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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

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This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on September 06, 2019
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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.