February 16, 2021
African American history in NYC calls to mind locations such as Harlem and Greenwich Village. However, the Hudson Square area was a significant location for black emancipation and racial progression in the years prior to the Civil War. Home to the first African American newspaper, it also served as a stronghold for the abolitionist movement through organizations such as the Spring St Presbyterian Church, and was host to many African America owned businesses and property. These organizations and individuals established this area as a vocal bastion of change and radical communication.
3 Charlton Street
July 10, 1834 was perhaps worst day of history of this block. On that fateful day, Charlton Street was overrun by a racist mob with the intent to harm Reverend Dr. Samuel Cox, Presbyterian minister, and well known abolitionist. At the time, he lived at 3 Charlton Street (Cox and his family had fled and remained unharmed, but the home was broken into and looted). Cox had stirred outrage by saying that Jesus was “a colored man, probably of a dark Syrian hue”. Days after that, a mob smashed the windows of his church on Laight street and swept north to Charlton. After looting his home, the mob dispersed but came again the next day, this time, broken up by police. They spread across Lower Manhattan, destroying the homes, schools, churches and shops of abolitionists and blacks. “There are none living but who will recall with a shudder the days of the abolition riots,” the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper wrote 50 years later.
326 Spring Street (James Brown House/Ear Inn)
The James Brown House was built in 1817. According to city records, Brown was of African descent: born a slave, and grew up to serve under George Washington in the American Revolution. James Brown sold tobacco during his life, and owned the house until 1833.
On March 16, 1827 John Will, Rev. Peter Williams Jr. and other prominent free blacks, such as editors John Russwurm and Samuel Cornish established the first African American newspaper in the United States, The Freedom’s Journal, from a small printing house on Varick Street. The paper provided international, national, and regional information on current events and contained editorials declaiming slavery and other injustices. Along with Doctor Samuel H. Cox and other Presbyterian ministers, they formed a powerful abolitionist faction in our district.
Additionally, Reverend Williams mother, Molly Williams is credited with being both the first woman, and first African American to work with the NY Fire Department, specifically Engine Company 11.