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Black History Post Civil War

Slaves Rescued in Utica

Prior to the Civil War fugitive slave laws sought to capture runaway slaves from the south and return them to their owners. The famous “Jerry” rescue in Syracuse occurred in 1851, but Utica had a similar rescue in December 1836.

“When two Negro men were claimed as fugitive slaves in Utica, several members of the Executive Committee of the state anti-slavery society immediately took an active part. The Negroes were in Judge Hayden’s office, taken there by a constable in Utica. Hayden found that two Virginians were testifying that the Negroes were fugitive slaves. A lawyer, Alvan Stewart, protested that the Negroes were not under legal arrest and were being treated without due legal process. A trial was set for the following day, and the colored men put in a court house room, guarded by the two slave-catchers who were hoping to earn $1200 reward for returning these men to the South.

Stewart did not get a chance to defend the men, because that evening a large group of colored people broke down the doors of the room where the men were held and released them.” From Friend of Man, January 5, 1837 and January 27, 1837


An anti-slavery society met in a Bleecker Street church in October 1835, but a large number of persons., in a disorderly and boisterous manner, crowded into the house…..This committee created so much disturbance as to entirely interrupt the proceedings of the convention. The convention could not proceed so it adjourned. Delegate Gerrit Smith of Peterboro, New York invited the convention to Peterboro where it reconvened the following day.

These two events in Utica in the mid-1830’s testify to the anti and pro slavery sentiments of Oneida County citizens. The convention passed several resolutions including this one:

“Resolved, that since Slavery is a rude and presumptuous invasion of the prerogatives of Jehovah who has expressly declared “All souls are mine,” its abolition demands the moral energies of the Christian World.

Note: slavery was phased out in New York State by 1827, and many free blacks lived here as well as runaway slaves who passed through here on route to Canada.



During the Civil War several Zouave units were formed. They wore colorful uniforms with bulky pants tucked into their boots. After the war here in Clinton, according to the Utica Observer, a Clinton Zouave unit for the new battalion was formed and mustered into the service of the State. It was called Company D. It was made up of Civil War veterans with Captain Charles A. Strong in charge and Patrick T. Murphy, the president. These groups were a sort of home guard.


In the same issue of the Utica Observer was another article about Clintonians forming a “Seymour and Blair Union Guard Club” in Tower’s Hall with R.S. Platt,Esq., chairman and Charles Colegrove, secretary. Edward J. Stebbins was elected president. The article called the meeting “large and enthusiastic.”

Several prominent area men joined. Seymour was Horatio Seymour former Utica Mayor and New York Governor in two separate terms in the late 1850’s and early 1860’s. He was the Democrat candidate for president in 1868 and lost to Gen. U.S. Grant.

Blair’s name is unfamiliar to us, but we assume he was another Democrat politician. Can anyone help us?

Tower’s Hall was located on the second floor of 16 West Park Row(today’s China Sea Restaurant and the Clinton Shoe Center) and was later the Scollard Opera House.

In 1868 Clinton was a busy community with these two new groups. Prior to today’s home entertainment possibilities (TV, Internet, video games, sports) joining and attending evening meetings seemed to be more prevalent.

Information in this article is as correct and factually accurate as possible. If you notice a fact that you believe is incorrect, please let us know. Comments are always welcome.

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