ONONDAGA County Freedom Trail: Historic Context

Milton C. Sernett




            Frederick Douglass was returning to Rochester by train during the winter of 1857 and stopped in Syracuse. He had barely disembarked when he encountered a group of nine fugitives who wanted to known where “one Mr. Loguen” resided. Douglass left us this poignant testimony to the vitality of Underground Railroad operations in Syracuse:

The writer had some curiosity to see how these weary travelers, without money, and without friends, could be received by the family aroused from sweet sleep, at this late hour of a stormy night. We had scarcely struck the door when the manly voice of Loguen reached our ear. He knew the meaning of the rap, and sung out “hold on.” A light was struck in a moment, the door opened and the whole company, the writer included, were invited in. Candles were lighted in different parts of the house, fires kindled, and the whole company made perfectly at home. The reception was a whole souled and manly one, worthy of the noble reputation of Brother Loguen, and showed that he remembers his brethren in bonds as bound with them.1

Due in no small part to the courageous aid given freedom seekers by the Rev. Jermain Loguen and his wife Caroline, Syracuse became known as one of the most active Underground Railroad “stations” prior to the Civil War. Syracuse was hailed as the “Canada of the United States”2


Eber M. Pettit, agent of a station in Cattaraugus County, thought so highly of the Underground Railroad reputation of Syracuse and environs that he could declare: “The great central depot of the institution in this State was in Onondaga County, where a great many fugitives were protected, fed and clothed, and sent on their way rejoicing by that noble man, Rev. J. W. Loguen.”3

            The following statement of historic context proposes to survey how the region of central New York now known as Onondaga County came to an integral part of the freedom trail network over which fugitives traveled in their flight to freedom. Though much will be said of Syracuse, the county seat and largest community, attention will also be given to those other parts of Onondaga County where friends of the fugitive could be found. Onondaga County, is today bounded by Oswego to the north, Madison on the east, Cortland on the south, and Cayuga on the west, comprises an area of 827 square miles.4 Its political history begins in 1794 when it was set off from Herkimer County and encompassed approximately one and three quarters million acres of the Military Tract established in 1782 in order that veterans of New York who served with the Continental forces could set up homesteads. In subsequent years, new counties were carved out of it until its boundaries took shape as they are today. A history of the formation of Onondaga County as a distinct political entity would not adequately tell the story of what is popularly called “the Underground Railroad,” for fugitives who followed the North Star concerned themselves more with finding a safe place to hide or seek succor than county boundaries drawn on some map. Our attention to Onondaga County’s Freedom Trail legacy, therefore, will give consideration to the interconnectedness of Underground Railroad work in upstate New York.


I. The Early Years


Organized efforts to assist runaways, such as the Loguens undertook, are generally associated with the concept of an Underground Railroad. But the presence of blacks in

central New York prior to statewide emancipation in 1827 suggests that runaways either took up residence in the region that was to become Onondaga County or passed thru on their way to other parts of colonial New York or the British province of Canada West. Hard evidence is difficult to come by, but stories persist about the presence of blacks on the lands traditionally controlled by the Iroquois peoples. Silas Bowker visited the Onondaga Salines in 1774 and reported that “the manufacture of salt was wholly in the hands of two Negro men, deserters from their master in Esopus, who used brass kettles for this purpose and whose only customers were the neighboring Indians.” There is an interesting reference to an unnamed black doctor serving the Onondagas during the time Major General John Sullivan’s campaign against the Six Nations. A lieutenant by the name of Erkuries Beatty reported:

I overtook him [Capt. Graham] at the first town and delivered my orders and he Immediately pushed on about two miles to the Next town where he made a small halt and took a great many prisoners, soon after Mayor Cochran with Capt. Grays Compy, came up and ordered me to stay with the prisoners and their two Compys. to push on to the next town about one mile forward which they did and made more prisoners and killed particularly a Negro who was their Dr.5

We do not know whether or not the black physician was free or slave, but he was not the only black person thought to have found a home among the Onondagas.

            The salt springs on the bank of Onondaga Lake soon attracted white squatters to the lands of the Iroquois Confederacy, and some settlers brought their slaves with them. Isaac Wales, the “property” of John Fleming, came in 1810. He learned to read and write, worked on the construction of the Erie Canal and purchased his own freedom. He eventually obtained a lot and a house in Syracuse and advertised his services as a chimney sweep.6 The African American population of Onondaga County grew slowly in the post-Revolutionary war period. The federal census of 1800, the first to be conducted after the formation of Onondaga County, enumerated 11 persons held as slaves and 18 free blacks. Wales may well have been counted among the eleven slaves. The census for 1810 counted 50 “slave” and 114 “free” persons, and the census for 1820, the last done prior to the end of the institution of slavery in New York State, listed 59 black persons as slave and 195 as free.7

            An early copy of the Onondaga Register, dated April 17, 1816, advertises the sale of a black woman in Onondaga County.8 While this is a stark reminder that the “trafficking in human flesh” of which the abolitionists spoke occurred also in Upstate New York, the census reports suggest that the sellers and buyers of slaves were not as active as in other parts of post-Revolutionary War America. The census reports may well have undercounted the number of individuals of African descent present in Onondaga County in the early decades of its history. Runaways were not likely to report their presence to the political authorities.

Opponents of slavery in New York State achieved partial success after the

American Revolution with the passage of gradual emancipation measures. The Gradual Emancipation Act of 1799 stipulated that African Americans born of a slave mother in New York State after July 4, 1799, were to be considered indentured servants. They had to serve their masters until the age of twenty-eight if male and twenty-five if female. They were then considered “free colored persons.” In 1817 New York State enacted another gradual abolition law. It provided that slaves born before July 4, 1799, were to be freed on July 4, 1827. This prepared the way for universal emancipation in 1827.9

            A British officer by the name of Captain Basil Hall gives us a portrait of Syracuse on the eve of the cessation of slavery in New York State. Traveling in what was known as an “extra exclusive” stage, one that passengers at their own pace, Hall recorded his impressions of central New York. Of Syracuse, he wrote:

On the 19th of June [1827] we reached the village of Syracuse, through the very centre of which the Erie Canal passes. During the drive we had opportunities of seeing the land in various stages of its progress, from the dense, black, tangled, native forest–up to the highest stages of cultivation, with wheat and barley waving over it: or from that melancholy and very hopeless–looking state of things, when the trees are laid prostrate upon the earth, one upon top of another, and a miserable log-ht is the only symptom of man’s residence,–to such gay and thriving places as Syracuse; with fine broad streets, large and commodious houses, gay shops, and stage-coaches, wagons, and gigs flying past, all in a bustle. In the centre of the village, we could see from our windows the canal thickly covered with freight boats and packets, glancing silently past, and shooting like arrows through the bridges, some of which were of stone, and some of painted wood. The canal at this place has been made of double its ordinary width, and being bent into an agreeable degree of curvature, to suit the turn of the streets, the formality is removed, as well as the ditch-like appearance which generally belongs to canals. The water, also, is made to rise almost level with the towing path, which improves the effect. I was amused to seeing, amongst the throng of loaded boasts, a gaily-painted vessel lying in state, with the words CLEOPATRA’S BARGE painted in large characters on her broadside . . . . 10 

One wonders if Captain Hall saw any of Syracuse’s black residents as he looked out upon the city’s commercial activity, enlivened so recently (1825) by the opening of the entire length of Erie Canal system.11 Syracuse was incorporated as a village in 1825 and upon consolidation with the villages of Salina and Lodi became the City of Syracuse in 1848, with a total population of about 22,000.

            Charles B. Ray visited the village of Syracuse in 1837. He canvassed upstate New York on behalf of The Colored American, the country’s first black newspaper. Like Captain Hall a decade earlier, he was impressed with the progress the people of Syracuse had made in transforming the swampy lowland along the south shore of Onondaga Lake into a community of note. “Syracuse,” Ray informed Samuel Cornish, editor of The Colored American, “is a very pleasant little place, so far as buildings are concerned. Their dwellings are built with a great deal of economy and beauty; not large, but commodious, not for show, but for comfort; a person cannot but admire the taste of the people, in the plan of their houses.” Ray took special note of the circumstances of Syracuse’s black residents. “The colored people here, and in Salina, (a place one mile distant),” he reported, “number about one hundred; they are reforming and improving; they have recently purchased a very commodious house of worship, and paid for it; the house formerly occupied by the white methodists of this place. –They are about to establish a School, for the education of their children, and in this if they seek it, they will undoubtedly receive encouragement from the whites.”12 Ray does not tell us what proportion of the few subscribers he managed to glean from among the inhabitants of Syracuse and Salina were African Americans, but his observations about the growing institutional life among blacks should be underscored.

            As in most communities of the North where there was a sizable African American population, one of the first race-based institutions to be organized was the church. Syracuse’s earliest black congregation was a local branch of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, a denomination organized in 1822 in New York City. The Rev. Christopher Rush, Presiding Bishop, appointed the Rev. Thomas James to go to Syracuse in 1835 and attempt to organize a new congregation for blacks. James had himself been a runaway and doubtless took a special interest in any freedom seekers whom he encountered upon his arrival in Syracuse.13 Largely due to the groundwork of the Rev. Thomas James, a small group of blacks began to meet for worship in various of their homes. Calling themselves the A.M.E. Zion Society, this group of black Christians came together as “The First African Methodist Episcopal Church of the Village of Syracuse” on July 4, 1842, when they were formally organized with James as their pastor. This band of black Zionists continued to worship in private houses until purchasing a lot and building at 114 South Crouse Avenue from the white First Methodist Episcopal Church and moving there in 1848, possibly removing an existing structure and replacing it with a more commodious building.14 Jermain Loguen ministered to the Zion church while he was helping fugitives, though he also preached at other locations in Syracuse. During the 1850s, when the Underground Railroad flourished in Syracuse and Onondaga County, the Rev. John Lisle served Second Congregational, a church that seems to have originated out of the original group of Zion Methodists. Black Baptists did not organize their own church until 1887 when Bethany Baptist was founded.15


II. Planting the Abolitionist Standard


            James’ arrival in Syracuse came during a time when there was heightened discussion of the slavery issue. William Lloyd Garrison’s call for immediate, uncompensated, unconditional emancipation, announced in the first edition of his radical antislavery paper The Liberator, January 1, 1831, had sparked debate with conservatives on the question, many of whom were supporters of the American Colonization Society.16 The Rev. Charles G. Finney, architect of the Second Great Awakening, prepared the soil of upstate New York for the seeds of abolitionism in a series of religious revivals that led to the region being called “the Burned-over District.”17 Christians of all denominations were called upon to examine their souls to discover if they were truly “born again” and urged to dedicate their lives to rooting out the many sins of American society, the chief of which was chattel slavery. Garrison’s initial demand for immediate emancipation came in language which struck a resonant chord among those who had been prodded by Finney to expect a summons to some form of higher Christian duty.18 Finney and his lieutenants conducted protracted revivals in most of the major upstate New York communities, with notable success in Utica and Rochester, but Finney himself does not seem to have preached in Syracuse. “New measures,” as Finney’s evangelical style of preaching came to be known, continued to burn with a bright flame in central and upstate New York even after Finney’s left for New York City in 1835.

            Some of the earliest converts to Garrison’s immediatist philosophy of moral suasion came from among the army of young men who were moved by Finney’s preaching to train for the Christian ministry. They flocked to Oneida Institute, a Presbyterian-sponsored school located on the eastern edge of the village of Whitesboro in Oneida County. It was there at this manual labor school that New York State’s first local abolition society was formed. In the summer of 1833 about thirty students organized themselves along Garrisonian lines in opposition to others who supported the African colonization scheme. The Rev. Beriah Green, fresh from a heated controversy over immediatism out at Ohio’s Western Reserve College, arrived that fall and in short order transformed the Oneida Institute into a hotbed of reform, spreading the gospel of American abolition. In December 1833 Beriah Green and sixty-two other delegates gathered in Philadelphia to charter the American Anti-Slavery Society (AAS), the first national body organized along immediatist principals.19

            During the next two years, traveling lecturers fanned out across the northern states to plant the flag of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Amos A. Phelps, Charles Stuart, and George Thompson were especially active in central New York. By the spring of 1835 New York State could boast 42 of the 221 local auxiliaries of the AAS. This number would grow to 103 societies in 1836, one-fifth of the AAS’ national total.20 New York State’s Burned-over District appears to have been fertile ground for the planting of local abolitionist societies, but the climate in which they grew was not entirely hospitable.

For example, friends of the slave came together in Onondaga County to discuss what to do. They met at the Baptist church in Syracuse with the aim of organizing a county society. Beriah Green, Gerrit Smith, Alvan Stewart, and William Goodell, out-of-towners who were to become prominent voices in the advance of the abolitionist cause, attended. Anti-abolitionists, some of whom later converted to immediatism, raised such a ruckus that the group withdrew secretly to the village of Fayetteville, some ten miles to the east. According to the account given in the narrative of the life of Jermain W. Lougen, the foundational meeting of the Onondaga County Anti-Slavery Society took place in 1835, but the Friend of Man, official organ of the New York State Anti-Slavery Society, gave notice in its March 1, 1837 issue of the Fayetteville meeting.21 The Onondaga County Anti-Slavery Society met irregularly, usually in Syracuse or Skaneateles, until the early 1840s when, according to Esther C. Loucks, “it was absorbed by the Liberty Party.” 22

            Several of the towns and villages of Onondaga County set up their own local auxiliaries to the American Anti-Slavery Society. Manlius did so in 1836, Pompey in 1837 (male and female societies founded by S. L. Gould, an agent of the AAS), Skaneateles in 1837, Salina in 1838 (by J. N. T. Tucker), and Marcellus in 1839.23

The Skaneateles society seems to have been one of the most active local abolition groups in Onondaga County. James Canning Fuller was responsible in large part for the vitality of the abolitionist sentiment in Skaneateles. A prominent Quaker, Fuller came from England in 1834 to settle in Skaneateles. He married Lydia Charlton and joined the Society of Friends. Fuller was present on February 13, 1837 when the Skaneateles Anti-Slavery Society organized as an auxiliary to the County Society. At the Skaneateles group’s first anniversary meeting, held in the Methodist Church on January 30, 1838, Fuller, acting as secretary, recorded that since the charter meeting the society had circulated and sent petitions to Congress opposing the annexation of Texas and calling for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade in the District of Columbia. The Skaneateles abolitionists also sent petitions to Albany asking the State Legislature to pass a law “giving to every human being a trial by jury, when his or her liberty may be called in question.”24 The latter petition, designed as it was to aid blacks accused of being runaways, is but one indication of the pro-fugitive sentiment among the abolitionists of Skaneateles. The home of James C. and Lydia Fuller, sometimes referred to as Evergreen Manor and located at 98 Genesee Street, became an important station on the Underground Railroad.

             In April of 1839 James C. Fuller and the handful of friends of the antislavery cause in Skaneateles tried to assemble for another meeting to advance the work of a local abolitionist society. When opponents threatened bodily harm, they were forced to disperse. Fuller placed a notice in the Skaneateles Columbian on April 18th thanking “those friends who so kindly and voluntarily offered and perseveringly conducted him to his home, when surrounded by a tumultuous mob Third day evening last; and he sincerely trusts that the mud and missiles were abundantly showered on the occasion may make both himself and friends more determined in the good cause.”25 Anti-abolitionist sentiment was widespread during the early years of the spread of immediatism in central and western New York State. Our accounting of the formation of antislavery societies in the region should not give the impression that these pioneering opponents of the South’s “peculiar institution” went about their business of reform without opposition. When the antislavery lecturer Amos Phelps was in Le Roy in August 1835, “far West, almost to Buffalo,” he told his wife that Upstate New York contained “good material to make radicals of,” but he also observed, “There is the same negro hatred here, the same political influences, the same love of Colonization, the same Corruption in the Priesthood . . . the same shutting of the eyes to light, the same stopping of the ears to the cry of the suffering and oppressed --in one word, the same every thing that is wicked & hateful to God to contend with here as at the east.”26 The abolitionist movement inspired mobs as well as martyrs.

            The mob element showed up in Utica on October 21, 1835. Nearly six hundred antislavery enthusiasts assembled at the Second Presbyterian Church on Bleecker Street in Utica for the purpose of setting up a statewide abolitionist organization. A mob egged on by men of property and influence fearful of the social implications of abolitionist rhetoric, broke up the assembly and at the invitation of Gerrit Smith, the delegates to the safety of Peterboro in Madison County. They reconvened on October 22nd to discuss how best to advance the abolition crusade. Before the abolitionists left Peterboro and the hospitality of Gerrit Smith, they completed the organization of the New York State Anti-Slavery Society. They drew up a statement addressed to their fellow citizens, declaring: “Of the relation, which slavery establishes, whether we regard its certain tendencies or actual effects, we deeply fell and plainly declare our solemn, settled, full conviction, that it ought instantly, universally, and forever to be broken up.”27

            The New York State Anti-Slavery Society set headquarters in Utica but also held annual meetings in Rochester, Syracuse, and other Upstate cities. The first issue of the society’s newspaper, The Friend of Man, a weekly, appeared on June 23, 1836. Oneida County abolitionists far outnumbered delegates from any other county when state Society came to Utica in October 1836 for its first annual meeting. There were seven delegates from Onondaga County–Charles Clark, Horace Robins, S. Edwards, Philip Flint, D. Thompson, Seth Conklin, and W. W. Porter.28 In its Annual Report, the NYSASS took note of the growing problem of kidnappings in the mid-1830s: “We shall see well to it that the free citizens of New York, whatever may be their hue, are not carried “to the South” without their consent! We shall see well to it that the writs of habeas corpus and homo replegianda, designed to protect our citizens from false arrest, are no longer made the instrument of their felonious abduction.”29 No attempts to kidnap a free black person appear to have been made in Onondaga County during the decade of the 1830s when the abolitionists were organizing, but in 1839 an event transpired that marks the first public rescue attempt in the county.


III. From the Harriet Powell Rescue to 1850


            In October 1839, Mr. and Mrs. John Davenport of Mississippi booked into the Syracuse House, the best hotel Syracuse had to offer. They brought a young servant girl with them by the name of Harriet Powell, who was said to be “as richly dressed as her mistress.”30 Beneath the fancy clothes, however, there beat a heart in distress.

Sensing something wrong, a black waiter named Tom Leonard spoke privately with Harriet and convinced her to escape, though she feared being “sold South” should she be recaptured. Leonard got word to local abolitionists who acted with dispatch. On October 7th, John R. Owen, a marble merchant, and William M. Clarke, Deputy County Clerk, found a man’s coat and hat, cloaked Harriet and spirited her away in a carriage supplied by a DeWitt farmer named Nottingham to the mansion of Gerrit Smith in Madison County.

            Elizabeth Cady (Stanton), then twenty-four, was staying in Peterboro that October when Gerrit Smith, her older cousin, invited her up to the third story of the Smith house and into a large room in which “a beautiful quadroon girl, about eighteen years of age” sat. Gerrit addressed the girl: “Harriet, I have brought all my young cousins to see you. I want you to make good abolitionists of them by telling them the history of your life--what you have seen and suffered in slavery.” Elizabeth and the others sat transfixed for two hours as Harriet recounted her story, including how she was separated from her family and sold in a New Orleans slave market when she was but fourteen. Smith filled in details about the rescue in Syracuse; how Harriet was taking care of the Davenports’ baby while they were attending a farewell party; how she managed to escape by saying she had to run an errand; and how she had been brought to Peterboro. When twilight came, Harriet, dressed as a Quakeress, was placed in a carriage and escorted north toward Lake Ontario. Elizabeth, the future women’s rights activist, said of the encounter with Harriet Powell, “We all wept together as we talked, and, when Cousin Gerrit returned to summon us away, we needed no further education to make us earnest abolitionists.”31

            The Davenports offered a $200 reward for Harriet’s recapture. Mr. Davenport boasted that his slave was worth at least $2,500. In a notice put in the local press, Davenport made the claim that Harriet’s elderly mother would die of heartache should her daughter be lost to her. The handbill contained a detailed description of Harriet’s physical appearance and clothing.32 Davenport and the marshals from Syracuse arrived at Smith’s residence only eighteen hours after her departure. They were given permission to search the house and grounds and invited to stay and dine. Elizabeth Cady recalled, “The master was evidently a gentleman, for, on Mr. Smith’s assurance that Harriet was not there, he made no search, feeling that they could not do so without appearing to doubt his word. He was evidently surprised to find an abolitionist so courteous and affable, and it was interesting to hear them in conversation, at dinner, calmly discussing the problem of slavery, while public sentiment was at white heat on the question. They shook hands warmly at parting and expressed an equal interest in the final adjustment of that national difficulty.”33 Smith would later publish an open letter in the New York Tribune addressed to Davenport in which he told the Southerner (and the world) of his part in the rescue of Harriet Powell, whom Smith reported was “now a free woman, safe under the shadow of the British throne.”34             Harriet Powell’s rescue took place two years before Jermain Lougen arrived in Syracuse, but there is a full account of the event in the mediated biography of Loguen published in 1859. Its author, John Thomas observed, “No crime was ever committed in Syracuse that excited so much blustering and active indignation as this.”35

            Jermain W. Lougen came to Syracuse in 1841 from the Utica area where he had been attending the Oneida Institute. Now married (to the former Caroline Storum) and a licensed preacher (of the A.M.E.Z. denomination), Loguen began his long association with the African American community of Syracuse by starting a school for its youth. He left Syracuse for a few years, serving congregations in Bath and Ithaca. Loguen was soon involved in abolition politics and became a supporter of the Liberty Party, entering the field as an anti-slavery lecturer in 1844. Upon returning to Syracuse in 1846, he took up a preaching assignment among the African Methodists there, though he was often on the stump for the Liberty party. A third-party movement set in motion by abolitionists in 1840, the Liberty party represented a form of political comeouterism. Liberty voters stood for the immediate end of slavery, a higher goal than the suppression of its expansion in the unorganized territory out West. In addition, the architects of this unique combination of political means and moral idealism, talked of building an egalitarian society all across America, one in which black and white enjoyed equal opportunity and protection under the law.36

            After their presidential candidate, James G. Birney, a former Kentucky slaveholder, garnered only a handful of votes in the 1840 election, the Liberty Party faithful looked forward to the 1844 campaign. Birney garnered only 7,059 votes out of millions cast nation-wide, about one-tenth of the voters who, according to one estimate, belonged to the antislavery societies. New York State provided about 2,800 of those party votes, most in North Star Country, a dismal showing for these political abolitionists whose platform had but one plank, the end of slavery.37 1844 came, and once again the Liberty Party put forward James G. Birney as its presidential candidate. When upstate New York towns are ranked according their Liberty party vote, Cazenovia (Madison County) led the way with a total of 177. On towns (villages or hamlets) in Onondaga County, Cicero ranked first in Liberty Party support, with 89 votes. Saline (Syracuse) came in with 81 votes, then Manlius (High Bridge) with 67 and Otisco with 64. Spafford, Elbridge (Jordan), Fabius (Apulia), Onondaga (Onondaga Hill), and Tully had at least 3O Liberty party ballots cast.38 When the returns were totaled, the antislavery ticket had amassed only 65,608 votes nationally. Ironically, Birney’s candidacy took away enough ballots from Clay in New York State to tip the electoral count toward Polk, the least acceptable candidate in abolitionist circles. In the 1848 election, many Liberty Party voters defected to the newly formed Free Soil Party. During the ensuing national political contests, abolitionist ideals suffered due to a growing sectionalist spirit that put thwarting southern expansionism ahead of black rights.

            After the emergence of the Free Soil coalition, Bible politics in North Star Country declined. Gerrit Smith and the Liberty League, heir to the hardcore Liberty Party remnant, had the Liberty Party Paper, a weekly edited and published by John Thomas in Syracuse, but little else. Hoping to win over the remnant of the Liberty Party in central New York, the American Anti-Slavery Society set up a debate between Gerrit Smith and Charles C. Burleigh, a staunch Garrisonian, for January 31, 1850, in Syracuse. Douglass, a vice president of the convention, sided with Burleigh’s advocacy of the Garrisonian position, while Samuel R. Ward spoke on behalf of antislavery constitutionalism. At one point, Douglass said, “There has been a great deal of assumption on the part of the Liberty party. To say that the constitution is Anti-Slavery, is an assumption against an overwhelming array of testimony, and against the Constitution itself.”39 However, it was not long before Douglass changed course. This occurred after the passage of the Compromise of 1850 which included the dreaded Fugitive Slave Law. Provoked by the federalization of the runaway question, Douglass arrived at the point where Liberty Party activists began.

            Though the Liberty Party gradually faded away, it had always been a fusion of Bible politics and the link between antislavery politics and antislavery churches is an important legacy of the 1840s. This is especially true with regard to the leadership of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, which historian Douglas M. Strong called the “first specifically abolitionist denomination.” Though Strong acknowledged that “the Liberty Party was not a church, and the Wesleyan Methodist Connection was not a political party,” he concluded that “the Wesleyans often operated politically as an extension of the Liberty Party, and the ‘Liberty men’ used the tactics and arguments of an evangelical perfectionist religious group.”40 Led by Orange Scott, Methodist abolitionists had tried for years to work within their denomination to covert it to a radical antislavery stance. When the General Conference of 1840 came round, Scott was there, brandishing his sword against slavery as usual. But the General Conference censured the messenger and the message, and Scott left deeply depressed. In October of that year, he led in the formation of the American Wesleyan Anti-Slavery Society. In November 1842, Scott seceded from the Methodist Episcopal Church. One of his supporters was Luther Lee (1800-1889). Born at Schoharie, New York, and largely self-educated, Lee began preaching at Fulton in Oswego County in 1834. After witnessing the vitriolic attack upon Orange Scott at Cincinnati during the Methodist General Convention of 1836, Lee returned to Fulton and used his pulpit to denounce the sin of slavery. Chided by members for his outspoken abolitionism, Lee looked for allies in the growing number of Christian abolitionists who were either setting up comeouter congregations, that is, churches composed solely of friends of the slave, or made up of those who had been forced out of their ecclesiastical homes because of their advocacy of black rights.

             Luther Lee and other abolitionist-minded Methodists in central New York joined the “Scottite” secession, and on May 31, 1843, the Wesleyan Methodist Church was organized at Utica. Lee was appointed president of the Wesleyan New York Conference and transferred to Syracuse. Here he found “a small band of seceders, but no place of worship.” The Congregationalists offered Lee’s small flock shelter until he secured a hall. “My Church,” he wrote in his autobiography almost four decades later, “was neither numerous nor wealthy, but a truer company of men and women never breathed.”41 Frederick Douglass took notice of it in 1848 when he wrote, “In the meeting house of the Wesleyan Methodists amid the many popular and large pro-slavery congregations of this city, a small band of men and women meet to hear the Gospel of Freedom and Love for all.”42 The Wesleyan Methodists of Syracuse first met in the basement of the Congregational Church, then in the old Unitarian Church, and after 1847 in a newly constructed brick building designed in a typical meeting house style on a lot off of present-day Columbus Circle.43

            There were other bands of Christian abolitionists active in central New York. Some were eager to shed all vestiges of denominationalism and create a “union” of all abolitionists in a single community, much as Gerrit Smith tried to do at Peterboro in Madison County. Lee, historian Douglas Strong tells us, developed close relations with other ecclesiastical abolitionists such as William Goodell, a leader in the union church movement, and in 1843 participated in the Syracuse Church Reform Convention.44 But the Wesleyan Methodists kept their denominational identity, and Lee became one of the church body’s national leaders, moving to New York City. He returned to Syracuse in 1852 and took charge of the abolitionist comeouter congregation he helped organize nine years earlier. By now the Wesleyans were housed in a red brick structure which is a landmark in downtown Syracuse. Sculpted clay “faces” have been found in a tunnel-like basement beneath the church and may have been the work of fugitives hiding there, though to date no documentary evidence has been found to verify this.45

             The Rev. Luther Lee does say in his autobiography: “In the spring of 1852 I removed from the city of New York to the city of Syracuse, where during a three years’ pastorate, I did the largest work of my life on the Under-ground Rail-road. I passed as many as thirty slaves through my hands in a month.”46 Unfortunately for those who desire confirmation that the seven “faces” found in the tunnel beneath the Wesleyan Methodist Church Building were made by runaways, Lee did not reveal where he found shelter for the fugitives he aided. His home was across from the church. In his “Reminiscences of the Jerry Rescue,” published in 1893, Charles Merrick recalled: “One year I recorded the number of fugitive slaves that came under my personal observation from the 1st of January to the 1st of May, and there were sent, by letter, via the ‘underground railroad’, during that time forty-three or forty-four of the unfortunate to Luther Lee, from Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love.”47 Just how active a “station” Lee kept when he was in Syracuse is indicated in the following excerpt from a letter written by Joseph A. Allen to Wilbur Siebert in 1896: “For several years Rev. Luther Lee, a Wesleyan Methodist, cared for them (Station Agent). Once as the clock struck 12 at midnight of December 31 (the last hour of the last day of the last month of the year) a fugitive knocked at his door–making just 365 he had rescued that year.”48

            The Methodists were not the only group of Christians in Onondaga County to suffer a fracture on account of the controversy over slavery. Presbyterians, already in turmoil over the inroads among them made by Finneyite enthusiasts, debated the slavery question as passionately as did the Methodists. This led to schisms within congregations. In Syracuse, for example, an abolition-minded body of Christians struggled to find their voice within the city’s oldest Presbyterian church. Founded in 1824, First Presbyterian contained many of the town’s leading citizens. A minority of abolitionist-minded members left in 1838 to found First Congregational Church and held services in a small frame structure where some of the most prominent antislavery radicals spoke, including Smith and Frederick Douglass. The church was likened to Boston’s famous Fanueil Hall and was called the “Cradle of Liberty.” First Congregational developed so strong an antislavery reputation that someone once positioned a cannon outside the building and fired away in hope of disrupting meetings. The comeouters had their own internal problems regarding how strongly abolitionism should be expressed and disbanded in 1850. Some members helped establish Park Presbyterian Church, now Park Central Presbyterian Church, which took a moderate position on slavery. Others formed the nucleus of a new Congregational Church in a wooden chapel in 1855. The organizers took the name “Plymouth” in honor of Henry Ward Beecher’s famous antislavery Plymouth Church of Brooklyn. Syracuse’s Plymouth Church is said to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad.49

            The Unitarians of Syracuse escaped internal division over the issue of slavery because of the strong leadership provided by their minister, the Rev. Samuel J. May. A Garrisonian who moved to Syracuse from New England in April 1845 to serve the Church of the Messiah, May was a consistent and passionate voice for charitable causes. About two years after May settled in Syracuse, a black man met him in the street and asked for a private interview. The man, whom May had earlier seen about the city and supposed was “a smart, enterprising, free negro,” actually was a fugitive from Virginia who had followed the light of the North Star at the advice of a Quaker. May responded, “I have heard of a great many Southern slaves who have made their way into the free States and to Canada by the light of that star, but I am very desirous to hear particularly about your escape.” The man gave May details about his escape and how he kept on until he reached Syracuse where he “saw many colored people, evidently as free as the white folks.” The fugitive, whom May identifies only as “Sanford,” had been in Syracuse for seven or eight years, was married, and had two children. He had saved three hundred dollars and wanted May to aid him in rescuing his mother so she could “die free” in Syracuse. May promised to do what he could and engaged John Needles, a Quaker of Baltimore, to conduct the business. Needles contacted a fellow member of the Society of Friends who resided near the Virginia plantation where Sanford’s mother, referred to as “Aunt Bess or Old Bess,” was being kept. Unfortunately, Bess’ owner spurned the intermediary’s offer of three hundred and fifty dollars in an effort to get back at Sanford for running away. May wrote, “It was better to him than money to punish the runaway slave through his disappointed affections, now that he could not do it by lacerating his back or putting him in irons.”50 The Rev. Samuel May served as the principal agent of the Underground Railroad in Syracuse until Jermain and Caroline Loguen “fitted up an apartment for fugitive slaves” and Jermain was officially engaged as the Superintendent of Syracuse’s Fugitive Aid Society.51

            As a confirmed Garrisonian, the Rev. Samuel May refrained from involving himself in abolitionist politics and did not actively campaign for the Liberty party. The same cannot be said about the Rev. Samuel R. Ward (1817-ca. 1866). Born a slave on the eastern shore of Maryland, Ward escaped with his parents in 1820, attended New York City’s African Free School, and taught school in New Jersey. Licensed by the New York Congregational Association in 1839, Ward held two pastorates, South Butler (1841-43) and Cortland (1846-51), places where he served predominately white congregations. An eloquent orator, Ward hired on as a traveling lecturer for the Liberty Party in 1841. He purchased The True American in 1847, merged it with Stephen Meyer’s Albany-based Northern Star and Freeman’s Advocate in 1849 and began publishing the Impartial Citizen in Syracuse as a semi-monthly sheet on February 14, 1849. The Impartial Citizen became a weekly paper and organ of the Liberty Party in June 1849.52 Ward used his paper to denounce efforts by Southern politicians to enact a federal fugitive slave bill. Of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Ward wrote:

Now, this bill strips us of all manner of protection, by the write of habeas corpus, by jury trail, or by any other process known to the laws of civilized nature, that are known as safeguards around personal liberty. But while it does this, it throws us back upon the natural and inalienable rights of self-defense – self-protection. It solemnly refers to each of us, individually, the question, whether we will submit to being enslaved by the hyenas which this law creates and encourages, or whether we will protect ourselves, even if, in so doing, we have to peril our lives, and more than peril the useless and devilish carcasses of negro-catchers. It gives us that alternative of dying freemen, of living slaves. Let the men who would execute this bill beware. Let them know that the business of catching slaves, or kidnapping freemen, is an open warfare upon the rights and liberties of the black men of the North. Let them know to enlist in that warfare is present, certain, inevitable death and damnation. Let us teach them, that none should engage in this business, but those who are ready to be offered up on the polluted altar of accursed slavery.53

These were strong words, but Ward’s condemnation of the Fugitive Slave Act reflected how strongly runaways and their allies felt about the new federal effort to implement the will of the slaveholding South.


III. The 1850s: Called to Action


            The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was part of the Compromise of 1850. Signed into law by President Millard Fillmore and promoted by Daniel Webster as a means to preserve the Union, the Fugitive Slave Act made abolitionists aware of the need to protect fugitives in their midst. In September 1850, abolitionists in Syracuse formed a biracial vigilance committee. The thirteen members pledged to protect any fugitive who entered the city.54 W. H. Burleigh wrote Gerrit Smith, “It would be almost certain death to a slave-catcher to appear, on his infernal mission, in our streets. No fugitive can be taken from our midst.”55 Approximately five hundred people attended a protest meeting held in Syracuse on October 4, 1850. Mayor Alfred H. Hovey, though a Democrat and no abolitionist, declared, “Come what will of political organizations, and fall where I may, I am with you.” Samuel R. Ward delivered a blistering attack on the slave catchers. But it was Jermain Loguen’s speech which “uncapped the volcano.”56

Loguen was living and preaching in Troy, New York, when the Great Debate over the Compromise of 1850 began. As soon as it looked like Southerners would get federal assistance in recapturing runaways, he returned to Syracuse, which he knew to have many friends of the fugitive. Though urged by some to seek refuge in Canada, Loguen decided to stay and fight the new law. In a speech ringing with defiance, Loguen told the protesters at the October rally:

What is life to me if I am to be a slave in Tennessee? My neighbors! I have lived with you many years, and you know me. My home is here, and my children were born here. I am bound to Syracuse by pecuniary interests, and social and family bonds . . . . I don’t respect this law--I don’t fear it--I won’t obey it! It outlaws me, and I outlaw it, and the men who attempt to enforce it on me. I place the governmental officials on the ground that they place me. I will not live a slave, and if force is employed to re-enslave me, I shall make preparations to meet the crisis as becomes a man.57

Loguen’s defiance of the Fugitive Slave Law was in part generated by his conviction that Syracuse was “no mean city.”58 When push came to shove, Loguen believed, the abolitionists of North Star Country would meet the challenge. But bravado is only bravado until the day comes when bold deeds back up bold words. That day was not far off.

Northern politicians, anxious to appease Southern hotheads now threatening secession, saw things otherwise. Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts campaigned throughout the North on behalf of the Compromise of 1850. He came to Syracuse in May 1851. Standing on a small balcony of Frazee Hall (later known as the Courier building) and overlooking the yard in front of City Hall, Webster thundered, “Depend upon it, the law will be executed in all the great cities, here in Syracuse; in the midst of the next Anti-Slavery Convention, if the occasion shall arise; then we shall see what becomes of their lives and sacred honor.”59 Samuel J. May dubbed Webster’s words “a rehash of his infamous speech in Congress on the 7th of March, 1850,” and said of the crowd’s reactions, “Indignation flashed from many eyes in that assembly, and one might almost hear the gritting of teeth in defiance of the threat.”60

 On October 1, 1851, Syracuse’s hotels and boarding houses were fully booked. Thousands of visitors thronged the Onondaga County Agricultural Society fair in the Hanover Square area. Liberty Party faithful were holding a convention at the Congregational church. About noon, the bell of the Presbyterian church rang. Within minutes every church bell in Syracuse, with the exception of the Episcopalian one, tolled the alarm. Out-of-town guests puzzled by the resulting cacophony of sound doubtless wondered whether it meant disaster or something less ominous. May, who was at home eating lunch, and the other members of Syracuse’s Vigilance Committee knew that the bells signaled that slave catchers were in town. The hour for action had arrived. A large crowd gathered in front of the Townsend Block Building, at the corner of Water and Clinton Streets, where the office of United States Commissioner Joseph F. Sabine was located. As others joined in the rush to the center of Syracuse, they wondered who it was that the slave hunters sought. Young Lucy Watson was ironing at home when the alarm sounded. A member of Syracuse’s black community, she started downtown when a man called out, “Tell your people there’s a fugitive arrested.”61

The quarry turned out to be William or “Jerry” Henry, an escaped slave from Missouri who was born in Buncombe County, North Carolina in 1811 or 1812. We know little of Jerry’s physical appearance. Contemporaries took note of his red hair. May described him as an “athletic Mulatto.”62 Jerry was working in the cooperage shop of Frederic Morrell in the First Ward on the morning of October 1, 1850, when a marshal presented him with a warrant accusing him of theft. Handcuffed and thrown into a hack, Jerry was taken to the office of Commissioner Joseph F. Sabine and only there was he told that he was being apprehended as a fugitive slave.

When news of Jerry’s seizure reached the Liberty party delegates, they immediately adjourned and rushed to where his hearing was taking place. As many as possible pressed into Sabine’s office, where twenty-one marshals and deputies guarded the handcuffed fugitive and the government’s representatives had already begun to argue their case based on the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Leonard Gibbs and Gerrit Smith acted as Jerry’s legal counsel. As Lear, who sat next to Jerry with pistols tucked into his trousers testified, Jerry’s supporters began to hiss and boo, creating so much noise that Sabine, over Smith’s protests, decided to adjourn the proceedings for half an hour in order to find a larger room. It was now about 2:30 P.M.

Whether by prearrangement or not, the abolitionists and their allies now took matters into their own hands. Some hoisted Jerry above their heads and propelled him toward the door and down the stairs, while others pressed the marshals and deputies against the office walls. Jerry was hurt in a fall down the stairs, but recovered enough to struggle, still cuffed, down Water Street. A black barber and dyer by the name of Prince Jackson ran interference, but the authorities recaptured Jerry on the Lock Street bridge, put him in leg irons, and took him to the Police Office, which was in the Journal Building of the Raynor Block (facing Clinton Square). By now Jerry was so agitated that the police asked the Reverend Samuel J.  May to come and calm him down. May did so by persuading Jerry that an attempt to rescue him would be made later that evening. Outside the police station, Samuel Ringgold Ward and others addressed the growing crowd of protestors, telling them that Jerry would not be abandoned and could well be freed as a result of the hearing.63 It was now a little after 3 P.M. Sabine scheduled Jerry’s case to be continued at 5:30 P.M.

In the late afternoon Ward, Smith, May, Loguen, and twenty-four other men met at the office of Dr. Hiram Hoyt on South Warren Street to plan a course of action. Meanwhile, County Sheriff William C. Gardner tried to prevent civil disorder by calling out the National Guards, Syracuse’s Citizens Corps, and the Washington Artillery. But Colonel Origen Vanderburgh of the 51st Regiment persuaded Lieutenant Pendergast not to move the Guards out of the Armory, and Charles A. Wheaton, a local hardware dealer, made the case that the troops would be prosecuted if they marched under the orders of the Sheriff. The Citizens Corps also disbanded, and the Washington Artillery was the only show of force now available to authorities. The Artillery appeared later on, placed but one cannon at the corner of City Hall Park and fired ten blank shots, dispersing the crowd and opening a path for Jerry’s friends.

Jerry’s potential rescuers were unaware that their chances for success had been enhanced by the stand down of the military as they began debate a course of action. Gerrit Smith is reported to have counseled those convened in Hoyt’s office:

It is not unlikely the Commissioner will release Jerry if the examination is suffered to proceed--but the moral effect of such an acquittal will be as nothing to a bold and forcible rescue. A forcible rescue will demonstrate the strength of public opinion against the possible legality of slavery and this Fugitive Slave Law in particular. It will honor Syracuse and be a powerful example everywhere.64 

Some of the abolitionists were reluctant to engage in a rescue by forcible means because of their long-standing non-resistance principles. May was one of those whose Garrisonian ideals still discountenanced violence, but he suggested that a rescue could be conceived of as an act of self-sacrifice if the abolitionists avoided injuring the marshals and were not motivated by hatred. As the rescuers left Dr. Hoyt’s office, May said, “If any one is to be injured in this fray, I hope it may be one of our own party.”65 Jermain Loguen took a more strident position: “If white men won’t fight, let fugitives and black men smite down Marshals and Commissioners--any body who holds Jerry--and rescue him or perish.”66

If we are to judge by their actions, many of those who roamed the city and periodically stoned the police station during the afternoon and early evening of October 1 favored Loguen’s bolder position. An estimated two to three thousand people were gathered outside the station where Jerry was being held as day gave way to night.67 Sabine reopened the hearing at 5:30 P.M. Due to the ruckus caused by protestors he adjourned an hour and a half later with the intent of resuming at 8 A.M. the next morning. Jerry was now placed in a back room of the police station.

Stones continued to pelt the building, and around 8 P.M. the cry “NOW!” was heard. Picking up clubs, iron bars, and axes which had been stacked outside of Wheaton’s hardware store, a band of men, some with burnt cork smeared on their faces, rushed the building. Doors and windows were smashed. The gas jet lamps of the front office went out. A stone knocked down one of the deputies. Within minutes the rescuers had forced their way into the police station. Marshal Fitch stood guard behind the door of the inner room in which Jerry was being kept. With cries of “old Oswego is coming!,” the rescuers charged the door with a ten-foot pine beam. Just then, Fitch stepped out of the back room and fired two shots at the mob. Someone smashed his arm with a club, and he jumped out a second-story window.

The abolitionists now had their prize. They carried Jerry out the front door and paraded him through the streets to the hurrahs of others. Sixteen-year-old Lucy Watson recalled that soon after she returned to where she lived on Irving Street, William Thomson rapped at the door. What followed was high drama --

   And he says, “I’ve got Jerry.” Then my sister Frances got out and my sister and I made a queen’s chair like the children make with their hands and we carried him into the house that way, Thomson steadying him.

   We lived in the basement. When we got him there Jerry was awfully frightened. His face was bleeding and his hands shackled. He explained his bruises in this way: When the crowd broke open the door the officer was so frightened that he put Jerry in front of him to protect himself until he got to the door, then slipped away. Jerry got a stone in the forehead before the crowd appreciated that they had him.

   We started to get the shackles off. We worked a good while with a hammer and flatiron, and finally broke them. Mrs. Mahala Robbins and I buried them in the garden, for we knew it was high treason if we were discovered.

   Then we tried to get someone to file off the handcuffs. We finally got Peter Lilly, the blacksmith, after we had been there twice, to come and do it. He was an Abolitionist and he was so excited when he found that we had Jerry that he could scarcely file them.

   Then we put some women’s clothes on Jerry and took him into the back yard and boosted him over the back fence, and that was the last we saw of him.68

Disguised in a dress, hood, and shawl, Jerry took refuge for four days at the home of an unlikely ally, a pro-slavery Democrat named Caleb or “Cale” Davis who lived at Genesee and Orange streets.

Characteristic of those who demonstrated for Jerry’s release, Davis, described as “a butcher of rough exterior and great physical strength” and a hot-head who “never met the sweet-tempered Samuel May in public without reviling him,”69 resented the intrusion of outsiders and had a strong sense of fair-play. After receiving medical care and food, Jerry was secreted in the bottom of Davis’s meat wagon, given a gun and covered with sacking, and, on Davis’s weekly drive out of the city to buy beef, driven north. Davis headed toward Cicero on the plank road. Earlier, he had gone the same route and bribed the toll keeper to delay any pursuers. During the next few days, Jerry was passed on from abolitionist to abolitionist, from Brewerton to Mexico, where he was harbored by Orson Ames in a house that still stands.70

Then it was on to Oswego, where with the aide of Sidney Clarke, he boarded a British schooner bound for Kingston, Canada, and freedom. The Sidney Clarke farmstead was located in Scriba on the outskirts of Oswego. Clarke’s son, John Jackson Clarke wrote a short memoir in 1931 in which he said:

As it would never do for one of father’s abolitionistic (sic) proclivities to be seen convoying a negro toward the wharf, strategy had to be employed. Just after dark daddy accompanied the fugitive to a point where the houses of the city proper commenced, near the corner of Tenth and Oneida streets, and started ahead, bearing a heavy hickory cane, whose iron ferule made a resonant whack on the sidewalk and enabled the negro to follow at a discreet distance. Northward on Tenth to Bridge street, thence straight down and across the river to Water Street, which was traversed to a point near the vessel’s side, where the famous fugitive was stowed away, provided with food and a small sum of money. In due time a few neatly written lines were received from some point in Canada, reporting his safe arrival.71

Jerry sent a letter from Kingston thanking his rescuers. He farmed until succumbing to tuberculosis and died on October 8, 1853. His final resting place may be Cataraqui Cemetery in Kingston.72

The “Jerry Rescue” received widespread comment in the national press, and Syracuse’s renown as a bastion of antislavery sentiment grew stronger. Southerners, of course, condemned the actions of the rescuers, and many conservative Northern editorialists described the forcible rescue as unwarranted and unwise. Northerners skittish about the danger of fueling sectional tensions decried those who flaunted the Fugitive Slave Act. During the four-year period between the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which nullified that part of the Missouri Compromise which prohibited the expansion of slavery into the territories gained by the Louisiana Purchase north of latitude 36E-30', one hundred and sixty fugitives came before federal tribunals and were returned to their owners or were taken back without due process. Nine fugitives were rescued from federal custody; the rescue of Jerry has been described as “the most dramatic and influential early instance of resistance.”73 After the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, white Northerners became more supportive of efforts to thwart the Fugitive Slave Act. But in 1851 the abolitionists of Syracuse dared to do what few other Northern cities could boast of.

The Jerry rescuers contained a disproportionate number of commercial and professional people. Of the fifty-two male participants, sixty-eight percent belonged to this class. At least twelve of the fifty-two known rescuers were African Americans, among whom were Prince Jackson, Samuel R. Ward, Jermain W. Loguen, Peter Hallenbeck, William Gray, Enoch Reed, John Lyles, William Thompson, and James Baker.74 Less than two weeks after the tumultuous events of October 1, abolitionists met in Syracuse to applaud the actions of the rescuers. Samuel J. May argued that they had not violated any law but had instead vindicated the natural rights of man by setting aside an “unnatural, cruel edict.”75 President Fillmore told James R. Lawrence, United States attorney for western New York, that the “supremacy of the laws must be maintained, at every hazard and at every sacrifice.”76 In a gesture of defiance, the Vigilance Committee sent Fillmore a box containing the shackles worn by Jerry. The President’s zeal to have violators of the Fugitive Slave Law prosecuted was not tempered by this gift.

Federal Judge Alfred Conkling of Auburn issued warrants for the arrest of the rescuers and by October 15 five men had been apprehended. Other warrants and arrests followed. Some of the rescuers feared that charges of treason would be leveled against them, but at the preliminary hearing conducted in Auburn, eight of the rescuers were charged with violating section seven of the Fugitive Slave Law, which provided punishment for individuals who “knowingly and willingly obstruct, hinder, or prevent” the capture of an escaped slave. Bail was set at $2,000 for the white defendants and $500 for the black defendants. William Henry Seward posted bail for the blacks, and several Syracuse citizens did so for the whites. On November 5, 1851, a federal grand jury in Buffalo indicted an additional five persons for having “engaged in the Syracuse riots.”77 Samuel May wrote William Lloyd Garrison on November 23, 1851, that as of that date “twenty-five persons have been indicted, twelve of them colored men, all but three of whom have escaped to Canada . . . and four of the white men have also gone thither.”78 The trial of the rescuers moved from Auburn to Buffalo, then to Albany where Enoch Reed, a black laborer, was convicted of violating the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793.

In an ironic twist, the issue of the constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Law was sidestepped in the government’s case against Enoch Reed. Because Jerry was not technically the property of McHenry at the time of his escape (having been sold in absentia), the government could not prosecute Reed under the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Instead, they charged Jerry with resisting a federal officer who was discharging official duties under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793. The jury convicted Reed on this lesser count, but he died of consumption during the appeal process.

The jury deadlocked, eight for acquittal and four for conviction, in the case of Ira Cobb, a white mason who was perhaps more instrumental than anyone else in gaining access to Jerry on the evening of the rescue. The cases of the other Jerry Rescue defendants ended in hung juries or acquittal.79 Despite a concerted effort and the expenditure of nearly fifty thousand dollars, federal prosecutors did not succeed in punishing anyone for violating the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Abolitionist protests of the trials made it clear that the “Jerry Rescue” was a defining moment in the fight against slavery in North Star Country.

 Leaders in the deliverance of Jerry countered with their own lawsuits. They charged James Lear, McReynolds’s agent, with attempted kidnapping, but he died before coming to trial. They then charged U. S. Deputy Marshall Henry W. Allen with violating the 1840 state personal liberty law.80 Allen came to trial on June 21, 1852, in Syracuse before Justice R. P. Marvin of the State Supreme Court. The abolitionists turned the two-day trial into a debate about the constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Law. Gerrit Smith spoke for the prosecution. He gave a long speech in which he declared, “If an execution is put into the hands of the sheriff, for the purpose of having him levy on hogs, he may take it for granted, that all is right--for he knows that hogs are property. But if a process is put into his hands, for the purpose of having him treat a human being as property, and reduce that human being to slavery, then he is bound to pause, and to enquire, whether the law for that process can possibly be a Constitutional, valid law.”81 Judge Marvin directed the jury to bring in a verdict of not guilty.

Each October 1st until the Civil War, and intermittently thereafter, abolitionists used the occasion of the anniversary of the “Jerry Rescue” to tout the region’s humanitarian and liberal spirit and to call for renewed vigor in the ongoing struggle to create a more equitable society. Abolitionists held the first of the “Jerry Rescue” celebrations on October 1, 1852. Five thousand people attended and heard William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Gerrit Smith, Lucy Stone, Lucretia Mott, and others condemn the odious law. Songs such as “Come join the Abolitionists,” “Duty to the Free,” and “Hope and Faith,” a hymn written by Garrison, were sung.82 Syracuse’s conservative elements attempted to disrupt the celebration by closing all public facilities to participants, but John Wilkinson, owner of the Syracuse Railroad, opened the company’s engine house, a rotunda 150 feet in diameter, to the abolitionists and their supporters. On October 1, 1853, shortly after the end of the “Jerry trials,” Samuel J. May arranged for another celebration. He gave a speech in which he declared that no law had been broken, because no law protecting slavery could exist; no slave had escaped because no such thing as a slave could exist. “Can a man be turned into a horse or a stone?,” he exclaimed. “Can immortality be merchandise?”83 In 1867, at seventy years of age, May would say of his involvement in resistance to the Fugitive Slave Law, “. . . I have not lived long enough yet, to be ashamed of anything I said, or did, for the Rescue of Jerry.”84

Jermain Loguen’s wife and friends had prevailed upon him to seek asylum in Canada. He stood accused of assaulting one of the marshals during the melee at the time of the rescue and felt particularly vulnerable. Loguen went to St. Catharines and from there wrote New York Governor Washington Hunt on December 2, 1851. He did not deny being present in Syracuse during the “Jerry Rescue,” but he contradicted the claim that he had engaged in any violent act and pointed to the injustice enshrined in the Fugitive Slave Law.

It was ordered by an all-wise Providence, that watches over the falling sparrow and numbers the very hairs of our head, that I should visit again this glorious land of refuge about the time some of my fellow-sufferers in freedom’s cause were being arrested at Syracuse; but be it known that I am not here, sheltered under the protecting aegis of her Majesty’s powerful Government, as a felon or a fugitive from justice--for I have committed no crime--but the fiendish machinations of the merciless slave-hunters, and their equally guilty, but infinitely meaner and more contemptible Northern abettors (officials and non-officials), with the fear of flagrant injustice, have driven [me] to these shores.85

Loguen wanted Hunt to guarantee that he would not be prosecuted as a fugitive slave if he voluntarily returned to Syracuse where his wife and four children remained. Loguen was willing to stand trial “for rescuing Jerry, and that alone.”86 The Governor ignored the request. Nevertheless, Jermain returned to Syracuse in the spring of 1852 Apart from Loguen’s desire to rejoin Caroline and the children, his decision to come back was an expression of confidence in the depth of antislavery feeling in central New York.            As Loguen wrote Douglass on January 13, 1852 while still in St. Catharines: “The rescuers of Jerry, were the people of Syracuse and Onandagua [sic] County . . . .”87 Though Loguen tends to be viewed as the hero of the Jerry Rescue, he gave credit to all those who had a hand in the affair and was aware that they and their families too faced great risk.

            When back home in Syracuse Loguen took up his Underground Railroad work with renewed zeal. He had many helpers in the city and the county other than the Rev. Samuel J. May, whose house had become too small to provide shelter for the hundreds of fugitives passing through Syracuse each year. Passage of the Fugitive Slave Act had increased the volume of traffic as many runaways who had been living in central New York now headed for Canada. From Canada, Henry Bibb reported via The Voice of the Fugitive on November 5, 1851: “ . . . the road is doing better business this fall than usual. The Fugitive Slave Law has given it more vitality, more activity, more passengers and more opposition which invariably accelerates business.”88 Some of the most stouthearted, even Samuel R. Ward crossed over the 49th parallel. Of the impact of the Fugitive Slave Act, Frederick Douglass

Fugitive slaves who had lived for many years safely and securely in western New York and elsewhere, some of whom had by industry and economy saved money and bought little homes for themselves and their children, were suddenly alarmed and compelled to flee to Canada for safety as from an enemy’s land--a doomed city--and take up a dismal march to a new abode, empty-handed, among strangers. My old friend Ward, of whom I have just now spoken, found it necessary to give up the contest and flee to Canada, and thousands followed his example.89

The political backlash that followed the Jerry Rescue increased the risk for some fugitives. The following notice appeared in the November 6, 1851 edition of Frederick Douglass’ Paper:

EXCITEMENT AT SYRACUSE. - The Grand Jury of this county have found an indictment against James Lear, of Missouri, and United States Deputy Marshal Allen, for an attempt to kidnap the negro Jerry. It is reported today that a fugitive slave, the wife of a man named Wendell, whom the Marshall had a warrant for, made her escape from the city by the aid of some friend, who had acquired a knowledge of the intended arrest. This morning, placards were found pasted about the city, warning the people against the kidnapper.90

            Loguen’ return is further testimony to the depth of support runaways had in Syracuse and neighboring towns and villages. Onondaga County, as fellow Underground Railroad agent Eber M. Pettit testified, had the reputation of being “the great central depot of the institution in this State” because of the work of Jermain Loguen and his supporters. “He is respected,” Pettit wrote, “and beloved by all classes in Syracuse, where he has lived many years, and no other man could have done so much for the U. G. R. R. as he did . . . .91 Loguen reciprocated in kind, saying in a letter to the public placed in Frederick Douglass’ Paper, June 8, 1855, of those in Syracuse and vicinity who gave aid and comfort to runaways, “When such as these leave their warm beds in the coldest nights of a winter like the past, to lead these shivering and stricken ones to the Underground Railroad Depot, where I and my family are found, I am encouraged to believe that the prowling man-hunter better not dwell in or pass incog [sic] through our blessed little city.” Loguen then tempered his warm words with an admonition. Friends of the slave had to do more than deliver captives from whips and chains. “Who, then, in and about Syracuse will take into their shops and on their farms our coloured youth, and discipline and educate them to the industry and arts of life, as white children are educated?” Loguen acknowledged that “the schools and many churches in Syracuse are thrown open to us and our children,” but he called for more— for open access to the mechanical and agricultural fields and for opportunities for both boys and girls to learn a suitable trade. All those willing to assist were asked to leave their names “with Abner Bates, or at Wynkoop & Bro. Bookstore, or at the office of the Mayor of this city.”92 Loguen’s letter asked central New Yorkers to go the second mile; how they responded to the continuing presence of African Americans in their midst would speak volumes about their moral convictions.

            Loguen, himself a fugitive, knew how desperately runaways needed a place to rest as they made the long trek to freedom. Born about 1813 in Davidson County, Tennessee, Loguen escaped in 1834 by stealing a horse named “Rock” and making his way to Canada. After farming a few years, Loguen went to Rochester in 1837 where he worked as a hotel waiter until enrolling at Oneida Institute. While studying there under Beriah Green’s guidance, Loguen started a Sunday School for African American children in nearby Utica. He married Caroline Storum of Busti, New York, in 1840 and a year later moved to Syracuse, where he found a black population of about two hundred in a community of approximately seven thousand. Loguen taught school and became a licensed preacher of the African American Episcopal Zion Church, serving congregations in Syracuse, Bath, Ithaca, and Troy. However, his vocation was as much an abolitionist activist as it was a preacher of the Gospel. When the flow of fugitives through Syracuse grew too large for Samuel J. May to handle by himself, he asked Loguen for assistance.93 Loguen had been aiding runaways almost from the day he arrived in Syracuse.

            Loguen became the General Agent of Syracuse’s Fugitive Aid Society beginning in 1857. His home at 293 East Genesee Street served as the official Underground Railroad station in the city. Notices appeared in the local press advertising his agency:

 Fugitive Aid Society. --A large and interesting quarterly meeting of the Executive Committee of this Society was held last Friday, at their rooms. The President, Rev. S. J. May, in the Chair. The report of the General Agent, Rev. J. W. Loguen, in regard to the Underground Railroad and its working at present, was cheering and encouraging. This road was never doing a better business than at this time. All wishing to take stock in this valuable and mysterious Railroad will do well by calling on the Agent or some other members of the Society soon. The stock is rising.94

Loguen placed letters in the Syracuse papers seeking employment for fugitives in area shops and farms. In 1859, thirty fugitives for whom Loguen had found jobs expressed their appreciation by giving a financial contribution to the Fugitive Aid Society and adding personal gifts for Loguen and his wife Caroline, including a butter knife and an engraved sugar spoon. Money, food, clothing and other forms of assistance came not only from local abolitionists but from sources outside the city. The Irish Ladies Antislavery Society (Great Britain) sent Loguen $72.79 in February 1859.95 Loguen published his calling card in the local newspapers:

To the Friends of Humanity:--The entire care of the Fugitives who may stop at Syracuse, for comfort and assistance, having been devolved upon me by the Fugitive Aid Society, I hereby give notice that I shall devote myself assiduously to the duties I have undertaken to discharge. I must depend for the support of my family, and of the operations I am to conduct, upon the liberality of the friends of freedom. I shall gratefully receive money, clothes and provisions.--I will make faithful use of the same, and will report semi-annually (in Frederick Douglass’ Paper, and the Syracuse Standard and Journal,) the amounts that I have received, and of the numbers of Fugitives that I have sheltered, and have found homes for. Meanwhile, and at all times, my accounts will be open for the inspection of any friends of the cause. Syracuse, Sept. 17, 1857.96

In 1859, Loguen provided details of how he and Caroline aided fugitives for Douglass’ Monthly:

The slaves come to us with their frostbitten feet, and then we go to work to get them healed. Sometimes we have to keep them for weeks and months--we have two mothers, with a child each, to care for with us at present. Their husbands were sold, and they made their escape and came to us some months ago. We have a father that has just got to us with his little daughter about three years old; its mother was taken from it, and the father then ran away with the child, so that man thieves could not get it. We are caring for them too at present. It takes about all the time of myself and family to see after their wants; I mean the fugitives. We have so much to do in the night that some nights we get little or no sleep. They often come sick, and must be cared for forthwith.97

       Though Jermain and Caroline Loguen carried on their Underground Railroad labors in a surprisingly public way, other friends of the fugitive worked in the background. We know very little about some of them. For example, Eber Pettit knew of a certain “Mr. Barbour of Onondaga County” who went into Virginia and rescued a woman by the name of Statie and her daughter Lila by secreting them under straw in his wagon box. Pettit remembered:

When out of sight of settlements, they sometimes went out and picked berries, and when safe to do so they walked about in the night. He stopped at taverns or farm houses, leaving the wagon in the barn. The wagon was what is called in that country a “Jersey wagon,” having six posts and covered with oil cloth. When inquired of as to the contents of the box he said he had been peddling clocks, and was going home to York State, and as he drove a splendid team his word was taken without examination.98

The “Mr. Barbour” of whom Pettit wrote has yet to be positively identified.            Underground Railroad operatives in Syracuse sometimes forward their charges onto Rochester. There is an undated note in the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society papers regarding the link between Syracuse and Rochester. William Oliver wrote to Maria G. Porter, a principal in Rochester’s Ladies Antislavery Society, from “Fred’k Douglass’ Office” one Thursday morning, “Will you please attend to this man--a fugitive from Maryland. He came here this morning, directed here by Mr. J W Loguen of Syracuse. Both Mr. Douglass and Watkins are absent from the city.”99 One of the earliest references to Harriet Tubman, known as the Black Moses, is found in a letter written by William E. Abbot of Syracuse to Samuel Porter, husband of Maria. Abbot served as treasurer of Syracuse’s Fugitive Aid Society, which was constituted in January 1856 for the purpose of raising money to assist runaways.100 On November 29, 1856 Abbott sent a letter to Samuel Porter, an abolitionist in Rochester. Abbott wrote:

            Mr. Porter

                        Dear Sir

            The woman who accompanies the party on their way to Freedom is well known to us for her untiring devotion to the cause of the enslaved. She herself an escaped bondwoman and this is the second company that she has brought forth out of the land of servitude at great risk to herself. It has been our custom to forward all directly on to the Bridge. But now our funds fail us & we are obliged to send them forward to the different half way houses that are on their route.

                                                                                    Yours for the Enslaved,


                                                                                    W E Abbott Treasurer

                                                                                    Syracuse Fugitive Aid Society101

Abbott’s reference to Tubman is one of the few surviving documents to link Tubman with Syracuse. She would settle in Auburn, some fifteen miles to the southwest of Syracuse, in 1857 or early 1858. In 1856 she was still operating out of St. Catharines, Canada West, and the reference in Abbott’s note to Porter of “the Bridge” probably refers to the Suspension Bridge a Niagara Falls over which Tubman escorted fugitives to freedom, having gone by rail from central New York to the Niagara frontier.

            Abbott is an example of a cohort of prominent residents of Syracuse who gave assistance to freedom seekers. Horace White was of this number. One of the directors of the New York Central Railroad, he had good reason to ally himself with men of property and influence who opposed the abolitionists and protected southern interests. But he chose another course. Some years after his death, his son, Andrew D. White, divulged to the historian and Underground Railroad researcher Wilbur Siebert how the senior White helped escaped slaves board the steam locomotives.

I met an old “abolitionist” of Syracuse, who said to me that he had often come to my father’s house, rattled at the windows, informed my father of the passes he needed for fugitive slaves, received them through the window, and then departed, nobody else being the wiser. On my asking my mother, who survived my father several years, about it, she said, “Yes, such things frequently occurred, and your father, if he was satisfied of the genuineness of the request, always wrote off the passes and handed them out, asking no questions.102

This “old abolitionist” may well have been Charles Merrick. In his “Reminiscences of the Jerry Rescue,” Merrick says, “Horace White was then the president of the New York Central railroad, and he humanely provided me with free passes for the fugitives to Canada and freedom.”103

            Not all blacks who sought assistance from Syracuse’s Underground Railroad network proved to be runaways. In 1852 , J. R. Johnson of Syracuse sent a warning to Frederick Douglass: “It is highly probably that a colored young man, about eighteen years old, calling himself ‘George,’ is an imposter, so far as his professed desire to hasten to Canada is concerned. I arrive at this conclusion by comparing contradictory reports which he has given of himself, in Livonia, Richmond, East Bloomfield, &c.”104


IV. Onondaga County and the Coming of War


            The decade of the 1850s was a turbulent period. Abolitionists in Onondaga County did not isolate themselves from the growing national conflict over slavery. In the wake of the Kansas Nebraska Act, pro-slavery partisans battled with free soilers out in the west. Onondaga County abolitionists got behind the anti-slavery settlers. In late June 1855, supporters of the Kansas Aid movement met in Syracuse with kindred spirits at a three-day convention of the Radical Abolitionist Party. The Radical Abolitionists, some of whom were ex-Liberty party stalwarts, considered slavery an “unsurpassed crime” and believed that the federal government had the power to abolish slavery in the states and territories. Gerrit Smith, William Goodell, Lewis Tappan, S. S. Jocelyn, W. E. Whiting, James McCune Smith, George Whipple, and Frederick Douglass signed the “Address” of the convention, affirming the aggressive antislavery constitutionalism which could be used to justify abolitionist participation in the conflict over “popular sovereignty” and slavery.

            John Brown attended the Syracuse conclave on its last day. In a fiery speech, he solicited funds to purchase arms for himself and his sons so that they could repel “Satan and his legions” out in Kansas. Frederick Douglass bolstered the arms proposal, but other Upstate New York abolitionists, notably Samuel J. May, hesitated. For them, guns, violence, and abolitionism still constituted an unholy trinity.105

            In Syracuse, Rochester, and elsewhere in North Star Country, abolitionists and their allies planned memorial services for the day of John Brown’s execution, December 2, 1859. The New York Times reported the following on December 1 in a column titled “Sympathy for the Condemned”–-“The Wesleyan Methodists in Syracuse, N.Y., have appointed a prayer-meeting at their Chapel, on Friday morning, at 6 o’clock, for the purpose of offering up prayer for John Brown, who is to be executed on that day. All Christians in that city are invited to attend this meeting.”106 Hoping to thwart an outbreak of violence, May attended the gathering in Syracuse. At six-thirty in the evening the bells of City Hall tolled out the age of John Brown, striking once for each of his fifty-nine years. The assembled mourners stood silently but during the service that followed they transformed the event into a war demonstration. May managed to sublimate their anger in a resolution urging Congress to call a national convention to abolish slavery. “It was a noble gesture,” writes historian W. Freeman Galpin, “but that was all.”107 Due to the efforts of Susan B. Anthony, about 300 people gathered at Corinthian Hall in Rochester for a meeting of mourning and eulogy. Anthony presided. She records in her diary that “not one man of prominence in religion or politics will publicly identify himself with the John Brown meeting.”108 Fearing mob violence, the meeting’s organizers charged fifty cents for admission. Parker Pillsbury, a white Garrisonian, and the Reverend Abram Pryn, a Free Church minister, spoke.

            To make its case, the Times reprinted a letter Smith had written to John Thomas, chairman of the Jerry Rescue Committee, on August 27, 1859. Invited by Thomas to deliver the commemorative address at the approaching anniversary of the deliverance of Jerry in 1859, as he had done each year since 1851, Smith declined. He still believed that the rescue of Jerry was “a great and glorious event,” demanded of the abolitionists as a demonstration of their own humanity. He had frequently boasted that Jerry had been snatched from the evil grasp of slavery without bloodshed. But in the late summer of 1859, less than two months before the assault upon Harpers Ferry, Gerrit Smith, who had from time to time flirted with violence, rhetorically at least, came close to the precipice. “It is perhaps,” he wrote Thomas, “too late to bring Slavery to an end by peaceable means--too late to vote it down. For many years I have feared, and published my fears, that it must go out in blood.”109 The Times editorialized that Smith’s words to the Jerry Rescuers of Syracuse “will be read with interest, as a prophecy, if nothing more, of the outbreak at Harpers Ferry.”110 Of the “lesson of the hour” given at Harpers Ferry, Wendell Phillips said, “Insurrection of thought always preceded the insurrection of arms. The last twenty years have been insurrection of thought. We seem to be entering on a new phase of the great moral American struggle.”111


V. Putting the Underground Railroad out of Business


            The North did not enter the Civil War with the intention of freeing the slaves and thereby putting the Underground Railroad out of business. Nevertheless, because of the Yankee defeat of the Confederates, full emancipation was made possible. Onondaga County contributed to the defeat of the Confederacy, and African Americans from central New York did their fair share.

            The State of New York had eighty-seven regiments and batteries in position at the Battle of Gettysburg. Among them was the 149th Regiment of the New York State Volunteers from Onondaga County. Its silk flag, fringed with yellow and bearing the thirty-four stars of the United States of America, was donated in 1906 by the veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic to the County Clerk’s office, where it remains today in a wood and glass case, so fragile that if taken out and unfurled it would fall apart. On the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, eighty-eight bullets shot through the flag in the fighting under the command of Brigadier General George S. Greene in defense of the eastern slope of Culp’s Hill. When the flag’s staff was severed and the emblem of the 149th fell, Sergeant William Lilly climbed over a dirt wall, and on hands and knees with bullets flying all about, dragged the flag to safety. He lashed the staff together using splints from a cracker box and leather straps from a knapsack and held it aloft. Lilly died in a battle in Tennessee, but the flag was brought back to Syracuse by his surviving comrades. Civil War veterans had likenesses of the flag and William Lilly sculpted in bronze on monuments in Clinton Square in Syracuse and at Gettysburg.112

            Black Americans were willing to contribute to the fighting and the dying if the conflict became something more than a white man’s war. Jermain Loguen was serving an A.M.E. Zion congregation in Binghamton when the Civil War began. He recruited a company of African Americans known as “Loguens Guards.” State officials in Albany prohibited them from enlisting.113 In April 1861, African Americans eager to fight attended a “war meeting” held in Syracuse at Loguen’s Zion Church. The Syracuse Journal reported on April 23, “They resolved to stand by the Stars and Stripes to the death. Between 30 and 40 brave men formed themselves into a company, and many more are ready to join. They are going to offer their services to the governor of the state.”114 A few weeks later, the Syracuse Courier remarked, “A company of colored volunteers has been raised in Syracuse, 82 strong. An Albany company contains 95 members. Should the governor accept them, the Rev. Mr. Loguen intends going to Canada and bringing down two regiments of fugitives from St. Catherine’s and one from Montreal, which are already raised.”115

            Douglass spoke in Syracuse on March 11, 1863, from the pulpit of the A.M.E. Zion Church with as much eloquence as he had ever mustered: “Who would be free themselves must strike the blow. I urge you to fly to arms and smite to death the power that would bury the government and your liberty in the same hopeless grave. This is your golden opportunity.”116 Ten men signed up that night. Douglass returned on March 26th. Of his visit then, the Syracuse Journal reported, “The war meeting at Zion’s Church last evening was largely attended. Frederick Douglass made an effective address and six recruits responded. There have been 23 colored recruits raised in this city and they will be sent forward next week. They have joined the colored regiment now being raised in Massachusetts, the 54th from that state. This regiment is to be organized the same as the others, except that the field and staff officers are to be whites.”117 Douglass escorted the recruits to Boston and Camp Readville by way of Binghamton and New York City where he also gathered up men willing to fight. Syracuse was not alone in sending recruits to Massachusetts. Five men from Chemung County walked from Elmira to Boston to join up with the 54th.118

            Shaw and a small force made it to the parapets of Fort Wagner, South Carolina, before being cut down by a fuselage of Confederate shot and shells. Less than half of the original force survived the bloody attack. Among the casualties were a twenty-nine-year-old black resident of Syracuse, George Washington by name; a seaman who died August 3, 1863 from the wounds he received on July 18; and James P. Johnson, age 21 of Oswego, formerly a barber, who was wounded at Fort Wagner and died of disease in Jacksonville, Florida, on April 4, 1864.119 A dozen or so blacks from Syracuse’s Eighth Ward were among the 20 killed, 100 missing and presumed dead, and 147 wounded. The Syracuse Journal of August 3, 1863, reported, “The 54th Massachusetts Regiment, colored, which fought so bravely in the assault upon Fort Wagner, Morris Island, had 15 men in its ranks who enlisted from this city. Col. Shaw of Boston, commanding this regiment, was among the slain. To mark their despite for having to fight Negroes, the rebels buried the Col. in a pit with 20 of his men. Perhaps it will be all the same at the general resurrection.”120

            The carnage of the Civil War came to and end when the last rebel troops surrendered on May 26, 1865, almost a full month after Lee and Grant met at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Lincoln was now dead, and not a few African Americans feared that the freedom cause might have died with him. But the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery, ratified on December 6, 1865, was now in effect. The new challenge was to carry on the humanitarian crusade epitomized in the Underground Railroad endeavor in which so many residents of Onondaga County participated.


VI. The Abolitionist Legacy


            Edmonia Highgate was one of the many Upstate New Yorkers who responded to the appeal to aid the those who had survived the House of Bondage. Born in Syracuse in 1844, the daughter of a barber, she graduated from high school with honors, taught in Montrose, Pennsylvania, for a year, and then became principal of a black school in Binghamton. In January 1864 she wrote the American Missionary Association, which had been founded in 1846 to oppose slavery, asking to be placed in the South or Southwest: “I am about twenty years of age and strong and healthy. I know just what self-denial, self-discipline and domestic qualifications are needed for the work and modestly trust that with God’s help I could labor advantageously in the field for my newly freed brethren. . . .121 The A.M.A. first appointed Highgate to Norfolk, Virginia (her mother’s native state), where she was deeply moved by the sufferings of the black men, women, and children who had waited so long for the chance to study geography and arithmetic. Emotionally exhausted from her labors, she returned to North Star Country in the summer of 1864 and after recuperating traveled about the region seeking funds for her educational work. Loguen wrote Gerrit Smith asking him to help Highgate: “She has been a very worthy worker both North & South among our Freed brethren. She enjoys the fullest confidence of this community and I must say she is much beloved by the freed men where she has been teaching in Norfolk and other places.”122 In October 1864, Highgate spoke of her work at the National Convention of Colored Men held in the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Syracuse, an opportunity rarely given to women in the black conventions of the nineteenth century.123

            Highgate returned to the South after a time of rest in Syracuse and in the spring of 1865 worked briefly in Darlington, a rural town in Maryland. Assigned next to Louisiana, she served in New Orleans as Principal of Frederick Douglass School, which was housed in a former slave pen. White rioters attacked the Unionists in July 1866, forcing Highgate out of the city into rural Lafayette Parish.124 There she taught among the “French Creoles.” Whites opposed her, threatened to burn her school and boarding place. She was shot at twice. The next year Highgate returned to New Orleans but resigned from teaching when the city’s “old rebel School Board” proposed a segregated public school system. Determined to “rather starve than stoop once inch on that question,” she moved to Enterprise, Mississippi, in 1868, and in the fall of 1869 returned to Upstate New York as a collection agent for the A.M.A. to raise funds to repair a church in Jackson, Mississippi, which was being used as a school. In February 1870 she spoke before the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, telling the abolitionists that their work was “not yet half done; and if it is not thoroughly done, it will have to be done over again.”125 Little else is known of this young woman’s last years except that she was preparing to take a position at Tougaloo Normal School in Mississippi.

            Edmonia wrote Gerrit Smith on September 2, 1870, asking him invite her sister Carrie to Peterboro. A teacher stationed in Jackson, Mississippi, Carrie had recently married A. T. Morgan, a white abolitionist and Mississippi State Senator. Edmonia told Smith of how the couple had barely escaped being mobbed by whites on the night of their marriage. Temporarily visiting Albany, New York, they were apprehensive about returning to Mississippi.126  Carrie and her husband had good reason to fear the worst, for their interracial romance ran afoul of contemporary fears of amalgamation. Democratic apologists for slavery had coined the term “miscegenation” to stigmatize their Republican opponents and tried to use it against Lincoln in the Election of 1864.127 Only the most progressive writers of the time dared treat the theme of interracial love in fiction. Louisa May Alcott, the niece of the Reverend Samuel J. May and a frequent visitor to Syracuse, did so in several stories published before the appearance of her most well-known novel, Little Women.128

            On October 17, 1870, the Syracuse Daily Courier carried a item under the heading “Melancholy and Sudden Death.”129 Edmonia Highgate, age 26, had been found dead in Syracuse in the house of an abortionist. Her purse contained a ticket for a trunk of belongings which she had been forced to leave with a pawnbroker. Though the exact circumstances are unknown, she seems to have fallen in love with John Henry Vosburg, assistant editor of The National Quarterly Review, a learned quarterly published from 1860 to 1880. Vosburg’s wife was in a mental institution, and he, a poet delicate in health (a “cripple,” according to one source) with two children, was dependent upon his wife’s family. These circumstances and public hostility toward their interracial romance proved too burdensome for Highgate and so her death was doubly tragic. A. T. Morgan wrote Gerrit Smith that his sister-in-law was preparing to return South to pick up her work when he and Carrie last saw her. Yet she had spoken to Carrie of “an overwhelming premonition that she should die soon.”130 Edmonia is buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Syracuse, near the grave of her father and that of her brother Charles, who died April 2, 1865, of wounds received in the battle at Petersburg, Virginia.131

            The Rev. Samuel J. May was especially active in the post-war reconstruction effort. A key figure in the Syracuse or Onondaga County freedmen’s association, he corresponded with James Miller McKim regarding the placement and support of young women who sought fulfillment of their own antislavery feelings in the crusade to educate blacks in the South. In 1866 May wrote McKim about the needs of three teachers from the Syracuse area who were stationed in Florida. Syracuse’s Freedman’s Relief Association was prepared to pay half the expenses of the women but they were in need of additional support and better housing. May pleaded with McKim not to remove Cornelia Smith from St. Augustine when her initial term expired, saying of her, “She is a conscientious, sensible, diligent, enterprising, and courageous woman. I consider her superior to any of the young ladies we have sent from this part of the state.”132 About a year later, May wrote McKim about Chloe Merrick who was resigning her post because of her impending marriage to Governor Harrison Reed of Florida.133At the same time, May instructed McKim to make sure that three boxes of schoolbooks collected in Syracuse be directed to teachers Thomas W. Cardozo of Elizabeth City, North Carolina, Jennie Greene of Columbia, South Carolina, and Emma Norris (Merrick’s successor) at New Bern, North Carolina.134 The Rev. Samuel J. May died in 1871, two years after he summed up his involvement in the black freedom struggle with Some Recollections of Our Antislavery Conflict. In his recollections May confessed that he had moved from Boston to Syracuse in 1845 fearing that his ardor for the freedom cause might cool so far from the furnace of New England’s brand of abolitionism. The Unitarian clergyman was pleased to find so many of his new neighbors and fellow-citizens dedicated to immediatism135




            The Rev. Jermain Loguen was elected to the office of bishop at the A. M. E. Zion General Conference in 1868 with responsibility for the Allegheny and Kentucky Conferences. Two years later he assumed oversight of the Second District, which included his home Genesee Conference. In 1872 he was about to take up a new assignment to do mission work on the Pacific Coast when tuberculosis forced him to resign and seek a cure at the mineral springs in Saratoga Springs. It was there on September 30, 1872, that Loguen died. Loguen’s funeral was held in Syracuse’s First Methodist Church on October 4, 1872, and he was buried in Oakwood Cemetery not far from the grave of Edmonia Highgate. The Syracuse Journal noted in its obituary of Loguen that he “enjoyed the respect of everybody in this community, and was welcome wherever his duty or social relations called him.”136 Loguen’s own sentiment toward the place where he had stood tall for freedom can be inferred from a letter he wrote from exile in Canada following the Jerry Rescue asking Governor Hunt for “the shield of protection in the free course of justice.” “I have,” Loguen declared, “resided long enough in her Britannic Majesty’s dominions to have become a British subject; but having lived for many years in the State of New York, at Syracuse, as a minister of the Gospel and `citizen of no mean city’, I have never been able to produce any other certificate of freedom than the one which was indelibly written upon my constitutional nature, by the finger of the Almighty.”137 Loguen’s eloquent words are a fitting epitaph to the long and rich history of Onondaga County’s freedom trail.







1Cited in the Post Standard (Syracuse), November 28, 1857.


2The claim is made that Loguen “welcomed to his house and aided to Canada one thousand and five hundred fugitives.” See [Jermain W. Loguen], The Rev. J. W. Loguen, as a Slave and as Freedman (New York: J. G. K. Truair & Co, 1859), 444. This assertion, which cannot be otherwise verified, appears in the Conclusion of Loguen’s so-called “Narrative of Real Life.” Though unnamed in the original publication, John Thomas, a white lawyer and abolitionist living in Syracuse, wrote this mediated biography. Proceeds from its publication were intended to offset expenses of running the Syracuse station. See Carol M. Hunter, To Set the Captives Free: Reverend Jermain Wesley Loguen and the Struggle for Freedom in Central New York, 1835-1872 (New York: Garland, 1993), 20-1.

3Eber M. Pettit, Sketches in the History of the Underground Railroad (1879; rpt., Westfield, N. Y. (Chautauqua Region Press, 1999), 105.


4Onondaga County’s present political boundaries were not arrived at until 1850 due to territorial losses to nearby counties.


5 Frederick Cook, ed., Journals of the Military Expedition of Major General John Sullivan Against the Six Nations in 1779 with Records of Centennial Celebrations (Auburn: Knapp, Peck & Thompson, 1887), 17.


6Timothy C. Cheney,  Reminiscences of Syracuse (Syracuse: Onondaga Historical Association, 1914), 136.

7Draw from the retrospective tables “Free Colored” and “Slave” in Ninth Census, Vol. I of The Statistics of the Population of the United States for 1870 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1872), 51-52.


8Onondaga Register, April 17, 1816.


9 The law of 1817 retroactively provided uncompensated emancipation for approximately 10,000 individuals held as slaves. A few slaves appear in the census materials after 1827 because non-residents were still allowed to bring slaves into the state. An 1841 statute outlawed this practice. On the legislative history, see Carl Nordstrom, “The New York Slave Code,” Afro-Americans in New York Life and History 4 (January 1980): 7-25; Edgar J. McManus, “Antislavery Legislation in New York,” Journal of Negro History 46 (October 1961): 207-15; and Arthur Zilversmit, The First Emancipation: The Abolition of Slavery in the North (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967), 213.

10Excerpt found in Clayton Mau, The Development of Central and Western New York from the Arrival of the White Man to the Eve of the Civil War as Portrayed Chronologically in Contemporary Accounts (Dansville, NY: F. A. Owen Publishing Company, 1958), 264-65.


11Access to Syracuse along a portion of the Erie Canal began on April 21, 1820, when the canal boat “Montezuma” reached Syracuse.

12The Colored American, sometime after Sept. 20, 1837


13Thomas James’s owner, Asa Kimball of Canajoharie, Montgomery County, once traded him for a yoke of oxen. James fled to Youngstown, Niagara County, worked on Canada’s Welland Canal, and then returned to the United States thinking that his stay in the Province of Upper Canada, where slavery had been abolished by the Imperial Act of 1793, made him free under American law. This was not the case, and when James, at age nineteen, settled in Rochester in 1823 he was technically, at least, a runaway subject to re-enslavement. We know something of the day-to-day struggles James experienced when African Americans were small in number in Upstate New York because of a brief autobiography he wrote and published in pamphlet form. Thomas James, Wonderful Eventful Life of Rev. Thomas James. By Himself (3rd ed.; Rochester, N.Y.: Post-Express Printing Company, 1887). Republished as “The Autobiography of Rev. Thomas James,” Rochester History 37 (October 1975): 21-32.

14“Historical Resume of the People’s A.M.E. Zion Church,” from the Souvenir Program dated May 10, 1991 of the 150th Year Celebration (Sesquicentennial), People’s A.M.E. Zion Church, 1841-1991, 2. The Zion congregation remained at the South Crouse Avenue address until 1911 when a new building was erected at 711 E. Fayette Street.


15 The Syracuse press also mentions the First Free African Church at Lodi, pastored by William Jenkins in 1853. Syracuse Standard, January 11, 1853.


16 For a comprehensive study of Garrison’s reform career, see Henry Mayer, All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.)


17Under Finney’s influence, hundreds of small prayer groups organized, new churches started, and scores of men and women committed themselves to evangelical work and benevolent campaigns such as the temperance movement, the movement to reinforce the sanctity of the Sabbath by restricting secular activity, and the promotion of Christian education, foreign and domestic missions, and, most importantly, as we shall soon see, the abolition of slavery. Finney’s methods, which were emulated by others, came to be called “new measures,” and the firestorm of revivals that engulfed Upstate New York during the twelve-year period from 1825 to 1837 belongs to the general conflagration of religious enthusiasm and moral passion known as the Second Great Awakening. The classic account of the Second Great Awakening in New York State is Whitney R. Cross, The Burned-Over District: The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800-1850 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1950. See also Keith J. Hardman, Charles Grandison Finney, 1792-1875: Revivalist and Reformer (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1987), 41-43. Charles G. Finney, The Memoirs of Charles G. Finney: The Complete Restored Text (1875), edited by Garth M. Rosell and Richard A. G. Dupuis (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1989.


18On the connections between the evangelical and the abolition movements, see Anne C. Loveland, “Evangelicalism and ‘Immediate Emancipation’ in American Thought,” Journal of Southern History 32 (May 1966): 172-88.


19For a fuller account of the founding and transformation of Oneida Institute as well as Beriah Green’s work as educator, reformer, and abolitionist, see Milton C. Sernett, Abolition’s Axe: Beriah Green, Oneida Institute, and the Black Freedom Struggle (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1986).



20John L. Myers, “The Beginning of Anti-Slavery Agencies in New York, 1833-1836,” New York History 43 (April 1962): 155.


21[Loguen], J.W. Loguen, 358. Friend of Man, March 1, 1837. Alfred Wilkinson, one of those who was so hostile to the organization of a county society in 1835, became president of the Onondaga County Anti-Slavery Society in 1840. Esther C. Loucks, “The Anti-Slavery Movement in Syracuse from 1839-1851" (M.A. thesis, Syracuse University, 1934), 6.


22Loucks, “Anti-Slavery Movement,” 6.


23These dates come from a careful reading of the Friend of Man. See Alice Henderson, “The History of the New York State Anti-Slavery Society” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan, 1963), 389-406.


24Report of the meeting, Skaneateles Columbian, February 7, 1838.


25Skaneateles Columbian, April 18, 1839.


26 Amos Phelps to Mrs. Phelps, August 11, 22, 1835, cited in Anthony J. Barker, Captain Charles Stuart: Anglo-American Abolitionist (Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1986), 114.


27Proceedings of the New York State Anti-Slavery Society Convention, Held at Utica, October 21, and New York Anti-Slavery State Society, Held at Peterboro’, October 22, 1835 (Utica: Standard & Democrat Office, 1835), 26.


28Proceedings of the First Annual Meeting of the New York State Anti-Slavery Society, Convened at Utica, October 19, 1836 (Utica: For the Society, 1816), 14.


29Ibid., 29.


30Loguen, J. W. Loguen, 365. The Loguen narrative continues: “We called this female companion ‘another white lady,’ because nothing in her complexion, dress, or deportment, and nothing in the treatment of her that was publicly seen, designated her as one of the abject race.”

31Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Eighty Years and More: Reminiscences, 1815-1897 (1898; reprint, New York: Schocken, 1971), 62-63.


32 The Harriet Powell circular, a copy of which is in the Onondaga Historical Association archives, Syracuse, is reproduced in Barbara S. Davis, A History of the Black Community of Syracuse (Syracuse: n. p., 1980), 6, and in Sperry, Jerry Rescue, between pages 60 and 61.


33 Stanton, Eighty Years and More, 63.


34 Cited in Stanton, Eighty Years and More, 64. Many years later, Elizabeth Smith Miller, daughter of the celebrated abolitionist, revealed that Harriet, whom she referred to as the “White Slave,” had been taken by Federal Dana (Smith’s clerk) from her father’s house directly to Cape Vincent. From there Dana wrote, “I saw her pass the ferry this morning into Canada.” Letter from Miller to Siebert, September 21, 1896, cited in Wilbur H. Siebert, The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom (1898; reprint, New York: Russell & Russell, 1967), 12.

35Loguen, J. W. Lougen, 368.


36For a good general account of political abolitionism, see Richard H. Sewell, Ballots for Freedom: Antislavery Politics in the United States 1837-1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976).


37James L. Sundquist, Dynamics of the Party System: Alignment and Realignment of Political Parties in the United States (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1973), 45.

38Figures drawn from the table provided by Douglas M. Strong, Perfectionist Politics: Abolitionism and the Religious Tensions of American Democracy (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1999), Appendix B, 181-86.


39 “Is the Constitution Pro-Slavery? A Debate between Frederick Douglass, Charles C. Burleigh, Gerrit Smith, Parker Pillsbury, Samuel Ringgold Ward, and Stephen S. Foster in Syracuse, New York, on 17 January 1850,” in Frederick Douglass Papers, II: 229.

40Douglas M. Strong, “Partners in Political Abolitionism: The Liberty Party and the Wesleyan Methodist Connection,” Methodist History 23 (January 1985): 99-100. For a detailed analysis of the correlation between abolitionism and comeouter churches in Upstate New York, typified in support for the Liberty Party, see Strong, Perfectionist Politics, especially Appendix A.


41Luther Lee, Autobiography of the Rev. Luther Lee, D.D. (1882; reprint, New York: Garland, 1984), 252.

42North Star, January 14, 1848.


43The two-story addition on east side of the church and the brick tower over the western entrance were constructed in 1858. A spire was added to the tower in 1878. The Wesleyan Methodist Society of Syracuse building became the First Gospel Church of Syracuse in 1965. In the 1980s, the structure went up for sale, then stood vacant for a number of years, and more recently it has housed a restaurant.


44Strong, Perfectionists Politics, 102. On the relationship between Lee’s abolitionism and evangelical revivalism, see William C. Kostlevy, “Luther Lee and Methodist Abolitionism,” Methodist History 20 (1982): 90-103.


45 Douglas V. Armstrong and Lou Ann Wurst, “‘Faces’ of the Past: Archaeology of an Underground Railroad Site in Syracuse, New York,” Syracuse University Archaeological Report 10 (January 1998), 81 pp., is a detailed and judicious examination of the sculpted faces in their historical and archaeological contexts. Preservationists removed the faces in February 1999 with the intent of putting them on permanent display at the Onondaga County Historical Association museum in Syracuse. “Church Carvings are Preserved,” History Highlights 12 (Summer 1999): 1.

46Luther Lee, Autobiography of the Rev. Luther Lee, D. D. (New York: Phillips and Hunt, 1882), 331.


47Charles Merrick, “Reminiscences of the Jerry Rescue,” Northern Christian Advocate, November 15, 1893.


48Joseph A. Allen to Wilbur H. Siebert, August 10, 1896, W. H. Siebert Manuscript Collection.

49The Rev. Michael Strieby served Plymouth until 1864 when he became corresponding secretary of the American Missionary Association. Formed in 1846, the nonsectarian AMA brought Christian abolitionists into a missionary fellowship which after the Civil War worked directly among the newly freed slaves. Strieby also helped found schools such as Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, and Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia. Upon his death in 1899, Oberlin College trustees memorialized Strieby as follows: “He was often at the front immediately after the war encouraging despondent teachers, gathering about him a great mass of negroes just freed from bondage, seeking to inspire them with purposes of self-control and self-direction. And to him it was given to see the full and complete victory of the principles for which he suffered in early manhood and to whose realization he struggled with tireless energy in midlife.” Cited from George Bain, “Congregationalists formed association for abolition; local pastors played roles,” Syracuse Herald-American, February 8, 1998, D6. Evamaria Hardin, Syracuse Landmarks (Syracuse: Onondaga Historical Association/Syracuse University Press, 1993), 121, 136-38.

50Samuel J. May, Some Recollections of Our AntiSlavery Conflict (Boston: Fields, Osgood & Co., 1869), 278-85. On May’s extensive reform career, see Jane H. Pease and William H. Pease, “The Gentle Humanitarian: Samuel Joseph May,” in Bound with Them in Chains (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1972), Chapter 12, and Donald Yacovone, Samuel Joseph May and the Dilemmas of the Liberal Persuasion, 1797-1871 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991).


51May, Recollections, 292.


52The Impartial Citizen ceased publication in Syracuse on June 19, 1850, but resumed on July 10, 1850 in Boston, to which Ward moved. The paper ceased in October 1851 when Ward declared bankruptcy. Samuel R. Ward, Autobiography of a Fugitive Negro (London: John Snow, 1855). Shortly after the publication of his narrative, Ward went to Jamaica where he ministered to a small congregation and settled on a modest lot given him while in England. He died about 1866. His last years are rumored to have been preoccupied with attempts to fend off the grip of alcoholism and poverty. See also Ronald K. Burke, Samuel Ringgold Ward: Christian Abolitionist (New York: Garland, 1995).


53The Impartial Citizen, October 5, 1850.


54The members of the Vigilance Committee were Charles A. Wheaton, Dr. Lyman Clary, V. W. Smith, C. B. Sedgwick, Hiram Putnam. E. W. Leavenworth, Abner Bates, George Barnes, Patrick H. Agan, Jermain W. Loguen, John Wilkinson, the Rev. R. R. Raymond, and John Thomas. Loguen, J. W. Loguen, 396.


55 W. H. Burleigh to Gerrit Smith, October 17, 1850, Gerrit Smith Papers, Syracuse University.


56 Jermain W. Loguen, The Rev. J. W. Loguen, As a Slave and As a Freeman (1859; reprint, New York: Negro Universities Press, 1968), 394-95.


57 Loguen, The Rev. J. W. Loguen, 391, 393-94.


58 Milton C. Sernett, “`A Citizen of No Mean City’: Jermain W. Loguen and the Antislavery Reputation of Syracuse,” Syracuse University Library Associates Courier 22 (Fall 1987), : 33-55. Loguen, The Rev. J. W. Loguen, 394.

59 Daniel Webster, The Writing and Speeches of Daniel Webster (Boston: Little, Brown, 1903), 13: 420. Robert F. Dalzell, Jr., Daniel Webster and the Trial of American Nationalism, 1843-1852 (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1973).


60 Samuel J. May, Some Recollections of Our Anti-Slavery Conflict (Boston: Fields, Osgood, and Co., 1869), 374.


61 Lucy Watson was sixteen at the time of the rescue. Her statement, first published in 1894, is contained in Earl E. Sperry, The Jerry Rescue (Syracuse: Onondaga Historical Association, 1924), p. 42. In addition to the Sperry account, which made use of contemporary newspapers and includes testimonies from eyewitnesses and informants who had Jerry Rescue stories passed on to them, my reconstruction of the events of October 1, 1851, is compiled from the Loguen, May, and Ward autobiographies. They sometimes vary on details, as does the press of the day. Useful secondary sources in addition to the Sperry volume are W. Freeman Galpin, “The Jerry Rescue,” New York History 26 (January 1945): 19-34; and Jayme Sokolow, “The Jerry McHenry Rescue and the Growth of Northern Anti-Slavery Sentiment during the 1850s,” Journal of American Studies 16 (December 1982): 427-45. Constance Robertson wrote a fascinating book-length fictional account of the Jerry Rescue using many primary sources. See her Fire Bell in the Night (Philadelphia: The Blakiston Company, 1944).


62 May, Recollections, 375. William Henry of North Carolina claimed ownership of Jerry’s mother and may possibly have been his father. Sometime after 1818 the Henry family and slaves moved to Missouri and settled near Hannibal in Marion County. Jerry escaped in 1843 with the intention of finding refuge in Canada, but during the winter of 1849-1850 he apparently made his way to Syracuse because of its reputation for racial tolerance and economic opportunity. In 1845, William Henry sold Jerry (in absentia) to a Mr. Miller and died four days later. His widow married John McReynolds, to whom Miller resold Jerry on July 8, 1851, at a time when Jerry was already in Syracuse. Somehow McReynolds found out that Jerry was living in Upstate New York and authorized James Lear to bring him back to Missouri. Lear arrived in mid-September, but Commissioner Joseph F. Sabine demanded proof of McReynolds’s claim to ownership. Sheriff Samuel Smith of Marion County, Missouri, showed up at midnight on September 30 with the required deed of sale and other papers.

63 Samuel Ringgold Ward, Autobiography of a Fugitive Negro: His Anti-Slavery Labours in the United States, Canada, & England (1855; reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1968), 117-28.

64 Cited from Loguen, The Rev. J. W. Loguen, 409.


65 May, Recollections, 377. Donald Yacovone, Samuel Joseph May and the Dilemmas of the Liberal Persuasion, 1791-1871 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991), 145.


66 Loguen, The Rev. J. W. Lougen, 402.


67 The Syracuse Daily Standard, a Whig paper, claimed that the crowd numbered ten thousand, but this figure may be more a reflection of the paper’s pro-rescue sympathies than accurate reporting. See the issues of October 4 & 5, 1851. The Rochester press was reporting that the crowd numbered “four or five thousand.” Rochester Democrat as reprinted in Frederick Douglass’ Paper, October 9, 1851.

68 Cited from Watson’s statement in Sperry, Jerry Rescue, 42-43.


69 Cited from the statement of Ella B. Moffett, published in the Syracuse Herald, included in Sperry, Jerry Rescue, 44.

70The Orson Ames Greek Revival wood frame home is located at 58 West Main Street.


71 John Jackson Clarke, “Memories of the Anti-Slavery Movement and the ‘Underground Railway,’” typescript, dated December 29, 1931, p. 3, Oswego County Historical Society, Oswego, New York. Clarke has this additional reference (pp. 2-3) to Jerry. “The news of his flight was telegraphed to all points and officers and Southern agents were watching all avenues of escape to Canada. He arrived at the farm on a dark night in custody of a trusty servant in uncle’s employ and remained hidden for four days, awaiting a favorable chance to pass him on. On the fourth day father found a vessel tied up on the west side near where the enormous lumber yards used to be, that was to sail that night, and made arrangements with the captain to carry him across.” On Jackson’s recollections, see Melanie K. Jackson, “Oswego-area man’s memoir tells of Underground Railroad,” Madison Accent section to the Syracuse Herald-Journal, March, 5, 1997.


72 Elizabeth Simpson, Mexico, Mother of Towns (Buffalo, N.Y.: J. W. Clement Co., 1949), 353. It is not clear from where Simpson got her information regarding Jerry’s place of burial and date of death. Efforts to locate the grave have been unsuccessful. It is possible that Jerry was placed in an unmarked grave.


73 Sokolow, “Jerry McHenry Rescue,” 429.


74 Sokolow, “Jerry McHenry Rescue,” 440-41, 444-45. For a diligent attempt to sort out the conflicting evidence as to the number of rescuers and their ethnic and social class identities, see Carol M. Hunter, To Set the Captives Free: Reverend Jermain Wesley Loguen and the Struggle for Freedom in Central New York, 1835-1872 (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1993), 129-33. Hunter counts forty-two white participants, fourteen of whom were indicted, and twelve African American, all of whom were indicted.


75 Samuel Joseph May, Speech of the Rev. Samuel J. May, to the Convention of Citizens of Onondaga County (Syracuse: Agan & Summers, Printers, 1851), 2.

76 Attorney General John J. Crittenden to United States Attorney, James R. Lawrence, October 6, 1851, quoted in Syracuse Daily Standard, November 3, 1851.


77 Sperry, Jerry Rescue, pp. 27-28. Sperry reports that Ira H. Cobb, Moses Summers, W. S. Salmon, James Davis, Stephen Porter, Harrison Allen, William Thompson and Prince Jackson were indicted at Auburn. Allen, Thompson, and Jackson were African Americans. Indicted at Buffalo were William L. Crandall, L. H. Salisbury, J. B. Brigham, Montgomery Merrit, and Enoch Reed, an African American.


78 Samuel May to William Lloyd Garrison, November 23, 1851, in W. P. and F. Garrison, William Lloyd Garrison 1805-1879: The Story of His Life Told by His Children, 4 vols. (New York: Century Company, 1889), 3: 336.

79Hunter, To Set the Captives Free, 135-38.


80 “Every person who shall, without the authority of law, forcibly remove, or attempt to remove from this State any fugitive from service or labor, or any person who is claimed as such fugitive, shall forfeit the sum of five hundred dollars to the party aggrieved, and shall be deemed guilty of the crime of kidnapping, and, upon conviction of such offence, shall be punished by imprisonment in the State Prison for a period not exceeding ten years.” New York State Personal Liberty Law of 1840. See Thomas D. Morris, Free Men All: The Personal Liberty Laws of the North, 1780-1861 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974).


81 “Abstract of Gerrit Smith’s Argument,” in Trial of Henry W. Allen, U. S. Deputy Marshal, for Kidnaping, with Arguments of Counsel & Charge of Justice Marvin, on the Constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Law, in the Supreme Court of New York (Syracuse: Power Press of the Daily Journal Office, 1852), 9-10.

82Frederick Douglass’ Paper, October 15, 1852.


83 Cited in Yacovone, Samuel Joseph May, 151.


84Samuel J. May, A Brief Account of His Ministry: Given in a Discourse Preached to the Church of the Messiah, in Syracuse, N.Y., September 15th, 1867 (Syracuse: Masters & Lee, 1867), 40. This is how May, an avowed disciple of nonresistance, rationalized his participation in the forcible rescue of Jerry: “I declared that I had no confidence in the use of deadly weapons, that I would not carry even my cane to the rescue of one, who should be seized under the Law. I would hold a man who was attempting to execute it, if I could, overpower him if I had strength so to do: but not intentionally harm a hair of his head.” May, Brief Account of his Ministry, 51.

85 Jermain Wesley Loguen to Washington Hunt, December 2, 1851, The Black Abolitionist Papers, edited by C. Peter Ripley (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986), II: 195.


86 Quoted from a letter written by Loguen to Rev. Joseph Johnson, representative of the American Missionary Association and one of Jerry’s rescuers by Hunter, To Set the Captives Free, 136.


87Frederick Douglass’ Paper, February 5, 1852.


88 The Voice of the Fugitive, November 5, 1851. Fred Landon, “The Negro Migration to Canada after the Passing of the Fugitive Slave Act,” Journal of Negro History 5 (January 1920): 22-36.


89 Douglass, Life and Times, 279.


90Frederick Douglass’ Paper, November 6, 1851.

91 Eber M. Pettit, Sketches in the History of the Underground Railroad (Fredonia, N. Y.: W. McKinstry & Son, 1879, republished with introduction and notes by Paul Leone, Westfield, N.Y.: Chautauqua Region Press, 1999), 105.


92“Rev. J. W. Loguen’s Letter,” Frederick Douglass’ Paper, June 8, 1855. Abner Bates was a tanner, store owner, and member of the abolitionist First Congregational Church, founded in 1838 as a comeouter congregation from Syracuse’s First Presbyterian Church. He also belonged to the Vigilance Committee of thirteen set up to oppose the Fugitive Slave Law.

93 Samuel J. May, Some Recollections of Our Anti-Slavery Conflict (Boston: Fields, Osgood, and Co., 1869). On May’s extensive reform career, see Jane H. Pease and William H. Pease, “The Gentle Humanitarian: Samuel Joseph May,” in Bound with Them in Chains (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1972), Chapter 12, and Donald Yacovone, Samuel Joseph May and the Dilemmas of the Liberal Persuasion, 1797-1871 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991).


94 Syracuse Standard, June 22, 1857.


95 Benjamin Quarles, The Black Abolitionists (New York: Oxford University Press, 1969), 157, 159.


96 From the Syracuse Standard, September 28, 1857.


97 Douglass’ Monthly, May 1859. Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society Records, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan.


98 Pettit, Sketches in the History of the Underground Railroad, 53.


99Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society Records, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan.


100The Rev. Samuel J. May acted as president, and Dr. James Fuller served as secretary. The Society disbanded in the fall of 1857 and turned its work over to Loguen who had been a member of the group’s executive committee and general agent. Henceforth, donations were to be made directly to Loguen and he was make an accounting “for the inspection of any friends of the cause.” Syracuse Standard, September 30, 1857.


101 W. E. Abbot to Samuel Porter, November 29, 1856, Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society Records, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


102 Cited in Siebert, Underground Railroad, 80.


103 Merrick, “Reminiscences,” 1.


104Frederick Douglass’ Paper, July 9, 1852.


105 Harlow, Gerrit Smith, 339-41.


106 New York Times, December 1, 1859.


107 Galpin, Central New York, II: 194.


108Cited from Hanmer-Croughton, “Anti-Slavery Days in Rochester,” 147.


109 This letter is also in Frothingham, Gerrit Smith, 240-41.


110 New York Times, October 20, 1859.

111 Speech delivered on November 1, 1859 in Henry Ward Beecher’s Church of the Pilgrims, Brooklyn, New York, in Wendell Phillips on Civil Rights and Freedom, edited by Louis Filler (New York: Hill & Wang, 1965), 96. This speech was published in the New York Times, November 2, 1859.


112 Jim Reilly, “Flags kept in courthouse are little-known historical gems,” Syracuse Herald Journal, February 2, 1996, B2. John Doherty, “Historic Flag at End of Its Rope,” Syracuse Herald American, June 14, 1998, B2. The monument to the 149th of New York is located at Gettysburg on North Slocum Avenue. Kathleen R. George, The Location of the Monuments, Markers, and Tablets on the Battlefield of Gettysburg (Gettysburg, Pa.: Gettysburg National Military Park, 1982), 11.


113 Carol M. Hunter, To Set the Captives Free: Reverend Jermain Wesley Loguen and the Struggle for Freedom in Central New York 1835-1872 (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1993), 225.


114 Syracuse Journal, April 23, 1861.


115 Syracuse Courier, May 7, 1861.


116 Douglass, as cited in John Doherty, “Syracuse blacks fought to enlist in Union Army,” Syracuse Herald-Journal, February 15, 1996, p. 1. This was language reminiscent of Douglass’s famous essay “Men of Color, To Arms,” which appeared first in the North Star, March 2, 1863, and can be found in Douglass, Life and Times, 339-41.


117 Syracuse Journal, March 27, 1863.


118 Ellen McTiernan, “Our Melting Pot: Eight `Minorities’,” in Chemung County 1890-1975 (Elmira, N.Y.: Chemung County Historical Society, Inc., 1976), 519.


119 Luis F. Emilio, History of the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865 (1894; reprint, New York: Johnson Reprint Corp., 1968), 348.


120 Syracuse Journal, August 3, 1863.

121 Edmonia Highgate to George Whipple, January 18, 1864, in We Are Your Sisters: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century, edited by Dorothy Sterling (New York: W. W. Norton, 1984), 294-95.


122 Loguen to Smith, April 27, 1865, Gerrit Smith Papers, Syracuse University.


123 Proceedings of the National Convention of Colored Men Held in the City of Syracuse, N. Y., October 4, 5, 6, and 7, 1864 (Boston: J. S. Rock and George L. Ruffin, 1864).


124 Joe M. Richardson, Christian Reconstruction: The American Missionary Association and Southern Blacks, 1861-1890 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986), 196-97. On the beginnings of educational efforts for blacks in New Orleans, see Patricia Brady, “Trials and Tribulations: American Missionary Association Teachers and Black Educators in Occupied New Orleans, 1863-1864,” Louisiana History 31 (Winter 1990): 5-20.


125 Cited in Sterling, ed., We Are Your Sisters, 301.


126 Highgate to Smith, September 2, 1870, Gerrit Smith Papers, Syracuse University. Edmonia included a clipping from the Syracuse Journal which described Carrie as a quadroon, “finely educated” and “remarkably beautiful.”


127 Sidney Kaplan, “The Miscegenation Issue in the Election of 1864,” Journal of Negro History 31 (July 1949): 274-343.


128 See the collection of Alcott’s abolitionist interracial romances edited by Sarah Elbert, Louisa May Alcott on Race, Sex, and Slavery (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1997).


129 The notice reads in part: “Last Friday morning Undertakers Ryan were notified that a woman died suddenly at the house of a woman named Mrs. Paine, residing at No. 67 Taylor street. They immediately proceeded to the place designated and removed the body to their rooms, and notified the Coroner, who held a post-mortem examination Saturday which showed that the woman was enceinte and died from the effects of treatment for abortion. The body of the unfortunate victim who thus lost her life while endeavoring to hide her shame, was identified as that of Miss Edmonia Highgate, a mulatto, aged about thirty, and a school teacher by profession. She was seen in the city a week ago last Saturday so that the story about her arriving from Binghamton last Tuesday is untrue. She was dressed in a brown suit, with a black silk overskirt. She also wore a gray balmoral skirt with a plaid border. She had with her a satchel, filled with underclothing. In the satchel were found her wallet, containing something over $5 in money and a pawn ticket issued by Lewis Taylor of this city, on the 19th of October, she having pawned her trunk and contents for $16.55 . . . . Miss Highgate was well-known in this city, as she was born and educated here, and at one time taught school in the Eighth Ward. She then moved to Binghamton, and from there went to the South, where she was engaged for a long time teaching the impoverished sons and daughters of her own race. We are informed that her last occupation was that of a book agent. But she has now fallen a victim to her own shame and guilt, and is a sad warning to others to beware how they trifle with their lives, as God often visits the death penalty upon those who would act contrary to both the laws of nature and to nature’s God. We hope that the guilty miscreant who administered the antidote that caused the death of the unfortunate woman will be discovered and get what he justly merits.” Syracuse Daily Courier, October 17, 1870.


130 A. T. Morgan to Smith, October 21, 1870, Gerrit Smith Papers, Syracuse University.


131 Ronald E. Butchart, “`We Best Can Instruct Our Own People’: New York African Americans in the Freedmen’s Schools, 1861-1875,” Afro-Americans in New York Life and History 12 (January 1988): 30, 35. [Gary Paul Weinstein], “Edmonia Highgate of Syracuse, New York (1844-1870): Teacher, Orator, Crusader, Freedom Worker,” pamphlet of The Edmonia Highgate Memorial Fund (in author’s possession). I participated in a dedicatory ceremony in 1988 at the unveiling of a headstone and dedication plaque at Edmonia’s grave. The plaque contains a line from one of Edmonia’s letters reporting on her work: “Oh how inspiring the thought that these dear souls are `Forever Free.’”


132 Samuel J. May, to J. M. McKim, July 26, 1866, Samuel J. May Anti-Slavery Collection, Kroch Library, Cornell University. The other two women were Eliza J. Smith and Fannie J. Botts. May to McKim, July 9, 1866, May Anti-Slavery Collection, Cornell.


133 Chloe Merrick taught in a freedmen’s school at Fernandina, Florida. Her father and brothers had participated in the “Jerry Rescue,” and the Merricks were active in the Syracuse’s abolitionist Wesleyan Methodist Church. Sarah Whitmer Forster and John T. Foster,Jr., “Chloe Merrick Reed: Freedom’s First Lady,” Florida Historical Quarterly 71 (January 1993): 279-99.


134 May to McKim, July 20, 1867, May Anti-Slavery Collection, Cornell.


135 Samuel J. May, Some Recollections of Our Antislavery Conflict (Boston: Fields, Osgood, & Co., 1869), 323-29.


136 Syracuse Journal, October 1 & 4, 1872. Hunter, To Set the Captives Free, 227-28.


137 Loguen to Washington Hunt, December 2, 1851, Liberator, May 14, 1852, as cited in Milton C. Sernett, “A Citizen of No Mean City”: Jermain W. Loguen and the Antislavery Reputation of Syracuse,” Syracuse University Library Associates Courier 22 (Fall 1987): 45. Loguen is buried in Lot No. 55, Section 6 of Oakwood Cemetery, Syracuse. His wife Caroline died of consumption August 17, 1867, and is also buried in Oakwood.