Exhibit Feature: Timbuctoo: Gerrit Smith’s Experiment

Timbuctoo: Gerrit Smith's Experiment

In 1846, New York State enacted a law requiring African American men to own $250 worth of property to vote. To circumvent this unjust law, radical abolitionist Gerrit Smith gave away 120,000 acres of land in Essex and Franklin Counties, New York, to 3,000 free Black men, thereby qualifying them to vote.

Timbuctoo: Gerrit Smith’s Experiment presents a short video about the insurmountable challenges its settlers faced as they fought to establish their unique community amidst New York's Adirondack mountains.

Filmmaker Paul A. Miller created this exhibit component for the NYS Museum based on his documentary titled, Searching for Timbuctoo. The film, which officially airs on WAMC/PBS in June 2022, tells the history of this forgotten settlement and New York State on the brink of civil war and follows an archaeology team looking to unearth evidence of the community. 

Related Programs

Searching for Timbuctoo

Searching For Timbuctoo

View the preview for the documentary, Searching For Timbuctoo, by filmmaker Paul A. Miller.


A New York Minute in History Podcast: Discovering Timbuctoo

Devin and Lauren dive into the history of Timbuctoo, an African American settlement founded by philanthropist Gerrit Smith in response to an 1846 law requiring all Black men to own $250 worth of property in order to vote in New York state. To counter this racist policy, Smith decided to give away 120,000 acres of land to 3,000 free, Black New Yorkers, hoping to enable them to move out of cities and work the land to its required value.