A Black man, a white woman, and suffrage in 1850s Albany


A Black man, a white woman, and suffrage in 1850s Albany


In New York it is said that activists come to Albany, not from it. True or not, in the 1850s and today Albany has produced some truly marvelous people.

Among them: Lucretia Mott’s cousin by marriage Lydia Mott, and an African-American businessman named William Topp. Thread.

New York runs 400 miles from west to east. In the 1830’s and 1840’s, activists for abolition, women’s property rights, temperance and more criss-crossed the state via the Erie Canal. From its completion in 1825, the canal carried goods and people in both directions.

Radical newspapers, books, and lecturers spread ideas throughout the state and to points west and south. Activists from towns like Seneca Falls and bigger cities like Rochester & Syracuse could reach the state capitol in about a week - faster and more comfortably than by wagon.

The state convention I described yesterday - Albany, 1854, February, freezing - was co-led by local leaders Lydia Mott and William Topp, and attended by activists from around the state.

Lydia Mott was a backbone of suffrage in NY for more than 30 years.

Lydia organized state and national conventions, collected funds, coordinated lobbying, and housed visiting activists. Susan B Anthony was a close friend and always stayed at Mott's home when she was in town. The house still stands, on Columbia Street in downtown Albany.

So central was Lydia Mott to the movement that in 1855 the New York Evening News lamented that the women’s rights movement needed some new recruits, beside the same-old, same-old: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lydia Mott.

Lydia was closely connected to William Topp, an African-American man who was born free in Albany in 1813. (Remember, slavery persisted in NY until 1817.)

By his late 20s Topp was a prominent community leader, active in the Underground RR & the American Anti-Slavery Society.

He was a merchant tailor with an upscale shop - when most clothing was made-to-measure - and became the wealthiest African-American in Albany. Lydia Mott owned a gentleman's shop near his - they probably met through a combination of business and abolitionist interests.

Lydia and her sister Abigail were very close to Frederick Douglass. They were governesses to his daughter Rosetta, who lived with them in Albany from age 6-11.

Topp was active in state & national Colored Conventions, as well as Women’s Rights Conventions. @CCP_org

Besides Douglass, we don’t know of many Black men who were deeply committed to women’s rights in this early period, so William Topp’s name matters a lot.

After her sister died, Lydia grew even closer to William. When Af-Am abolitionist William Cooper Nell visited Albany in 1852, he stopped in to see Topp. Finding him not at home, he went to Lydia Mott’s - “and there to my agreeable surprise found Mr. Topp and his whole family.”

Tragically, Wm Topp died of tuberculosis at 44. He willed $100 to the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator. The same disease claimed Lydia Mott many years later. Susan B Anthony cancelled her speeches to spend a month nursing Lydia to her death in 1875.

Upon Lydia’s death, Susan B said, “There has passed out of my life today, the one, next to my own family, who has been the nearest and dearest friend to me for over thirty years.”

The relationship among these giants is contained in an amazing artifact at the Library of Congress.

Wm Topp gave Lydia Mott an inscribed copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. 20 years later, Lydia gave it to Susan B. When Susan gave her papers to LOC, she annotated the book with a long note about Wm Topp - it’s hard to make out, but she begins by calling him “a splendid man.”

Thank you Albany for giving the movements these great activists, and @AlbanyMuskrat Julie O’Connor and Friends of Albany History for preserving their stories. #Suffrage100 


Daily Suffragist






Daily Suffragist, “A Black man, a white woman, and suffrage in 1850s Albany,” Daily Suffragist, accessed December 4, 2023, https://dailysuffragist.omeka.net/items/show/199.

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