Stephen Myers was born about 1800 into slavery on in Hoosick, NY. He eventually lived with Dr. Jonathan Eights, father of historic artist James Eights, who resided at 92 Pearl Street. By age 18 Stephen became a free man. In 1827 Stephen married Harriet Johnson of Troy, daughter of Abraham and Catherine Johnson who family operated a sloop along the Hudson River, which transported cargo between Albany and New York City. Together they had five children. They lived in a variety of locations in Albany, the only one which still stands is at 194 Livingston Avenue, which is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, the New York State Underground Railroad Heritage Trail, and the on the National Park Service National Network to Freedom.
Starting in the 1830s, Harriet and Stephen began their efforts assisting slaves through the Underground Railroad, possibly with the sloop. In 1842 he began to publish in the Elevator, “a short-lived abolitionist sheet.” Shortly after they founded the Northern Star and Freeman’s Advocate, an “anti-slavery and reform newspaper” for local free blacks. Their home, as well as the office of the newspaper, were used as a respite location for slaves from the South. The Myers garnered the reputation for having the “best-organized section of the Underground Railroad in New York State” which was noted by New York City abolitionist leader, David Ruggles as well as earning praise by Frederick Douglas.
By the end of the 1840s, Stephen served as a leader for the anti-slavery movement where he was a member of the Albany Vigilance Committee, an abolitionist group where he served as General Agent and Superintendent. When Congress passed the Compromise of 1850, it included the Fugitive Slave Law, which made the abolitionist activity more dangerous with escaped slaves seeking refuge in Canada. However, Myers continued to be vocal supporter serving on the executive committee member for the first American labor union, the American League of Colored Laborers.
In the 1850s he established another paper the The Telegraph and [Temperance] Journal in which he advocated for Black voting rights in New York as well as affordable housing. He joined the Albany Suffrage Club and the New York State Suffrage Association which lobbied state legislators to amend the constitution which required blacks to pay a $250 property tax when buying a home. In 1855, Stephen attended the National Convention of Colored People and incorporated their paper Frederick Douglass’ Paper.
Stephen also saw the benefit of economic development of in establishing a black run community upstate, and was a trustee of the Florence Farming and Lumber Association, in Oneida, NY. Similar to Weeksville in Brooklyn, it was intended to be a community where “black people could live and work… and make a living for themselves.” However, the area was abandoned by 1860 as cultivating the land was difficult, isolated from markets where residents could sell their products lack of adequate water supply.
Throughout his life, Stephen worked several positions from Lake George to New York City. For some time, he worked at the Delevan House, a temperance hotel located on Broadway. Stephen worked as their headwaiter and was a popular destination for abolitionists to stay. Here Stephen was able to give escaped slaves jobs as well as lobby those in power.
Harriet died on September 2, 1865, around the age of 57. Stephen died on February 13, 1870, and buried in the family lot. Stephen and Harriet Myers Middle School in Albany is named in their honor.
“We Devote all our time to care of the oppressed who came among us. Our pay is small, but yet we are willing to continue to do what we can for them. We have arrivals every few days from southern oppression, and forward them to the new depot…” Stephen Myers, 1860