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The Black Woods chronicles the history of Black pioneers in New York's northern wilderness. From the late 1840s into the 1860s, they migrated to the Adirondacks to build farms and to vote. On their new-worked land, they could meet the $250 property requirement New York's constitution imposed on Black voters in 1821, and claim the rights of citizenship.
Three thousand Black New Yorkers were gifted with 120,000 acres of Adirondack land by Gerrit Smith, an upstate abolitionist and heir to an immense land fortune. Smith's suffrage-seeking plan was endorsed by Frederick Douglass and most leading Black abolitionists. The antislavery reformer John Brown was such an advocate that in 1849 he moved his family to Timbuctoo, a new Black Adirondack settlement in the woods.
Smith's plan was prescient, anticipating Black suffrage reform, affirmative action, environmental distributive justice, and community-based racial equity more than a century before these were points of public policy. But when the response to Smith's offer fell radically short of his high hopes, Smith's zeal cooled. Timbuctoo, Freemen's Home, Blacksville and other settlements were forgotten. History would marginalize this Black community for 150 years.
In The Black Woods, Amy Godine recovers a robust history of Black pioneers who carved from the wilderness a future for their families and their civic rights. Her immersive story returns the Black pioneers and their descendants to their rightful place at the center of this history. With stirring accounts of racial justice, and no shortage of heroes, The Black Woods amplifies the unique significance of the Adirondacks in the American imagination.