The History of the Underground Railroad in Downtown Brooklyn, New York
The role Harriet Lee-Truesdell played in abolitionism was mentioned in The Devotion of these Women by Debra Van Broekhoven. In her book, she describes Harriet as one of the founding members of the Providence Rhode Island Women’s Anti-Slavery Society. First, she was the organization’s treasurer and later their secretary.
Harriet Lee-Truesdell would become one of the leading women abolitionists. In 1838, she helped organized the anti-slavery convention in Philadelphia at Pennsylvania Hall. The convention was attacked by a pro-slavery mob who set the hall on fire. Harriet walked out of the burning building arm-in-arm with her Black colleagues, for they almost lost their lives.
In 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. It was that same year the Truesdell’s purchased 227 Duffield Street. It was also the year, William Harned, an abolitionist Quaker from Philadelphia, purchased 123 Duffield Street. The houses were bought from Bonnell and White, known for their masonry and buildings. Duffield Street was surrounded by abolitionist churches, such as The Plymouth Congregational Church, Bridge Street AME, Elm Street, Concord Church, Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church, Siloam African Presbyterian Church and Weeksville to name a few.
Thomas and Harriet Lee-Truesdell lived on Duffield Street until 1865. After Harriet’s death, Thomas moved to New Jersey and remarried. The family kept the home until 1921, and it would pass through a few generations until Joy Chatel took ownership of it in 1998, after the passing of her husband, Albert Chatel.
Several years after Albert Chatel’s death, Ms. Chatel discovered a door in the home’s basement, in which she would later learned it was the entrance where people escaping slavery dropped eight feet from the backyard into a sub-basement that lead into a tunnel that they traveled from house to house.
In loving memory of Joy Chatel, Founder
Joy Chatel was a leader on the Downtown Brooklyn Campaign for Accountable Development and elected to the board in May 2009. She was also a member of FUREE from 2004 until her passing in 2015. She took a special interest in unfair zoning and irresponsible development. Over the years, she held the office of Title I Chair, was a PTA President in Brooklyn’s Districts 13 and 22, and received countless awards in advocacy and leadership. Ms. Chatel fought hard for the preservation of her home, 227 Duffield Street, an Underground Railroad safe house in Downtown Brooklyn, in which her home was open to visitors requesting to see the tunnel. In 2007, Duffield Street was co-named “Abolitionist Place.” Chatel also formed 227 Abolitionist Place, a group dedicated to turning her home into a museum.
According to Valery Jean, Executive Director of FUREE, Ms. Chatel was clear about one dream: Reopen 227 Abolitionist Place as a museum for the public to see with their eyes, the tunnels used by enslaved people escaping to freedom in the Underground Railroad. “Mama Joy wanted us all to know the history of Downtown Brooklyn, the history before the high rises, hotels and the Barclays Center,” said Jean, “She was also very clear that community development should be led by all people from all walks of life, and not just developers that have little interest in maintaining the diverse fabric of a community.”
Chatel is survived by her mother, three children, one brother, one sister, 13 grandchildren and four great grandchildren, as well as numerous uncles, aunts, and cousins.
Board and Staff of 227 Abolitionist Place
Shawné Lee, Director (Daughter of Joy Chatel)
Melissa Gomes, Chairperson
Raul Rothblatt, Co-Chairperson
James Driscoll, Historian
Preston Riddick, Artistic Director
Roxanne Lloyd-Bey, Treasurer
Carrie Mae Robeson-West, Secretary