Graduates and faculty from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh have discovered artifacts at the abolitionist Stephen Keese Smith property in the town Peru.
The North Country Underground Railroad Association will be offering guided tours of anti-slavery sites in both Peru and Keeseville every Saturday in September. The trips will be led by organization President Don Papson.
“It’s one thing to go to a museum and read panels,” Papson said. “It’s another thing to go to where the history actually happened.”
The sites the two-hour tour will visit are related to the abolitionist movement in the North County in the decades prior to the U.S. Civil War.
One site is the United Methodist Church in Keeseville, which had been led by Rev. Merritt Bates, an abolitionist. The congregation also had a member who had been enslaved and freed in Plattsburgh. Additionally, according to Papson, Peru’s Methodist Minister Rev. Andrew Witherspoon, was tried at the Keeseville church for his abolitionist views.
Another site the tour will visit is the Old Congregational Church, now a Masonic Lodge, in Keeseville. The church was led by the abolitionist Rev. John Mattocks, Papson said. The house behind the church, known today as the Arthur House, was a stop on the Underground Railroad, according to oral history.
Another site will be the old Baptist Church in Keeseville, where the congregation was divided over the issue of slavery, Papson said. When abolitionist meetings were held at the location without consultation of a member of the board of trustees, the spurned official left the church.
The tour will also pass the AuSable house where a leg-iron was discovered 30 years ago, Papson said. The person who found the artifact gave it to the North Star Underground Railroad Museum, where it is currently on display.
Another site will be the Quaker cemetery in Peru, where several abolitionists are buried.
The tour will also visit the old Peru property of abolitionist Stephen Keese Smith.
“It’s the most documented site on the Underground Railroad in Clinton County,” Papson said.
The location was originally owned by a slaveowner whose son became an abolitionist. The son sold the property to Smith.
At the location, the tour will visit a hidden room in a barn on the property where runaway slaves hid.
“You would never know it’s there from the outside of the barn,” Papson said. “People are very moved when they go into this space.”
An instructor from SUNY Plattsburgh along with graduates of the institution have found “buckets and buckets” worth of dishes, pottery, chamber pots, bottles and coins at the location, according to Papson.
“We’re looking for something that is going to link all of these things to the Underground Railroad,” Papson said. “We haven’t found it yet. Right now it’s telling us about the history of the property.”
The tour will last from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. each Saturday, beginning and ending at North Star Underground Railroad Museum, 1131 Mace Chasm Road, Ausable Chasm. Participants must register in advance by calling 834-5180. There is a 12 person limit. Tickets cost $10.