The relationship between President Eliphalet Nott and Moses Viney, a runaway slave from Maryland who escaped to Schenectady on the Underground Railroad, has become the subject of a new novel, “A Bonded Friendship: Moses and Eliphalet,” by Gretchel Hathaway, Dean of Diversity and Inclusion.
Born a slave on a plantation in Maryland, the eldest of 21 children, Moses Viney worked in the fields until becoming a butler for the plantation owner.
In 1840, upon overhearing that he might soon be sold, Viney decided to escape and travel north where he could be free.
He travelled along with his friends and used the Underground Railroad and passed through Philadelphia, New York City and Troy before ending up in Schenectady.
In 1842, Eliphalet Nott, then President of Union College, hired him as a servant.
Viney served as his coachman and messenger, and took care of Nott in his illness. He gave Nott massages to soothe the pains of his rheumatism and caring for him after his strokes.
Moses was also made in charge of students who were misbehaving on campus.
After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, Viney’s life in Schenectady was in danger, especially when he saw his former master, called Master Murphy, in Schenectady.
Nott then sent his grandson to Maryland to find out what it would take to purchase Viney’s freedom, but rather than pay the $1900 demanded.
Nott sent Viney to Canada while he continued negotiations. Only after Nott was able to procure Viney’s freedom in 1855 – for a reduced amount of $120 – did Viney return to Schenectady.
He lived with his wife Anna in a small house on the college grounds and served Nott until the latter’s death in 1866.
Although he received a substantial bequest from Nott’s estate and subsequently moved off campus, he continued to serve Nott’s widow Urania until her own death in 1866.
Viney’s portrait hangs behind the desk of the college’s current president, Stephen Ainlay and is the only portrait of African-American on campus.
Talking about her book, Hathaway shared, “It is a very interesting story and an important part of the history of Union College. I tried my best to write it in a way that was interesting for the young generation and intriguing for the older generation. I chose the name ‘A bonded Friendship,’ because the book sheds light on a time when Eliphalet Nott needed Moses Viney as much as Moses Viney needed Eliphalet Nott.”
Hathaway also talked how she wrote the book at odd hours at night, and was most moved when her grandmother read the book. “My grandmother has been ill for a while and does not normally read books, but she read my book for two days straight and told me that she was really moved by the story, which meant a lot to me.”
Hathaway also noted that she has received an amazing response from readers, which includes people from all walks of life. She has had numerous book signings so far. Some include ones that were held at Hamilton Hill Arts Center and Vale Cemetery.
Viney is buried in Vale Cemetery, and thus the book signing held there carried significant importance, as his life is celebrated by the cemetery every year.
In the future, the Black Student Union wants to do a book signing ceremony with Hathaway. She is also scheduled to present at the Black and Latino Political Caucus, Schenectady Historical Society and the Underground Railroad History Project based in Troy.
“I knew that Union College and it’s presidents had a rich and vibrant history, but I had no idea that such an interesting tale could be linked to our college. I can’t wait to read the book in it’s entirety,” says Samantha Kruzshak ’19.
“I am personally proud to go to a college where the faculty are so active outside of the classroom. I admire my professors and the staff of Union college because they always strive to always improve themselves academically and professionally,” says Sam Podell ’18, in reference to Hathaway’s recently published novel.
The book will soon be made available for students to buy at the college bookstore.