Oneida County’s abolition movement and Underground Railroad activity can be said to begin when Beriah Green assumed leadership of the Oneida Institute of Science and Technology in 1833. The Oneida Institute thereafter became a beacon of progressive education and led the struggle in the county for immediate emancipation.
The Institute enrolled black and white male students on an equal basis, the first college in America to do so. Some of them became prominent in the abolition movement, such as Jemaine Loguen, Alexander Crummel, and Henry Highland Garnet. Here debates were held and an abolitionist newspaper, The Friend of Man, was published. Speakers from Oneida Institute fanned out across the county carrying the abolitionist message. And it was here that, on July 1833, students banded together to form New York State’s first anti-slavery society dedicated to immediatist principles, meaning slavery should be abolished immediately rather than gradually over a long period of time.
The Oneida Institute quickly became a station on the Underground Railroad: “He (Beriah Green) welcomed fugitive slaves to his home and to the campus, where students hid them in their dormitory rooms. Fugitives from “the peculiar institution” (as slavery was often called) enjoyed the safety of the “Old Hive,” Green’s home in Whitesboro.
By the Fall of 1835, there were 17 anti-slavery societies in Oneida County, including Hamilton College, Oneida Castle, Vienna, Camden, Marshall, and New York Mills. There were also a Ladies' Society and a Utica Juvenile Males Society, and a Juvenile Females Society. Before long, most towns supported at least one anti-slavery society.
Fanning out across the county, abolitionists distributed tracts, wrote and sang songs, debated in churches, formed abolitionist churches, held rallies, and circulated scores of petitions protesting slavery. The first meeting of the New York State Anti-Slavery Society was held in Utica in 1835. One year later, Utica's citizens struck a powerful blow on behalf of the movement by freeing 2 fugitives. The Utica Rescue of 1836 made visible the emerging Underground Railroad.