The Institute was established at Hartwick College in 1998 as an educational membership organization to promote and encourage research, preservation, and remembrance of the United States Colored Troops, inclusive of men of African descent, Native Americans, and their white officers. Since more than 80 percent of the USCT were formerly enslaved at the time of their enlistment, flight to freedom was certainly a reality for many of them.
Since its founding, the USCTI has emerged as a national and international resource for the study of the black soldiers and their white officers of the Civil War. The Institute’s focus has since expanded to all military conflicts, from the Revolutionary War through the Korean War.
The Institute offers Hartwick students the opportunity, as members of its Harriet Tubman Mentoring Project, to conduct research devoted to placing the USCT within the historical realm of the Underground Railroad. The USCTI assists multiple researchers, ranging from individual families to preservation organizations, Underground Railroad sites to the media. It has been honored with proclamations from several state governments and the Congressional Black Caucus Veterans Braintrust, as well as entered into the Congressional Record for outstanding historical and genealogical research.
The USCTI’s work is supported by the privately owned Matthews Collection for the Preservation of Freedom Journey Classics. It includes 2,500 items, including books about persons whose flight to freedom helped to energize the Underground Railroad, as well as a lithograph series by Civil War illustrator Thomas Nast.
The USCTI at Hartwick College was selected in 2008 as an endorsed site of the United States Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. In April 2011, USCTI was recognized by the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom as a “Facility,” acknowledging its verifiable association to the Underground Railroad story.
Commemorates Domestic and International Connections to the Underground Railroad, Preservation Efforts and Family Research
On November 1 and 2, Hartwick College will welcome nearly 30 participants for the annual United States Colored Troops Institute for Local History and Family Research (USCTI) Student Mini-Conference. The conference’s highlight will be a special tribute to the U.S. and Bahamian connection to the Underground Railroad, as well as the intersection of domestic and international family research projects.
Dr. Rita Henderson Pratt, the founder of the African Bahamian Museum and Research Centre, will be a guest participant at the conference, along with three other Bahamians. One historic personality to be discussed will be Madison Washington, who revolted and captured the Brig Creole, an American slave ship, and sailed to Nassau in 1841. The story is one of many researched and compiled by Dr. Pratt, whose Centre, like the USCTI, is affiliated with the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.
A “mix and greet” will be held for the Bahamian visitors on Friday, November 1, on the Dewar Balcony, Dewar from 12:30-1:30 p.m. Members of the Oneonta community is welcomed to attend.
The conference begins for the invited participants on Friday evening with a dinner, at which the presenters will be introduced.
Saturday’s morning session will spotlight presentations of family and historical research conducted by students of the Harriet Tubman Mentoring Project and USCTI members. Harry Bradshaw Matthews, associate dean, director of the office of Intercultural Affairs, and founding president of the USCTI, will present “the Upper Susquehanna Railroad Freedom Journey,” that will share contributions of Binghamton, Norwich, Oneonta and Cooperstown. Darlene Colὀn, USCTI vice president and President of the Christiana Historical Society (PA) will discuss the role of her ancestors in the historic Christiana Riot of 1851.
Other presentations will focus on Lancaster, PA, St. Lucia, Cape Verde, Grenada, Jamaica, Texas, and Washington, DC.
Students in the beginning stages of their research will discuss the positives and negatives of their projects during the afternoon. Similarly, senior participates from previous years will provide updates to their research, as well as explore research at the Office of Intercultural Affairs.
Saturday evening will feature the official presentation of the USCTI’s American Society of Freedmen Descendants (ASFD) Gold Medal at the awards dinner. Pratt will be honored for preservation of the Bahamas’ link to the Underground Railroad that includes relocated mix-race Seminole Indians from Florida. Also honored will be three Hartwick student researchers Kiara S. Biroo ’21, Naidalyn G. Fernandez ’22 and Neiva J. Fortes ’22.
Harry Bradshaw Matthews
USCT Institute Founding President