African Americans in Sodus and Wayne County

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African Americans in Sodus and surrounding towns in Wayne County

 

This historical narrative about the contributions of African Americans to the community life of Sodus and Wayne County was written by Wayne Action for Racial Equality (WARE) which has been dedicated to improving race relations in Wayne County since 1985. We are:

 

Dedicated to ending racism and promoting racial equality for all members of our community through:
 
•Direct Action

•Community Education and Engagement

•Advocacy

 

For more information about WARE, look for us on FACEBOOK

 

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African Americans in Sodus and surrounding towns in Wayne County

 

Pioneer settlers began to arrive in the area that eventually became Wayne County around 1789, with most hailing from eastern New York and the New England states. African Americans were among the pioneer settlers of Wayne County, New York, and have been part of the fabric of the county, including Sodus, throughout its history.

 

Most of African Americans who arrived in Wayne County between 1789 and 1810 did not come as free persons of color, but as slaves of southerners who had been enticed to the area by the salesmanship of Charles Williamson. The three largest slaveholders of Wayne County – Capt. William Helm of Prince William County, Virginia; Daniel Dorsey of Frederick County, Maryland, and Col. Peregrine Fitzhugh of Maryland – brought between 120 and 180 enslaved persons with them. Those African Americans joined the ranks of the pioneers of Wayne County.

 

The African American community that grew up along North Geneva Road in Sodus got its start about 1812 and descendents continued to live in the area until the mid 20th century. Two of the first landowners in the community were David Cooper and Abraham Braddington, both former slaves of Peregrine Fitzhugh. The offspring of both men worked the land, married and settled into jobs where work was available. These formerly enslaved men along with their wives Polly Cooper and Veny Bradington joined William & Sarah (Plumber) Newport and Thomas & Rosetta Lloyd as the earliest settlers who formed the fabric of community life in Sodus. While few maiden names remain for the newly freed women of color, their contributions to their families and, by extension, to Sodus is incalculable. For the first half of the 19th century, discriminatory traditions, laws of disenfranchisement and outright racism conspired to limit social and economic opportunities for men and women of color. Still, the number of African-Americans continued to grow, and by the time Wayne County was officially established in 1823, there were 102 free persons of color living in households headed by African Americans and another 34 in households headed by white people. At first, free people of color worked almost exclusively as domestics and farm and day laborers. Over time, through land ownership and entrepreneurial endeavors a small middle class began to build made up of farmers, who owned or leased land, as well as barbers and small business owners. As noted by Judith Wellman and Marjorie Allen Perez in Uncovering the Underground Railroad “…black barbers played a significant role in the African American life during this time period, being active participants in efforts to expand the economic, social and political status for African-Americans…”. According to Perez, at least three of Thomas and Rosetta Lloyd’s sons became barbers in various villages along the Erie Canal.

 

In addition, African-Americans served as religious leaders as early as the 1830s. Ministers such as George Shumway, James Gregg, and Abram Pryne often served several different congregations, living in parsonages or rented houses rather than in identifiable homes of their own. Significantly, Rev. Samuel Ringgold Ward, an African-American minister from Butler, NY, started a Free Congregational Church in Sodus that was primarily made up of former members of the Sodus First Presbyterian Church who considered slavery a sin. The break-away church lasted for 8 or 9 years as a platform for the Sodus anti-slavery movement before they united again with the Presbyterian Church.

 

The African-American community continued to play an important civic role by harboring freedom seekers traveling on the Underground Railroad. When war to end slavery finally broke out, several African-American men from Sodus served in the Civil War – Charles Henry Cooper (grandson of David) was a sergeant in the 8th USCT. Charles H. Cooper, Thomas Lloyd and William Dorsey all left Sodus Point in the fall of 1863 to join the 8th United States Colored Troops (USCT), which trained at Camp William Penn near Philadelphia. William Newport of Sodus Point went to Connecticut to enlist in the fall of 1863. Thirty-nine-year-old James A. Potter of Sodus joined the 1st USCT, leaving his wife and six children at home. John Davis of Sodus enlisted in September of 1864 as a substitute for a drafted white man.

 

To learn more about the vibrant life of the African-American experience in early Sodus and Wayne County life, the following resources are invaluable:
 

Historic Sodus Point at http://www.historicsoduspoint.com/. Choose slavery on the menu bar.

 

Twenty Years a Slave and Forty Years A Freeman: Embracing a Correspondence of Several Years, While President of Wilberforce Colony, London, Canada West by Austin Stewart, Rochester, N.Y.: William Alling, Publisher, 1857. (http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/steward/title.html)

 

Uncovering the Underground Railroad, Abolitionism, and African American Life in Wayne County, New York 1820-1880 by Judith Hellman and Marjory Allen Perez with Charles Lenhard and others (Wayne County Historian’s Office, Peter Evans, Historian, with funding from Preserve NY and New York State Council for the Arts).