The history of the North Country is rich, complex and has a special place in the events that shaped America. As we mark the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Civil War, the Whallonsburg Grange Hall and John Brown Lives! are hosting an exhibition from July 3-9 that shines light on a little-known part of that history during the political battle against slavery that led up to this irreconcilable conflict.
Dreaming of Timbuctoo tells the story of Black homesteaders who came to the Adirondacks in the mid-1840s with grants of land from Gerrit Smith, a wealthy abolitionist who owned several hundred thousand acres here. The plan was a step toward allowing free Black New Yorkers to meet the discriminatory property requirement in order to be able to vote.
This “scheme of justice and benevolence” brought John and Mary Brown and their family to North Elba to help the settlement there, called “Timbuctoo,” to survive and set down roots. What happened to the people and the land, and the plan’s impact here and beyond, is the subject of the exhibition, told through documents, photographs, letters and words.
Since Dreaming was first shown at the Adirondack Museum in 2001, new research on these settlers has brought out some interesting and surprising information. Libby MacDonald, who owns a house on Merriam Forge Road just south of Whallonsburg, uncovered one local connection. In looking into the history of her place, Libby found evidence that it had been owned by a free Black man who worked at the forge, and may have been given the land by Gerrit Smith. He married a young white woman from Crown Point, an abolitionist, and their sons served as white soldiers in the Union Army.
An opening Reception and Program will be held on Sunday, July 3 at 6:00pm. Amy Godine, historian and curator, will speak at 7:00. Exhibit hours are Monday through Saturday from 12-6pm.There is a full schedule of programs in conjunction with the exhibit on the struggle for the right to vote, the archeology dig at Timbuctoo and other topics. Go to the Grange Special Events web page for details.
And don’t miss the closing concert on Saturday, July 9 at 8pm with Magpie, an extraordinary duo who sing and play music to thrill the heart and stir the soul. Tickets are $7; under 12, $3.
Dreaming of Timbuctoo: Exhibition, Education, Engagement
Whallonsburg Grange Hall, July 3-9, 2011
- Dreaming of Timbuctoo exhibition (Times-Union)
- Magpie (youtube.com)
- The thoroughly American soul of John Brown (salon.com)
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