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Underground Railroad To Be Topic Of Historical Society Meeting

HANNIBAL – The abolitionist movement and those involved in the Underground Railroad will be the topic of the February 22 meeting of the Hannibal Historical Society.

The meeting will be held at the Community Center on Oswego Street, beginning at 7 p.m.

Gerrit Smith
Gerrit Smith

The program will be presented by Lowell Newvine, town, village and historical society historian.

Around 1831, the term “Underground Railroad” was coined by Southern slaveholders to describe the system by which runaway slaves seemed to disappear without a trace, as though swallowed up by the ground.

Workers in the antislavery cause accepted the term with pride and adopted a railroad terminology.

Those who guided the runaway slaves from hiding place to hiding place, usually at night, were called “conductors.”

The homes in which the fugitive slaves were clothed, fed and hidden were “stations” or “depots” run by “stationmasters” or “agents.”

Slaves were assisted from station to station over fairly defined routes through the Northern states with the ultimate destination being Canada and freedom.

On October 31, 1835, a group of Abolitionists met in Utica for the purpose of forming a state anti-slavery society.

In attendance was Gerrit Smith, a leading Abolitionist and wealthy businessman.

He was so upset by the actions of an unruly mob that had formed to try to stop the society from being formed, that he invited all the members of the convention to meet at his home in Peterboro, Madison County.

Thus was launched New York’s Anti-Slavery Society with the full support of a man upon whose generosity and determined effort the Abolitionists depended.

Although Smith’s residence was located in Peterboro, he had extensive financial interests in Oswego.

Among other things, he was involved with the Commercial Bank of Oswego, promoted the Syracuse and Oswego Railroad and owned controlling shares in the Oswego Canal Company.

He also sponsored the construction of the Oswego City Library stipulating that no person should be shut out on account of their race, complexion or condition.

Newvine will explain the connection between Smith and those from Oswego County and Hannibal who became involved in the Underground Railroad.

Silas Brewster, Jonas Shutts, Arvin Rice and Dr. Amos Kent, all living in the town of Hannibal and working as agents in the Underground Railroad, are among those Newvine will discuss.

The public is invited and encouraged to attend; refreshments will be served.