Plattsburgh’s first interpretive panel celebrating the Anti-Slavery movement will be dedicated at 5 pm on February 16, 2010. The unveiling will take place in front of the main entrance to the First Presbyterian Church at 34 Brinkerhoff Street. Interim pastor Virginia Murray and North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association president, Don Papson, will be joined by members of the church and the association.
The distinctive panel is one of a series of state funded markers on New York’s Underground Railroad Heritage Trail. The North Country has three others-at the John Brown Farm in North Elba, the Essex County Courthouse, and the First Congregational Church in Malone.
Plattsburgh’s First Presbyterian Church played a pivotal role in the early stages of the area’s anti slavery movement. It was a moment of change in the fall of 1837 when the Clinton County Anti-Slavery Society convened for its first annual meeting in the original edifice constructed on the site. Among First Presbyterian’s founding members were some of Clinton County’s wealthiest and most influential citizens. Several owned slaves before New York abolished slavery in 1827.
Agitating for the nation to end slavery was a divisive issue by 1837. In the spring of that year, First Presbyterian Trustee, General Benjamin Mooers, circulated a petition against the immediate abolitionists meeting anywhere in Plattsburgh- their activities would destroy the nation. The abolitionists were denied use of widow Sperry’s Meeting Hall on Broad Street, the Methodist Church, and the Presbyterian Church. When several wagon loads of non violent Quakers and Methodists arrived from the village of Peru and attempted to convene in the County Court House, a name calling, egg throwing mob stopped them. General Mooers’ son-in-law, attorney John B.L. Skinner Esq., entreated the angry, unruly protesters to desist. The delegates were then allowed to quietly adjourn to Beekmantown’s Old Stone Methodist Church where they were warmly welcomed. Champlain Presbyterian Noadiah Moore presided at their historic convention.
By August of 1837, antagonism against the abolitionists had subsided to a degree in Plattsburgh, and they were allowed to hold their first annual meeting in the First Presbyterian Church. Nonetheless, they were subjected to annoyances-the doorway to the building had been tarred in the night, two boys sang out “Jim Crow!” beneath the windows, and retired judge Caleb Nichols told them slavery should be perpetual.
Then, on April 25, 1838-precisely one year to the day the riotous mob of men had barred the abolitionists from meeting in the County Court House-John Townsend Addoms, the son of former slave owner, Major John Addoms-“respectively” invited the “Citizens of Plattsbugh” to gather in the Court House and organize a “Town Anti-Slavery Society.”
John Townsend Addoms and the principal organizers of the Clinton County-Anti-Slavery Society, Noadiah Moore and Samuel Keese, would become leading Underground agents, secreting an untold number of fugitives from slavery and aiding them on their arduous journey to freedom in Canada.
Following the unveiling of the interpretive panel, members of the Board and Steering Committee of he North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association will convene in the church for their regular monthly meeting. First Presbyterian has graciously hosted the association for the last five years and will do so until the grand opening later this year of the Town of Chesterfield Heritage Center and North Star Underground Railroad Museum at Ausable Chasm. The public is invited to the unveiling of the interpretive panel and the meeting.