Join LILRC as we welcome Claire Bellerjeau, co-author of Remember Liss: The Remarkable True Story of One Woman's Enslavement and Freedom in New York
Remember Liss: The Remarkable True Story of One Woman's Enslavement and Freedom in New York, by Claire Bellerjeau and Tiffany Yecke Brooks sheds light on the experiences of people of color in New York from the colonial period into the early republic. By the time Elizabeth, known as “Liss,” was born into the household of the moderately wealthy Townsend family in the early 1760s, slavery had already been established in New York for over a century—and would persist under legal protection for almost seventy more. Remember Liss follows her long and complex journey towards freedom and examines the laws and customs that kept the institution in place for so long as well as the path to eventually abolishing slavery in the state. Her life reveals the often-overlooked history of slavery in New York and her involvement with Robert Townsend, a spy for George Washington, engages readers with fascinating stories of espionage during the American Revolution.
Set primarily against the backdrop of the American Revolution and Liss’s connection with Robert Townsend, Remember Liss allows readers from 4th grade and up a chance to explore the world of New York—and New York’s place in the world—during the 17th, 18th , and early 19th centuries. Prominent figures cross her path such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Jupiter Hammon, Benedict Arnold, John André and John Adams; and stories from America’s founding are re-examined, including the Culper Spy Ring, the Boston Massacre, the Sons of Liberty, the Battle of Long Island, and the Benedict Arnold treason plot. This text also points readers to primary documents and lesson plans through a collaboration with New York Archives’ online platform “Consider the Source.” Remember Liss offers a new perspective to America’s founding, from the point of view of an enslaved Black woman seeking personal liberty in a country fighting for its own.
Claire Bellerjeau discovered Liss’s story through seventeen years of original research. In 2021 she co-authored “Espionage and Enslavement in the Revolution: The True Story of Robert Townsend and Elizabeth”(Lyons Press). In 2022 Bellerjeau co-founded Remember Liss, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to sharing Liss’s story with the community. She formerly served as Historian and Director of Education at Liss’s birthplace, Raynham Hall Museum in Oyster Bay, New York. She has been researching the Townsend family and those they enslaved for almost two decades, including curating a yearlong exhibit on the Townsend “Slave Bible” in 2005. In 2015, during a research visit to the New York Historical Society, she discovered what may be one of the earliest poems ever written by Jupiter Hammon, America’s first published African American writer. She has developed educational programs on the subjects of slavery in New York and the American Revolution on Long Island and shares Liss’s story with schools and the community.
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