Sally Roesch Wagner, Director

Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation

One of the proudest acts of my life; one that I look back upon with most satisfaction is that when Rev. Mr. Loguen [Syracuse conductor of the Underground Railroad] of this city went to the village of my residence to ascertain the names of those upon whom run-away slaves might depend for aid and comfort on the way to Canada, I was one of the two solitary persons who gave him their names.  Myself and one gentleman of Fayetteville, were the only two persons who dared thus publicly defy “the law” of the land, and for humanity’s sake render ourselves liable to fine and imprisonment in the county jail, for the crime of feeding the hungry, giving shelter to the oppressed, and helping the black slaves on to freedom.[1]

Matilda Joslyn Gage wrote the above in her newspaper, The National Citizen and Ballot Box, in 1880.  Eight years later, at the International Council of Women, Gage reflected on her childhood introduction to abolition. 

 …I think I was born with a hatred of oppression, and, too, in my father’s house, I was trained in the anti-slavery ranks, for it was one of the stations on the underground railway, and a home of anti-slavery speakers.  Well I remember the wonder with which, when a young girl, I looked upon Abby Kelly, when she spoke of the wrongs of black women and black men.  Then I remember, before the Round House in my city of Syracuse was finished, a large and enthusiastic anti-slavery convention was held there, attended by thousands of people who all joined in singing William Lloyd Garrison’s song, “I’m an Abolitionist and glory in the Name,” and as they rang out that glorious defiance against wrong, it thrilled my very heart, and I feel it echoing to this day.[2]


Helen Leslie Gage, Matilda’s oldest daughter, noted that one of her “earliest remembrances is that of a black man on his knees before her mother, thanking her for a chance of life and liberty.”[3]  Julia Gage Carpenter, another daughter, also asserted to a newspaper reporter that the home had been an Underground Railroad station and that her mother continued to shelter slaves until the close of the Civil War, despite threats that she should discontinue the practice.[4]  In a biographical sketch of her mother in her personal scrapbook, Julia wrote,  “Mother was inveterate worker in the abol. move. & her home was ‘An Underground RR Station’ where runaway slaves were helped on their way to freedom.” [5]


Gage’s niece, Blanche Weaver Baxter and her daughter Ramona Baxter (Bowden) told a newspaper reporter that:

-    Mrs. Gage was a noted abolitionist and her house was a station on the Underground Railway.

-         She personally raised an amount sufficient to equip the 122nd regiment with their colors, and presented the flag to them.

-         Mrs. Gage was noted as being the only person in Fayetteville to affix her signature to a statement saying that she would give aid to any slave who was seeking to gain his liberty and for that reason was under constant surveillance by the authorities. [6]


Grandniece Ramona Baxter Bowden, who worked for the Syracuse Post Standard quoted town historian Barbara Rivette in a 1969 article:

Mrs. Rivette pointed out not only was Mrs. Gage a fighter for the franchise, but also an ardent abolitionist, her house on E. Genesee St. in Fayetteville was a station in the Underground Railroad. [7]


Matilda Jewell Gage, granddaughter and namesake, who was 12 when her grandmother died, told an interviewer, “Dr. Joslyn [Matilda Joslyn Gage’s father] was very much interested in abolition and his home was one of the centers on the Underground Railroad and also when Matilda Joslyn Gage went to live in Fayetteville, her home was a station on the Underground Railroad.” [8]

Lucy Seward Noble, a prominent Fayetteville resident and contemporary of Gage identified the Gage house as an Underground Railroad site in her “Reminiscences”:

The cellar which has been rebuilt, was not much more than a hole in the ground, but it was often the over-night lodging for some escaped Negro on his way to Canada and freedom - and recently, Mr. Bilyea, the present owner found the trapdoor leading to this cellar.  It is in front of the fireplace in back parlor.[9]

Matilda named her son, Thomas Clarkson, after a famous English abolitionist.[10]  When the Gage family moved to Fayetteville in 1854, their house at 210 East Genesee Street “quickly became a gathering place for workers in the anti-slavery, temperance and woman suffrage causes,” according to Barbara Rivette, historian for the town of Manlius and village of Fayetteville.[11]  Wendell Phillips, Gerrit Smith, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Charles Sumner were among abolitionists who visited the home.[12]

Henry Hill Gage, Matilda’s husband, was likewise active in anti-slavery work. While Matilda, with the ladies of Fayetteville, raised funds for “the suffering in Kansas,” [13] Henry was part of a group who issued a call for the first meeting of the “Fremont Club” in Fayetteville in 1856, supporting the new Republican Party and the non-extension of slavery into the territories. [14]  Henry signed at least one petition to oppose the spread of slavery[15] and draped his store in mourning on the day that the abolitionist martyr John Brown was executed.[16]   Henry again displayed his anti-slavery convictions in 1863, in celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation.[17]  A newspaper reporter noted:

In passing through Fayetteville yesterday, we noticed a display of flags, drapery etc., in honor of the expected Proclamation of Emancipation by the President.  The store of Mr. H. H. Gage was neatly ornamented in Red, White, and Blue, with a large handbill prominently displaying the command to “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”[18]

Gage continued to speak against slavery throughout the Civil War.  She was “one of the most enthusiastic workers in Fayetteville in preparing hospital supplies” for Union soldiers[19] and held various teas and social gatherings at her home in order to raise funds for the Union cause. In 1862, Gage presented a flag on behalf of the Ladies of Fayetteville to the 122nd Regiment of New York State Volunteers.  At a time when the administration maintained that the war was being fought to preserve the Union, Gage stated in her flag presentation speech that the war’s purpose was to end slavery. She predicted:

There can be no permanent peace until the cause of the war is destroyed.  And what caused the war?  Slavery! And nothing else.  That is the corner stone and key stone of the whole.  The cries of down-trodden millions arising to the throne of God.  Let each one of you feel the fate of the world be upon your shoulders, and fight for yourselves, and us, and the future.[20]


The same year (1862) both Henry and Matilda spoke at a Washington birthday celebration.  Matilda talked about the Women’s Volunteer Aid Societies of the North: “the stupendous volunteer system called into life by the fall of Fort Sumter and the President’s Proclamation of April 15,” while Henry quoted from one of Washington’s letters to Gen. LaFayette, “I have long considered Slavery a most serious evil, both socially and politically, and should rejoice in any scheme to get rid of so great a burden…and I trust we shall finally have a confederacy of Free States.”


Thomas Clarkson remembered his mother’s reaction to news about the murder of Lincoln:  “I rushed through the house to tell my mother.  The shock was so great that she went into convulsions and we had to have the aid of a doctor to save her life.”


Gage’s obituaries (1898) highlight her abolition work, the Syracuse Journal stating she “was an early advocate of the abolition of slavery” and “took a prominent part in the series of anti-slavery conventions held in Syracuse during that period, and she always spoke earnestly and effectively.” [21]Numerous articles from the Syracuse and Fayetteville newspapers of the twentieth century cited that the home was an Underground Railroad station.  For example, within two decades of Gage’s death [1914-1919], an article about the house stated:

It was there, before and during the civil war, that abolition was a usual topic for discussion, and the home also was a terminal of the historically-famous “underground railway” for runaway slaves from the south… The home was a nest of abolitionist activities.  The cellar, which has been rebuilt by Mrs. McIntyre, was not much more than a hole in the ground, but it was often the over-night lodging for some escaped Negro on his way to Canada and freedom…During the civil war, the home was the scene of teas and gatherings to raise funds for northern soldiers.  Mrs. Gage spent much time and money to further the Union cause.  As a result, she was chosen to present a flag to the 122nd regiment of New York Volunteers during the war. [22]


A conversation with Miss Marjory Wright, Fayetteville, in 1948 yielded the information that, “the house is historically interesting since it was a station on the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. [23]  


In 1843 the Fayetteville Baptist Church, whose congregation Matilda Joslyn Gage would eventually join, found itself divided over the issue of slavery.  A faction of the church separated and formed a Second Baptist church, which worshipped separately for about ten years before its congregation reunited with the original church.[24] Gage would worship with fellow abolitionists who shared her passion for reform.  

In the 1850s the community continued its strong anti-slavery tradition, and drew abolitionists in its ranks.  A newspaper correspondent of the time shared his estimation of the village’s political sentiments:

Stopping a few days at this thriving and beautiful village I have made inquiries respecting the political conditions and prospects of this and the surrounding towns and find everything so cheering for Freedom and Fremont, I could not resist the inclination to let you know how the pulse of old Onondaga County beats for the cause of human freedom. [25]

Gage’s attorney, Nathan Chapman, was a dedicated abolitionist.  Facing the Gage home across Genesee Street was the home of Linneaus P. Noble, an abolitionist and publisher of the National Era, the first publication to print Uncle Tom’s Cabin in serial form.[26]  Noble was also a member of the Fayetteville Baptist Church at the time of Matilda Joslyn Gage’s membership.[27] Gage and Noble likely crossed paths in the community of abolitionists and shared common sentiments.




[1] Matilda Joslyn Gage, “Old Times and New,” National Citizen and Ballot Box, May 1880, column 5, p.3.

[2] “Report of the International Council of Women, assembled by the National Woman Suffrage Association, Washington, D.C., March 25 to April 1, 1888.”  Washington, D. C.: National Woman Suffrage Association, 1888, p. 347.

[3] “Linking the Past with the Present,” Duluth News Tribune, 21 February 1915.

[4] Julia Gage Carpenter, speech quoted in The Fargo Forum, 24 April 1920.

[5] Julia Gage Carpenter scrapbook, private family collection of Jocelyn Birch Burdick. 

[6] Photocopy 8/15/70 by B.S. Rivette. From material sent to her by Ramona Baxter Bowden, grandniece of Matilda Joslyn Gage.

[7] Ramona Baxter Bowden, “Matilda Joslyn Gage Day Celebrated,” The Post Standard, 26 September 1969.


[8] Matilda Jewell Gage interview with Sally Roesch Wagner [1975.]

[9] Lucy Seward Noble (1853-1938), “Reminiscences, Local History before 1900.” [1936.] Fayetteville Free Library Local History files. 

[10] Wagner,  “That Word is Liberty: A Biography of Matilda Joslyn Gage,” Doctoral dissertation.  6.

[11] Barbara Rivette, 1.

[12] Syracuse Post Standard, August 1909.

[13] “Kansas Aid Festival, ” Syracuse Post Standard, 16 December 1856.

[14] “Original ‘Old Gang,’” 16 December 1937.   Barbara Rivette Collection.

[15] Petition to the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States signed by the residents of the town of Manlius, New York, 20 January 1845.

[16] Syracuse Post-Standard, 3 December 1859.  

[17] Emancipation Proclamation,” Syracuse Journal, 2 January 1863.

[18] “Emancipation Proclamation,” Syracuse Journal, 2 January 1863.

[19] Syracuse Post- Standard, 21 March 1898, p.6, c.7.

[20] “Flag Presentation to the Third Onondaga Regiment,” Onondaga Standard, 3 September 1862.

[21]“Matilda Joslyn Gage,” The Syracuse Journal, 19 March 1898.

[22] “Fayetteville Home Used Often for Gatherings of Noted Liberal of Times”, ‘Abolitionists and Later Suffragettes of Former Days Met in Present McIntyre Home, Built in 1804’.  Post Standard [1914-1919, dated by house deeds].

[23] Rice, pp.32-33

[24] Norman O. Keim, “Religious Life in the Town of Manlius,” in People and Places: Fayetteville, Manlius, Minoa and Neighbors, Volume II (Interlaken, New York: Heart of the Lakes Publishing, 1991), 49.

[25] Syracuse Daily Journal, 4 August 1856.

[26] Evamaria Hardin, Syracuse and the Underground Railroad (Syracuse, New York: Erie Canal Museum, 1989), 1.

[27] “First Baptist Church Records,” First Baptist Church, Fayetteville, New York, March 1878.

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