Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site in Newburgh, New York, sits on a bluff overlooking the Hudson River. It was the headquarters of General George Washington from the spring of 1782 to August of 1783. Before it was the headquarters of General Washington, however, it was the home of Colonel Jonathan Hasbrouck and his wife Tryntje DuBois.
The month of February which is Black History Month, is an appropriate time to revisit the topic of slavery and the Hasbrouck House, as Washington’s Headquarters is also known. Unfortunately, not a lot is known about Jonathan Hasbrouck and slavery. General Washington, of course, is another story.
While Washington was in Newburgh, he had slaves with him. His personal slave, who usually attended to his individual needs, was a male slave named Billy Lee. It is believed that a portrait by painter Edward Savage of Washington and his family shows Billy Lee in the background. Before Washington arrived at the Hasbrouck House, the Hasbroucks also had slaves, though clearly not as many General Washington owned back at Mount Vernon.
There is little known about the slaves that were kept by the Hasbrouck family. In some of the papers in existence relating to Colonel Jonathan Hasbrouck, there are glimpses into the fact that he did indeed have chattel. However, it is not known for sure how many slaves Hasbrouck owned during his life or what their names were. As his affluence grew, he probably acquired more slaves as a sign of status. In 1772, when his final last will and testament was penned, Jonathan Hasbrouck indicated that his widow, Tryntje, had her choice of his female slaves – meaning he owned at least more than one female slave.
Later on in life, and during the American War for Independence, Colonel Hasbrouck described that two of his slaves had taken flight in a letter contained in The Public Papers of George Clinton. Governor Clinton included these descriptions in a letter to a Major General Alexander McDougall, who was probably stationed in the Highlands along the Hudson River. The letter is dated 1779, but more than likely the slaves took off when the British were sailing up the Hudson River in 1777. Hasbrouck believed that his slaves had run away with the enemy and at the time of the letter, were being kept by McDougall’s guard. The letter went on to explain that Colonel Hasbrouck would pay any reasonable expense for their return. There is no evidence they were ever given back to him.
Unfortunately, chances for historians nowadays to provide a deeper glimpse into the life of the slaves of Jonathan Hasbrouck are quite slim, as it appears that Hugh Hastings edited out their descriptions from the letter sent to McDougall. There was a chance that these descriptions would be contained within original papers kept at the New York State Archives in Albany. Unfortunately, however, the New York State Library Fire of 1911 dashed that hope.
According to one of the archivists in Albany, a heavy toll was exacted on the Clinton Papers by that fire. Fortunately, a deposition involving the son of Jonathan Hasbrouck did survive- thus, we know from this court document that Jonathan, and later his son Cornelius, owned a male slave. Unfortunately this slave’s name had been omitted from this deposition. Recently, information about one of Hasbrouck’s slaves has come to light courtesy of Historic Huguenot Street’s archives, in New Paltz, New York. It is perhaps the earliest reference to his ownership of slaves by way of a receipt.
In January of 1765, then Captain Hasbrouck made his way across the Hudson River to Fishkill to meet with ”J. Cornelius Swarthout” who was selling a “Negro man” for “one hundred Pounds.”
Other than the sale of this individual, there is no other mention in any papers relating to Jonathan Hasbrouck about how long Robb lived, where he was buried, or what exactly his day- to-day role was in the Hasbrouck household. It is possible that he operated the Hasbrouck’s mills and oversaw their daily operations.
When Colonel Jonathan Hasbrouck died in the summer of 1780, he was one of the larger slave owners in Newburgh. According to the 1790 Federal Census, a decade after Colonel Hasbrouck died, his oldest son, Isaac Hasbrouck, still lived in Newburgh at the time and was the second largest slave owner in the area (he had four slaves).
The only individual in Newburgh who owned more slaves than Issac was “Woolvert Ecker” (he had five slaves). The issue of slavery and Colonel Jonathan Hasbrouck may never be fully explored due to the lack of available family records. An unfinished portrait might be gathered by piecing together various sources relating to Jonathan Hasbrouck such as the Clinton Papers or other sources. It should not be overlooked, however, that his family held slaves and that a part of Colonel Hasbrouck’s comfortable lifestyle resulted from their labor.
The family would continue to own slaves well into the first decade of the 19th century.