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A Conversation about Slavery in the Hudson Valley: Two Linked Descendants Share Their Story


Debra Bruno and Eleanor Mire each grew up knowing nothing of the history of slavery in the Hudson Valley. When they learned that New York’s 200 years of slavery began in New Netherland and extended well into colonial times, they were shocked. To their surprise, they also discovered through a Facebook group called “I’ve Traced My Enslaved Ancestors and Their Owners” that they both descended from families from Greene County, on the west bank of the Hudson. They also learned that Debra’s ancestors enslaved Eleanor’s ancestors, information that sent them on a dive into even more research, and the eventual truth that their connection was probably also a genetic one. Debra wrote about this story in a 2020 Washington Post Magazine article called “History Lessons.” She is currently writing a book, “A Hudson Valley Reckoning: Uncovering the Secrets of Enslavers in My Colonial Dutch Family,” with an afterword by Eleanor. Debra and Eleanor will tell this story in a speech that alternates between them, and will share pictures of Mary Vanderzee, the matriarch of Eleanor’s family, her final home, her gravesite, and the Van Bergen Overmantel in Cooperstown, a painting that likely includes both of their ancestors. Van Bergen Overmantel, ca. 1733, attributed to John Heaten, oil on cherrywood boards, Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Museum Purchase. N0366.1954. This lecture is generously sponsored by the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area.

Clermont State Historic Site
  • 1 Clermont Ave.
  • Germantown, NY 12526