Tag Archives: Underground Railroad

Eliakim Briggs: Horse Power Inventor

Briggs' 1834 horse treadmill BRIn the 1830s, hundreds of inventors around the world focused on attempts at automating farm equipment. Reducing the drudgery, difficulty, and danger of farm jobs were the primary goals, accompanied by the potential of providing great wealth for the successful inventor. Among the North Country men tinkering with technology was Eliakim Briggs of Fort Covington in northern Franklin County.

Functional, power-driven machinery was the desired result of his work, but while some tried to harness steam, Briggs turned right to the source for providing horsepower: the horse. Continue reading

Preservation Fight At Manhattan Underground RR Site

Abigail Hopper GibbonsManhattanites are agitating on behalf of the home of one of the city’s leading 19th Century agitators–Abigail Hopper Gibbons. She and her husband James S. Gibbons ran a strongly documented Underground Railroad site in Manhattan, at what is now 339 West 29th St., near 8th Avenue.

A hearing is scheduled for tomorrow, Tuesday, Feb. 12, at the Bureau of Standards and Appeals, over a developer’s decision to add fifth floor to the four-story building, in violation of historic preservation rules.
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Celebrating Black History in New York State

Underground Railroad in New YorkFebruary is Black History Month and New York State offers a special window into African American history and American culture as it was a center for 19th century anti-slavery organizations, and home to Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and many other Abolitionist and Underground Railroad leaders. In the 20th century the National Association of Colored People (NAACP) has its roots in the Niagara Movement, whose first meeting in 1905 took place on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls because members were turned away from hotels on the U.S. side. Continue reading

UGRR Conference: Milestones on the Road to Freedom

Israel-AME-Church-AlbanyThe 2013 Underground Railroad Public History Conference in the Capital District this year is marking three major milestones: the Emancipation Proclamation 150 years ago, the death of Harriet Tubman 100 years ago, and the civil rights March on Washington 50 years ago.

The annual conference is the major Underground Railroad gathering each year in New York State.   It will hold sessions in Albany and Troy, starting Friday, April 12, and finishing on Sunday, April 14. Continue reading

Emancipation Anniversary: A Grassroots Victory

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

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

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

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

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

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