PLATTSBURGH - An historic occasion in its own right will recognize the historic significance of Plattsburgh in the Anti-Slavery Movement.
The North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association will join with the leadership of the First Presbyterian Church Tuesday, Feb. 16, to dedicate Plattsburgh's first interpretive panel celebrating the church's role in the Anti-Slavery Movement of the 19th century.
NCURHA president Don Papson said the issue of bringing an end to slavery in the United States was a divisive issue by 1837. First Presbyterian Church trustee Gen. Benjamin Mooers circulated a petition in the spring of that year against abolitionists meeting anywhere in Plattsburgh. Mooers wasn't alone - some of Clinton County's wealthiest and most influential citizens were among the church's founding members, with several owning slaves before New York abolished slavery in 1827.
The abolitionists were denied use of widow Sperry's Meeting Hall on Broad Street, the Methodist Church, and the Presbyterian Church. Emotions ran high on both sides of the issue and it wasn't until August 1837 when antagonism against the abolitionists had "subsided to a degree in Plattsburgh," and the Clinton County Anti-Slavery Society was allowed to hold their first annual meeting in the First Presbyterian Church.
"What's important for people to know is the courage they exhibited here. It's not easy to be against what everybody else is standing for," he said.
Papson said the church's role in the Anti-Slavery Movement wasn't known until after it was uncovered a few years ago in research conducted of the Underground Railroad's history in the region.
"This area between Albany and Montreal, the Champlain line of the Underground Railroad, was the least researched of all the routes of the Underground Railroad in New York," said Papson. "It's a history that members of the church didn't even know. It opens up a whole chapter of our history we didn't know anything about."
The distinctive panel, which was installed last month, is one of a series of state funded markers on New York's Underground Railroad Heritage Trail. The North Country has three others - one at the John Brown Farm in North Elba, one at the the Essex County Courthouse in Elizabethtown, and one at the First Congregational Church in Malone.
"This, to me, is extremely important because we know about the American Revolution, we know about the War of 1812," said Papson. "This is another story about freedom, not of political freedom, but of social freedom."
The Feb. 16 unveiling will take place in front of the main entrance to the First Presbyterian Church at 34 Brinkerhoff St., beginning at 5 p.m. Interim pastor Virginia Murray and Papson will be joined by members of the church and the association for the event. Following the unveiling, members of the NCURHA board and church steering committee will convene in the church for their regular monthly meeting. The public is invited to both the panel unveiling and the meeting.