An unlikely union between a slave and a college president focus of new novel

Publication Date

Two of the College’s better-known historical figures are its longtime president, Eliphalet Nott, and Mosey Viney, a runaway slave from Maryland who escaped to Schenectady on the Underground Railroad.

Viney was a coachman, messenger and constant companion of Nott. It was Nott, an early opponent of slavery even though he himself once owned a slave, who eventually secured Viney’s freedom when his former master attempted to return him to bondage.

And Viney helped care for the ailing Nott in the twilight of his 62-year presidency until his death in January 1866.

The relationship between the two men is the subject of a new novel, “A Bonded Friendship: Moses and Eliphalet,” by Gretchel Hathaway, dean of Diversity and Inclusion.

Hathaway has long been fascinated by the relationship between the men. She spent the past three years researching and writing her first novel, combing through the archives in Special Collections, the Schenectady County Historical Society and other places.

Her first book signing is at 7 p.m. Dec. 16 at the Hamilton Hill Arts Center, 409 Schenectady Street, Schenectady.

What drew you to the story of Eliphalet Nott and Moses Viney?

A local faculty at Schenectady High School, Neil Yetwin, along with Dr. Bernard McEvoy and Mr. Walter Simpkins, introduced me to the relationship between these two men. Yetwin is an amazing story teller and has been on our campus and in the community leading discussions on Moses Viney. McEvoy and Simpkins have provided the community with a rendition of Moses Viney at the Schenectady Juneteenth Celebration sponsored by the Hamilton Hill Arts Center and located in the Ancestral Plot at the Vale Cemetery.

What did you learn from writing the book?

I learned that when I can't sleep it means I need to write. Most of the writing occurred after 3 a.m. and before 6 a.m. Although I've been living with the story in my soul, putting pen to paper came after I gave a talk at the Underground Railroad Conference in Troy and my young daughter and her friend said I needed to write it in a book that they would read. So the audience for the book is ageless.

Did you discover anything surprising?

I went to Maryland to get a better understanding from Carolina Tourism and Historical Society about Moses Viney and the plantation he lived on. Their 'slave escape story' enhanced my understanding of the treacherous terrain.

Why are you careful to label the book historical fiction?

There are a lot of historical facts in the book, mainly from biographical writings about and speeches given by Dr. Nott and supportive information about Mrs. (Urania) Nott. There is a series of articles published about Viney. But we have little details about their daily lives, the marital relationship of Viney and the life that Viney spent in Canada. Through research on Canadian life, slavery life in Maryland and African-American marriages of the free and those forced into slavery, a story emerges that is at times frightening, challenging and loving. As a clinical social worker, my hope is that the reader takes the time to understand the personalities of each character and the difficult decisions they needed to make during this era and in their lifetime.

What would be an example of something you fictionalized in the book?

The love story of Moses and Anna --- Anna played a significant role in Moses' life, and the fact that they had no birth children during an era where having children was sometimes a necessity may have produced emotional challenges for the Vineys.

What do you hope people take away from reading your story?

There are many themes throughout the book that relate to the history of slavery, including the biblical notations, family bonds that were broken, and the concerns of having children. Other areas focus on how a relationship can flourish and have challenges when tough decisions need to be made, such as from father to son, employer to employee, partner to partner.