Remembering Seneca Village, a community of free blacks in heart of Manhattan

This is a part of New York City history most people don't know a lot about. Nearly 200 years ago, Seneca Village, the largest community of free African American property owners in antebellum New York, lived where Central Park stands now. Seneca Village existed from 1825 through 1857, when it was razed for the construction of the park.

Seneca Village was about 300 people, but who they were and how they lived is providing new insight. Archeologists Nan Rothschild and Diana Wall have a friendship that goes back years. With the help of colleague Cynthia Copeland, they led a dig of the site in 2011. They focused on three areas of Central Park. The dig only confirmed their research. They found the walls of a house and inside many domestic artifacts, such as plates, cutlery, and a roasting pan.

African Americans under their own direction began to buy land and some even built homes.  Considered relatively inexpensive because it was three miles from the city, the area was also a safe haven. It is described as a middle class black community with three churches and a school. The boundaries were from 82nd Street to 86th Street on the West Side and then if you can imagine 7th Avenue running all the way through the park; that is how deep in it went.

Property ownership was also a prerequisite for black folks to vote at the time. Meaning a large percentage of black voters in New York lived in Seneca Village.

The group is trying to find descendants, but the road isn't easy.