19th century African American war pensions in Albany, NY

My initial goal entering this project with this data set was to create a visual that would show how pensions progressed over the century (1806-1883). While I was unable to accomplish this for my initial “rough draft,” I do believe it is possible. I encountered issues immediately as the dates are not in chronological order within the spreadsheet. Instead, the data had been entered in alphabetical order based on the recipient’s name. While this is the correct way to do this for official documentation, it poses an issue for someone like me that hopes to find trends in the data. Another problem that was readily apparent was the lack of explanation describing the wound or reason for receiving a pension. While most of the descriptions are easy to interpret, some are difficult to discern and makes analysis a bit more troublesome.


For my first visualization, I decided to keep things simple. On the left hand side you will find the various wounds and reasons for receiving a pension. The columns represent the average amount that was paid out on a monthly basis. I also sorted the data from the highest monthly payment through the lowest. By looking at the data this way we can see that a soldier who, as a result of either a combat injury or other military related accident, came to become fully blind. He received, on average, $72. This of course fluctuates when looking at each individual case but what I am interested in is the average. To put this into perspective, using an inflation calculator, we can see that in 1845 (using this as a mid-point), $72 would have the same buying power today as $1849.28. It is important to take this with a grain of salt as statistics are not readily available pre-1913.


By looking at the various dates of allowance, we can conclude that most of the injuries sustained were a direct result of the Civil War (1861-1865). The many different gunshot wounds received shows that not only were African-Americans involved in the war in some capacity, but that they were actively involved in harsh fighting on the front lines. The people listed in this census are only ones that live in the Albany, NY region and who actually submitted a formal request for a government pension for their injuries. 921 names are represented on this census. Imagine the number of African Americans that did not sustain injuries and are from other locations scattered across the many states. Just by thinking of this, we can conclude that not only did African Americans fight in the war, but they made a large contribution to it as well.


As a final note, in my final project I hope to have my copy of the census worked out to be organized in chronological order rather than alphabetical. I believe this will help paint an interesting picture that will help show how one injury may receive less, or more, compensation than that of one reported decades later.

Northern Free Black Occupational Patterns and Housing Patterns

The reading for this week was The Northern Free Black Occupational and Housing Patterns. There were two sections of the reading, the employment and the housing of free African-Americans in urban cities.  The overall goal of the reading was to highlight the injustice and the segregation that free blacks faced both economically and socially during the 19th century.

The first section of the reading focuses on the role urban cities played in the life of African-Americans. Urban cities represented the heart of economic activity and during the 19th century if anyone was seeking work opportunities there best chances were in the cities, but that was not the case for many free African-Americans. The difficulties the black community faced when seeking work opportunities were due to the legal segregation between whites and blacks. For instance, the reading  gave us examples of how states would pass legislators that would hinder an African-Americans economic enterprise. One example was prohibiting free blacks from obtaining a liquor licence. As a result, blacks could not own grocery stores because a grocery was usually considered the source of selling liquor. This shows how one law could affect the black community in multiple ways. Another goal of the reading was to show the devaluing of many blacks. For example, blacks whose occupation were doctors or dentists were not recorded in the census as having professional careers but rather as cabinet makers or barbers. Unfortunately, this shows that many free blacks were neither recognized for their hard work nor successful at always getting the jobs they wanted. However, in many southern cities at least more than one half of blacks were finding occupation in jobs that were promising economic advances than in northern cities like Albany, where less than one-half of blacks were finding the same type of jobs.

The second half of the reading was about the housing condition of African-Americans.  Two reasons for their  living condition were landlords would rather rent to a white family or they would refuse to have black tenants. Many of this type of discriminatory attitude were often seen outside of the designated black districts. The reading states that some  African-American had to live in alleys, courts or in the back of buildings and they struggled to keep a clean/healthy home. In places such as Albany in the 1830’s the worst location had the cheapest building and was near the Capitol, it was home to both the blacks and the poor whites. Another point the reading makes is the difference  between the amount of blacks in a home vs. the amount listed in the directory. For example, in Albany four or more blacks who shared the same address would be recorded as one. These incomplete data would present a disadvantage when trying to look at black residential patterns in antebellum cities, but could also be an advantage when looking at head of households rather than the whole population.

The reading shows the obstacles African-Americans faced when trying to gain economic prosperity and the ways in which different cities would enact legislation to hinder blacks. Ultimately, resulted in the limiting of black employment and  benefiting gained by their white competitors. The reading also discusses the living condition of the black districts which often varied from city to city, but either way the bigger the city the more likely African-Americans were confined to smaller badly maintained homes.


  1. Why were their more job opportunity in southern cities than in northern cities?
  2. Why was there a disproportion in the number of African-American in a home vs. the number listed in the directory?
  3. How might living in only black districts affect African-Americans?


Being Black is Complicated

Often times when people talk and think about slavery, the conversation is centered around the slaves that were in the South and not as much as the African-Americans that were in the North. Although there were not many slaves in the North, there were some. Due to the way the North is “built” (less agriculture), there were not too many slaves but African-Americans did work as servants and other work of that nature. The story that is told about African-Americans not only talks about them as slaves but also as a people who needed saving from themselves. It is seldom that one reads a story about African-Americans and the story is told in a good light, in a way that does not make these people seem as if they did not know how to live and how to be human prior to being taken captive. Many scholars have written about this particular topic and just like with anything else, there are those that tell the story of the bad effects that being held captive had on the slaves and then there are some that believe slavery helped these people who were going nowhere fast.

In the reading, it talks about how long it took people to acknowledge blacks as historical victims, what that suggests is that prior to World War 2, blacks were not known as victims but they may have been known as people who needed to be taken care of and shown how to live. The reading begins by talking about two scholars by the names of Kenneth Stampp and Stanley Elkins. Stampp talked about the harshness of slavery, he brought to people’s attention that slavery was not just this system of trying to help another fellow human being but it was an institution that was destroying another race; three years after Elkins, expanded on this and also brought to people’s attention that slavery caused not only physical but psychological damage to those that experienced it. These two scholars were able to put to rest the idea that slavery was justified but in doing so, a new picture was painted. The picture that was painted was of African-Americans as powerless and victims of oppression by whites.

Many people began to write about the after effects that Slavery had on blacks and how this can be seen in how blacks behave and live their lives today. One particular author by the name of Moynihan wrote about how he believed that because slaves were so dependent on their masters, modern African-Americans are now dependent as well, they depend on others to care for them instead of caring for themselves; he went on to say that “the white America broke the will of the Negro people” and made the assumption that blacks were now ashamed of being black and black heritage had been lost. These  assumptions made by Moynihan prompted studies by others to try to figure out if what he was saying was true, were blacks too dependent?, were they broken? and had the heritage really been lost?, these questions were burning in the minds of many.

Years and years of studies have been done trying debunk this idea that blacks were helpless and victims. The studies talked about blacks as abolitionist, and focused on those in the North. Many of these  studies were focused on blacks that lived in the North and some of the contributions that they made. In one study, emphasis was placed on the ability of blacks to gather together to create a course of action and to implement it, and although the study found that blacks were divided and some saw themselves as powerless they were still indeed active and articulate; this showed that if blacks were able to receive the help they needed they would be prosperous.  Further studies  brought about similar results, showing that blacks were more than capable of being a people of substance and people who can contribute greatly to society. Kenneth Kusmer has suggested a framework that could help others better understand and study African-American life in the North post civil war and even now, he states that internal,external and structural forces all play a role in shaping urban life; he states that viewing free black communities this way will help others to understand how complex it is to be apart of these neighborhoods, how complex it is to always be talked down on and how complex it is to come out of bondage and oppression and try to prosper.


  1. What other connections can be made between how modern African-Americans behave and slavery?
  2. Why do you think that blacks in the North were divided?
  3. What other forces do you think helped to shape black urban life?


HW: Digital History project reviews (due 2/9)

For Tuesday’s homework, choose two of the projects below and explore (I recommend one from 1-5 and one from 6-10).  You don’t need to try to see every single page or item in the project, but click around enough to get a sense of what the project is about.

  1. UAlbany Campus Buildings Historical Tour
  2. The Normal School Company & Normal School Company History
  3. State Street Stories
  4. Black and Free
  5. Valley of the Shadow
  6. Arabella Chapman Project
  7. Mapping Segregation
  8. Digital Harlem
  9. The Negro Traveler’s Green Book
  10. Visualizing Emancipation

In your comment below, discuss:

  • Who is the audience for each of your two projects?  How can you tell?  Is the audience more specific than “people interested in history” or “people interested in African American history”?
  • What kind of interactivity is there?  Think back to our discussion and reading about social media.  How do you as the visitor interact with the project besides just reading it?  Do your two projects differ in the kind of interactivity they allow?
  • Did you have any frustrations in navigating or trying to interact with the project?  If you came across the project outside of a class, how would your frustrations have affected the amount of time you spent on that website?
  • Reply to another student who discussed one of the same projects you selected, and discuss any similarities or differences you experienced with the project’s interactivity or your frustrations with it.