Tag Archives: Underground Railroad

Emancipation Anniversary: A Grassroots Victory


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Almost lost in the depressing “Fiscal Cliff” spectacle was the anniversary marking one of the major positive milestones of our history — President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

On January 1, 1863, some 3 million people held as slaves in the Confederate states were declared to be “forever free.” Of course, it wasn’t that simple. Most of those 3 million people were still subjugated until the Union Army swept away the final Confederate opposition more than two years later. And slavery was not abolished in the entire United States until after the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution passed in 1865. Continue reading

Peter Slocum: Our New Underground RR Contributor


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Please join us in welcoming our newest contributor here at New York History, Peter Slocum.  Slocum is a former journalist and public health advocate who now serves the North Star Underground Railroad Museum in Ausable Chasm as a volunteer docent, writer and programs chair. Prior to retiring full-time in the Adirondacks in 2011, Slocum worked in and around state government for more than 35 years. Continue reading

Underground Railroad Conference Call for Proposals


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For more than ten years a group of community volunteers has been convening an Annual Underground Railroad Public History Conference sponsored by Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region (URHPCR).

The theme of this year’s conference will be, “Milestones to Freedom: Emancipation Proclamation, Harriet Tubman, and the March on Washington – a Legacy and a Future.”  The year 2013 is the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the 100th anniversary of the death of Harriet Tubman and the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. These, and other key anniversary events, are milestones along the road to achieving Martin Luther King’s vision articulated in his “I Have a Dream” speech.

This 12th annual conference on the Underground Railroad seeks to connect the Underground Railroad, these key events and present day struggles for freedom and justice. Toward this end the committee solicits proposals that elaborate, analyze and articulate these stories, connections within them and their relationship to the present.

Proposals are invited that address reinterpretations, teaching, new research, and that illustrate how such research can be used to celebrate the story historically and contemporarily, as well as other proposals related to the Underground Railroad in the past and its relationship with us today.

This year conference will be held April 12-14, 2013 at Russell Sage College in Troy and Albany, NY. Details are available at www.UndergroundRailroadHistory.org or by calling 518-432-4432.

Peter Feinman: New York and the Civil War


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The Union may have won the war but the South has won Civil War tourism and its legacy. It’s an extraordinary fact of life that wherever the National Park Service has a site, a battle was fought there! And they are all in the South with the major exception of Gettysburg.

Time and time again presentations on life back then in antebellum (before the war) times begin with Gone with the Wind, still the box-office champion adjusted for inflation. What story does the North including New York have to tell that can compare with the pageantry of the South, the chivalry of the idealized plantation, and the glamour of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara, Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh? Freedom and preserving the Union that made the world safe for democracy in the three world wars in the 20th century should count for something, even for Confederates. Continue reading

North Star Underground RR Museum Opens for Season


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New York’s newest Underground Railroad museum kicked off its second season last week and will present a series of presentations this year entitled “Hot Spots of Anti-Slavery Activity in the North Country,” supported in part by a grant from the Arts Council of the Northern Adirondacks.

This Saturday and Sunday, June 2 and 3, there will be tours of Underground Railroad sites in Peru and Keeseville at 9:30, both led by Don Papson.  There is a $10 fee; call 834-5180 to pre-register. Also, historic re-enactor Barbara Wass will portray Catherine Keese, the committed Peru abolitionist at 10 a.m. on Saturday and 1:30 on Sunday.  Those events are free.


On June 2, during Museum Day festivities, the Museum will present, “The War Before the War,” about the radical abolition movement that responded to the Fugitive Slave Law and other pro-slavery leanings by the federal government leading up to the Civil War.

Jane Williamson, director of the Rokeby Farm museum in Vermont, will illuminate the organizing efforts that mushroomed in Vermont and Northern New York.

The North Star Museum first opened in May 2010, and drew over 4,000 visitors to the restored stone house overlooking Ausable Chasm, just a few miles from Lake Champlain. Education programs are offered for school children, both at the museum and in schools, and the museum shop boasts an extensive collection of books on slavery, abolition, the underground railroad and related topics. For further information, visit: www.northcountryundergroundrailroad.com.

1862 Focus of Peterboro Civil War Weekend


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The Peterboro Civil War Weekend Committee invites the public to step back to 1862 on June 9 and 10 to commemorate the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War. The 12th U.S. Infantry hosts the encampment. For two decades the Peterboro encampment has demonstrated aspects of military and civilian life. In recent years exhibits and programs on abolition and the Underground Railroad have been added.

During the event Peterboro relives the period of the mid 1800s when the hamlet held national recognition because of Gerrit Smith’s Underground Railroad station, the visitations of famous abolitionists, and the connection with John Brown that sparked the Civil War. Peterboro sites are on the Heritage NY Underground Railroad Trail and on the National Park Service Network to Freedom Underground Railroad Trail.In 1862 the United States was in the second year of its Civil War. In 1862 Peterboro citizens prepared for service in that war. The 20th Annual Peterboro Civil War Weekend will commemorate the nation’s Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, as well as celebrate the 20th anniversary of the educational and fund-raising event in the historic hamlet of Peterboro, Town of Smithfield in Madison County, NY.

According to the research of Smithfield Town Historian Donna Dorrance Burdick, the Utica Morning Herald & Daily Gazette reported that “Gerrit Smith has donated twenty-five dollars to each volunteer from this town who has enlisted under the last call of the President. The town has raised more than the whole quota of men required by the last two calls of the President.”

Days later a farewell reception was held on the Peterboro village green for the 157th NY Volunteer Infantry, a unit raised with men from Madison and Cortland counties. On horseback Smith addressed the troops and arranged for copies of the New Testament to be placed in the knapsack of each soldier. 150 years later on that same Peterboro green, during the opening day of the weekend, Dick Enders as Gerrit Smith and members of the 157th New York Volunteers (reenacting) will recreate segments of this 1862 scene. On Saturday Major Carmichael aka Don Jeffrey will host an exhibit on the 157th at the Smithfield Community Center.

During the weekend event, information on Smithfield citizens who served in the Civil War will be featured at the Peterboro Area Museum. Donna Dorrance Burdick, Smithfield Town Historian, has assembled town records, pension notices, discharge papers, letters, and other documents on the 157th NY Volunteers, as well as other military units and individuals. Burdick and her sister Beth Dorrance Spokowsky, President of the Peterboro Area Museum, will also be conducting their popular and informative tour of the Hamlet of Peterboro on Saturday and Sunday.

On September 22, 1862, President Lincoln shared his early draft of the (Preliminary) Emancipation Proclamation with his Cabinet. Lincoln released the final Emancipation Proclamation in January of the following year and donated the draft copy to the U.S. Sanitary Commission for a raffle to raise funds for the troops. Gerrit Smith bought most, if not all of the raffle tickets, and thus, became owner of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which he, in turn, donated back to the Sanitary Commission.That priceless document now resides in the New York State Library thanks to NYS legislative action in 1865.

During the 20th Civil War Weekend a facsimile of the proclamation given to the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum by the NYS Library will be on display at the Smithfield Community Center, 5255 Pleasant Valley Road, Peterboro. The U.S. Sanitary Commission and Abraham Lincoln (aka Jack Baylis) will once again be at the weekend event.

1862 is the year that legends and research indicate that the short musical piece of Taps began to be played to indicate the end of the day for soldiers. Cheryl Pula, Secretary of the (Brigadier General) Daniel Butterfield Civil War Round Table (which will be participating in the weekend event), explains “Butterfield wrote Taps at Harrison’s Landing, Virginia. The story is that he was tired of the bugle call used for “lights out,” so he wrote a new call, and gave it to his bugler, Oliver Norton. Norton played it, and the tune caught on, even with the Confederates who overheard it and used it.” The 2012 Peterboro Civil War Weekend will close on Sunday, June 10 with Taps in recognition of its addition to military regimen 150 years ago.

The annual event is an educational and fundraising event sponsored by the Smithfield Community Association, the Town of Smithfield, and private donors. Proceeds from the event support the preservation and promotion of the heritage of the Town of Smithfield. Saturday, June 9 hours are 10 am – 5 pm, and Sunday, June 10 from 10 am – 4 pm. Admission is $8 for adults, $3 for ages 6 – 12, and free for children under 6. Parking is free. For more information contact 315-684-3262 and civilwarweekend.sca-peterboro.org

Underground Railroad Conference This Weekend


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The 11th Anniversary Conference on the Underground Railroad Movement, sponsored by the Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region Conference, will be held at Russell Sage College in Troy, April 13-15th. This year’s conference, “The Underground Railroad Turned On Its Head – Old Themes, New Directions,” focuses on new research on the Underground Railroad, slavery, abolition and the 19th century. Old assumptions such as “There is little documentation of the Underground Railroad”, “The UGRR was a string of safe houses to Canada” and numerous other ideas are challenged by new research and interpretations.

The conference will feature:

Friday, April 13, 2012

An Educators’ Workshop

Opening Address – Manisha Sinha, PhD
“Fleeing for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves and the Making of American Abolitionism”

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Keynote Address – Barbara McCaskill, PhD
“A Thousand Miles for Freedom: A New Take on the Old Story of William and Ellen Craft, the Georgia Fugitives”

Artists in Residence – Miles Ahead Jazz Quartet

Spectres of Liberty
Experience history – step into the recreated Liberty Street Presbyterian Church of Henry Highland Garnet

Over 20 Workshops, plus Vendors & Displays

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A bus tour of UGR Sites in Rensselaer County by Kathryn Sheehan, Rensselaer County Historian.

The Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region researches, preserves, and retells New York’s regional history of the Underground Railroad, highlighting the role of African-American freedom seekers and local abolitionists.

More information can be found online.

New York Celebrates Black History Month


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In the 19th century, New York State was home to some of the most powerful abolitionists. Because of its proximity to Canada, New York became an important destination and temporary home for many African Americans fleeing slavery in the South. Today you can visit the former homes of prominent abolitionists such as Gerrit Smith and Harriet Tubman and follow the trail of the Underground Railroad, the network of secret routes and safe houses used by slaves to escape to the free states and Canada.

February is Black History Month and I LOVE NEW YORK is highlighting a remarkable period in history, the people who risked their lives to furtively abolish slavery, the sites you can visit to learn about them and the remarkable achievements that shaped our African-American heritage.

Here are just some of New York State’s many Underground Railroad sites:

Howland Stone Store Museum – Finger Lakes
The Howland family was very involved in abolition, women’s rights and world peace movements. This 1837 Cobblestone Store in the town of Aurora was an important station on the Underground Railroad. The museum preserves local, state and national history, where you’ll discover the stories of local sites involved in the Underground Railroad. The store is a vital part of the community and an eloquent reminder of the history of causes supported by the Howland family.

Harriet Tubman House – Finger Lakes
Harriet Tubman is the face of abolition. Known as the “Moses” of her people, Tubman embodied the true American ideal and spirit. A patriot, a war hero and instrumental in directing the Underground Railroad, she had the gift of touching everyone around her, earning praise and accolades from members of the U.S. Government and Queen Victoria of England. This historic site in Auburn, a tribute to the difference one person can make by caring for so many people, also includes the Home of the Aged, where she cared for the elderly during the last 50 years of her life. Her gravesite is nearby. The site includes the Home of the Aged where she cared for the elderly for the last 50 years of her life. Her gravesite is nearby.

Murphy Orchards – Greater Niagara
Stepping away from the classic colonial museum of the 1800s, Murphy Orchards, in the hamlet of Burt, offers an authentic example of the variety of stations that comprised the Underground Railroad. Charles and Libby McClew built the farmhouse, outbuildings, and barn that are all still used today and are believed to have been a part of the Underground Railroad from 1850 to 1861. The concealed chambers beneath the barn lend credibility and proof that this landmark served as an escape route for freedom-seeking slaves.

Fenton History Center – Chautauqua-Allegheny
Jamestown, New York is rich in Underground Railroad history and abolitionist activity. The Fenton History Center, located at the former mansion of Governor Rueben E. Fenton, is a community resource center for people of all ages to learn about the history of slavery and our nation. Governor Fenton was a close political associate of President Lincoln and an avid supporter of the abolition of slavery.

Old Fort House Museum – Capital-Saratoga
This landmark museum in Fort Edward was originally used as a fort during the French and Indian War. In 1829, a free and well-educated black man, Solomon Northup, along with his bride Ann Hampton, moved into the estate before Solomon was kidnapped and sold to slavery. Following his freedom and return home, he wrote a book entitled “Twelve Years A Slave”, considered to be as insightful on slavery and the north as the renowned “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”.

LinkPhilipsburg Manor – Hudson Valley
In Sleepy Hollow visit one of the largest and best documented slave sites in the North, Philipsburg Manor. A thriving farming, milling and trading center that relied on a community of enslaved African Americans to operate the complex, the Philipsburg Manor community contributed a great deal to the Hudson Valley’s historical development. Take part in 18th century hands-on activities, discover the riveting story of enslavement in the Colonial North, and explore the food systems, textile production techniques and medicinal practices of Philipsburg Manor’s inhabitants.

John Brown Farm – Adirondacks
The assault of the U.S. Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry in 1859 was the brainchild of abolitionist John Brown, who planned to use captured arms in an extensive campaign to liberate slaves. Following his capture and hanging for his leadership in planning this attack, Brown was laid to rest at his farm in North Elba, near Lake Placid. Today, visitors to the site can participate in guided tours, re-enactments and other activities.

The Gerrit Smith Estate – Central New York
Gerrit Smith is considered by contemporary scholars to be one of the most powerful abolitionists in the United States. He supported the work of abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and John Brown. Located in Peterboro, just minutes away from the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum, this valuable historic site provides tours, programs and a film presentation as well as special events and exhibits regarding the Underground Railroad.

National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum – Central New York
The National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum in Peterboro honors anti-slavery abolitionists, including their work to end slavery and the legacy of that struggle, and strives to complete the second and ongoing abolition – the moral conviction to end racism.

These are just some of the many landmarks throughout New York State that played a vital role in the slaves’ flight to freedom. This Black History Month pay tribute to the deeds and memory of the fascinating individuals who helped make freedom a reality for so many.

Take an Underground Railroad Tour
If you can’t decide which landmark to visit, consider taking a statewide tour of New York’s Underground Railroad heritage. In conjunction with I LOVE NEW YORK, tour operator Arena Travel is offering an Underground Railroad tour, May 5-17, 2012, to domestic and international travelers.

The Arena Travel Underground Railroad and Slavery in New York Tour tells the complete story of the African Americans’ struggle for freedom. From the gateway to freedom across the Niagara River into Canada, to early slavery in New York State, the figures and stories are all here to explore. Performances by Akwabaa, a performing arts and tour group in Rochester, tell the vivid story of the life of Frederick Douglass sheltering slaves in his home while he spoke out against the institution of slavery. Other stops on this Buffalo to New York City adventure include the homes of Harriet Tubman and Gerrit Smith, and Philipsburg Manor. Learn more about this exciting travel opportunity at www.arenatravel.com.

Peterboro Celebrates Black Heritage


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As Black History month commences, Peterboro, NY (in Madison County) is finalizing plans for 2012 programs that explore and explain the 19th Century history of African-Americans in the hamlet and its significance to the history of our nation.

On January 31st, the anniversary date of the Thirteenth Amendment that abolished slavery, the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum Traveling Abolition Museum exhibit was transported from Case Library at Colgate University to Memorial Library at SUNY Cortland for Black History Month.

The exhibit had been installed at Colgate for Martin Luther King Jr. commemorations at the college. Milton C. Sernett Ph.D. professor emeritus Syracuse University developed the text and visuals for the traveling museum that cover the history of American Abolition from slavery in the Colonial era to the Civil War.

Dr. Sernett, a member of the Cabinet of Freedom for the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum (NAHOF) in Peterboro, will also be presenting at SUNY Cortland on the Abolition Crusade in Upstate New York. Robert Djed Snead, a Jermain Wesley Loguen reenactor who performed at Loguen’s NAHOF induction in October 2011, will perform and present Loguen at SUNY Cortland. For the same month The History Center in Ithaca will be hosting the John Brown Lives! Timbuctoo exhibit during Black History Month. Timbuctoo explains Gerrit Smith’s plan to gift 3000 African-American men with 40 acres of land.

The 20th Annual Peterboro Civil War Weekend June 9 and 10, 2012 will join in the nation’s commemoration of the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War. Military battles were not waged on Peterboro soil, but Peterboro was the center of human rights activities that waged war against slavery, and those activities led to the ignition of the Civil War. Dr. Sernett will present The Terrible Swift Sword: Abolitionists and the Civil War. Also, Alice Keesey Mecoy, will return to NAHOF to share insights into her great, great, grandfather John Brown. NAHOF will exhibit a copy of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation gifted by the New York State library. Lincoln presented his draft of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation to his Cabinet on September 22, 1862. The New York State Museum will open an exhibit on September 22, 2012 about the Proclamation which was briefly owned by Gerrit Smith of Peterboro.

Sunday, July 1 at 2 p.m. at the Smithfield Community Center in Peterboro Dr. David Anderson of the Akwaaba Program at Nazareth College will portray Frederick Douglass’ in the delivery of Douglass’ famous Fifth of July speech. Saturday, August 4 the third annual 21st C. Emancipation Day will be held in Peterboro. On Sunday, August 5 Lesley Still Gist will detail the famous Underground Railroad work of William Still and his reunion with his long lost brother Peter Gist who came to Peterboro to seek help from Gerrit Smith. Saturday, August 18 at 7 p.m. Hugh Humphreys will present on the great Cazenovia protest against the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law.

The National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum Commemorations October 20, 2012 at Colgate University include the unveiling of Jermain Wesley Loguen’s banner for the Hall of Fame, as well as that of Abby Kelley Foster and George Gavin Ritchie for their risk-laden pursuit of freedom for slaves. Loguen’s afternoon symposium will be presented by Robert Djed Snead, and Snead will also re-enact Loguen during the evening celebrations.

Heritage New York Underground Railroad Trail and National Park Service National Historic Landmark exhibits on the Underground Railroad, abolition, and African-Americans of Peterboro are open from 1 – 5 pm Saturdays and Sundays May – September at the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark and the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum.

For more information refer to www.sca-peterboro.org, www.AbolitionHoF.org or 315-366-8101 as the season progresses.

Photo: Robert Djed Snead portrays Syracuse Underground Railroad station conductor Jermain Wesley Loguen at Loguen’s October 2011 Induction to the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum in Peterboro.

Syracuse Abolitionist Inducted to Hall of Fame


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Jermain Wesley Loguen, famous “Underground Railroad King” of Syracuse, will be inducted into the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum at Saturday, October 22, 2011 ceremonies to be held at Colgate University in Hamilton NY. Milton C. Sernett Ph.D. professor emeritus of African American Studies and History, Syracuse University, provides a brief history of the new inductee:

Born into slavery in 1813 “Jarm” stole his master’s horse in 1834 and escaped to Canada West where he farmed for a few years. In 1837 he went to Rochester, NY and worked as a hotel porter. Later he attended Beriah Green’s abolitionist school at Whitesboro, NY and while there he started a Sunday school for African American children in Utica. He married Caroline Storum in 1840 and they had six children, one of whom (Amelia) married Lewis Douglass, the son of Frederick and Anna Douglass.

The Loguens moved to Syracuse in 1841. Jermain taught school and became a licensed preacher of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, serving congregations in Syracuse, Bath, Ithaca, and Troy. He was as much an abolitionist activist as a minister and became one of the nation’s most active agents of the Underground Railroad. He assisted the Rev. Samuel J. May, a Unitarian clergyman in Syracuse, with Underground Railroad work. The Loguen house near the intersection of Pine and Genesee Streets was a principal station on the Underground Railroad. Loguen placed letters in the Syracuse press openly discussing his activities and asking for donations to assist fugitives. Loguen is said to have aided more than 1500 freedom seekers.

Donna Dorrance Burdick, historian for the Town of Smithfield, relates, “In 1844 Frederick Douglass introduced Loguen to Gerrit Smith. On September 1, 1846, Loguen joined Henry Highland Garnet and Samuel Ringgold Ward as a recipient of common Peterboro property.” The passage of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850 brought Loguen’s response of, “It outlaws me, and I outlaw it.” Following his participation in the Jerry Rescue of October 1851, he was one of five African Americans indicted in the incident. He fled to Canada returning to Syracuse in the spring of 1852 and resumed his Underground Railroad activities.”

The Induction of Jermain Wesley Loguen begins at 1:30 p.m. in Golden Auditorium at Colgate University with I Owe My Freedom to the God Who Made Me: Jermain Loguen and the Struggle for Freedom presented by Carol Hunter PhD, professor of history at Earlham College in Richmond IN. Dr. Hunter’s 1989 doctoral dissertation at Binghamton University researched Loguen and the abolition movement in upstate New York. A revised and edited version of the work was published in 1993 as To Set the Captives Free: Reverend Jermain Wesley Loguen and the Struggle for Freedom in Central New York 1835-1872. Hunter’s lecture is one of the afternoon Upstate Institute Abolition Symposia programs supported by a grant from the New York Council for the Humanities.

Loguen’s official public nomination by Onondaga Historical Association, and others with Loguen connections, will be part of the October 22 evening ceremonies at 7 p.m. in Golden Auditorium at Colgate University. Loguen’s part in the Jerry Rescue of 1851 will also be included in John Rudy’s program The Jerry Level: Gerrit Smith and the Memory of the Jerry Rescue at 2 pm Satruday, October 1, 2011 at the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark, 4543 Peterboro Road, Peterboro NY 13134-0169. (Admission: $2)

The public is encouraged to attend the Loguen sessions. Admission at the door for each of the lectures and the induction ceremony is five dollars. (Admission for all four symposia programs is eight dollars.) Information and registration forms for the day-long induction event are available at 315-366-8101 and info@AbolitionHoF.org and www.AbolitionHoF.org.

Illustration: Portrait of Jermain Wesley Loguen created by artist Joseph Flores of Rochester NY for the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum for the occasion of the induction of Loguen to the Hall.

20th Annual Peterboro Civil War Weekend Set


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The Peterboro Civil War Weekend Committee has announced plans for the 20th Annual Peterboro Civil War Weekend to be held on June 9 and 10, 2012. The annual event coincides with the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War commemorated throughout the nation. Peterboro had a pivotal role in the ignition of the Civil War because of Gerrit Smith, who was an influential leader in anti-slavery efforts – a movement that led to the Civil War. Smith’s support of John Brown caused a direct ignition of the Civil War.

For two decades the Peterboro encampment has demonstrated many aspects of military and civilian life in the mid-1800s. In recent years exhibits and programs on abolition and the Underground Railroad have been added. The committee plans to develop more programs in 2012 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. For more information: www.civilwarweekend.sca-peterboro.org

Photo: A camp scene from 2011 Peterboro Civil War Weekend.

Judith Wellman Keynotes Annual Peterboro Tea


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Dr. Judith Wellman, well known scholar and author on the history of women’s rights and the Underground Railroad, will be the keynote speaker on Sunday, September 25 at 12:30 p.m. at the Annual In the Kitchen Bloomer Tea held at the Smithfield Community Center in Peterboro to celebrate Elizabeth Smith Miller’s birthday and women’s rights heritage. Miller, daughter of Ann and Gerrit Smith, is credited with creating a trouser costume in the mid 1800s that became a symbol of the women’s movement.



Dr. Wellman, author of The Road to Seneca Falls, will describe Peterboro’s role in the women’s movement, including the influence of Gerrit and Ann Smith during the summers that Elizabeth Cady Stanton spent in Peterboro, the debates over dress reform, and the inclusion of women in the Liberty League convention. Wellman states, “Everybody knows about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her work for women’s rights. But few people understand how important her cousins, Gerrit and Ann Smith and their daughter Elizabeth Smith Miller, were in shaping her reform agenda. Stanton and Elizabeth Smith Miller had a lifelong friendship, based on their shared sense of humor and their commitment to women’s rights (including dress reform). From Gerrit Smith, Stanton gained access to ideas and people at the highest levels of antislavery organization. (If you) want to hear the backstory of the Seneca Falls convention, come to this talk!”

Judith Wellman, Ph.D., is Historian and Principal Investigator, Historical New York Research Associates, and professor emerita, State University of New York at Oswego. Wellman has more than 30 years of award-winning experience in research, teaching, cultural resource surveys, and grants administration in U.S. history, women’s history, local history, Underground Railroad history, and historic preservation.

After earning her Ph.D. at the University of Virginia in 1974, Judith Wellman taught history at the State University of New York at Oswego. She teaches two online courses through the SUNY Learning Network and the State University of New York at Oswego: “Doing History Locally” and “Historic Preservation and Heritage Tourism.”

Judith Wellman has worked as a consultant and principal investigator on award-winning projects with the National Park Service, the Mary Baker Eddy Library, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the U. S. Department of Education, the Preservation League of New York State, the New York State Office of Historic Preservation, the New York Council for the Humanities, the Documentary Heritage Program of the New York State Archives, National Public Radio, the U.S. Department of Education, the Society for the Preservation of Weeksville and Bedford-Stuyvesant History, and a wide variety of local historical, genealogical, teachers, women’s, and preservation groups. She also regularly gives papers at major scholarly conventions, including the Organization of American Historians, Association for the Study of African American Life, and the National Council on Public History.

Judith Wellman is a member of the Organization of American Historians, the American Historical Association, the American Association for State and Local History, the Association for the Study of African American Life, and the National Council for Public History. She is a member of the Preservation League of New York State and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She is listed as a researcher for cultural resource surveys with the Preservation League of New York State and with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation. She has served on the boards of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation, the Women’s Museum and Leadership Center, the Heritage Foundation of Oswego, and the New York State History Advisory Board of the New York State Education Department. She is currently Coordinator of the 1816 Farmington Quaker Meetinghouse Museum.

Wellman’s keynote Peterboro on the Road to Seneca Falls follows a tea catered by The Copper Turret of Morrisville NY and served by ladies attired in the Bloomer costume of Peterboro. Debra Kolsrud will describe ongoing history activities in Stanton’s hometown of Johnstown NY. Maxine Getty and Jody Luce will read Miller and Stanton letters. There will also be basket raffles and door prizes.

The tea is a presentation in a series of programs offered by the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark in Peterboro made possible, in part, by a PACE grant from the Central New York Community Foundation. $35 reservations required by August 27. $40 reservations by September 17. Seating is limited. Send check to Smithfield Community Association (501c3) PO Box 42, Peterboro NY 13134 or visit www.inthekitchentea.com

Troy Underground Railroad Conference This Weekend


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The annual Capital District Underground Railroad Conference will be held this weekend in Troy, NY on April 8, 9 and 10th at the Russell Sage Campus in celebration of the conference’s tenth year presenting workshops, music, and stories about the historic struggle to escape slavery.

In the words of the conference founders, Mary Liz and Paul Stewart, the conference activities are, “a fresh interpretation of an Old Story. “ This is the story of the heroic men, women and children who escaped from slavery and who traveled to new, free, lives along the Underground Railroad.

The international conference is titled, “Abolishing Slavery in the Atlantic World: the ‘Underground Railroad’ in the Americas, Africa and Europe, and its relationship with us today.” Several hundred attendees are expected at workshops, art exhibits, and musical events. The conference is organized by the Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region, Inc., (URHPCR) co-sponsored by Russell Sage College and the College’s Department of History and Society. Several non-profit groups are collaborating: Rensselaer County Historical Society, Museumwise, and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

On Friday April 8th, 2011 the Opening Address will be given by Dr. Robin Blackburn at 7:00 pm, Bush Memorial, Russell Sage College, Troy, NY, “The International Struggle to End Slavery and the Slave Trade and Its Ramifications Today.” Dr. Blackburn, Professor of Sociology at the University of Essex in England and Visiting Professor of Historical Studies at the New School for Social Research in New York, will describe the international slave trade which fueled the American Colonial economy and he will explore the ramifications for today of the struggle to end slavery. Performing are Kim and Reggie Harris.

Blackburn has taught in England at King’s College, Cambridge University, FLACSO (Latin American Social Science Faculty); in Ecuador, and at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. He has studied and taught at the London School of Economics and Oxford University. He is the author of many books and scholarly articles on historical sociology and critical social theory. Two of his most important books are The Making of New World Slavery: from the Baroque to the Modern, 1492-1800, and The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776-1848. In recent years he has written several influential articles on slavery and resistance. He is the founding editor of The New Left Review and an editor at Verso Books. Blackburn’s Opening Address at the conference will bring a high level of scholarship and an international perspective to discussions about the historical struggle for freedom from slavery in the United States.

The Underground Railroad Conference in Troy is a venue for African American art exhibits, storytelling, history workshops, and programs for educators and people of all ages. A Workshop for Educators on Friday April 8th is followed on Saturday April 9th with speakers, workshops, a raffle, art exhibit, reception and evening award ceremony. Keynote speakers on Saturday are Dr. Franklin Knight, Stulman Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, speaking about slave societies. His talk opens the conference at 9:00 am and is titled, “Of Slavery and Abolitions: Perspectives from the World of Slaves.” After the morning workshops at 1:00 pm Tony Burroughs, internationally known lecturer on genealogy, a guest speaker on many television talk shows, will participate in a panel discussion called, “Heritage Preservation Through Genealogical Research, Song and Storytelling.” Joining him on the panel are singer, MaryNell Morgan and storyteller, Miki Conn. Saturday afternoon workshops conclude at 5:00 pm followed by an evening reception and art exhibit held at the Rensselaer County Historical Society located at 57 Second Street, Troy, NY.

The conference continues on Sunday April 10th at 2:00 pm in Russell Sage College’s Bush Memorial Hall with programs devoted to music and performance. There will be performances by the Hamilton Hill Dancers, Garland Nelson, MaryNell Morgan, Eshu Bumpus, Magpie, Sparky and Rhonda Rucker, Graham and Barbara Dean, the musical group Peter, Paul and George, the Hamilton Hill Dancers, and the Hamilton Hill Drummers.

The conference is possible thanks to leadership from co-founders Mary Liz and Paul Stewart, the contribution of volunteers with the URHPCR, Inc., and conference donors and supporters: M & T Bank, Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, Russell Sage College, Kate Storms, The Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region’s Standish Family Fund, The Alice Moore Foundation, Museumwise, the Arts Center of the Capital Region, New York Council for the Humanities, Pioneer Bank and Troy Savings Bank Charitable Foundation.

Find conference information and register online at www.ugrworkshop.com. Contact Paul Stewart at (518) 432-4432.

Life of Fugitive Slave Lavinia Bell to be Presented


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One hundred and fifty years ago, few knew about Lavinia Bell, a fugitive from slavery who trekked from a Texas plantation to Rouses Point, New York, in search of freedom in Canada. Now, for the first time, her experiences will be presented to the public in “Never Give Up: The Story of Lavinia Bell,” reenacted by Melissa Waddy-Thibodeaux at Plattsburgh State University’s Krinovitz Recital Hall. The presentation will begin at 7:00 PM on February 11, 2011. The event is free and open to the public.

Ms. Thibodeaux’s visit to Plattsburgh in February will be her first to the North Country. She has already earned national acclaim for her sensitive depictions of Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks. The North Country location of the premiere of Mrs. Bell’s story, in the region where her vision was at last realized, is as fitting as are the sponsoring organizations: the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association, Plattsburgh State University, and Clinton Community College.

Ms. Thibodeaux will also offer performance workshops for university and college students during her stay in Plattsburgh. On February 12, she will cross into Canada
where, under the sponsorship of the Negro Community Center in Montreal, she will
introduce Mrs. Bell to a waiting audience.

To see Ms. Thibodeaux portray Harriet Tubman visit You Tube.

To learn more about this event, contact Don Papson at NCUGRHA@aol.com or
(518) 561-0277.

Frederick Douglass’s 1843 Lecture to Highlight Tour


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One hundred and sixty-six summers ago– one year after fugitive slave Frederick Douglass lectured in Keeseville–Albany Underground Railroad agent Abel Brown “took” the Burlington steamboat on Lake Champlain and reported, “Many a slave has enjoyed the indescribable pleasure of leaping from the liberty-loving Burlington.”

Hundreds of fugitives from slavery escaped every year to New York City. They were forwarded to Albany and onto Champlain Canal packet boats. At Whitehall they boarded the Burlington. From Port Kent, they could make their way to Keeseville and Stephen Keese Smith’s farm in Peru. Smith hid fugitives from slavery in his barns and drove them in his uncle’s wagon to Champlain. Then Noadiah Moore took them across the border to Lacolle, Canada, and helped them find work. They were free, at last.

People opposed the abolitionists. Friends and neighbors turned against them. Brethren left their churches.

On August 14th, North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association’s President, Don Papson, will lead a guided tour, “Villages and Churches Divided.” The tour will begin with a 10 am orientation in Keeseville’s Ausable Valley Grange at 1749 Main Street. Stops will be made at abolition and UGRR sites where participants will read passages from historic documents. The trial of Rev. Andrew Witherspoon and the stirring words of Frederick Douglass will be relived. The last stop at 3 pm will be at a hidden room. Participants must apply early as the tour is limited to 20 people. The cost is $30 for members of NCUGRHA; $40 for non members. Each participant is asked to pack a lunch, wear walking shoes and bring an umbrella. To register, please contact Helen Nerska at 518-643-0938 or email allenhomestead@gmail.com

“Villages and Churches Divided” is a 5th Annual Canal Splash! event. Canal Splash! celebates the history and culture of New York’s Canals.

CFP: Abolishing Slavery in the Atlantic World


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The Call for Proposals submission deadline has been extended to July 31, 2010 for Abolishing Slavery in the Atlantic World: The ‘Underground Railroad’ in the Americas, Africa, and Europe, The Tenth Anniversary Underground Railroad Public History Conference to be held April 8 – 10, 2011. The event is being organized by Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region, and hosted by Russell Sage College, in Troy, New York.

Where there was slavery, there was resistance, escape, and rebellion. The Transatlantic Slave Trade (1400s to 1800s) was a global enterprise that transformed the four continents bordering the Atlantic, and that engendered the formation of a multifaceted and international Underground Railroad resistance movement. The broad geographic nature of this freedom struggle is the theme of the 2011 UGR Public History Conference. The organizers invite proposals that address capture, enslavement, and resistance within and across borders in Africa, Europe, and the Americas, historically and contemporarily, as well as proposals that address the preservation of the voices of the past and their relationship with us today.

Proposals should be submitted by July 30, 2010 Via postal mail to URHPCR, PO Box 10851, Albany NY 12201 or via email to urhpcr2011@gmail.com For more information, visit www.ugrworkshop.com or call 518-432-4432

Books: The Rescue of Fugitive Slave Charles Nalle


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On April 27, 1860, a few months after John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, a group of blacks and whites, including Harriet Tubman, came together to free fugitive slave Charles Nalle from slave catchers bent on returning him to his owner in Culpepper, Virginia. A new book Freeing Charles: The Struggle to Free a Slave on the Eve of the Civil War by Scott Christianson tells the tale of Nalle, a man whose skin was so fair he could have passed for white but didn’t, and relates the of racial inequality, rule of law, civil disobedience and and violent resistance to slavery that circulated in the abolitionist movement during the antebellum period in Troy.

Christianson follows Nalle from his enslavement by the Hansborough family through his escape via the Underground Railroad after fearing that his heavily indebted master planned to sell him. Nalle’s wife and children, emancipated on their master’s death, had already moved to nearby Washington, DC and Nalle had hoped to be reunited with them in Canada.

The Nalle rescue was one of the fiercest anti-slavery riots to take place after Harper’s Ferry and it tested the convictions of the black and white citizens of Troy in challenging the Fugitive Slave Law.

The incident that forms the basis of the book began when Charles Nalle was betrayed to his southern master by Horace Averill (for whom my home village of Averill Park was later named) while trying to seek Averill’s help to write letters in an effort to free his family.

Nalle then moved to Troy and found work with Uri Gilbert, of the Gilbert Car manufacturing Company in West Troy, and began living with the family of William Henry, a black grocer, and also a member of local Vigilance Committee.

Nalle was arrested at a Troy bakery and taken to the District Circuit Court at State and First Streets. Hundreds of people rushed to the court house and Nalle’s jailers took him to a judge’s office in Albany County, with the crowd in hot pursuit.

The crowd stormed the office, and were fired on by police who wounded several people, but Nalle was put in a wagon and escaped to Schenectady County, spending a month on the run. Only Lincoln’s election and the rise of local Republicans kept members of the Vigilance Committee from being convicted.

Local people raised $650 to buy Nalle’s freedom from his master, a man who was also his younger half-brother, and he and his family were reunited three months after his escape. They lived in Troy for another seven years. After the war, the Nalles moved to Washington DC to be closer to relatives and Charles Nalle died there in 1875. He was buried in Rock Creek Cemetery.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

Rensselaer County Historical to Offer Walking Tours of Troy


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The Rensselaer County Historical Society will offer walking tours of historic downtown Troy on Saturday mornings, leaving from the Market Table at the Troy Farmer’s Market at 10:30 am. “Our walking tours are a fun way to stretch your legs, and learn about the history that surrounds us,” explains Mari Shopsis, Director of Education for the Rensselaer County Historical Society. Each week brings a different theme for the tours, which are led by Historical Society staff and frequently incorporate historic photographs and readings from letters and diaries. The tours last approximately an hour. Cost: $5 for not-yet-members of the Historical Society/members free.

HISTORY WALK: Troy’s Great Fire of 1862
Saturday, May 8, 2010, 10:30 – 11:30 am

One of the most formative events in Troy’s history happened on May 10th, 1862 when within just a few hours a major bridge over the Hudson and more than 500 buildings in the city were destroyed by a huge conflagration known even today as “The Great Fire.” Using excerpts from newspapers and the letters and recollections of people who lived through this event, you will walk back into history as you retrace the progress of this fire and see what impacts this disaster had – not only locally, but nationally.

HISTORY WALK: People, Place & Progress
Saturday, May 15, 2010; 10:30 – 11:30 am

This introduction to Troy history and architecture looks at how the city evolved from its initial founding in 1789 as a village to its 19th century heyday and on into the 20th century. The sites of many important events will be discussed along with some of the people who made the name Troy known around the world.

HISTORY WALK: Underground Railroad Walking Tour
Saturday, May 22, 2010, 10:30 – 11:30 am

Troy was a hotbed of abolitionist activity in the 19th century. This walking tour will highlight the sights associated with the African American community in the first half of the 19th century. Included will be sites associated with the famous rescue of escaped slave Charles Nalle by thousands of Trojans and the now famous Harriet Tubman.

FAMILY HISTORY WALK: History Underfoot and Overhead
Saturday, June 5, 2010; 10:30 – 11:30 am

History is everywhere in Troy. Families with kids ages 5 and up will enjoy this interactive walk through Troy’s past. We’ll look at the buildings around us for clues that tell us about the past and get hands-on with history. You’ll come away saying “I never knew that about Troy!”

HISTORY WALK: People, Place & Progress
Saturday, June 12, 2010; 10:30 – 11:30 am

This introduction to Troy history and architecture looks at how the city evolved from its initial founding in 1789 as a village to its 19th century heyday and on into the 20th century. The sites of many important events will be discussed along with some of the people who made the name Troy known around the world.

HISTORY WALK: Spiritual Troy
Saturday, June 19, 2010; 10:30am – 12:00 pm

This special 1.5 hour walking tour looks at the history of Troy through the history of its houses of worship. Early settlers, increasing diversity, changing populations – all these stories are illustrated by the development of Troy’s religious institutions.

HISTORY WALK: Who Worked Where
Saturday, June 26, 2010; 10:30 – 11:30 am

From night soil removers to buttonholers, night watchmen to steamboat captains – the occupations of 19th century Trojans will surprise and intrigue you. For this walking tour we explore the streets of downtown Troy to see who worked where – and why.

‘Hidden Room’ Highlight of Underground RR Site


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Last week student volunteers from SUNY Plattsburgh and SUNY Potsdam took part in exploratory archaeological excavations at the former Stephen Keese Smith farm on Union Road, midway between Keeseville. The Smith farm (also known as “the old Stafford place”) is a historic Underground Railroad site where refugees from slavery were hidden in the 1850s and 1860s. Although several of the buildings on the farm are believed to have housed runaway slaves, one barn in particular that includes a “hidden room” was the target of the weekend’s excavations.

Archeologists and volunteers organized by the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association (NCUGRHA) worked last weekend to conduct an archeological survey in advance of restoration work on the barn. The dig was organized by Andrew Black of Black Drake Consulting and SUNY Plattsburgh, assisted by members of the NCUGRHA, and with the permission and assistance of the of the property owners, Frank and Jackie Perusse.

Stephen Keese Smith was a Quaker, who shared his story of the smuggling former slaves through Clinton County to Canada in 1887:

I first became acquainted with the “Under Ground Rail Road” twenty years or more before the [Civil] War … Samuel Keese was the head of the [Underground RR] depot in Peru. His son, John Keese – myself, and Wendell Lansing at Keeseville [publisher of the Essex County Republican] were actors. I had large buildings and concealed the Negroes in them. I kept them, fed them, often gave them shoes and clothing. I presume I have spent a thousand dollars for them in one-way and another. There were stations at Albany, Troy, Glens Falls and then here in Peru. The Negroes would come through the woods and be nearly famished. We kept them and fed them for one or two days and then ran them along to Noadiah Moore’s in Champlain… He went with the Negroes to Canada and looked out places for them to work.

The archeological teams excavated three places along the exterior foundation walls of the barn in search for artifacts. Aside from some scattered 20th century trash and earlier barn construction debris (nails, hardware, window glass), they found nothing of significance, meaning that some restoration work can begin without harming historically significant remains.

The stone-walled room built into the barn’s lower level, believed to be one of the places Smith hid runaways, was too flooded to excavate. The team had hoped to establish the original floor level in the “hidden room” and see if there are deposits directly related to the room’s occupation by refugees. Unfortunately those investigations will have to wait until the groundwater level subsides, when archeologists will return to the barn to explore this hidden gem of North Country Underground Railroad History.

Photos: Above – Archaeologists and volunteers gather for a photo during the Smith barn excavation in Peru, Clinton County, NY (Courtesy Helen Allen Nerska). Below – The hidden room in the lower level of the Smith barn (Courtesy Don Papson).

Underground Railroad Association Presents ‘Herstory’


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In celebration of Women’s History Month (March), the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association will host a celebration of the role of women in humanity’s great moments, from Miriam at the Red Sea to Catherine Keese who hid fugitives from slavery in Peru, New York, during the Underground Railroad era. The event will be held March 19, 2010 at 7 pm, at the Peru Community Church, 13 Elm Street, in Clinton County.

The evening will include short presentations on women prominent in the success of the underground railroad and a photo journal of the Keese-Smith barn project narrated by the local restoration, history and archeological specialists who are donating their time and skills to the stabilization.

Music and song will be provided by Sounds of the Northway, a trio of local women: Ann Ruzow Holland, Cathie Davenport and Jennifer Van Benschoten who sing and play guitar, piano, flute and violin.

The cost will be $10 for adults, $8 for children and seniors. Proceeds will provide the materials necessary for the stabilization of Peru’s most recognized Underground Railroad hiding place, the Stephen Keese-Smith barn, located at the former Stafford property on Union Road. All labor is being donated for this project.

Illustration: Catherine Keese, Peru NY Abolitionist.