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NYC's Early African American Settlements: Seneca Village

Maps, books, and images documenting the city's 17th-19th century Black settlements

Seneca Village

Central Park Planning Map: 85th St, 7th Ave, 83rd

Central Park: memorial of the Common Council of the City of New York / Map Division

Note Free Episcopal African Church and school house. 

Books and Clippings


“Seneca Village began…in 1825 [when] John Whitehead, who owned a good portion of the land between present-day 85th and 88th Streets near Seventh Ave...divided his estate and began to sell small parcels...Black New Yorkers purchased the land [to] create a community and [to] regain the political standing which had recently been taken from them. The 1821 New York State Constitution had limited black men’s suffrage to those who owned two hundred dollars in real estate. Land ownership became the key to black electoral power, and thus a farm or garden in Seneca Village offered the opportunity for both community-building and enfranchisement. Over the next [three decades] black men and their families constructed homes and barns, and began cultivating the land. African institutions -- churches, schools, and associations -- followed.

In 1855, Mayor Wood invoked the power of eminent domain and the Village officially became city property, the land cleared for a great new park in the center of Manhattan Island...For  two years, the residents of Seneca Village ignored Wood’s edicts and battled the police sent to evict them...In August 1857, another order was issued, and the remaining black landowners were forcibly and violently scattered throughout the city.”

Slavery in New York / Ira Berlin and Leslie Harris



Topographical map of New York City, county and vicinity / J.H. Harrison (1853)

Digital Collections Image  
Note - building footprint with title “Episct. Church”, aka the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and building footprints near the corner of 8th Ave and 85th St.

Central Park : memorial of the Common Council of the City of New York to the Legislature, approved June 11th, 1853

Digital Collections Images plate 62plate 64
Note - plates showing church and homes on lots between 83th and 87th St. 

Map of the lands included in the Central Park, from a topographical survey / Egbert L. Viele (June 17th 1856)

Digital Collections Image  
Note -  block outlines with building footprints along 8th Ave adjacent to rectangular reservoir


Map showing all the estates lying between 7th Avenue & North River, and between 80th. St & 99th St. / J.B. Holmes (1876)
(No catalog record, to view ask a Map Div. librarian)   

Digital image via NYC Municipal Archives   
Note - “Conveyance of James Fairlie & Maria, his wife, to John Whitehead, February 2d, 1824 Recorded February 6th, 1824” parcels F & G, Whitehead would eventually sell several small lots to African American buyers in 1825 

Map of New York City, north of 50th Street / Matthew Dripps (1851)  sheet #5
(No catalog record, to view ask a Map Div. librarian )      

Digital image via David Rumsey Map Collection