Sunday, May 25, 2014

Albany's Early Pinksterfest

The tulips are fading, but lilacs and azaleas are blooming furiously in Upstate New York. Azaleas played a prominent part in the late 18th-early 19th century precursor to Albany's Tulip Festival -- the Pinksterfest. Pinksters are a variety of azalea that bloom in late spring. My pinkster or azalea looks like this:

Azalea, also known as Pinkster

The pinkster festival began as a Dutch religious celebration to celebrate Pentecost, but later became a more secular and multicultural event, with dancing, music and food, attended by local Native Americans and in particular by the African-American population of the capital city and its environs.

Today I can look out of my office window onto Albany's Academy Park, where the festivities took place: booths were set up where sweets and cider were sold; drumming and dancing went on into the night, and for a whole week the Master of Ceremonies, Adam Blake, a servant of the Patroon Van Rensselaer's family presided over the fun and games. The occasion was an opportunity for enslaved Africans to taste a few days of independence.

Unfortunately for the revelers, in April 1811, the Common Council of the City of Albany passed an ordinance banning the festival, supposedly because of the excesses of rowdiness and drunkenness associated with it. However, some researchers today believe that it is more likely that those who still owned slaves felt that the Pinksterfest was an opportunity for large numbers of slaves to congregate, with the possible risk that that may have represented.

The prohibition was symbolically annulled by the Albany Common Council in 2011, two hundred years after its banning.

I love the view from my office window, looking down over Academy Park and farther away to the Hudson River, but I did not know until now that this historic park is where this festival was held. The view will be even more meaningful for me now.


Sources:

Hess, Peter, People of Albany: The First 200 Years. Albany Steel, Inc., Albany, NY; 2009

Pinkster Resource Page, New York State Museum: http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/albany/res/pinkster.html#fest

Pinkster Celebration, Historic Hudson Valley Web site: http://www.hudsonvalley.org/education/pinkster

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