Two Scenes of Brooklyn: 19th Century Life on the Waterfront | Episode 16

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Inside the Brooklyn Historical Society’s DUMBO exhibition space are two iconic images of the borough: Francis Guy’s 1820 painting of the small hamlet, and Currier & Ives’ 1879 lithograph of the City of Brooklyn. Led by two of our expert guides, Andrew Gustafson and Stefan Dreisbach-Williams, they will unpack the history of the people and places in these dense images and what they tell us about Brooklyn’s waterfront communities in the nineteenth century.

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Slavery and the Brooklyn Navy Yard

After nearly 12 years of leading tours at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, one of the most difficult questions we get – and almost always from young people – is this: Were there slaves here?

This question is vexing not just because of the complex and painful subject matter, but also because the historical record is incomplete. The result is usually an imprecise and unsatisfying answer. In short, yes, enslaved people were an integral part of life at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for the 60 years leading up to the Civil War, just as they were across Brooklyn and New York City.

This is an effort to unpack that complexity and get somewhere closer to the historical truth of the matter.

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