James Canning Fuller and Lydia Fuller House
98 West Genesee Street
Skaneateles, New York
James Canning Fuller and Lydia Charleton Fuller were abolitionists, Quakers, and underground railroad activists. There are at least three documented cases of freedom seekers who stopped here. Up to 2002, it was the extant house in Onondaga County that could definitely be documented as a way station on the Freedom Trail.
James Canning Fuller, son of John Dorsett Long Fuller, a woolen draper, and Hannah Wilkinson Fuller, converted to Quakerism and married Lydia Charleton in the Bristol Monthly Meeting of Friends in England, on July 11, 1815. In the following years, they had six sons (Robert, Samuel, John, James, Bonville, Sumner) and one daughter (Hannah).. Looking for a place to raise their children, James C. Fuller came to the United States in 1833 to visit Friends in Skaneateles and to look for a farm. After his return to England, James wrote to Joseph Tallcott of Skaneateles that “I believe I saw sufficient to confirm me in the judgement [sic]that with my family, principally boys, the States hold out advantages for them which our native land does not.” Other considerations, especially high taxes and slavery. also induced him to consider the move. In terms of tax reform, “all ends in smoke and disappointment.” As for slavery, “the proposed ministerial plan is anything but satisfactory.” In Skaneateles, Fuller looked at two farms, one of them owned by the widow of Nicholas Thorne. At $10,000, he considered the price too high, but he bought the Thorne estate shortly thereafter for $9500. The following spring, on board the Pacific, he brought his entire family from Liverpool to New York City and then to Skaneateles. (ancestry.com; Fuller to Tallcott, July 29, 1833; ship list; deed book 55, 483, deed dated October 6, 1824)
The Fullers were traditional Quakers, as revealed not only in their spiritual habits but also in their dress. Even after they moved to Skaneateles, theu continued to wear English Quaker dress, even more unusual than American Quaker garb. According to one observor, a friend of James and Lydia Fuller’s daughter, “Mrs. Fuller’s bonnet, it was said by the irreverent, might have been worshipped without any infraction of the Second Commandment, as it resembled nothing in heaven or earth,” with “a cap of very fine net, very high in the crown, and very anarrow in the border, which was always neatly crimped. She wore fawn-colored merino for every day, rich silk of the same tint for visiting or meeting, a small white shawl of washing-silk in cold weather; out of doors, a large gray shawl, or a fur lined cloak.” James Fuller wore a “drab Quaker coat, which had no seam through the middle of the back, small clothes of the same color, buttoned at the knee with three buttons, and buckled shoes—never boots.” (Mrs. Beachamp, 1933)
In England, Fuller had been an abolitionist. Traveling home from his first trip to the U.S., he remarked on the differing views of the passengers “on many subjects, particularly slavery, as there were six Southern State men, staunch advocates for slavery yet strange to say admitted its injustice and unrighteousness.” Beginning in the late 1830s, James Canning Fuller took an active role in the emerging abolitionist movement in the U.S.. In 1838, he was secretary of the new Skaneateles Anti-Slavery Society, which sent anti-slavery petitions to Congress and adopted a resolution calling for immediate emancipation. (Skaneateles Columbian, February 7, 1838) In 1839, Fuller seconded an anti-slavery resolution not, he said, “as a member of the Societies Friends [Society of Friends] but as a MAN.” In October of that year, the Colored American noted that he had been appointed by the New York State Anti-Slavery Society as a delegate to the World Anti-Slavery Convention to be held in London in 1840. (Colored American, May 18, 1839, October 5, 1839)
Not everyone appreciated Fuller’s abolitionist views. In 1839, he published a notice in the Skaneateles Columbian, giving “most sincere thanks to those friends who so kindly and voluntarily offered and preservingly conducted him to his home, when surrounded by a tumultuous mob Third day evening last; and he sincerely trusts that the mud and missiles which were so abundantly showered on the occasion may make both himself and friends more determined in the good cause.” (April 18, 1839, quoted in Spain and Anklin, 61)
James C. Fuller did little to deflect hostility. Even his best friends sometimes found his personality abrasive. In a series of letters in 1841 and 1842, Gerrit Smith chided Fuller for his “egotistical and clamorous contention for the prevalence of his own peculiar views.” “James C. Fuller,” wrote Smith in the third person, “has talents, information, integrity & wealth capable of making him . . .the influential and useful man that he is. What does he lack? It is a strife-hating and a peace-love spirit.” (Smith to Fuller, October 29, 1841) By spring, they had patched up their differences. Smith assured Fuller that “we will drop what is past, but let me assure you, that, for the future, I shall behave no better. If I see any thing in your temper or manner, which I think is wrong, I shall tell you of it. In other words, I shall be your friend. I shall not tattle about you, but I shall go straight to yourself with my complaint. And then, my dear James, I wish you to deal just as faithfully with me, for I have more faults than you have.” (Smith to Fuller, March 5, 1842)
By 1839, the Fullers had acquired such a reputation for anti-slavery activism that, according to Franklin Chase, local historian, they were immediately suspected of hiding Harriet Powell, a freedom seeker who escaped from her Mississippi owners while they were visiting Syracuse. (Chase, ?)
The first well-documented case of the Fullers’ underground railroad work came in 1841, when James C. Fuller went to Kentucky to purchase a man and wife and their five children. Lydia Fuller described the event in detail in a letter to her son Samuel, then in England:
Thy father left for the South West (Kentucky) the same day thou embarked. Such a coincidence of circumstance was calculated to arouse thoughtfulness, & his safe return demands our gratitude. He was absent 26 days. Thou mayst remember the journey was anticipated, tho the object was not developed before thou left. Ann Fitzhugh, Gerritt’s wife, & her brother each inherited a slave. The latter left for the South taking with him the man, & Ann consented the woman should accompany them, an attachment being formed between them. Fitzhugh became embarrassed & they were sold. By this time they have 5 children, one a poor weakly baby, 2 stout girls, the oldest about 14, very interesting, making themselves as free as tho they had long been inmates with us. One of them remarked she wishes more gravy to the chicken. Her mother said she might go down & fetch it, there was plenty below. Her reply was she would rather do without it than fetch it. The other two are boys. Ann Smith became uneasy in consenting to the woman’s leaving & was very desirous to emancipate them. They father undertook this errand of humanity & succeeded in bringing them safely. The amount paid for them was 3500 dollars. (Lydia Fuller to Samuel Fuller, September 7, 1841. Punctuation added.)
This family was probably that of Samuel and Harriet Russell. Gerrit Smith wrote a letter to the Russells on October 1, 1841, explaining the terms of their new-found freedom. He would give them a small house to live in, rent-free until April 1, plus ten dollars. Then they were to get employment and be self-sustaining. By spring, Gerrit could report to James Fuller that “Samuel & his family are well, and they are highly esteemed by us & our neighbors.” A daughter, Malvina Russell, stayed with the Smith household into the twentieth century. (Smith to Rusells, October 1, 1841; Smith to Fuller, March 5, 1842; Sernett, 169-71)
One of this family may be the same person that Lydia and James Fuller’s daughter-in-law later met in Brooklyn, where “an old colored man” “was delighted to find one of the family to whom he owed his freedom.” The story later appeared in a news article attributed to Mary Elizabeth Beauchamp, quoting Mrs. Blair.
Long ago, in the days of slavery, Mr. Fuller, in one of his Southern trips, bought him and his family. Black people were not then allowed to ride in the same public conveyance with white men, and Mr. Fuller had to solve the problem. He was the man to do this. In his characteristic way he bought the stage coach, horses and all, and journeyed northward with his proteges. (“Early Quakers,” 1933)
About this time, Fuller was also involved in raising money for the British American Institute of Science and Industry, to be established at the Dawn Community near Chatham, Ontario, a have for freedom seekers. As reported by Hiram Wilson in a letter written to the Friend of Man in December 1841, Fuller gave $800 to this community and agreed to serve as one of the six members (three black and three white) of its first board of trustees. (printed January 11, 1842; Winks, 180)
In January 1843. Martha Wright wrote from Auburn, New York, to her sister, Lucretia Mott, in Philadelphia, about another freedom seeker who went to the Fullers’ home. An African American man appeared in the Wright’s kitchen with a note recommending him to the care of James C. Fuller and others of the “spiritually minded.” In return for supper and a night’s lodging on the settee in the kitchen, and fifty cents for a ride, he filled the furnace with wood before leaving, probably for the Fuller’s house, the next morning. (Wright to Mott, January 11, 1843)
James Canning Fuller died on November 25, 1847. He was buried in the Quaker section of Lake View Cemetery, across the street from his house, on land that he himself had donated. Two years after his death, Frederick Douglass paid him high tribute. Coming to Skaneateles in 1849, Douglass noted that
a large audience greeted me, and gave me a respectful hearing. Skaneateles has greatly improved in tone, on the subject of Slavery, since I visited that town, four years ago. It had the appearance of a real slave-holding town, in which the black man could not enter, without being assailed by thoughtless boys, and brutal young men, who seemed to take delight in manifesting disrespect and contempt, for what in sheer rudeness they called a nigger. We passed through the village this time, without meeting any of the usual marks of semi-barbarism, that formerly distinguished that town. Much of this change was wrought by that fast, faithful, and noble friend of the slave, now gone to his rest, James Canning Fuller, who in early anti-slavery times was several times mobbed on account of his abolition principles and practice. But he is now gone to his rest. It was sad to be there without his presence, to cheer and encourage me in the good work to which he was devoted; yet it was grateful, to perceive that what he achieved lived after him. (North Star, April 13, 1849)
Lydia Fuller continued the family’s anti-slavery work. One neighbor remembered meeting Lucy Stone, abolitionist and woman’s rights lecturer, at this house. George Thompson, British abolitionist and Member of Parliament, visited here on his lecture tour of the U.S. in 1851. (Beauchamp, 1933)
Lydia Fuller also continued to use the house on the underground railroad. Passage of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850 mandated that U.S. marshals and commissioners assist in capturing accused fugitives. It also imposed stiff fines on those who helped freedom seekers escape. In 1851, abolitionists in Syracuse, including Dr. James Fuller, son of Lydia and James C. Fuller, successfully rescued a freedom seeker named William “Jerry” Henry and sent him to Kingston, Ontario. Fearing reprisals, many African Americans fled to Canada. One of these was Rev. Jermain Loguen, a freedom seeker from Tennessee who had settled with his wife and children in Syracuse. Loguen left his horse and carriage at the Fuller house, while Sumner Fuller, another son of James C. and Lydia Fuller, drove him west. In 1852, Loguen returned to Syracuse. Taking the train to Skaneateles Junction to retrieve his horse and carriage, he was noticed by two abolitionist women from Ithaca, who feared he would be arrested by police officers on board. They left the train at Auburn and sent a telegram to Syracuse, where abolitionists immediately rang church bells and met at the Congregational Church to plan a rescue. In fact, Loguen took the stage from the train station to the Fuller house, where friends found him peacefully eating dinner. (Hahn)
Lydia Fuller died on December 12, 1857. She was buried beside her husband in Lake View Cemetery. Her obituary noted that “she was a woman of strong and active mind, and excellent judgment, and exercised considerable influence in the society in which she moved; and her influence was always exerted for the welfare of the race and the elevation of humanity.” (Skaneateles Democrat, December 16, 1857)
Local tradition suggests that the Fuller house had a “blind room” in the cellar, ostensibly to hide freedom seekers, but not such room has been found.
In addition to abolitionist visitors who came to see the Fullers, other famous people were also associated with this house. In 1824, General Lafayette drove by on his way back to New York City for his travels in the west. William E. Thorne, then a seven-year-old boy living in the house, remembered how they had put tallow candles in every window to welcome Lafayette as he passed by. Impressed by such a display, the General opened the door of the stage coach and waved his handkerchief at the family. (Thorne in Leslie, 184) In 1935, Eleanor Roosevelt also toured the house. (“Mrs. Roosevelt,” 1935)
The James C. and Lydia C. Fuller House is a remarkable example of a very well-preserved Federal-style structure. It stands west of the main downtown section of the Village of Skaneateles on Lot 13 in Block19, on the north side of West Genesee Street, just opposite Lakeview Cemetery and east of Fuller Street. It is a five-bay house with a central doorway surrounded by sidelights and a fanlight. Delicate tracery imitates ovals, urns, and (in the center of the fanlight) lines of longitude A portico with attenuatedTuscan columns fronts the doorway. A balustrade, unusual for this area, sits on top of the portico. Its vertical supports consist visually of three parts, gathered in the middle, perhaps imitating sheaves of grain, while urn-like turned decorations topping three posts (two at the corners and one in the middle).
On the west side, two quarter round windows are in the gable. On the east side, a two-story portico includes three slender columns with modified Ionic capitals and square bases, topped by a full pediment with a half-round window. From the east, the rear wing stretches north and retains what was probably its original five-bay façade. A porch was probably added in the twentieth century. Brick chimneys are at either end of the main structure.Windows are double sash with six-over-six panes. On the east, glass doors with three panes each open onto the portico. Foundations throughout are Onondaga limestone in a random ashlar pattern, punctuated with grills. The house is covered with 5-inch wooden clapboards.
Inside, floor boards are 6-inch to 8-inch white pine. Although the interior and part of the exterior back wing experienced significant changes in the 1870s or 1880s, much of the paneled woodwork, including doors, window panels in the front parlors, and woodwork in the hall and stairs, still remains inside. Foundations of a barn are visible in the back yard. The garage is under the house. (Tallman; HABS; conversation with Regina Hannan)
A. Construction Chronology
Like many buildings which appear at first glance to be all of one period, however, this one contains puzzles about its chronology. The first part of it, now the back wing, was probably constructed in 1815 for John Briggs, a Revolutionary War veteran. In 1817, Briggs sold the property to Harry and Clarinda Briggs (Book T, folio 112), who sold it to Nicholas Thorne in 1824 (Book EE, 83) According to E.N. Leslie, Thorne hired carpenters Peter Thompson and John Billing to build the front section of the house. After Thorne’s death in 1832, James Canning Fuller, a British-born Quaker, bought the house and 156 acres in 1834 for $9500 (Deed Book 55, 483). In 1836, Fuller published a Letter to the Farmers of Somerset in which he described his new farm, with its large house, barn, stables, cider house, sheep house, granary, wagon house, field barn, and workman’s cottage. “I know of no farm within several miles of my late residence at Sidcot [County of Somerset, England] that would compare with it,” he wrote.
There are about 30 acres of wood-land, and 10 to 12 of orchards of apple, peach, cherry, and plums. On the farm is the house in which we dwell, in front it is 48 feet, 6 inches; length of the hall, 51-1/2 feet, and 8 feet, 3 inches wide: parlor on each side of the entrance door, 18 feet, by 18 feet, 10 inches; another room, 18 feet, by 13 feet 6 inches; upstairs kitchen, 18 feet by 12 feet 8 inches; lower kitchen, 17 feet 8 inches, by 12 feet; cellar, with milk-house, and pantry, extending the length and breadth of the house; seven bed rooms on the second story, with good garret over; wood-house, adjoining the dwelling, 35 feet long, 28 feet, 9 inches wide; with floor level the first story of the house, so that firewood may be got for either kitchen, or parlour; without much, if any, exposure to the weather; and over the upper wood-house, a good chamber for keeping apples, or other fruit; a barn 39 feet by 30 feet, with four stables attached, and a large open shed; cider house, 42 feet by 28 feet, with mill and press; a large sheep house; a granary or corn house, with a waggon house &c. Field barn, 28 feet by 53 feet, one part of it an excellent stable; a cottage for a workman’s residence. In my dwelling-house are 52 sash windows, 31 of them having green venetian folding blinds. (Fuller, 17)
In 1836, James Fuller did not mention the two-story east portico, but it appeared in an 1848 drawing by William M. Beachamp. (Beachamp) Sometime during this period, they also installed stoves. As one young neighbor recalled, “The family tried for some years to keep up their English habits of living, in utterly changed surroundings, to their own discomfort. After shivering through many seasons, they gave in to the necessity of stoves, at a time when heating furnaces were unknown in our neighborhood.” (Miss Beachamp, 1933) The Fullers also bought a second working farm, a mile-and-a-half from this one, of 137 acres. (Fuller, 18) The Fullers owned this house until Lydia Fuller died in 1857.
In 1861, James Allen Root purchased the house from Lydia Fuller’s estate. He established a nursery there, and people began to call the house “Evergreen Manor.” (Spain and Anklin, 129) A succession of families owned the house in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One or more of them made some changes in the building. In 1923, Carl Tallman noted that “extensive interior alterations, affecting also the exterior of the rear wing, were made about forty or fifty years ago [1870s or 1880s].” This may be the same time that the front porch was repaired, adding blocky capitals to the freestanding columns so they no longer match the engaged columns. (Tallman, 74)
In 1934, Carrie and Thomas Meacham invited the Historic American Buiilding Survey to document the house (HABS NY 5-S-3). The west wing with French doors on the first floor may have been added in the 1940s. (Conversation with Regina Hannan.) John and Jean Marino operated` a bed and breakfast in the house from 1989 until they sold it to John and Regina Hannan in 1996, who are restoring the house to its historic period. (Deed Book 4256, page 248; conversation with Regina Hannan)
While the Fullers originally purchased 156 acres of land with this property, the surrounding acreage has been gradually sold off for development. Today, the lot includes slightly more than one acre.
Fuller, James C. to Joseph Tallcott, July 29, 1833. Courtesy of Jack Fuller. Original in possession of Catharine Barnes, Skaneateles, September 1984.
Fuller, Lydia, to Samuel Fuller, September 7, 1841, courtesy of Jack Fuller.
Smith, Gerrit to James C. Fuller, October 29, 1841; November 12, 1841; November 16, 1841; March 5, 1842. Smith Papers, Bird Library, Syracuse University.
Wright, Martha, to Lucretia Mott, January 11, 1843. Garrison Papers. Smith College.
Fuller, James. Letter to the Farmers of Smerset. Bristol: John Wright, 1836.
“Map of James C. Fuller’s farm Situate in the Town of Skaneateles, County of Onondaga, Surveyed August 13-14, 1834 by Samuel H. Goff [?]
Map of Skaneateles, 1856.
Beachamp, Mary Elizabeth. “Early Quakers of Skaneateles.” Speech given in 1896 and published in the Syracuse Herald Journal, January 12, 1897. Republished by Humphreys, F.J. Skaneateles Press, June 8, 1933.
Colored American, October 5, 1839, May 18, 1839.
“Death of Mrs. James Canning Fuller.” Skaneateles Democrat. December 16, 1857.
Douglass, Frederick. North Star, April 13, 1849.
“Skaneateles Anti-Slavery Society.” Skaneateles Columbian, February 7, 1838.
Wilson, Hiram to Friend of Man, January 11, 1842.
Bailey, Darlene. “James Canning Fuller of Skaneateles, New York, and his House at 98 West Genesee Street.” Paper for History Department, SUNY Oswego, 2001.
___________. National Register Nomination Draft for Fuller House. 2001.
Chase, Franklin. Syracuse and Its Environs: A History. 3 vols. New York and Chicago: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1924.
Freeland, Rebecca. “Anti-Slavery and Underground Railroad Activities in Skaneateles, New York.” Paper for African American Studies Department, Syracuse University, n.d.
Hahn, Gladys. “Anti-Slavery and Underground R.R. Activities in Skaneateles, N.Y.” n.d.
Leslie, E.N. Skaneateles, History of Its Earliest Settlement and Reminiscences of Later Times. New York: Andrew Kellogg, 1902.
“Mrs. Roosevelt Dines at Evergreen Manor.” Skaneateles Press, February 21, 1935.
Onondaga Landmarks. Syracuse, 1975.
Sernett, Milton. North Star Country. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2002.
Spain, Barbara Bendall and Karen Richards Anklin. Skaneateles. . .Glimpses of the Past. Moravia, New York, 1987.
Tallman, Carl. C. “Colonial Architecture in Central New York: The Root House of Skaneateles, Onondaga County.” The Architectural Review VI:5 (May 1918), 73-74.
“Thomas Merriam House.” Historic American Building Survey. HABS NY 5-S-3. 1934. Available online at www.loc.gov.
Winks, Robin, Blacks in Canada.
Both this building and its association with the underground railroad are extremely well-documented.
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