“Come to Peterboro!”
Dr. Milt Sernett
In October of this year we will be commemorating the 175th anniversary of the founding of The New York State Anti-Slavery Society. Delegates were mobbed in Utica on October 21, 1835. Gerrit Smith offered them a safe haven in Peterboro on October 22, 1835 and the abolitionists met at the Presbyterian Church of Peterboro. We hope a large assembly of supporters of the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum will attend the anniversary events. Our travels to the Hamlet of Peterboro will not be as dangerous as were those of the abolitionists who were routed out of Utica in 1835. Some came by canal boat, some by carriage, and a few of the hearty ones, by foot.
Here is an account by Captain Charles Stuart of what happened when he overnighted in Vernon. Stuart was a Jamaica-born British abolitionist whose home was in Ontario, Canada at the time. He had served as a revivalist with Charles Grandison Finney’s “Holy Band” and as principal of an academy in Utica in the early 1830s.
We left Utica, five of us, in a two horse carriage paying $4.00 apiece to be carried to Peterboro. We stopped in the village of Vernon at the hotel for the night. The landlord assigned us a room upstairs in which were four beds. In one of these beds two of us had to sleep; the others were to sleep singly. After we had been to bed about an hour, meanwhile talking over the events of the day, we heard a noise in the barroom below; and listening, found a discussion going on. Soon after this the barroom door opened, a light came up the stairway and shone into our room, and a voice said: "Gentlemen," and I answered, "Well sir" The speaker said, "There are some men down here who have followed you from Utica. They tell me that you are of a body of men who assembled in Utica to hold an antislavery meeting; and that you were driven out of town and they have followed you here, and insist that you shall get up and have your horses harnessed and go away from here; they will not let you stay here." I answered, "This is a public house is it not?" "Yes." "You are the landlord of this house?" "Yes." "You do not undertake to turn us out?" "No." "Will you protect us in staying here?" "I would if I could; but I am one man against half a dozen. I cannot protect you; you will have to protect yourselves but I will have no hand in violating the law which will be violated if you are turned out. Can you take care of yourselves?"
We had in our company one of the largest men whom I have ever seen in Europe, India, or America. There was not a particle of superfluous flesh about him, but he was evidently an exceedingly strong and very active man. The passageway from the bar room up into the room where we slept was ceiled [sic] up on either side so as to make it a close way; and at the top of the stairs, or on the chamber floor ran a little railing on either side of the gangway to protect persons from falling down the stairway by accident or mistake. This man got out of bed, threw the bed on the floor, took his knife and cut the ropes that kept the parts of the bedstead together, pulled it down, and took one of the head posts for a club. It was made of hard maple and was as big as the spear-handle of Goliath. Putting on his stockings and pantaloons, and shirt, and rolling up his sleeves to his elbow tightly, he took this bedpost, and went to the head of the chamber stairs, and standing there, called to the landlord.
The landlord opened the door, and he quietly said: "Will you tell the men who are below, that if we are to leave here tonight, we have to be turned out; and if we are to be turned out they must come and turn us out?" The landlord said he would. Leaving the door open, he turned to the mobocrats and said: "Gentlemen, I have conveyed your message to my guests upstairs; and they say if they are to be turned out tonight, you must turn them out." Their leader said: "Come on boys, we will hustle these fellows out in their shirts pretty quick. Here they shall not stay." So the leader rushed to the door; it was at the foot of the chamber stairs, and looking up saw this large man standing in his shirt sleeves with this immense bedpost swinging up over his head; and when he saw him, the man himself spoke and said to him: "Come upstairs and turn us out; come up. You have said we shall go out; walk up." The stairs were narrow; only one person could come up at a time. He could not get up until he came to the top. There stood this man with the club to knock his brains out; and looking at him for a moment, the ruffian said: "Oh d__n you, if that is your game, then you can stay all night; but we will pay you for it in the morning." So he shut the door and went off.
In the morning about four o'clock we were up, our horses were harnessed, the driver on his seat, and we started. We rode about a mile from Vernon, and there we found the road obstructed by having rails taken off a fence and laid up Virginia fashion in a corner, and our driver drove into it and found himself in a sort of cul-de-sac. As soon as our horses were stopped, then there came rotten eggs, potatoes, stones, and everything else. The horses became frightened, rushed up against this loose fence, knocked it down, jumped over, dragging the carriage over without upsetting it and on we came to Peterboro, and here we are.
We invite all of you to come to Peterboro and visit the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum to see where history happened!
For more of the story of the founding convention of the New York State Anti-Slavery Society in 1835 and the events in Utica and Peterboro, see the following book. It is available at the Peterboro Mercantile as well as at amazon.com