Cazenovia

 

In 1850 one could travel from Syracuse to Cazenovia only by stagecoach because the railroad lines were not yet in existence. The "short" three and one-half hour ride would take you through the Village of Manlius and then southeast to Cazenovia. Frederick Douglass may have come by this route in the summer of 1850 on his way to the Cazenovia Fugitive Slave Law Convention.



In 1850 the Congress of the United States was debating a new law meant to bolster the Fugitive slave act of 1793, a federal law which required the return of fugitive slave to their owners. The new law would require Federal officials to arrest fugitive slave under penalty of fine of $1000. Furthermore anybody aiding a runaway slave could be subject to a prison term and a $1000 fine. Suspected fugitive slave were denied the right to trial by jury and even free blacks could be conscripted back into slavery since the Federal law would supersede any personal liberty laws enacted by the States. If enacted, Northern abolitionists would now be faced with the choice of either submitting to the law of the land or denying their religious convictions about the evils of slavery.

[U.S. Capital at about the time of the Civil War - National Archives & Records Administration]


 

Cazenovia, New York lies just east of the southern tip of Cazenovia Lake and along the Cherry Valley Turnpike (now route 20). The Village is at the junction of the turnpike from Albany, to the east, and; the Hiawatha Trail (roughly, route 13) leading to the North and the Erie Canal. Cazenovia Lake, also known by its Indian name, Owahgena (Yellow Perch Lake) is a picturesque body of water running north to south for some four miles. Its outlet runs through the village and empties into Chittenango Creek and eventually Lake Ontario.

[South side of the Village as it appears today.]

 

The Cazenovia Fugitive Slave Law Convention was held at the old Free Church ( now the site of the Catherine Cummings Theater) on Lincklaen Street just to the north of the present day Lincklaen House. The call to convention was issued by the New York State Vigilance Committee, Gerrit Smith, President. Some 2000 abolitionists by some estimates, attended the two day convention. Included among that number were at least 50 fugitive slaves. Since this doubled the population of the small village, not all of the residents were welcoming to the influx of abolitionist to the rather conservative community.

 

[Albany Street, Cazenovia, New York]

 

The convention was called to order on Wednesday, August 21, 1850 at the Free Church. Presiding over the two day assembly was former slave Frederick Douglass of Rochester, New York. The crowds were too large for the church and so the second days meeting was held in a nearby apple orchard located at what is now 9 Sullivan Street. It was here that the daguerreotype to the left was recorded. Gerrit Smith (standing) can be seen addressing the crowd. Seated to his right is Frederick Douglass. On either side of Smith are the Edmonson sisters, Mary and Emily, former slaves from Washington, D.C..

[Daguerreotype by E.G. Weld, Cazenovia, N.Y., August 22, 1850]

 

A major outcome of the Fugitive Slave Law Convention was in the form of a controversial "Letter to the Slaves" read to the convention by Gerrit Smith and most likely authored by Smith himself. The rather extensive document purports to come from runaway slaves and encourages slaves to "plunder, burn, and kill, as you may have occasion to do to promote your escape." If the letter was designed to capture national attention - it did just that! Many newspapers both North and South condemned the letter and Smith himself, referring to Smith as a "madman and knave he is, beyond all question."

Less than a month after the Cazenovia convention, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law.

[Marker at the site of Grace Wilson's orchard.]