30 September 2005 10 February 2006
E.S. Bird Library, 6th floor
Viewing Hours: Monday - Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
During the decades-long struggle to abolish slavery, thousands
of African Americans risked their lives to escape from their bitter bondage
in the South to seek freedom in the northern states, or beyond in Canada.
One by one or in small groups, slaves were aided in their perilous journeys
by a clandestine network of fellow African Americans and sympathetic whites
that came to be known as the Underground Railroad.
Syracuse served as an important station along this freedom
trail because of its central location on the Erie Canal and its associated
waterways and travel routes. Central New York was also home to many of
the most outspoken and defiant opponents of slavery. Jermain Loguen, himself
a refugee from slavery, publicized the address of his home at East Genesee
and Pine streets as a shelter. He sought and obtained support for his
efforts from local abolitionists and reformers, such as Matilda Joslyn
Gage and Samuel J. May. Gerrit Smith, from nearby Peterboro, applied his
considerable wealth and influence to advancing antislavery activities
in Syracuse through public debate, published tracts, direct aid, and daring
acts of civil disobedience.
The passage by Congress in September 1850 of the Fugitive
Slave Lawwhich made interfering with the slaveowners right
to recover his property a federal crime with severe penaltiesvirtually
guaranteed that dramatic conflicts would arise between those who sought
to end slavery and those who tolerated the compromises that allowed it
to continue. Resistance and conflict had already been brewing for some
time in Syracuse, as demonstrated by the case of Harriet Powell in 1839
and others, prompting Secretary of State Daniel Webster in May 1851 to
brand the city a laboratory of abolitionism, libel, and treason.
Websters characterization was apt. Within a few months,
a large crowd would storm a municipal jail to free a fugitive slave who
had been apprehended by means of the controversial law. The famous Jerry
Rescue became a potent symbol and rallying cry for Gerrit Smith
the following year when he was elected to Congress and for the abolitionist
movement in this region.
This exhibition organized by Syracuse University Library
vividly documents the flourishing antislavery activism in Syracuse and
the surrounding communities during the period between the 1830s and the
1850s. We have gathered original artifacts housed in the librarys
Special Collections Research Center along with items on loan from the
Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation, the Howard University Gallery of Art,
the Madison County Historical Society, and the Onondaga Historical Association.
The exhibition is presented in conjunction with this years
Syracuse Symposium and its theme of borders. We gratefully
acknowledge the financial support of the Kaleidoscope Project, a diversity
initiative between the Divisions of Undergraduate Studies and Student
Affairs to broaden the understanding of diversity and promote healthy
dialogue about related issues at Syracuse University. Additional funding
has been provided by the College of Arts and Sciences and the Warren and
Edith Day Fund of Syracuse University Library.
On 2 October 1851, the day after the Jerry Rescue, Gerrit
Smith proposed the following resolution condemning Daniel Webster for
his outspoken support of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, and it was adopted
at the Liberty Party convention:
Whereas, Daniel Webster, That base and infamous enemy
of the human race, did in a speech of which he delivered himself, in
Syracuse last Spring, exultingly and insultingly predict that fugitive
slaves would yet be taken away from Syracuse and even from anti-slavery
conventions in Syracuse, and whereas the attempt to fulfill this prediction
was delayed until the first day of October, 1851, when the Liberty party
of the State of New York were holding their annual convention in Syracuse;
and whereas the attempt was defeated by the mighty uprising of 2,500
brave men, before whom the half-dozen kidnappers were as tow,
Resolved, That we rejoice that the City of Syracusethe
anti-slavery city of Syracusethe city of anti-slavery conventions,
our beloved and glorious city of Syracusestill remains undisgraced
by the fulfillment of the satanic prediction of the satanic Daniel Webster.
Portraits of Local Abolitionists and Reformers
Oil portrait (ca. 1855) of the Reverend
Samuel J. May, one of Central New Yorks most active abolitionists
and reformers, by Sanford Thayer. Courtesy of the Onondaga Historical
Association Museum and Research Center, Syracuse, N.Y.
Lithograph (ca. 1854) of Gerrit Smith, one the most prominent
American reformers and philanthropists of the nineteenth century. Courtesy
of the Madison County Historical Society.
Marble sculpture of the clasped hands of Gerrit and Ann
Smith. This was created as a token of esteem by an escaped slave who credited
the Smiths with his freedom. Courtesy of the Madison County Historical
Oil portrait (1854) of Jermain W. Loguen, the chief agent
of the Underground Railroad in Syracuse, by African American artist William
H. Simpson. Courtesy of the Howard University Gallery of Art.
Photographic image of Matilda Joslyn Gage, the womens
rights advocate and abolitionist of Fayetteville, New York. The Gage home
became one of two stops in Fayetteville on the Underground Railroad when
Matilda Joslyn Gage responded to the call of the Reverend Jermain Loguen
for assistance, and this official status has been confirmed by both the
National Park Service and the State of New York. This framed image is
on loan from the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation.
Photographic image of Dr. Hezekiah Joslyn, the father of
Matilda Joslyn Gage and a founding member of the radical abolitionist
Liberty Party. This framed image is on loan from the Matilda Joslyn Gage
Daguerreotype image of the Cazenovia Fugitive Slave Law Convention
held on 21 and 22 August 1850. Even before its passage into law in September
of 1850, there was a tremendous outpouring of opposition to the Fugitive
Slave Law. This federal act permitted the apprehension of escaped slaves
even in the free states of the North and provided for serious fines
and terms of imprisonment for anyone obstructing the implementation
of the law. Among the participants in this gathering in Cazenovia were
Gerrit Smith (the man with the outstretched arm in the center), Mary
and Emily Edmonson (to the right and left of Gerrit Smith, respectively),
Frederick Douglass (seated at the table just to the right of Gerrit
Smith), and Samuel J. May (standing immediately behind the man who is
writing at the table). This image taken by Ezra Greenleaf Weld, the
brother of Theodore Weld, a leading abolitionist, is provided courtesy
of the Madison County Historical Society, the repository that owns the
Photograph of the Matilda Joslyn Gage House in Fayetteville,
New York, taken by L. Frank Baum, the son-in-law of Gage and the author
of The Wizard of Oz. As the newspaper account in this case describes,
Matilda Joslyn Gage offered her home as one of the local stops on the
section of the Underground Railroad overseen by the Reverend Jermain Loguen.
The photograph appears courtesy of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation.
Letter from Matilda Joslyn Gage to Gerrit Smith, 24 June
1869. It demonstrates the close network of reformers and reform movements
that existed in the greater Syracuse area in the mid-nineteeth century.
Gerrit Smith was the first cousin of Elizabeth Cady, a leader in the womens
suffrage movement, and Cady married the abolitionist Henry Stanton after
having met him while visiting the Smith household. Mrs. Gage reminds Smith
that she is the daughter of Dr. Hezekiah Joslyn, his friend and a fellow
abolitionist and member of the Liberty Party. She also assures Smith that
the Reverend Samuel J. May is wholeheartedly behind their program of womans
suffrage but is in Boston working on Some Recollections of Our Antislavery
Cause, a book with which Smith was quite familiar because he was being
consulted about it by May in the letter that is adjacent to the volume
in this exhibit.
You have probably been made aware through your daughter,
or Mrs Stanton, of the organization of the National Womans Suffrage
Ass[ociation]. and of the design of holding a State convention at Saratoga
in July for the purpose of effecting our organization of the state.
We are very anxious to obtain the names of friends of
the reform in the various Congressional Districts of the State with
whom we can correspond, in order to insure a full delegation at that
Mr Hammond, formerly pastor of the Free Church in Peterborough,
suggested that as many of the old liberty party men were also advocates
of this reform, you might be able to give me a list of persons to whom
it would be desirable to write. I would like the names of one or two
persons, men or women, in the various Congressional districts, whom
you know, or think to be in favor of womens suffrage....
Will you not go as delegate, from your district?
You will perhaps recall me to mind as the daughter of
your old friend Dr Joslyn, late of Syracuse.
Mr May is with us heart and mind, but I regret to say will be in Boston
the most, if not all of, July, on business connected with his book.
Speech of Mrs. M. E. J. Gage, at the Womens Rights
Convention, Held at Syracuse, September, 1852. This pamphlet is on
loan from the Onondaga Historical Association Museum and Research Center
in Syracuse, N.Y., and makes a clear allusion to the tradition of local
reform movements and almost certainly the Jerry Rescue: Let Syracuse
sustain her name for radicalism.
May 1880 issue of the National Citizen and Ballot Box
(vol. five, no. one). Matilda Joslyn Gage, the editor, published in this
issue of the Syracuse newspaper a recollection of her involvement in the
Underground Railroad through the outreach efforts of the Reverend Jermain
Many of us recall the fugitive slave law of a few years
since, when we northern people, all were forbidden under severe
penalty to give an escaping slave from the South, either food, or shelter,
or a drink of cold water. The humanity of the country rose against it,
and although many people broke the law silently, few dared defy it openly.
One of the proudest acts of my life, one that I look back upon with
most satisfaction is that when Rev. Mr. Lougen [sic] of this city went
to the village of my residence to ascertain the names of those upon
whom run-away slaves might depend for aid and comfort on their way to
Canada, I was one of the two solitary persons who gave him their names.
Myself and one gentleman of Fayetteville, were the only two persons
who dared thus publicly defy the law of the land, and for
humanitys sake render ourselves liable to fine and imprisonment
in the county jail, for the crime of feeding the hungry, giving shelter
to the oppressed, and helping the black slave on to freedom.
Chair (ca. 1852) made by William Jerry Henry
in Kingston, Ontario, following his escape from jail during the celebrated
Jerry Rescue in Syracuse on 1 October 1851. Courtesy of the Onondaga Historical
Association Museum and Research Center, Syracuse, N.Y.