Cynthia Moore Hesdra (1808-1879)
Cynthia Moore Hesdra was born in Tappan. Although she spent part of her life enslaved, she went on to operate businesses in Nyack and New York City and to own property in Nyack, New York City, and Bergen County, New Jersey. She became so wealthy that, after she died in 1879, her heirs fought over her fortune in a long series of highly publicized court cases.
Cynthia’s father, John Moore, was well known in his time as a wealthy man; he owned and operated several businesses, including a mill in Sparkill. Very little is known about Cynthia's mother, Jane, who may have been a slave (which could explain how Cynthia became enslaved). Cynthia met and married Edward D. Hesdra, the son of a white Virginia planter and a free black woman from Haiti. After their marriage, the couple purchased Cynthia's freedom and settled in New York City.
Cynthia operated a successful laundry business in New York City, eventually taking her business to Nyack, where she also accumulated property. One of them was a house that became part of the historic Underground Railroad; a historical marker at Main Street and Route 9W now stands at the house’s former location.
When Cynthia Hesdra died, the New York Times reported that she was worth more than $100,000—or more than $3 million in today’s dollars. A large part of her fortune was subsequently lost in litigation among potential heirs, and much of what was left went to charities and the state. Since 2015, Cynthia Hesdra has been honored in Nyack with a Toni Morrison Society Bench by the Road in Memorial Park.