The person who came to be the most important leader of the local underground railroad movement from the 1830′s through the 1850′s is Stephen Myers. Other significant figures came and went, but Myers remained in Albany throughout the period. It is without a doubt that Stephen Myers assisted thousands of individuals to move through Albany to points west, north, and east on the underground railroad. At first, in the early 1840′s he used his own resources and the Northern Star Association, which he headed, and which published his newspaper. Later, in the 1850′s, he was the principal agent of the underground railroad in Albany. Under his leadership the Albany branch of the underground railroad was regarded as the best run part of it in the whole state by some.
He was born in 1800 in Rensselaer county as a slave, and freed at eighteen. Over his life he worked as a grocer, and steamboat steward, but started his journalistic enterprise in 1842. His wife, Harriet worked with him on the paper. He was a leading spokesperson for anti-slavery activity and rights for African Americans. His newspaper was called the Northern Star and Freeman’s Advocate. In its pages he writes about temperance, rights of African Americans, the need to abolish slavery and many other things.
Later in his life he had other publishing ventures including the Pioneer, and Telegraph and Temperance Journal.
The picture of Stephen Meyers accompanying this text is taken from the Autobiography of William Henry Johnson. William Henry Johnson’s book is available in the Pruyn Room of the Albany Public Library. Copies of Stephen Myer’s newspaper are available at the NYS Library Archives. Important information may also be found regarding him in the notes provided to one of the articles authored by him included in The Black Abolitionist Papers, volume 3, edited by C. Peter Ripley, University of North Carolina Press, 1991.
Albany Evening Times – Monday evening February 14, 1870 — Obituary (1800-February 13, 1870)
This, the oldest and most celebrated of our colored citizens, died yesterday morning in the eightieth [sic] year of his age. Mr. Myers has passed an eventful life, having witnessed the greater portion of the most important epochs in the history of our country. For many…to the households of many of our Governors and other leading and distinguished citizens. He was also steward, for some years, in the earlier part of the century, on some of the North River stamboats, a most important position in those days. Until a few years since, he could always be found about the Capital during the Legislative session, and from his kind and pleasant manner made many warm friends. He was a prominent man among his race, being an agent for the “Underground Railroad” before the war, and did more for his people than any other colored man living, not excepting Fred. Dougalss. In days gone by, he was THE representative of them to the politicians of this State. With Wendell Phillips and Garett Smith, he was one of the leading anti-slavery lights in this State in days when, to be known as such was to incur the displeasure of a large number of people.
During the past few years, Mr. Myers, at one time, held the position of steward at the Delavan House; he was also for a few seasons, steward of the Fort William Henry Hotel, at Lake George. For some time before his death, Mr. Myers held the position of Janitor to Gen. Jones, postmaster in the City of New York. Mr. Myers was a firm christian and died in the faith in which he lived. He will be buried from the A. M. E. Church on Hamilton street Wednesday afternoon.