Join historian and author Claire Bellerjeau as she introduces Elizabeth, or Liss. Enslaved on Long Island, Liss showed great agency when she risked everything to escape with a British commander during the Revolutionary War. Despite her bravery, within weeks of her escape Liss was re-enslaved in British-held Manhattan, where she interacted with Washington’s lead spy, Robert Townsend, aka “Culper, Jr.” As the Culper Spy Ring began using secret codes and invisible ink to smuggle vital information to Washington, Liss may also have engaged in intelligence gathering for the Patriot cause. At the end of the war, Liss again chose her own path, deciding not to leave with the British evacuation. Now expecting a child, she remained in New York City in the home of Robert Townsend, hoping for the chance of a better life. Townsend resold Liss and her son to a widow who promised they could stay in the city, but her path took a terrifying turn when the widow remarried, selling Liss south to Charleston without her young son. In Charleston she was enslaved for two years by a violent man who years earlier had been part of the rioting mob at the Boston Massacre. Eventually Robert discovered what had happened and worked to smuggle Liss back to New York where she could reunite her with her son and continue to work towards securing her legal freedom. Liss’s escape with the British, re-enslavement in Manhattan and later Charleston, and her complex struggle for freedom gives new insight into the country’s founding era, through the eyes of an enslaved Black woman seeking liberty in a country fighting for its own.

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Date: March 4

Time: 2:30 pm

Cost: Free

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