Helen Dago

October 7, 1988

Spring Street, Hudson, NY


Marcella Beigel

Marcella Beigel


In 1867 Helen’s grandfather, who was half British, married Jane Gypsum from Kinderhook. Jane died after 10 years. He then married Hattie Jackson in 1876. They moved to Spring Street, where he purchased about half the street. A Dutch family lived on the other end. They had a family farm where they grew vegetables, and raised cows and horses.  He also worked at Macy’s Lumber Yard on Union Street. They had eight children.

Helen was the youngest child of her grandfather’s youngest child. Helen's mother died when she was an infant, and her father, who was a mortician, left her in care of her grandparents, where they lived next door. Helen had Indians on her mothers’ fathers’ side that were from the Seneca Tribe in New York.

Her grandfather gave Helen’s father a piece of land on which he built a house. The first deeds for his Spring Street properties were in 1867. Gradually he acquired more. He gave each of his children a piece of land. Her grandfather had a barn with horses but used a motor car. They had electricity, running water, and a party-line telephone that was used by the neighborhood too.

Her grandfather served in the Civil War from 1861 to 1862. His first assignment was to Albemarle, a Confederate ship, but then he was transferred to the USS Hetzel and the USS Hunchback then to USS Tehsil, both Union vessels.

Helen’s grandfather was a founding member of St. John’s Methodist Church, located below 3rd  Street on Columbia Street.  That building later was the Colored Citizens Club before it was sold. After the church was disbanded it was demolished and sold. Members went to AME Zion or Shiloh Baptist.

Helen’s Uncle Earnest Williams worked at Atlas Cement in the chemical lab from 1910 - WW2.  Her father worked in the office at CA Van Deusen, a meatpacking company, on State Street, below the intersection of Greene Street on railroad tracks.

Helen has many memories of her grandparents and childhood. Her grandmother had quilting parties at their house. Her grandmother could identify weeds, and herbs. She has inherited several objects; a sprinkler bottle for ironing, wooden cigar roller, vase, tatting shuttle, stereo optic viewer with pictures, pre-Civil War plate, old canning jars, and her grandmother's original oval wooden Shaker box for spices. Her grandfather made a wooden high chair that has been used for 5 generations. Her grandmother was very “proper”, the table was always set for dinner and the children always changed their clothes before sitting at the dinner table. When Helen was young family entertainment was picnics, church socials, or going to the Electric Park in Kinderhook by trolley car. Church was an important part of family and community life. Every Sunday they attended St. John's Methodist Church, which her grandfather had founded and of which he was an elder. A trolley ran between Hudson and Albany from Spring and Glenwood Streets.

Her grandmother died when Helen was only seven and her grandfather died when she was 11. Helen then went to live with Emma, their youngest daughter. Her grandfather died from a stroke, but every night before bed he would take a teaspoon of lard and glass of water. Grandfather’s obituary read that he was a well-respected and wise man.

Helen went to University of Ghana. Her interests were history, culture, and Africa for the Africans. She discussed her University Field Trip to Elmina in Cape Coast where the captured African natives were taken, herded into an area that was dug into ground that was pitch black, and then packed into the holds of ships to be sold into slavery. Africans were abducted by other African tribes, handed over to the white man who in turn sold them into slavery. She observed that many cultural objects of Africans were plundered by Europeans. The Ashanti she visited were especially good at painting and weaving of cloth and wood carvings.

During a hospitalization in Ghana, Helen learned the most about their culture. For example; family members always stayed at the hospital with a patient. They slept on a mat next to bed, cooking in the hospital courtyard. People of Ghana are Trilingual: English, Tree (dialect), French or Spanish.

In discussion, Helen states she prefers to be called Afro-American. Americans are many races and cultures but only pure Africans should be referred to as Blacks. She doesn’t object to the term “colored” because they are of many shades and colors. Helen’s objection to the term “Black” is because she has a mixed heritage,  and being called Black negates all the other races and cultures that are also a part of her heritage.

In the past, Helen remembers when Greene Street was all residential, lined with tall trees and people looked out for each other and for the neighborhood children. Neighborhoods in and around Hudson were inter-racial without discrimination. 

Message to Future: We are all human. There are no bounds to what you can achieve if you have a goal, you work towards it.

Interviewer Bio:

Marcella Beigel

Marcella Mary Kane Schneider Beigel (Marcella Beigel) was the RSVP Director and originator of the BLACC Oral History Project. She moved to the Columbia County area at the age of 60 and was involved in many civic projects in Columbia County. She believed in the importance of the area’s black history and enlisted seniors to cull old newspapers as well as interview local residents in order to gather information on this history. She also was instrumental in creating a curriculum guide for local schools of the history that gathered in this collection.

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