A Troy Story of the Underground Railroad In Rensselaer County

Rensselaer county has a rich trove of underground railroad stories and information. In many ways people associate the underground railroad with Rensselaer County in our area because of the story of the rescue of Charles Nalle by Harriet Tubman which took place in Troy. Of course, the presence of the underground railroad movement goes deeper than simply the story of Charles Nalle. We have only scratched the surface in what we have learned. We hope others will share information with us to help us fill out this picture, and we will continue to search to learn interesting facts and stories.

The Rescue of Charles Nalle

The rescue and story of Charles Nalle is reported in detail elsewhere on this web site. It is an exciting and dramatic rescue story which brings together fugitives in our area and the heroic Harriet Tubman. Another side of this dramatic story has been brought to public attention by writer and Rensselaer County Resident, Scott Christianson. Below are pictures of the building location where Charles Nalle was rescued in Troy.

In the basement of this building has been identified an apparent holding cell which is believed to be a slave pen associated with the presence of the U. S. Commissioner’s office which was located in the building at 1st and State Streets.
The building at one time was a U. S. Customs House as well and the cell may also have been associated with that activity. The building stands at the corner and appears as if it is two separate buildings. The structures are part of one building. The U.S. Commissioner was located on the second floor.
On the wall outside of 5 State Street is a plaque which commemorates the famous rescue. It was placed here many years ago, but restored by local citizens in 1987.

In the basement of the building is a chamber that bears the resemblance of a slave pen. Efforts are in process to determine accurately if this is the case. If it is, it is a brutal reminder of the cruel slave system that plagued the nation in its beginnings, and made a mockery of the motto “Land of the free…”.

The photographs below were donated for use by our web site by Scott Christianson and used with permission. The photos were done by Thomas F. Rocco. Copyright 2001. The photos above were done by Paul Stewart. Copyright 2001

Writer Scott Christianson was directed to this cell by the caretaker of the building when WRGB Channel 6 was filming a segment on Charles Nalle and his rescue in April 2001. No note had been made of this cell in recent times.

The pictures of the cell above show Scott Christianson as he explored the cell in April of this year. In the month of May Paul Stewart had the opportunity to visit this location and visit the cell. It is a cold and unfriendly looking place. There is no source of light inside the cell. There appears to be a place for a light just outside the cell door. This adds to the belief that it was a holding cell. If it were for some other purpose a light system might likely have been placed inside. The gate and lock system appears to only lock from the outside and there are not window but an air vent does appear to be present.

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