Joseph Hodge: Buffalo’s First Black Settler
Joseph Hodge escaped from slavery in the late 1700a and is believed to be Buffalo’s first non-Native American settler. He arrived a few years before many of the White settlers moved into modern day Buffalo. Hodge lived among and bartered with the Seneca. He married an Indian woman and he and his wife would go on to operate a trading post and open one of Buffalo’s first taverns. Hodge also found work as a successful interpreter, and was known to have been fluent in the Seneca language. At a time when many African American were not allowed to learn to read or write, Hodge was a bilingual speaker and died a successfulbusiness man.
In 1816 there were 16 Black residents (nine listed as slaves) included among a Buffalo population of 400. By 1828 that number had grown to about 60. The Vine Street AME Church, the Michigan Street Baptist Church, the Colored Presbyterian Church and St. Philip’s Episcopal Church became the cornerstones of activity for a free life in the urban north for African Americans.
At the beginning of he Civil War the African American population in Buffalo numbered about 500; most were fugitive slaves or their descendants. Proximity to Canada – and to points West – made the City of Buffalo an important Underground Railroad station.
At the turn of the 20th century Black people flooded into the city from Alabama, Arkansas and Georgia, from Tennessee and the Carolinas. During the first wave of the Great Migration they found plentiful work in the steel mills and factories and as domestics. (Source: /the Buffalo Niagara African American Heritage Guide)