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St. Lawrence County


Ogdensburg ("Ogdensburgh" in Underground Railroad days) was an important terminal point for fugitives on their way to the refugee communities in Canada West, between Toronto and Windsor, Ontario. Ogdensburgh was at the narrowest point on the St. Lawrence River, and it had a steam ferry service to Canada.

The 1837 Fugitive

The 1837 Fugitive

An account of a man who followed the Champlain Line of the Underground Railroad appeared in anti-slavery newspapers in 1837. Written by Vermont-born abolitionist Alvan Stewart, the story "was communicated to brother Stewart, by two gentlemen of high standing, in St. Lawrence county." While not divulging the name of the fugitive, Stewart provided a detailed description of him. He was "middle age, of noble size, six feet high." He "had made his escape from the southern states, and passed up the Champlain Canal, and from Clinton County passed through Franklin County, into the north part of St. Lawrence county, with intent to go to Ogdensburg, and cross over into Canada...."

When he was about 30 miles from Ogdensburg, the fugitive stopped to work a few days for a postman. While he was chopping wood, the mail stage came through. When it left, the postman found an open envelope addressed to the Ogdensburg postman. It contained a wanted notice for the man who was chopping his wood! The postman confronted the runaway, who pleaded with the postman not to turn him in.

The postmaster melted down and was deeply affected...[he] then showed the fugitive a short route of 15 miles, to the St. Lawrence, by which he could cross into Canada, and be safe; and gave him a loaf of bread and his blessing; and as the sun went down, the fugitive crossed the St. Lawrence, and placed his foot on Canada's soil, beneath the protection of British law, and was a happy man.

The story of the 1837 Ogdensburg fugitive is featured in our DVD, Northward to Freedom.

A number of homes in St. Lawrence County are believed to have been safe houses for fugitive slaves. One of the alleged stops is the Hurlburd House in Brasher Falls.

Hurlburd House

Hurlburd House

Hurlburd House Hiding Place

A secret space under the Hurlburd house
believed to have been a hiding place

Saint Lawrence County Abolitionist Time Line
Compiled by Bryan Thompson
1777 Gouverneur Morris introduces unsuccessful amendment to abolish Slavery in NYS at first state constitutional convention.
1799 NYS passes gradual manumission law for slaves born after this date.
1802 SLC founded. First settlers brought slaves with them to clear land and serve in the households of wealthy settlers.
1815 NYS imposes pass requirement for black voters (In effect a poll tax.)
1817 NYS Manumission law amended to free all slaves on July 4, 1827. Children of slaves born up July 4, 1827, still required to serve 21 year indenture to masters.
1820 US Census figures show there are less than half as many black people in New York State as there were in 1810 despite a law forbidding sale of slaves outside the state.
1825 Rev. Charles Finney preaches in Western St. Lawrence County. Introduces the abolitionist principle of "Comeouterism."
Based on Revelation 18:4 ("Come out of [Babylon], my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins") Comeouterism: the idea that to be a good Christian you must separate and not associate with any people who supported, or did not outright oppose, sinful practices such as slavery or the consumption of alcohol.
1826 July 4th Rev. Ora Phelps Hoyt delivers abolitionist sermon at Potsdam Presbyterian Meetinghouse.
November 6,7,8 Saint Lawrence County supports a statewide referendum removing property restrictions for white male voters. The same measure increases the property requirement for Black voters from $100 to $250.
1827 Luther Lee begins preaching in St. Lawrence County.
July 4, 1827 New York State slaves over the age of 21 emancipated.
1834 August 1st Slavery abolished in the British Empire except areas controlled by the East India co. Slavery ends in Canada making it a safe haven for escaping US slaves.
Rev Charles Bowles 2nd, a mulatto man, comes to Hopkinton as Minister or the Congregational church.
Nov 14th W.L Chaplin corresponding secretary of the NYS Abolitionist Society writes to Truman Smith of Potsdam. Asking the local abolitionist society executive committee for donations to support the local distribution of an abolitionist newspaper.
1836 The Rev. Charles Bowles 1st retires to Hopkinton. Immediately begins to organize the St. Lawrence Meeting of the strongly abolitionist Free Will Baptist Church.
Methodist church bans preaching of concept of "Comeouterism."
1837 August 15th St. Lawrence County Anti-Slavery Society organized at Potsdam, NY.
First written account of former slave escaping to Canada through St. Lawrence County is published in The Colored American.
Fall Thomas Canfield, antislavery lecturer from Franklin County tours Eastern St Lawrence County.
1838 Jan 30th St Lawrence County Antislavery Society meets at Norfolk.
February& March First abolition petitions are submitted to Congress from St Lawrence County from Lawrence, Potsdam and Parishville.
Sep 10th St Lawrence County Antislavery Society meets at Potsdam. Send representatives to NYS Freedmen's convention.
1839 National Presbyterian church splits over slavery. "New School" St. Lawrence Presbytery organized at De Kalb. "Old School" Ogdensburgh Presbytery organized at Ogdensburgh. Scotch Presbyterian Church of Madrid joins the Secession Church of Scotland.
1840 Liberty Party organized as national abolitionist political party.
1841 August 17th A. Miner of Canton joins call to organize a Baptist anti-slavery society.
October 6th St. Lawrence County Antislavery Society meets at the Brick Chapel in South Canton. Convention nominates a slate of Liberty candidates for state and county offices. Some participants are harassed by local residents.
1842 February 1st Methodist and Freewill Baptist Society of Morley Incorporated.
September 28th & 29th St. Lawrence County Anti slavery Society and Liberty Party hold convention at Bucks Bridge.
1843 February 14th Lisbon Wesleyan Methodist Church Incorporated.
May 31st National Wesleyan Methodist Church organized.
June 29th Freewill Baptist Church of West Potsdam incorporated.
September 23rd Morley Wesleyan Methodist Church incorporated.
December 6th Parishville Wesleyan Methodist incorporated.
Second Congregational church of Gouverneur organized.
1844 July 10, 11th Abolitionist convention held at West Potsdam.
September 11 12th St Lawrence County Liberty Party convention held at East Stockholm.
1845 Texas enters Union as a slave state. Preston King one of only two Us Congressmen who vote against admission.
Summer Martin Mitchell of Fowler abolitionist speaking tour of Ohio, Ill. Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan. Financed by the NYS Antislavery Society.
1846 September 4th SLC Liberty party holds convention at Parishville. Party nominated a full slate of candidates for all county and state offices.
1847 Martin Mitchell of Fowler chairs the New York State Liberty Party convention at Cortland, NY.
1848 August 1848 Buffalo convention leads to a merger between moderate Liberty party member and free-soilers to form the moderate abolitionist "Freesoil Democratic Party" Freesoiler Harlow Godard of Richville is elected to the NYS assembly. Preston King of Ogdensburg is elected as a Freesoil Democrat to the US congress.
Oct 10th "Free Democrats" of St Lawrence county hold convention at Canton.
1850 March 1st St. Lawrence County Liberty party Convention held at Lawrence.
April Friends of Freedom and Freesoilers meet at Marvin Schoolhouse, Hammond.
June 21st Adjourned meeting of The Friends of Freedom meet at Bartlett's Hotel, Madrid.
July 10th Mass meeting of Friends of Freedom at Canton.
1851 November 19 Free Will Baptists of West Fowler incorporated.
1852 July "The Laborer" an antislavery newspaper and official organ of the local Liberty Party begins publication at Gouverneur. Martin Mitchell, editor.
September 15th The "Free Democrats" hold alternative Democratic party county convention at Canton after being locked out of the debate at the regular County Democratic Convention.
October 11th East Stockholm Wesleyan Methodist Church incorporated.
November 2nd More than 1000 votes are caste countywide for John P. Hale the Liberty Party candidate for President.
1853 August 24th The Independent Democratic Movement of St. Lawrence County holds convention at Canton.
1854 The "St. Lawrence Republican" newspaper of Ogdensburg officially becomes a barnburner paper. The term barnburner came from the idea of someone so obsessed they would burn down their own barn to get rid of a rat infestation, in this case the most radical faction of the Democratic party who would destroy their own party to rid the nation of slavery.
National Republican Party begins in Wisconsin as abolitionist centrist party.
1855 Preston King officially leaves the Democratic Party to become a member of the new Republican Party.
October "The St. Lawrence Democrat" of Canton changes party affiliation to the new Republican Party.
1856 "St. Lawrence Plaindealer" Canton, NY founded as anti-slavery Republican campaign newspaper.
May 19 North Stockholm (Curtis School) Wesleyan Methodists incorporated.
November Freemont the third party Republican candidate for president carries 75% of the popular vote in St Lawrence county.

For more on the history of the UGRR in St. Lawrence County, contact DeKalb Historian Bryan Thompson at 315-347-1900 or .

Link to the: Abolitionist Database for St. Lawrence County.

Back to People and Places


"From the New York Evangelist," The Colored American, Sept. 23, 1837.

Hurlburd House alleged secret space photo by Don Papson

Hurlburd House. Samuel W. Durant, History of St. Lawrence County, Philadelphia: L.H. Everts and Col, 1878.