The Battle over the Ex-Slave’s Fortune: The Story of Cynthia Hesdra

Few people are familiar with the name of Cynthia Hesdra. She was born a slave in the North During her lifetime though, she owned a successful laundry business and real estate in New York and New Jersey. She was also involved in the historic “underground railroad” station in Nyack, NY. She died at the age of 71 with a fortune estimated at around &100,000. By today’s standards she was a millionaire. Her family fought over her estate in a series of trials, which included a precedent setting trial involving handwriting analysis. The story of Cynthia Hesdra provided insight into the economic contributions of blacks in the North prior to the twentieth century. This article examines the life and times of Cynthis Hesdra and other blacks during her lifetime, using historic census data, court records, historic newspaper articles, and other sources. Initially, Cynthia Hesdra’s estate went to her husband, Edward, but the state would eventually take ownership of the ex-slave’s fortune.