I t is quite hard to imagine how a son of freed, black slaves could start up and manage a flourishing oyster business almost 200 years ago during the polarising antebellum period, the age of slavery and violent oppression of blacks, and be so mourned as a highly respected member of the community that the New York Chamber of Commerce closed for his funeral in 1866. Thomas bought himself a boat and started in the oyster business in the early 1800's. He was said to have loved his oysters as well and after a few years decided to set up a shop where he could sell the oysters he harvested. His son characterised him as being an extremely active man who knew not tire (Washington, 1910). Before New York was called the Big Apple, it could have been called the Big Oyster.New York was famous for its oysters. And Thomas Downing, a free black man, owned the most famous oyster house of all. Bankers, politicians, stockbrokers, lawyers, businessmen, and socialites flocked to Downings Oyster House to eat raw, fried, or stewed oysters, oyster pie, fish with oyster sauce, or poached turkey stuffed with oysters.
As the crowd of power brokers ate and made deals under the chandeliers, Thomass son George lead escaping slaves to the basement. There they were safe from the blackbirders, or bounty hunters, who were roaming the streets in search of runaways.Unbeknown to many of his clients, he and his family had joined the so-called Underground Railway, founded 1830, a network of secret routes and safe houses, that helped black slaves escape either down to Florida, then a Spanish colony or to British North America (Canada) during the first half of the 19. It seemed as though his premises were used as one of the stations to hide fleeing slaves en route north.
His cellars were used for this purpose and his son was later to recall how they harboured many a runaway slave. They were stamped in dark blue lettering with his own name and address, nowadays a rare collectors item. So after a successful life in the oyster business, having been a tireless advocate of black rights, the abolitionist movement, equal suffrage and accessibility of high-school education for black children, as well as a generous donor to African-American charitable causes, he died a wealthy man in 1866, and as a mark of respect the New York City Chamber of Commerce closed for the day of his funeral. Downings Oyster House was located at 5 Broad Street, but his basements, where fresh oysters were stored and escaping slaves were hidden, included numbers 3, 5, and 7 Broad Street.
References: The oysters My world- History of Oysters and Oyster Cultivation. This oyster crock has T DOWNINGS OYSTERS NO. NEW YORK, Stamped in blue. It has some wear and damage which can be seen in all of the photos.
It has some chips, but no hairlines or cracks all the way through. It measures 8 inches tall and 5 1/4 inches across the base. Great history to this early crock.
The item "Rare 1800's Thomas Downing Pickled Oyster Crock N Y Son of Black Slaves" is in sale since Thursday, February 09, 2017. This item is in the category "Collectibles\Cultures & Ethnicities\Black Americana\Other Black Americana". The seller is "riney76" and is located in South Chatham, Massachusetts. This item can be shipped to United States, to Canada, to United Kingdom, DK, RO, SK, BG, CZ, FI, HU, LV, LT, MT, EE, to Australia, GR, PT, CY, SI, to Japan, to China, SE, KR, ID, to Taiwan, TH, to Belgium, to France, to Hong Kong, to Ireland, to Netherlands, PL, to Spain, to Italy, to Germany, to Austria, RU, IL, to Mexico, to New Zealand, SG, NO, SA, UA, AE, QA, KW, BH, HR, MY.