Many local delegates, such as Gerrit Smith, James DeLong, Spencer Kellogg, Alvan Stewart, and Beriah Green, became active in Oneida County’s Abolition Movement and Underground Railroad following the Utica Riot.
Why Did The New York State Anti-Slavery Society Convention Take Place In Utica?
The Convention to establish the New York State Anti-Slavery Society met in Utica because of Oneida County’s fiery Abolitionist leadership, the influence of the religious revival movement, the city’s unique location, and the concentration of Abolitionist organizations and printing activity.
The fledgling Abolition Movement took root in Oneida County in 1833 with the arrival of Beriah Green at Whitestown’s Oneida Institute of Science and Industry. Green transformed the school into the nation’s first multi-racial college, dedicated to the “radical” principals of Manual Labor and Abolition. By 1835 both Green and Utica’s Alvan Stewart had gained national recognition for their anti-slavery efforts. When they proposed that a convention meet in Utica, Abolitionists from across New York heeded the call.
Oneida County was part of the “Burned-Over District” of the religious revivalism movement in the early 1800’s.Many revivalists believed that “faith without deeds is useless” (James, 2 v. 20) and put their faith to work for the abolition of slavery.
n the 1830’s the Erie Canal was America’s most important east/west transportation system, carrying goods and people, as well as news and ideas. Utica’s central location along the Erie Canal, connecting Buffalo and New York City, made it an ideal place to meet.
After William Lloyd Garrison published The Liberator (considered the “voice of Abolitionism”) in 1831, Abolitionist literature quickly appeared across Oneida County. Utica’s Standard and Democrat, a pro-Abolitionist newspaper, began publication in 1835. In 1836 it was replaced by the NY State Anti-Slavery Society’s The Friend of Man.
Thanks to Oneida County's dynamic and well-led Movement, Abolitionists gathered in Utica for this historic event.
Anticipating resistance, Stewart and Green convened the convention at 9:00, an hour earlier than announced. A resolution was quickly passed that formally established the New York State Anti-Slavery Society. By 10:00, a large group of anti-abolitionists had gathered at the Utica Academy. After passing a formal resolution to establish the New York State Anti-Slavery Society, am"Committee of 25," led by Judge Chester Hayden and U.S. Representative Samuel Beardsley, disrupted the convention and demanded that it disband immediately. When the abolitionists refused to leave, the riot ensued. There was much noise, hymn books and other missiles were thrown about, personal attacks were made, and violence threatened against Alvan Stewart.
The creation of the New York State Anti-Slavery Society established Oneida County as an important center of the Abolitionist Movement. Despite the riot, the New York State Anti-Slavery Society met at the church the following year and again in 1837. New York’s first state-wide Abolitionist society linked Utica and Oneida County to the larger national Abolitionist Movement. The rioters’ challenge to freedom of speech prompted philanthropist Gerrit Smith, one of America’s wealthiest men, to support the Abolitionist Movement, to lend financial and political support to the movement, as well as a safe-house for fugitives. Many other local delegates, such as James DeLong and Beriah Green, became active in Oneida County’s Underground Railroad following the Utica Riot.
Who Opposed the Abolitionists?
Second Presbyterian Church
Abolitionists and Underground Railroad operatives confronted strong opposition in the North as well as the South. They faced prison, financial ruin, and death, especially in the South. Most whites viewed abolitionists as misguided troublemakers at best. At worst they were considered traitors, inciting mass murder, and intending to “amalgamate” blacks and whites.
The sudden rise of the Abolition Movement deeply alarmed white Northerners, but Southerners were particularly outraged by their message. Fears of slave revolts like the bloody Haitian Revolution of 1791–1803 and Virginia’s 1831 Nat Turner’s Rebellion were always on Southerners’ minds. David Walker’s 1829 “Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World” called for slaves to rise up against their masters and to defend themselves. Abolitionist newspapers and pamphlets were numerous enough by 1820 that South Carolina instituted penalties for anyone bringing written anti-slavery material into the state. Several Southern states formally requested that Northern states to suppress abolition groups and their literature.
A backlash of anti-abolition riots broke out in many Northern cities between 1831 and 1835, including New York, Philadelphia, and Utica. The U.S. House of Representatives adopted a gag rule, automatically tabling abolitionist proposals and petitions. In 1834 Alvan Stewart and Beriah Green were burned in effigy by a Utica Mob. Many of Utica’s political and business leaders and workmen opposed anti-slavery activity, especially conventions and newspapers. With Utica’s prosperity growing, they feared it could damage Utica’s reputation with Southerners and national political parties.