Living in America

Mount Gulian, the Dutch Colonial estate of the Verplanck family in Beacon that is now a national landmark and museum, once was home to a slave named James F. Brown. Unlike most slaves, he was taught by his owners how to read and write, and he kept a diary of his work as a gardener, coachman and general laborer from 1826 to 1866. Most of it is rather mundane — weather reports, chores — but it also gives a remarkable look at life in the Valley leading up to the Civil War from the eyes of a 19th century African American. 

Brown, well paid and well connected, enjoyed a success most African Americans did not. “But in other ways you have a window into black life at the time,” says Myra Young Armstead, who used details from his diary in the book, Freedom’s Gardener: James F. Brown, Horticulture, and the Hudson Valley in Antebellum America. He eventually was able to buy his own house and land, which gave him the opportunity to write his most poignant journal entry, on Nov. 8, 1837: “James F. Brown voted for the first time.”

You can learn more about Brown at the Mount Gulian Historic Site in Beacon or by visiting

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