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history of Seneca Village

Seneca Village was a small village in the borough of Manhattan that existed from 1825 to 1857. It was founded by free Black people and was the first significant community of African-American property owners; over time it was also inhabited by other minorities including the Irish and Germans. The village was located from 82nd to 89th Streets and spanned from Seventh to Eighth Avenues; currently Central Park. 

The Village came into existence when John Whitehead, a white deliveryman, began selling lots of his farm. With slavery ending in New York in 1827,  about 26 lots were sold to African-Americans by 1832. Houses, three churches, two schools and two cemeteries made Seneca Village self sufficient. By 1855, the New York Census found that Seneca Village had 264 residents, at a time when most of the city's population lived below 14th Street. 

Politically, the Black people from Seneca Village were extremely engaged with respect to the rest of New York. Out of 13,000 Black New Yorker's, 91 were qualified to vote and  ten lived in Seneca Village; this proved to pose a threat.

In 1848, negotiations to build a park in Manhattan were broached by horticulturist, Andrew Downing. His publication, "A Talk About Public Parks and Gardens", spoke to his belief that a public park would promote social freedom between classes. This is ironic as the location, which was initially supposed to be Jones Woods near the East River, was opposed by Downing. He had to have the location that spanned from Fifth to Eighth Avenues and ran from Fifty-Ninth Street to One Hundred-Sixteenth Streets, which included Seneca Village; they ultimately used eminent domain to acquire the land. 

In 1851, The Common Council advanced on Downing's plans. Once Manhattanites found out about the new location, they organized a petition and collected thousands of signatures, suggesting that the initial location at Jones Woods would suffice. Initially, the committee  obliged and resumed their plans at Jones Woods. This success was short lived and was ultimately vetoed in 1855  by the 73rd Mayor of New York, Fernando Wood, a Democrat and a successful shipping merchant prior to his time in politics. Mayor Wood, was opposed to the Thirteenth Amendment and was in support of the Confederate States during the Civil War; his democratic powerhouse was built on maintaining revenues that relied upon Southern Cotton. He created a media campaign that described residents of Seneca Village as squatters. Despite two years of appeals, Mayor Wood prevailed and all of the residents of Seneca Village were given final notice in 1857. Residents were offered as little as $2,335.00 for their property and were violently evicted in some instances. Few records exist today as to where the villagers relocated to following the destruction of their community; there are no known living descendants as far as we know. 

mission statement for Seneca Village

Similiarly to Seneca Village, small and minority owned businesses face adversity as well as a multitude of obstacles that often hinder the progress of the establishment. Seneca Village was established as forum to assist small businesses in supporting each other.