New York African Free Schools and Their Convention Legacies
Born in 1816, George R. Allen was best known for his time at the New York African Free School #2 (NYAFS). Charles Andrews, headmaster of the school, wrote in his History of the New York African Free Schools that Allen was a superior student. To demonstrate his abilities, Allen was asked to write a poem of his own mind while isolated in a room. His poem, “On Slavery” (1828), demonstrated Allen’s talent. Allen was also asked to compose an address to the American Convention for the Promotion of the Abolition of Slavery in 1828. His speech was published prolifically.
James McCune Smith, a classmate of Allen’s at the NYAFS #2, remembers him fondly as “a little boy, perfectly black, so fragile that you might crush him between thumb and finger.” While Allen was well documented as an excellent literary scholar, McCune Smith also listed Allen as head-boy in Arithmetic, Natural Philosophy, and Astronomy. McCune Smith wrote, “He was little less than a prodigy of calculation and original thought on the abstruse problems of gravity, cohesion, and the laws of planetary motion.”
Like many young Black men during his time, Allen went to sea after attending the NYAFS #2 due to the relative social and economic equality available to Black men as sailors. His education and ability in navigation served him well. McCune Smith suggested that Allen was a heroic sailor, making his way to the station of Second Officer before losing his life at sea.
Researched and written by Amy Fehr and Kaylee Jangula Mootz. Edited by Kelli Coles.
Andrews, Charles C. The History of the New-York African Free-Schools. New York, 1830. Hathitrust, Link.
Bolster, Jeffrey W. “‘To Feel Like a Man”: Black Seamen in the Northern States, 1800-1860.” The Journal of American History, vol. 76, no. 4, 1990, 1173-1199.
McCune Smith, James. “Sketch of the Life and Labors of Rev. Henry Highland Garnet.” A Memorial Discourse by Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, Delivered in the Hall of the House of Representatives, Philadelphia, 1865, pp. 17-34. Hathitrust, Link.