BATH, N.Y. (WETM) – On Juneteenth 2022, Steuben County is remembering a former slave who was brought to the Southern Tier before getting his freedom and traveling across the Finger Lakes to continue his fight against slavery.
The Steuben County Historical Society said its photo of Austin Steward, born in Virginia to slave parents in 1793, may be the only image in its archives of a person who was enslaved in the County. According to the University of North Carolina, Steward was brought to upstate New York in when he was eight or nine years old.
Steward was then hired out to various employers in Steuben County until, at around age 20, he consulted a lawyer in Bath, verifying his “hiring out” violated New York’s Gradual Emancipation law of 1799, according to the historical society. He later escaped to Canandaigua, working on a farm and attending school.
When he was 22, UNC said Steward’s former slave master found him. However, Steward kept his freedom with the help of the abolitionist Manumission Society. New York State later abolished slavery in 1827.
Steward went on to start a successful business in Rochester and continued his fight against slavery. He published numerous writings, including an autobiography and was a subscription agent for multiple Rochester abolitionist journals.
Throughout his life, Steward worked with John Brown and Frederick Douglass. In 2001, he was inducted in the first class of the Rochester Business Hall of Fame.