The U.S. Colored Troops Institute for Local & Family History promotes original historical and genealogical research about the 200,000 colored men and their 7,000 white officers who comprised the U.S. Colored Troops during the American Civil War.
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.
2016 United States Colored Troops Institute for Local History and Family Research (USCTI) Student Mini-Conference
On October 21 and 22, Hartwick College welcomed nearly 50 participants for the annual United States Colored Troops Institute for Local History and Family Research (USCTI) Student Mini-Conference. The event honored the National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC), which opened in Washington, DC.
As part of a challenge by the NMAAHC for local organizations to host related events around the country through the remainder of the year, the USCTI featured an exhibit supporting the museum’s “Lift Every Voice” theme. The exhibit highlighted the Freedom Journey of early African Americans, including slaves, along the Susquehanna River, as well as prominent figures like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.
Other weekend highlights included a presentation shedding new light on the local connection to the Underground Railroad.
“We knew that Oneonta and Otsego County were early, active participants in anti-slavery movement,” Harry Bradshaw Matthews, Associate Dean and Director Office of Intercultural Affairs and USCT Institute Founding President, said. “But we have now officially identified an escaped slave, Rev. Alexander Hemsley, who made his way via the Underground Railroad to Otsego County in 1837. Prior to this discovery, we only had information of slaves reaching the area through the Underground Railroad in 1860.”
Hemsley would eventually move on to St. Catharines, Ontario, where he joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the church that embraced Harriet Tubman.
“This new information also strengthens the local connection with our Harriet Tubman Mentoring Project,” said Matthews of the Hartwick College program that introduces students to the field of family research, as well as the study of the Underground Railroad and the Civil War.
View video of Associate Dean and Director, Office of Intercultural Affairs and USCT Institute Founding President, Harry Bradshaw Matthews discussing the Freedom Journey through Otsego County, New York.
USCTI Contact Harry Bradshaw Matthews Associate Dean and Director Office of Intercultural Affairs USCT Institute Founding President firstname.lastname@example.org