Located on land that was once the territory of the Onondaga Nation, the swampy lowland of what was to become the city of Syracuse drew early settlers to the salty brine springs around the southern end of Salt Lake (Onondaga Lake). It was salt that attracted the early missionaries; and later, determined the location of the Erie Canal and the City of Syracuse itself.

New York State had abolished slavery by 1827. But on September 18, 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act which superseded state laws and provided stiff penalties for any person who aided fugitives in their escape to freedom. Abolitionist, who prior to the passage of the Act had sought political solutions to the question of slavery, now became much more militant, vowing to defy the Act by force if necessary.


"I don't respect this law--I don't fear it--I won't obey it! It outlaws me, and I outlaw it, and the men who attempt to enforce it on me." - Rev. Jermain Wesley Loguen, Syracuse, N.Y., 1850

Jermain Wesley Loguen (1813 - 1872) Loguen was the son of a white slave owner and a black slave. Born into slavery he fled from his native Tennessee and, following the Underground Railroad, escaped to Canada. He later moved to Syracuse where his home became a major stopping place (depot) for runaway slaves. He became an elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Syracuse and was appointed its Bishop in 1868. He was prominent abolitionist speaker and published his own autobiography. In an ironic footnote, his former masters wife, Sarah Logue, seeking remuneration from the profits of his book, actually wrote Loguen demanding $1000 in compensation. He refused.  His remains are located in Oakwood Cemetery, Syracuse, N.Y.  The original stone was stolen, but a memorial marker locates the spot. 

On the evening of October 1, 1851, a crowd of hundreds of people, gathered at the police station where the former slave William "Jerry" Henry was being held for arraignment under the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Act. The crowd battered down the door of the police station and forcible rescued Henry from the federal marshals. After hiding out in Syracuse for a few days, he then escaped by wagon to Oswego and then to Canada. The building that housed the police station became know as the Jerry Rescue Building.  The building was demolished in 1974.  A commemorative monument to the event is located at Clinton Square. The statue shows, in addition to "Jerry", Jermain Logan and Samuel Joseph May, who were not actually present during the escape; but were instrumental in arranging his final escape to Canada.

"We are witnessing such a sight as, I pray, we may never look upon again. A man in chains, in Syracuse! (Ex-slave, Samuel Ward)                                    *Jerry Rescue Building as it appeared in 1901.


Samuel Joseph May (1797 ­ 1871) A Unitarian minister and graduate of Harvard Divinity School, May moved to Syracuse in 1845. May was a tireless advocate and supporter of equal rights for blacks and women. He was years ahead of his time by allowing free black members of his congregation to occupy the front of the church as opposed to the segregated rear pews. This led to many personal attacks from anti-abolitionist. May, along with Gerrit Smith and Jermain Loguen played major roles in the release of "Jerry" Henry and his eventual escape to Canada. In addition to speaking and writing hundreds of articles in support of abolition, May also advocated for social and education reform. May died in Syracuse in July of 1871 and is interred in Oakwood Cemetery. Syracuse's May Memorial Unitarian-Universalist Church is named in his honor.

Gen. Henry Alanson Barnum (1833 - 1892) Born in Jamesville, N.Y., Barnum enlisted at the start of the Civil War. He rose through the ranks from private to brevetted Major-General in 1865. Barnum seems to have been in every major battle of the war: First Bull Run, Malvern Hill, Gettysburg, Lookout Mountain, Atlanta, etc. In 1862, Barnum was severely wounded by gunshot through his left side at the battle of Malvern Hill. Left for dead, he became a prisoner of war at Libby Prison in Richmond until he was exchanged and returned to duty. In 1889, some 27 years after the event, he was awarded the Medal Of Honor for his service during the battle of Chattanooga. Congress also saw fit to award him a pension of $100 a month. (One of the Civil Wars more "memorable" photographs shows Barnum and his gunshot wound from the battle of Malvern Hill. The wound never totally healed and he posed with a metal rod through his lower torso.)


Henry Barnum, November 23, 1863 at Chattanooga, TN o     Harry Kline, April 06, 1865 at Deatonsville (Sailor's Creek),                                                                                                          VA w                                                                                                William Crosier, July 20, 1864 at Peach Tree Creek, GA o      Peter Kappesser, November 24, 1863 at Lookout Mountain,                                                                                                             TN w
Philip Gottel, November 27, 1863 at Ringgold, GA w               William Tracy, May 02, 1863 at Chancellorsville, VA o

Harry Harvey, March 02, 1865 at Waynesboro, VA m              Martin Wambsgan, October 19, 1864 at Cedar Creek, VA w

John Kenyon, May 15, 1862 at Trenton, NC o                                     o = Oakwood, w= Woodlawn, m = Myrtle Hill