The 2nd Annual
Saturday, October 21, 2023
We trace a portion of the footsteps of the 104 brave souls who escaped an angry mob of anti-abolitionists in Utica in 1835, embarked on an Erie Canal lumber barge to Canastota, and climbed the trail to Peterboro where they formed the New York State Anti-Slavery Society. Learn more...
The Walk is from Canastota to Clockville and back (5.4 miles - 2 hrs). Map & schedule...
Mel Stith’s inspiring remarks at Abolition Walk '23
"It is a beautiful Day in Central NY. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Welcome All.
Patricia and I are delighted to be here today for this grand occasion. We gather today to remember and celebrate the brave souls who had the courage and fortitude to say enough is enough. We are not taking it anymore. Freedom is our call. No more bondage, no more whips. Freedom to move, Freedom to think, Freedom to love is our call for the remainder of our lives and the lives of further generations. They reclaimed their dignity through their actions and deeds.
Many of us wonder where the term 'Underground Railroad' came from? How did it emerge as the rallying mental and physical call to freedom? Well, a gentleman by the name of Thomas Smallwood coined the term in 1842. He was a shoemaker by day but by night he organized daring escapes from slavery not by one or twos but by wagon loads. He first used the term on August 10,1842 in the newspaper “Tocism of Liberty" published in Albany, NY. He often wrote articles for this newspaper. Within a year, the concept of the underground railroad was picked up by other writers. It quickly became the generic term for escape from slavery.
As we gather today to celebrate this wonderful march to freedom, I often wonder how these brave souls sustained themselves? How did they stay the course? I believe they turned to songs especially Negro spirituals. Spirituals have always played a significant role in the African American experience. From sadness to joy.
I imagine they sang:
I don’t believe he brought me this far to leave me
Oh, Lord help me to hold out until my change has come
Oh, I just have one more river to cross.
Once they got to freedom land. I imagine they sang
How I got over, my soul looks back and wonders. How I got over?
So today enjoy the march. Make a joyful noise, have fun. Most important, remember why we are here today. Make a new friend or two. The march to freedom continues, Enjoy the day."
Choirs on the Canal
Thanks to the Magical Musical Squad from Grace Episcopal Church, for gracing the shores of the historic Erie Canal, and to kicking off the Abolition Walk '23.
Shine a light on this pivotal moment
When a group of prominent NY abolitionists convened in Utica to form the New York State Anti-Slavery Society in 1835, they were disrupted by an angry mob of anti-abolitionists. Gerrit Smith stepped forward and invited the delegates to "Come to Peterboro" to resume the meeting.
This historic event motivated Gerrit Smith to devote himself to the abolitionist cause, making Central New York the heart of the abolitionist movement in America, a safe haven for persons escaping slavery, and a respite for influential reformers such as Theodore Weld, Frederick Douglass, John Brown, Jermain Loguen and Harriet Tubman during the decades leading up to the Civil War.
The Abolition Walk is one component of a larger celebration sponsored by the Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor and managed by the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum (NAHOF). The event will include historic reenactments, installation of permanent signs, and presentations and performances by students from area schools and colleges.
The Smithfield Community Center is home to NAHOF and the site of the inaugural meeting of the New York State Antislavery Society in 1835
A limited number of bus seats are available for the roundtrip between Canastota and Clockville. If you prefer to ride, look for the Bus Ride option at checkout.
Our goal is to celebrate unity in Central New York and shine a light on a largely unrecognized, pivotal moment in the history of the abolitionist movement. We seek broad participation to make this dramatic local history a source of pride and inspiration for freedom-loving people everywhere.
This event is funded in part through the generous support of the NYS Canal Corporation and Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor.