owners had convinced the government to embark on the project. Residents of Seneca Village were asked to leave their homes without any other place to go. The Gotham Gazette states that several African Americans living in Seneca Village were reluctant to leave the only place they could call home.
With political power as a major tool, the inhabitants of Seneca Village were made to evacuate the area and some gained a small amount of money in exchange for the lands.
By 1870, every memory of Seneca Village had been wiped away and replaced with the $14 million dollars contracted Central Park. A small sign dedicated to the people who once called it home can be found in Central Park. One of those people was William Hamilton, who also helped establish the Freedom’s Journal in 1827, which was reportedly the first Black newspaper in United States history.
William Hamilton also worked with well-known abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison to fight against racism including “scientific racism” which used pseudoscience and biased social studies to try to prove that the white race has superiority over other races.