Isaac Tatem Hopper (1771 – 1852) was an abolitionist who was active in Philadelphia in the anti-slavery movement and protecting fugitive slaves and free blacks from slave kidnappers. He moved to New York City in 1829 to run a Quaker bookstore. From 1841-1845 he served as treasurer and book agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society. In 1845 he became active in prison reform and devoted the rest of his life to the Prison Association of New York.
He influenced his daughter, who started the Women’s Prison Association to work for prison reform as well. His work was known by legislatures in Albany and the governor trusted his opinion on the pardoning of many prisoners.
The Isaac T. Hopper House, a Greek Revival townhouse at 110 Second Avenue in the East Village of Manhattan stands in his honor and for the work he did with the Quakers and prison reform. The house has been part of the prison reform system since the 1870s. It continues to serve as a half way house for female prisoners. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, and was designated a New York City landmark in 2009.
John Brown Russwurm (1799–1851) was an abolitionist, newspaper publisher, and colonizer of Liberia where he moved from the United States. He moved from Maine to New York City, where he was a founder with Samuel Cornish of the abolitionist newspaper, Freedom’s Journal, the first paper owned and operated by African Americans.
Mr. Russwurm was born in Jamaica to an English Merchant and an enslaved woman. He was sent to Quebec when he was young for his education. He reunited with his father in 1812 and moved to Maine with his father and stepmother. The stepmother kept him with the family after the death of his father in 1815.
He graduated from school in Maine and began to teach at an African school in Boston. His stepmother and her new husband helped him pay for his college education at Bowdoin College from 1824 – 1826. He became the first African American to graduate from Bowdoin College and third African American to graduate from an American college.
He moved to NYC in 1827 and published the first edition of Freedom’s Journal that March. His position on Africans moving back to Africa was controversial and he quit the paper in 1829 to lead colonization by African Americans in Liberia. In 1836 he became the first black governor of Maryland in Africa, a colony that later became part of Liberia in 1857. He held this post until his death in 1851.
George T. Downing (1819-1903) was an abolitionist and activist for African-American civil rights. From the 1830s until the end of slavery, Downing was active in the abolitionist movement and in the Underground Railroad, with his restaurant serving as a rest house. During the American Civil War, Downing helped recruit African American soldiers.
Downing’s grandparents were former slaves. He attended one of the first free African schools in New York City and went on to Hamilton College. In 1842, Downing started a catering business in Manhattan. His work brought him in touch with many of the elites of the city, including the Astors and Kennedys. In 1850, he moved to Providence, Rhode Island, continuing to work in Newport during the summer. In 1854 he built the Sea Girt Hotel, which was burnt to the ground on December 15, 1860, by an arsonist. He replaced the building with Downing Block, part of which he rented to the Government to serve as a Naval Academy hospital.
Downing was an important leader in abolitionism in New York. He was active in the organization of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833, and together with Frederick Douglass and Alexander Crumell. Downing was central in the movement for African American civil rights during the Civil War. He was also president of the Convention of Colored Citizens in Boston on August 1, 1859. He played a role in Reconstruction politics as well pushing for the support of blacks against violence and repression in the south.
The Bowne family had a long history of service and Mary Bowne Parsons (1784-1839) opened her home up to run away slaves in the Flushing area of what we now know as Queens. During her residency, the Bowne house was rumored to be a stop on the underground Railroad. Mary Bowne Parsons founded a school for indigent young women called the Flushing School for Young Women. They were taught reading, writing, arithmetic and needle and sewing skills, with the hope that they could go out and be self-supporting.
The Bowne house became a museum in 1947. Up until 1945, members of the Bowne family had lived in the house continually since it was built. The house was deeded to the city that year, for use as a museum. It is located in Weeping Beech Park, named after a Belgian weeping beech tree imported by Samuel Bowne Parsons, a noted horticulturist and husband of Mary Bowne Parsons.