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Guide to the New-York African Free-School Records
  MS 747

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400

New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Ted O'Reilly

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on September 06, 2019
Description is in English. using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Descriptive Summary

Title: New-York African Free-School Records
Dates [inclusive]: 1817-1832
Abstract: This collection covers the latter portion of the existence of the African Free-Schools, founded by the New-York Manumission Society, to help prepare black children for lives as free men and women. The records end two years before oversight of the schools was transferred to the Public School Society. They relate to classroom observation, student performance, behavior and promotions, as well as examples of lessons and student work.

The New-York African Free School records are digitized and available in the  Shelby White and Leon Levy Digital Library.
Quantity: 0.5 Linear feet 4 volumes on 2 microfilm reels
Call Phrase: MS 747

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Historical Note

In order to further the objectives of its organization, the New-York Manumission Society founded the New-York African Free-School in 1787. Since the school was devoted to the education of black boys and girls as preparation for life as free citizens, it was an important extension of the Manumission Society's efforts to lobby for the abolition of slavery and manumission of New York slaves, and to advocate on behalf of those already freed.

Beginning with a single schoolhouse on Cliff Street (that would burn down in 1814), the African Free-School ultimately boasted seven school buildings around the city. The schools employed the Lancasterian system of education, with a broad, practically based curriculum, covering standards such as reading, writing, penmanship, grammar and arithmetic, as well as religion, sciences, geography and after 1791, needlework. Blacks were represented on its staff, which included John Teasman, who served both as a teacher and later as principal of the school.

As the New-York Manumission Society's role ebbed with the end of slavery in New York, it eventually turned the African Free-Schools over to the New York Public School Society in 1834. All the schools subsequently became fully part of the public school system thirteen years later in 1847.

Operating from the belief that education would be an essential component in helping blacks to improve their position in American society, the school played a significant role in producing new leadership from within the New York black community. Although black Americans were often blocked from becoming skilled tradesmen, its graduates still represented many of the most important and influential African-American figures of the period. They entered into careers in medicine, the clergy, scholarship, abolitionism, theater and business. Among some of the better known students are: Alexander Crummell, Peter Guignon, Iris Aldridge, James McCune Smith, Samuel Ringgold Ward, Peter Williams and Patrick Reason.

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Scope and Contents

These records cover the latter portion of the African Free-Schools' existence, ending two years before oversight for the schools was transferred to the Public School Society. They relate to classroom observation, student performance, behavior and promotions, as well as examples of lessons and student work.

The records comprise four volumes. The first includes regulations, by-laws, and reports, from 1817 to 1832. The regulations are for the formate of the school's examination procedures, while the reports give numbers of students promoted for each quarter. These are limited to school No. 1. A substantive portion of the volume is also made up of observations of the visting committee, giving their impressions of the progress being made, along with the behavior and organization of the classroom and students.

The second volume is also filled with reports and observations of the visiting committee, but these are limited to school No. 2, and cover 1820 to 1831. Added to the closing pages of the volume are several pages of lessons on adding, subtracting and division of money, with examples.

The third volume includes extracts, compositions, addresses and pieces spoken at public examinations for 1818 to 1826, but early pages do include some material on promotions.

The fourth volume compliments the third with penmanship and drawing studies by the students (1816-1826). Of particular interest are copies of the speech given by James McCune Smith on the occasion of the Marquis de La Fayette's visit to New York in 1824.

While there is little, if any, information on individuals in the first two volumes, attributions are often given for the material appearing in volumes three and four.


The physical records are bound and arranged by type of documentation. The microfilm is arranged by volume number.

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Access Points

Subject Organizations

  • New-York Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves, and Protecting Such of Them as Have Been, or May Be Liberated. New York Manumission Society

Subject Topics

  • Public schools -- New York (N.Y.)
  • Slavery -- New York (State)
  • African Americans -- Education -- New York (State) -- New York

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Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

Open to qualified researchers.

The collection has been microfilmed and will be brought to the researcher in that format.

Researchers on site may print out unlimited copies from microfilm reader-printer machines at per-exposure rates. See guidelines in Reading room for details.

Use Restrictions

Permission to quote from this collection in a publication must be requested and granted in writing. Send permission requests, citing the name of the collection from which you wish to quote, to

Manuscripts Curator The New-York Historical Society 170 Central Park West New York, NY 10024

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as BV African Free-School, MS 747, the New-York Historical Society.

Related Material at The New-York Historical Society

As a result of an N-YHS project, with support from the Russell Sage Foundation, the fourth volume of New-York African Free School Records is available in electronic format (African Free School Voume 4 ). The site includes color images of students' work as well as contextual information about the school and individuals involved in its operation.

Further material on the New-York African Free-School can also be found in the New-York Manumission Society Records (BV Manumission Society).

Existence and Location of Copies

Digital copies are available in the Shelby White and Leon Levy Digital Library.

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Container List


Container 1     Title Date
Reel: 1 Volume 1, Regulations, By-laws and Reports
Reel: 1 Volume 2, Reports of the Visiting Committee
Reel: 1 Volume 3, Addresses and Pieces Spoken at Examinations
Reel: 1 Volume 4, Penmanship and Drawing Studies

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