Essex County's most renowned abolitionists, John and Mary Brown, moved from Springfield, Massachusetts, to the Adirondack Mountains with seven of their children in 1849. At first, they rented the Flanders farm on Cascade Road. Cyrus Thomas, a fugitive slave from Florida who followed them from Springfield, lived there with them.
But did fugitive slaves stay with the Browns in their permanent home at North Elba? Some say they didn't. And some say they did.
John Brown Farm, North Elba
John Brown came to help the settlers of a black settlement he called Timbuctoo in honor of the ancient African city of learning from antiquity. Brown's black neighbors had each been granted parcels of land by Gerrit Smith, New York's wealthiest abolitionist. Smith was determined to help the men qualify to vote in state elections.
In 1821, New York revised its Constitution to include a clause which disenfranchised the majority of her black male adults. While the property qualification for white males was kept at the old standard of $100, the value of the land black males were required to own in order to vote was increased to $250. When a referendum to restore impartial suffrage failed in 1846, Gerrit Smith offered 3,000 black men 40 acre parcels of land from tracts he owned in eight New York counties. Hundreds of those parcels were in Essex County.
But when Brown arrived in the Adirondacks in 1849, he found only a handful of families at Timbuctoo. Cold winters, a shortage of supplies, unscrupulous surveyors, taxes and the harsh mountain landscape had discouraged most of the grantees.