Hartwick's USCTI Named National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Facility

July 6, 2011

Parks Service Underground Railroad logoHartwick College's United States Colored Troops Institute has been accepted by the National Park Service as a facility of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. The recognition honors the institute's verifiable association with the Underground Railroad.

In a letter to Associate Dean and Director of U.S. Pluralism Programs Harry Bradshaw Matthews, the National Park Service commended the institute's dedication to an important aspect of American history.

"We found that [the USCTI] makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the Underground Railroad in American history, and that it meets of the requirements for inclusion as a facility," they wrote.

Matthews applied for the USCTI's inclusion in the Network to Freedom earlier this year, after being encouraged to do so by several Underground Railroad preservation groups who wished to link with the institute's research efforts involving Civil War soldiers.

Oneonta's historical connections to the Underground Railroad caught Matthews' attention when he came to Hartwick College in 1993. For more than 150 years, residents of Oneonta and the surrounding area maintained the city's Underground Railroad story by word of mouth, and the legend was reinforced by several local historians who cited the oral history of Eliakim Reed Ford Jr., whose father served as the railroad's local agent. Eighteen years after first hearing the tale, Matthews located documentation supporting both that story and other local folklore about events connected to the Underground Railroad.

"Not only has a local folklore tale been documented as fact, but it has caught the attention of regional and national audiences," Matthews said, "and will continue to do so now that the USCT Institute is validated by the National Park Service and its National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom."

The work of the institute has garnered national attention over the past few years, with Matthews serving as a leading contact for researchers and members of the media looking to verify clues about the United States Colored Troops and the Underground Railroad. Recently, he was consulted by researchers at NBC Burbank to clarify actress Vanessa Williams' ancestral connection to a USCT soldier as part of the show Who Do You Think You Are?

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Hartwick College is a private liberal arts and sciences college of 1,480 students, located in Oneonta, NY, in the northern foothills of the Catskill Mountains. Hartwick's expansive curriculum emphasizes a uniquely experiential approach to the liberal arts. Through personalized teaching, collaborative research, a unique January Term, a wide range of internships, and vast study-abroad opportunities, Hartwick ensures that students are prepared for the world ahead. A Three-Year Bachelor's Degree Program and strong financial aid and scholarship offerings keep a Hartwick education affordable.

Contact: Jen Moritz
Phone: 607-431-4038