weeksville – lesson one


Participants will be able to identify Weeksville’s impact on New York City’s history and why it’s a space worth preserving, make connections between Weeksville and Seneca Village as thriving Black enclaves, and discuss key members of Weeksville’s community.

Intended for all ages


Start your journey into Weeksville by considering what you know about New York City in the 1830s. What was happening in the United States during the 1830s? What was happening globally?

Need a refresher? Take a look at the following contemporary happenings:


New York State Constitution was amended that white men no longer needed any property to qualify to vote; however the restriction remained for Black men, who were not permitted to cast a ballot unless they owned $250 worth of property.


Slavery is abolished in New York State.


The University of the City of New York (now known as New York University or NYU) is founded.


The first city rail line is built by the New York and Harlem Railroad.


A cholera epidemic arrives in New York City, leading to a massive flight from the city and as it occurred in poor neighborhoods, it is blamed on immigrant populations.


What was once the village of Brooklyn becomes the city of Brooklyn.


The Great Fire of 1835 occurred.


The Second Great Awakening begins to take hold in the United States during the 1830s


Nat Turner’s rebellion in Virginia takes place


The Indian Removal Act is signed into law leading to the Trail of Tears


Andrew Jackson is reelected as the 7th President of the United States


Martin Van Buren is elected as the 8th President of the United States


Arkansas becomes a state


Slavery is legally abolished in the British Empire


The first European railroad is established in Belgium


The Battle of the Alamo occurs in Texas a year before it’s statehood.


Queen Victoria is announced as the Queen of Great Britain


Louis Daguerre patents his camera in France


The rebellion on the Amistad

As you can tell, the early 19th century, and especially the 1830s, were a time of great change, but also innovation.

You can learn about many of the aforementioned happenings in various institutions in New York City such as New-York Historical Society (founded in 1804!), The National Museum of the American Indian, and the New York Transit Museum.

In the early 19th century, John Lefferts was one of the largest landowners in Kings County (where what we know as Brooklyn is located) with land tended by tenant farmers and enslaved peoples. Once slavery is abolished in 1827 and Brooklyn is formed as a city, Leffert begins selling off portions of his vast holdings and a portion of this land is purchased by Henry C. Thompson. Henry C. Thompson was a leader in the community and within the African-American abolitionist movement in New York at the time he purchased 32 lots from Lefferts. Over time, Thompson, a free Black man, advertised the lots in newspapers to sell those lots to other Black Americans, including James Weeks. James Weeks was working in the area as a stevadore (or a longshoreman/dock worker) and purchased two lots where he would build a house. About a year later, another Black man, Francis P. Graham, arrived and set down roots. Others would build alongside and a new community, a town would be born––Weeksville.

This unidentified photograph was found in Weeksville, one of the earliest free black communities in the country. Source: AP Photo/Weeksville Society

What do we know about Weeksville?

Let’s do a resource dive!

Let’s plot the map.

further wonderings

If interested in diving deeper into the origins of Weeksville and Brooklyn, consider exploring the following questions:

  • Who is Henry C. Thompson and why did he get started in Black abolition?
  • Why is Weeksville named after James Weeks? 
  • What is the current value of $250 worth of land? What was the average annual wage for a Black man at that time?
  • What careers were available to Black men at the time of 1830s/1840s in New York City? 

Burrows, Edwin G, and Mike Wallace. 1998. Gotham. New York: Oxford University Press.

‌Campanella, Thomas. 2020. BROOKLYN: The Once and Future City. S.L.: Princeton University Pres.

​​Wellman, Judith. 2017. Brooklyn’s Promised Land : The Free Black Community of Weeksville, New York. New York: New York University Press.