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Walking the Historical Abolition Road

Sep 11, 2023

October 23, 2022: The first Abolition Walk tracing the footsteps of abolitionists who walked from Canastota to Peterboro to form the New York State Antislavery Society. The second Abolition Walk will be launched at 8:00 Saturday, October 21, 202 at 122 Canal Street in Canastota NY. (Image by Clifford Utter)

On October 21st 1835 six hundred abolitionists met in Utica NY to form a state antislavery society. Twice the six hundred delegates were confronted by an angry mob and thrown out of the Bleeker Street Church. Gerrit Smith invited the delegates to meet the next day in the safety of Peterboro NY. Through the cold and rainy night three hundred men made their way to Peterboro up over the hill through Vernon Center. One hundred four delegates rented an empty lumber barge in Utica and traveled the Erie Canal to Canastota. From Canastota they walked up the steep elevation to Peterboro. The People of Peterboro fed the abolitionists and at 11:00 am on October 22, 1835 the inaugural meeting of the New York State Antislavery Society was held in the building that is now the Town of Smithfield municipal building and the home of the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum.

On Saturday, October 21, 2023 at 8:00 am, on Canal Street in Canastota, the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum of Peterboro will commemorate that historic 1835 event with an interpretive sign unveiling and a brief reenactment which captures the arrival in Canastota of the abolitionists. Max Smith’s rendition of O Freedom will be followed by Choirs Along the Canal featuring the Sylvan Beach singers and the Magical Music Squad, a children’s chorus from Grace Episcopal Church in Syracuse. At 9 o’clock registered walkers will trace a portion of the historic nine mile trail from Canastota to Peterboro by taking a short 2.7 mile walk from the Canal Town Museum to Clockville for another reenactment and sign unveiling, and then return to Canastota for a celebration party. “This inaugural five-mile walk can be accomplished by most people in two hours” said Terry Greene, volunteer walk organizer. “We will maintain a comfortable pace walking along a beautiful stretch of road in Central New York.”

“The goal,” explained Marilyn Higgins, event creator, “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 project is funded in part through the support of the New York State Canal Corporation and Erie Canalway National Heritage, and from the generosity of sponsors. Registration to walk and ride is at Registrants receive a long-sleeved tee shirt with the event logo. For more information: 315.308.1890 and

Gerrit Smith of Peterboro invited 600 abolition delegates (who were mobbed out of Utica) to meet in the safety of Peterboro NY on October 22, 1835 to form the New York State Antislavery Society.

Smithfield Community Center in Peterboro NY: Site of the inaugural meeting of the New York State Antislavery Society October 22, 1835.