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