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Downtown Syracuse New York Walking Tour
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This monument dedicated in 2001 honors the daring escape of a formerly enslaved African American man and those who assisted him in defiance of the Figutive Slave Law of 1850. Syracuse, like numerous towns and cities in upstate New York, was both a destination and a waypoint for enslaved persons who fled the South seeking freedom Th city was also home to several safehouse and supporters of the Underground Railroad. During the 1800s, more than a few formerly enslaved people made their way to Syracuse and to safety. Among them was William Henry, known at that time as Jerry. Jerry came to Syracuse in 1843 and made a living for himself as a cooper. In October of 1851, Jerry was arrested by federal marshals, who initially told him he was being charged with theft. It was only after he was in manacles that Jerry was told he was being arrested under the Fugitive Slave Law. Knowing that he would be taken back South and enslaved, a number of locals opposed to the growing power of the South, as well as abolitionists who were in the city for a meeting of the anti-slavery Liberty Party, broke into the jail where Jerry was held and helped him escape to Canada.

The Jerry Rescue Monument in Clinton Square

Cloud, Plant, Sky, Sculpture

A close-up of the monument

Sculpture, Statue, Art, Metal

Upstate New York was a significant part of the Underground Railroad, with numerous towns and cities serving as stops for escaped slaves. Some were not only stops on the way to freedom, often in Canada. Syracuse was arguably one of the cities most devoted to the abolitionist cause. A former slave, Rev. Jermain Wesley Loguen, worked as a "stationmaster" on the Underground Railroad, even going so far as to put advertisements in newspapers offering to shelter runaway slaves in his home.

In 1850, as part of the Compromise of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. White Southerners, convinced that slaves were escaping to freedom in far greater numbers than they actually were, had pushed for a tougher fugitive slave law for years. The 1850 law, required federal officials to assist slavecatchers in returning runaway slaves even if they had escaped to a free state. Under the new law, fines were imposed on individuals who assisted runaway slaves and on federal marshals from a captured slave who escaped. The law was widely abused and even African Americans who had never been enslaved were vulnerable to arrest. The severity of the law led to a dramatic increase in the number of abolitionists as well as increased activity of the Underground Railroad.

In Syracuse, Rev. Loguen and other abolitionists were so alarmed by the Fugitive Slave Act that they formed a biracial "vigilance committee" to assist freedom seekers. Among those involved in the vigilance committee was Rev. Jermain Loguen, himself an escaped slave from Tennessee. After settling in Syracuse, which was known as one of the country's most active abolitionist cities, Loguen began to work as a "stationmaster" on the Underground Railroad, offering his home as sanctuary for runaway slaves.

On October 1, 1851, the same day that the anti-slavery political party known as the Liberty Party was meeting in Syracuse, William "Jerry" Henry, a formerly enslaved person, was captured by federal marshals. Henry had escaped enslavement in Missouri and made his way to Syracuse, where he had worked for some time as a barrel maker. Henry was taken to the Townsend Block in preparation for a hearing the following day, which would almost certainly result in Henry's being taken back to Missouri as a slave. Word of his arrest spread quickly among the abolitionists gathered in the city, who began to make plans for his escape. A large mob of abolitionists gathered outside the building where Henry was held and used a battering ram to knock down the door and release him. At least one shot was fired by a deputy inside the building, but he apparently realized that the mob was too large to resist. Henry was hidden in Syracuse for a few days, and then given help to get to Canada. In the aftermath of what came to be known as the "Jerry Rescue," several Syracuse residents who were involved in his escape were unsuccessfully prosecuted for their involvement.

The monument commemorating the Jerry Rescue was erected in Clinton Square in 2001.

The Jerry Rescue , New York History Net. Accessed February 21st 2022.

Connors , Daniel . Today in History: The Jerry Rescue , Onandaga Historical Association . Accessed February 21st 2022.

Jerry Rescue Monument , Freethought Trail . Accessed February 21st 2022.

Gable , Walt . Looking Back: Waterloo's Connection to Syracuse's Jerry Rescue , Finger Lake Times . October 24th 2021. Accessed February 21st 2022.