Research Question

By: Jennifer Pleska

What is George Templeton Strong’s legacy in New York City and Greenwich Village?

My research question and topic changed completely throughout the course of my preliminary research in September. My original topic, slavery and abolition in Greenwich Village, proved too broad of a topic to cover in a single semester. Additionally, the secretive aspects of the Underground Railroad itself caused complications in uncovering locations and accurate historical information. Instead of investigating the connection between slavery and abolition in Greenwich Village, I decided to research the life of George Templeton Strong. Strong stands out as an important historical figure for multiple reasons. The first reason, and the source of most of the research for this project, is his forty-year diary.

My main source for research is George Templeton Strong’s diary. The New-York Historical Society holds the original diary, which was not accessible. As a result, I focused my research on the first printing of the diary. Fales Library & Special Collections at New York University owns the four-volume first printing, published in 1952 by Macmillan Company. I also used an abridged version of the diary which the University of Washington Press published in 1988.

Other sources of research and digital images came from the Library of Congress, Ballou’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion (Boston), The New York Times, the New York Public Library Collection, and Harper’s Weekly. I also took my own photographs of certain places and images from the diary.

George Templeton Strong lived in New York City between 1820 and 1875. He started keeping his diary in 1835 and continued writing in it up until a month before his death in July 1875. Strong kept a thorough account of his life in the city, his social activities, his opinions about current events, and the general atmosphere surrounding daily life in the middle of the nineteenth century. Strong’s diary serves as a significant source for anyone studying social history of nineteenth century United States history.

My primary goal of the exhibit is to showcase the significance of Strong’s diary and his personal legacy. Strong’s diary provides a unique glimpse into his life and the lives of those around him. I plan to include information that describes the multiple aspects of Strong’s life such as his personal, family life, his life as an attorney, his involvements in multiple organizations, and his political opinions during the American Civil War. Through my digital exhibition, I strive to provide one example of the life of a New York City citizen in antebellum New York, the Civil War, and the years of Reconstruction.

Original Draft Essay on Slavery and Abolition:

The issue of slavery and the growing force of abolition reverberated across the United States in the decades between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. The United States Constitution outlawed the international slave trade starting in 1808. Despite the abolishment of the importation of slaves, the slave trade within the United States continued until the end of the Civil War. New York State abolished the slavery in 1827 and became a central part of the abolition movement. The Underground Railroad operated in New York City and the city hosted prominent abolitionists. The primary objective of my research and the creation of my digital exhibition is to examine the role of slavery and abolition in Greenwich Village. Preliminary questions guiding my research will include: How did slavery and the abolitionist movement affect residents of Greenwich Village? What historical landmarks, neighborhoods, or streets reflect slavery and abolition in Greenwich Village? How did Greenwich Village fit into the national framework in the years leading up to the Civil War?

At the onset, I plan to focus my research on a fairly broad period of time between 1808 and 1860. However, the time period will narrow as I gather information and refine the subject of my exhibit. I have identified a handful of locations and individuals involved in abolitionist movement and, more specifically, the Underground Railroad. Ideally, it is my goal for my exhibit to provide a glimpse into the everyday lives of the individuals involved and to tell the story of a broader national movement within a local community. One individual of particular interest is Sydney Howard Gay (1814-1888). Gay served as the managing editor of the New York Tribune during the Civil War. He also played a large role as an abolitionist during his years in New York City. Additionally, Gay participated in the Underground Railroad and corresponded with other leading abolitionists of the time period before the Civil War.

I plan to use several primary resources for my research. Columbia University Libraries holds a collection of Sydney Howard Gay's personal papers. The New-York Historical Society will also serve as a site for primary resources. I will also use the New York Public Library for primary source materials.

In order to complete this exhibit, I need to continue to refine my topic. My current topic is too broad and I will concentrate on something more specific in Greenwich Village whether that focus is a person, a landmark, or an event relating to the role of slavery and/or abolition in antebellum America. My current understanding of this topic is based in the wider national perspective and I need to gain more information relating specifically to Greenwich Village. Lastly, I am still in the process of compiling relevant secondary resources for the exhibit.

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