Jerry Rescue

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The Jerry Rescue, on October 1, 1851, involved the daring, public rescue of a fugitive slave who had been arrested the same day, in Syracuse, New York, during the anti-slavery Liberty Party's state convention. The escaped slave was William Henry, a 40-year-old cooper from Missouri who called himself "Jerry."[1]


The fight against slavery in Central New York and the Finger Lakes region and the desire to help escaped slaves occurred, because New York State was a free state and a number of well positioned citizens, who were sympathetic to the slaves, lived in the area. The central location of Syracuse meant that many slaves passed through the area "on their way to freedom" in Canada.[2]

Fugitive slave law[edit]

On October 1, 1851, William Henry was arrested in Syracuse under the Fugitive Slave Law. The anti-slavery Liberty Party was holding its state convention in the city, and when word of the arrest spread, several hundred abolitionists including Charles Augustus Wheaton broke into the city jail and freed Jerry. The event came to be widely known as the Jerry Rescue. In the aftermath, the Congregationalist minister Samuel Ringgold Ward had to flee to Canada to escape persecution because of his participation[3]

Earlier in 1851, Secretary of State Daniel Webster had warned that the law would be enforced even "here in Syracuse in the midst of the next Anti-Slavery Convention."[1] The arrest was considered a message that the locally unpopular law would be seriously enforced by federal authorities.[1]

Trial and freedom[edit]

The trial took place that same day in the Townsend Building located in Clinton Square in the second floor office of the U.S. Commissioner Sabine who tried the case. It was his first trial. Jerry escaped during the afternoon session and Sabine's office was wrecked.[4]

Underground railroad[edit]

Following his escape and subsequent rescue, Henry was hidden in Syracuse for several days until he was taken first to the Orson Ames House at Mexico, New York and then to Oswego where he crossed Lake Ontario into Canada.[3][5]

A total of 26 of the rescuers were tried for their actions but only one conviction resulted.[5] The suspects were bailed out by a number of people including U.S. Senator and former governor of New York, William H. Seward.[3] Nine others, including Rev. J. W. Loguen, himself a fugitive slave, were charged but fled to Canada.[5]

Syracuse became an active center for the abolitionist movement, due in large part to the influence of Gerrit Smith and a group allied with him, mostly associated with the Unitarian Church and their pastor, Reverend Samuel May in Syracuse, as well as with Quakers in nearby Skaneateles, supported as well by abolitionists in many other religious congregations.[3] Prior to the Civil War, due to the work of Jermain Wesley Loguen and others in defiance of federal law, Syracuse was known as the "great central depot on the Underground Railroad."

Some of the others involved from the area were Frederick Douglass, Millard Fillmore, Matilda Joslyn Gage, John W. Jones, William Marks and Harriet Tubman.[2]

Jerry Rescue building[edit]

The event was commemorated in the 1850s with the renaming of the Townsend Block to the Jerry Rescue Building which is no longer standing.[6] The building, constructed in 1829,[7] was located on the southside of Clinton Square at the corner of Water and Clinton Streets.[4]

The event is now memorialized with a monument in Clinton Square, Syracuse.[3]

Townsend Block in Syracuse, New York in Clinton Square - The Jerry Rescue Building constructed in 1843 - Syracuse Herald

Underground railroad homes[edit]

Cayuga County:[2]

Map of various Underground Railroad routes

Chemung County:[2]

Onondaga County:[2]

Seneca County:[2]

Yates County:[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Bordewich, Fergus M. Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America. Amistad, 2005. p. 333 ISBN 978-0-06-052430-2. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "The Underground Railroad in the Finger Lakes". Ronda Roaring, 2006. Retrieved December 3, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "The Jerry Rescue". New York History Net, 2009. Retrieved August 15, 2009. 
  4. ^ a b "Where First Hearing in Jerry Case Took Place". NYPL Digital Gallery, 2010. Retrieved December 3, 2010. 
  5. ^ a b c Bordewich, Fergus M. Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America. Amistad, 2005. p. 339 ISBN 978-0-06-052430-2. 
  6. ^ "The 'Jerry Rescue' Building" at Syracuse Then and Now. Retrieved 15 August 2009.
  7. ^ McGuinness, Walter F. (February 23, 1958). "A Year in Onondaga History". Syracuse Herald Journal (Syracuse, New York).