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Reform, Religion and the Underground Railroad in Western New York

This site is intended to encourage and facilitate research and study into abolition and reform in Western New York in the early and mid 19th Century.


The Underground  Railroad, assisting fugitive slaves on their escape from bondage to freedom in Canada, is recalled in local stories and legends in Western New York but has not been well documented. How well organized was the URR? How did it work? Who participated?  How well organized was the effort? Was it in fact a well organized and well known (to the appropriate people) network regularly assisting fugitives to safety, or was it a much more ad-hoc effort by individuals who were willing to assist fugitives that needed help if such people appeared in their community or were directed to their homes?

To answer these questions, and to try to understand the nature of the Underground Railroad, I have set up this web site to compile data on fugitive slaves in Western New York. For the purposes of this site, Western New York is defined as the counties of Erie, Niagara, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Genesee, Wyoming and Allegany.  However, these boundaries only mark out the area of primary research. Fugitive slaves arrived in western New York from the more easterly portions of New York State and from western Pennsylvania, either traveling north or, at least in some instances, traveling east along the shores of Lake Erie from Ohio. Some fugitives, particularly before the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, remained in western New York, but others traveled on to Canada, crossing at several places along the Niagara River, or traveled on the lake boats. The connections of the URR with free black communities in Canada, particularly those in St. Catharines and elsewhere in the Niagara Peninsula, are an important part of the URR story.

The intention of this site is to compile documentation on what is known, or thought to be known, about URR and related activities in Western New York, and to encourage further research. Some incidents and individuals are relatively well documented. Eber Pettit of Versailles in Chautauqua County wrote a book about his experiences as an URR agent. Other individuals and "station house" sites are less well documented and in some cases merely speculation. Not every house with a hidden room or cellar was a station. Not everyone known as an ardent abolitionist was necessarily an URR station agent.

Christopher Densmore, January 2001

NOTE: This site was originally created by Christopher Densmore while he was serving as University Archivist for the University at Buffalo. Questions should be addressed to Christopher Densmore by e-mail to

Underground Railroad in Western New York

The Society of Friends (Quakers) in Western New York

The Friends of Human Progress of Waterloo (Junius) and North Collins, New York

The Friends of Human Progress or Progressive Friends, grew out of controversies among Hicksite Quakers in the 1840s over involvement in the abolitionist movement and questions of church organization. In Western New York, an annual meeting held in the Junius Friends Meeting House, north-west of Waterloo, New York, was held from 1849 to the 1880s. A Friends of  Human Progress group, later closely identified with Spiritualism, began in the North Collins area in 1855, and held annual meetings into the early years of the 20th century.