Alsdorf Family and the Underground Railroad

By Journalist Ms. Jones

KINGSTON – On Saturday, January 27, Tashae Smith gave a lecture titled “When Freedom Calls: The Alsdorf Family and the Underground Railroad.” The event was held at the Hudson River Maritime Museum where she is the Education Coordinator.

The lecture recounted the history of the Alsdorf family, a well-known and respected African American family, in Newburgh and their participation in the Underground Railroad.
Dubois Alsdorf opened the Alsdorf Dancing Academy in 1850 and debuted the Alsdorf Orchestra in 1849 where he worked with affluent white students. He was instrumental in desegregating schools in Newburgh.

“Dubois Alsdorf… petitioned the Board of Education and they… gave this information to their committee of laws… and they voted six to two to discontinue the Colored School [in 1873] and allow all of the African American children to attend the all-white Grammar School [#1],” said Smith. “He goes on to petition again for his [three] children to attend the prestigious [all-white] Newburgh Academy, [now Newburgh Free Academy].”

The lecture also covered other people in Newburgh who were involved in the Underground Railroad or in the abolition of slavery.

Ulysses Alsdorf, Class of 1891, was the first African American to graduate from Newburgh Academy.

“I’ve always had a love for history. I used to watch the History Channel for fun… Going into school like high school and elementary… African-American history… tends to be on a much broader scale. We talk about Martin Luther King, Sojourner Truth… So, when I had the opportunity to do this, I knew I wanted to do my hometown of Newburgh, New York and I wanted to go in the angle of slavery and see like what was happening in individuals… But, there wasn’t much information on that. So… when I was doing this research, I found much more information on the Alsdorf family, on AME Zion Church, and on the Colored School,” said Smith who recently graduated from Manhattanville College where she majored in History and minored in Museum Studies.

If you missed the lecture, you can still go on the self-guided African American walking tour in Newburgh titled “In Washington’s Shadow” which shares places discussed in Smith’s lecture. On the tour you can visit several sites, including the Alsdorf House which was a stop on the Underground Railroad, Alsdorf Hall which was once the music and dancing academy, The AME Zion Church which was the first African American church in Newburgh, and the Colored School. The guide to the walking tour, created by Smith, is located at and is designed to be used with mobile phones.

“The city… [was] very big in helping me to get the signage, to get the permission to put the signs up,” said Smith who worked with the Barnabas McHenry Fellowship for Historic Preservation and Sound & Story of the Hudson Valley, Inc. to create the tour.

This is the first time having Winter Lectures at the Hudson River Maritime Museum.

“To have a nice capacity crowd at a time when its unusual is very heartening,” said Carla Lesh, Assistant Curator at the museum. “We’re thrilled to be able to interpret all kinds of aspects of history.”

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