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George Gavin Ritchie, editor of the first student newspaper at Madison University (now Colgate University), was expelled for publishing his editorial, “Equal Suffrage and the Religious Press,” criticizing the voters and churches of New York State for not supporting equal suffrage for black men in the election of 1846. The faculty of Madison University not only expelled him from the seminary –thwarting his efforts to obtain his degree in his chosen field as a minister of the Baptist church – but made every effort to deny him any legitimate role in the church in New York State. He found “every college door in the land locked and bolted and barred” against him, making it impossible for him to enter another seminary or to be ordained.
From this time forward, Ritchie’s life was consumed with the cause of abolition. In the face of public repudiation and humiliation by the faculty, he continued publication of the paper in Hamilton, NY, first as the Hamilton Student, then as the Hamilton Student and Christian Reformer, and finally as the Christian Reformer, an organ fearlessly devoted to abolition and other reforms. The Madison University faculty placed a public notice in the Baptist Register that neither Ritchie nor the Hamilton Student had any connection with Madison University and passed a resolution forbidding, on pain of expulsion, other students either “to write for, or aid in any way in supporting or circulating” the Hamilton Student.
During its brief history, the Hamilton Student was the voice of abolition and reform in Central New York. Ritchie wrote anti-slavery editorials, reprinted letters and articles from other abolition and mainstream papers, announced abolitionist meetings and voiced support for his contemporary and colleague, Gerrit Smith. Ritchie was financially dependent on hat little he could earn through newspaper subscriptions and the support of fellow abolitionists.
In 1847, after dire economic circumstances forced Ritchie to close his paper, he could have returned to his original and safe occupation as a painter, but he did not turn away from the cause of abolition. He joined the antislavery Baptists and participated in a number of abolitionist organizations, including New York Convention of Anti-Slavery Baptists, New York Anti-Slavery Society, and the Liberty Party. Until his death in 1853, Ritchie also actively advocated for abolition from the pulpit, preaching abolition, peace and temperance in Oneida, Vernon, Litchfield, Richfield, West Exeter and Clinton, NY, for the Home Missions of the American Baptist Free Mission Society. He distributed antislavery literature like Uncle Tom’s Cabin and White Slaves in Central and Southern Tier New York. \ While delivering his anti-slavery message to the citizens of Devereaux and Salisbury, NY, he became ill and died. Never ordained, he had supported his family – wife and five children – by preaching for antislavery Baptists in small communities in Upstate New York. Although he was little known compared to abolitionists such as Gerrit Smith and Frederick Douglass, Ritchie never compromised his dedication to the cause of abolition, though in the end it cost him his education, his economic security, his career, his aspirations, his hopes and his reputation.
A Historical Sketch of Madison University, Hamilton, NY
Putnam, Mary Burnham. The Baptists and Slavery, 1840-1845. Ann Arbor, Mich.: George Wahr, 1913. Full text.