16 April 2024 • Research Gillespie '24 Debuts "Four Million of Our Brethren" Display By Ella Weiss '24

In a senior capstone project, Lucas Gillespie ’24 details the history of enslavement and emancipation in Ontario County. 

Lucas Gillespie '24 

“Four Million of Our Brethren” tracks the history of enslavement and emancipation in Ontario County, N.Y., exploring untold stories through a curated collection of archival materials.

Lucas Gillespie ’24, who created the display as part of his Critical Museum Studies minor capstone project, says the exhibit pays “tribute to New York’s forgotten and oppressed identities, the men and women who were brought here against their will and lived in bondage under a system of institutional exploitation. While we cannot repeat the past, we can use its shortcomings to move forward as a region, a state, and a country.”

Learn more about the exhibit.  

Gillespie spent the fall semester conducting research at Historic Geneva, Ontario County Historical Society and the HWS Archives. The documents he compiled range from physical photographs, to certificates, obituaries, advertisements and excerpts. With Historic Geneva, he worked alongside museum and archive staff to transcribe a 19th-century diary while also contributing photographs for Historic Geneva’s “Geneva Then and Now” exhibit.

Through the exhibit, Gillespie situates his audience physically and mentally in this era in the Finger Lakes Region.

“When we think of slavery and its relation to New York, often what is discussed is either colonial enslavement efforts by Dutch settlers, or abolitionist efforts which took place in Western New York by the likes of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass,” he explains. “While this information is important to the history of the state, it was important for me to show that the Finger Lakes was not just a region of freedom, but one which played an instrumental role in keeping the institution of enslavement alive, even past 1827 (when New York outlawed slavery, due in part to gradual emancipation laws).”

Gillespie is a history major with a focus in American history, and a museum studies minor. He is in the process of completing an Honors thesis examining the ways in which New Yorkers understood the Erie Canal during its construction between 1817 and 1825. Gillespie studied in Budapest, Hungary during his junior year and has an upcoming photo exhibit in the HWS Center for Global Education about his semester abroad.