NEW YORK — In a city of showy skyscrapers climbing ever higher in their bids to catch the eye, the beguiling little brick-and-wood house at 2 White St. in Tribeca is striking precisely because of its humble scale and design.

Built in 1809 by Gideon Tucker, a school commissioner who ran a nearby plaster factory, the 2 1/2-story, Federal-style corner house is exceedingly rare as a Manhattan home whose sloping gambrel roof and original dormer windows have survived more than two centuries.

The ground floor of the little house was divided into multiple storefronts, which in the 20th century held a variety of mom-and-pop shops serving a working-class neighborhood known until the 1970s as Washington Market: a corner barbershop with a candy-striped pole, a cigar store, a liquor store, a travel agency and a footwear shop with a distinctive shoe-shaped sign suspended above West Broadway. Now combined into a single storefront, the current retail space retains raffish details of its liquor-store days, including a retro red-and-blue neon sign and period gilt window lettering advertising cognacs and cordials.

In the past 14 years, the building has become a fashion destination, as two haberdashers — first J. Crew and now Todd Snyder — have sold menswear from the evocative corner storefront.

Less well known, however, is 2 White St.’s antebellum incarnation as a destination of a very different kind: home of a prominent Black abolitionist minister and a possible stop on the Underground Railroad, the network of Black and white activists who helped African Americans flee Southern slavery before the Civil War. From 1842 until his death in 1847, the Rev. Theodore S. Wright lived in the house, helping conduct fugitives to freedom in more northern parts of the country or Canada.

Although 2 White St. was declared an individual landmark by the city Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1966, followed by the house’s inclusion in the Tribeca East Historic District in 1992, neither designation report mentioned Wright. In the years since, the minister’s obscurity has persisted. In interviews, three tenants who operated out of the corner storefront over most of the past 28 years said they had never heard of Wright or the building’s abolitionist history until informed by a reporter.


“It gives me goose bumps,” said menswear designer Todd Snyder, who opened his own boutique in the building in 2019 after overseeing the J. Crew store that opened there in 2008.

Born free in Rhode Island in 1797, Wright was educated at the Free African School in New York City and graduated in 1828 from Princeton Theological Seminary, the first African American to receive a degree from such a seminary in the United States.

As pastor of the First Colored Presbyterian Church of New York City, which congregated in a schoolroom near Duane and Hudson streets before obtaining a church on Frankfort Street, Wright denounced slavery from the pulpit and relentlessly organized the Black community in defense of its civil liberties.

In the 1830s, he served on the first executive committee of the American Anti-Slavery Society and was one of the earliest members of the New York Vigilance Committee, which aggressively aided those fleeing bondage and hired lawyers to argue in court to keep kidnappers from forcing free Black Americans into slavery. In the 1840s, while living on White Street, he served as the group’s president.

“To me, Wright is really one of the founders of the Underground Railroad,” said Eric Foner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad.” “In New York, that’s a small number of people, but they were very active — and no one could give you an exact figure, but they were very successful in helping fugitive slaves who reached the city and then sending them off to New England or to Canada where they could be free.”

By 1841, the New York Vigilance Committee claimed to have helped more than 1,000 fugitives, crucial work at a time when the city was run by a pro-Southern government and was economically intertwined with the slaveholding South through the cotton trade.


Foner said Wright probably harbored fugitives from slavery in his home.

Deeply committed to the principle of passive resistance, Wright was “an early giant of the civil rights movement — the Martin Luther King of his time,” said Tom Calarco, co-author, with Don Papson, of “Secret Lives of the Underground Railroad in New York City.”

At a Princeton event in 1836, the minister did not fight back as he was severely beaten by a white anti-abolitionist, “and Wright said later he was glad to be able to remain true to his nonviolent principles,” Calarco said.

After Wright’s death, the funeral procession down Broadway was a quarter-mile long, and the sidewalks “during the whole route” were “filled with women belonging to the colored congregations of the city,” Lewis Tappan, a leading white abolitionist, wrote in the Emancipator and Republican newspaper at the time.

Wright’s White Street home carries special significance because it is one of just 18 city sites with landmark protection that are associated with abolitionism or the Underground Railroad.

Behind the shop’s bar is a small framed portrait of Wright, nestled amid the whiskey bottles. Snyder said he did not know how it got there.


Ryan Taylor, who managed the store until January, when he left to focus on acting, said he was the one who had decided to honor Wright by displaying the portrait.

Taylor had never heard of Wright until 2019, when Rabbi Andy Bachman, executive director of nearby Jewish Community Project Downtown, stopped in and told him about the minister. Bachman gave Taylor the portrait of Wright and later led a community meeting at the Liquor Store to discuss efforts to mark abolitionism-related city sites with plaques as part of a Freedom Trail.

“Some of our African American clients didn’t understand that history,” said Taylor, 54, who is also African American. So when shoppers of any race came in and asked about Wright’s portrait, Taylor made a point of telling them why he felt they were standing on “sacred ground.”

“In this building was a very powerful man who risked his life to make a difference; he wasn’t safe, but he did it,” Taylor said, adding, “As you stand here enjoying your $40-a-glass Japanese whiskey as you’re buying a suit — and your fiancee is standing there and you’re dropping $4,000 to $10,000 on a Tuesday — there’s an opportunity to reflect and look back.”

Taylor’s voice rose to a crescendo: “You didn’t know you were coming here to get an education, but you got it, and you learned not just about the building but about humanity.”