Discover Marlboro: Black History of Marlborough

Many of the earliest founding settlers of Marlboro owned enslaved people, including occupants of the Gomez Mill House, Luis Moses Gomez and Wolvert Ecker.

 

A great number of enslaved people were brought to town in 1795 by a Frenchman named John J. A. Robart, when he fled the Haitian Slave Rebellion. Robart was Marlborough’s second-largest landowner at the time, only next to Lewis DuBois, who was also an enslaver. Robart kept a country store here until he and his family returned to France around 1813, at which time his enslaved people were manumitted. Dwellings were built for their use on South Street, and for many years this street was known as Africa Lane.

 

While records remain light regarding slavery in Marlborough, the evidence that does exist shows the brutal lifestyle that enslaved people experienced, as there was often no justice. In February of 1809, an enslaver living in the Lattintown area was never punished for hunting down, shooting, and killing an enslaved man. Another enslaved man is known to have committed suicide as he was trying to make his way to freedom, in a barn in Milton that was part of the Underground Railroad.

 

In his book, The History of Marlborough, C.M. Woolsey states that during the 1790s, there were approximately 300 African Americans living in town, most of whom were enslaved. At the time his book was published in 1908, he notes that only a few African Americans currently remained in Marlborough and writes: “It is hard to realize at this distant day that the forest about here and the stony lands were cleared up by the [enslaved people]. They built the stone fences and worked in the same fields that the people here work in now.”

 

Around the time of the Civil War, Milton was home to Sarah Hull Hallock (1815-1886) a prominent abolitionist and an active member in several anti-slavery groups, including the Women’s Loyal National League and the American Equal Rights Association. Guests at her home in Milton included Frederick Douglas, Susan B. Anthony and Ernestine L. Rose. Quakers living in Milton, near the home of Sarah Hull Hallock, also "took part in the Underground Railroad following the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law" of 1850.

 

In 1877, John Ellis, a Marlboro resident and former enslaved man, spoke at the Marlboro Methodist Episcopal Church on What He Knows of Slave Life in the South, and in 1884, he was recommended by the local paper for the position of constable for the town.

 

A well-known example of a Marlboro family who had origins in slavery is the Milden family. Figaro Milden was born as an enslaved person in Marlboro, and received his freedom when he was six years old upon the death of his enslaver, Josiah Merritt. Figaro lived his entire life in Marlboro and was one of the earliest residents to build a house on Western Avenue. He died at the age of 82 in 1888.

 

The house he built was later replaced by two new homes, built by his sons, Jacob C. and George H. Milden, who together ran a livery stable, a stage line, and a teaming and hauling business. George Milden died in 1920 when he was 70 years old, after being struck by a West Shore train in Marlborough. In the article relating his death, he was described as “one of the wealthiest [African Americans] in Southern Ulster.”

Beginning in the 1900s, many African Americans found work on Marlborough’s farms. Many of these workers were seasonal, arriving in the summer, and then would leave during the late fall and winter months. Some notable African Americans who resided in Marlborough during the 20th century include, Father Divine, a religious leader from Harlem and founder of the Peace Mission; Dorothy Maynor, opera singer, founder of the Harlem School of Arts, and first African American to join the board of directors of the New York Metropolitan Opera; and George Mulden, who served 191 days in the frontline trenches during WWI.