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Historic Hudson Valley Wins Federal Grant to Produce Interactive Graphic Novel on Enslaved Man’s Trial

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January 13, 2022

Historic Hudson Valley (HHV) has been awarded a $399,000 Digital Projects for the Public grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to produce a new interactive graphic novel, Kofi’s Trial. The experience will tell the true story of Kofi, an enslaved man who was tried, convicted and sentenced to death during what became known as the “New York Conspiracy” in 1741.

Kofi, who was enslaved by the merchant Philipse family and is linked with the history of Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow, was accused of being one of the ringleaders of the so-called “Conspiracy,” wherein 131 enslaved Africans and 15 white, working-class colonists were charged with plotting to burn Manhattan. HHV will use the details of his trial to create a digital experience where users will be able to immerse themselves in 18th-Century New York, walk the streets that Kofi traveled, meet people in his community, see the injustices Kofi and others faced, consider the options the enslaved had for resistance and survival, and hear reenacted courtroom testimony.

“We are deeply grateful for the NEH’s steadfast investment in Historic Hudson Valley and in our dedication to sharing the history of slavery in the colonial North with the largest possible audience,” said Waddell W. Stillman, the organization’s president. “The production of Kofi’s Trial comes at a time when widely accessible, accurate digital resources about American history are more important than ever.” 

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Kofi’s Trial builds on HHV’s decades of experience presenting the history of enslavement with sensitivity and scholarly integrity, supported by guidance from its African American Advisory Board and distinguished faculty advisors. HHV has shared the story of slavery in the colonial North through public and school tours at Philipsburg Manor since 1999. In 2019, the organization elevated its digital education footprint by producing the award-winning digital interactive documentary, People Not Property (peoplenotproperty.hudsonvalley.org).

“The story of Kofi, and other enslaved New Yorkers, sheds an important light on a crucial, often-neglected part of our shared American past,” added Elizabeth L. Bradley, HHV’s Vice President of Programs and Engagement. “We are honored to have the guidance of scholars such as Leslie Harris, professor in the Department of History at Northwestern University and author of Slavery in New York; Hassan Jeffries, associate professor of African American history at Ohio State University and author of Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama’s Black Belt; and Jill Lepore, professor of American History and Harvard University and author of New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan, as we bring Kofi’s history to the wider audience it has long deserved.” 

A portion of HHV’s grant comes from NEH’s A More Perfect Union initiative, designed to demonstrate and enhance the critical role the humanities play in our nation and support projects that will help Americans commemorate the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 2026.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in Kofi’s Trial, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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