You may not have heard of Gerrit Smith, but in his day he was the man most responsible for the abolition movement in New York State, and that which later affected the nation. Gerrit Smith was the “Stationmaster” of the Underground Railroad. He attended Charles Finney’s revival services in Utica, NY, an area which later became part of the “Burned Over District,” so called because of its religious zeal and revival fervor. These revivals encouraged Christians to become active in America’s social and political arenas. The Whig party in American politics was formed from this religious movement, as was the abolition movement and the suffrage movement. I’m very surprised the Finney revivals are underplayed in American and New York history (actually, they are completely ignored). They affected New York State and the nation as much as the American Revolution had.
I’ve blogged about Gerrit Smith, as his name has cropped up when we’ve investigated other aspects of NY history. You can read more about him on my post about the Utica Lunatic Asylum and our trip to a conference at the Turning Stone Casino. It was with Gerrit Smith that Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and the infamous John Brown rubbed elbows, and with whom they found financial resources to steal more slaves to the North.
This was once his estate, from 1806 until his death in 1874. The original house burned in a fire, and all that is left is the Land Office he ran.
The Land Office is open by appointment. I hadn’t made an appointment, so we couldn’t go in. However, we could see the interior by peering in the windows.
Oh how many must have found their freedom, walking over those pavers in that room! Smith was renowned for giving away tracts of his large estate to runaway and freed slaves, so they could support themselves.
We explored around the building and found what looked to be a smokehouse? It smelled of old smoke.
We wandered the village green after that. In the center is a large Civil War monument to the Union soldiers who fought to preserve the Union and to liberate slaves.
Across the street stands the old Smithfield Community Center which now houses the National Abolition Hall of Fame at abolitionhof.org. Unfortunately, that also was closed. So was the Peterboro Area Museum. Oh well.
Finally I saw this little historical marker. Before there was Milan, there was Peterboro! The birthplace of Bloomerism! Yeehaw!
Yes, New York is indeed an interesting place– never know what you’re going to find!