The role of the Quaker Community

There is likely much to tell regarding the Quakers, or Society of Friends, in the Capital Region and their involvement in the underground railroad. We gladly defer to anyone who can share more on this subject. We share here what little we know and invite your comments. Our aim here is to depict how the Friends’ communities helped fugitives make their way to freedom.

There were several Quaker communities in the Capital Region in the 1830s, 40s and 50s. West of Albany was Smith Corners, and Rensselaerville. Closer to Schenectady was Charlston Four Corners, and Quaker Street. Northeast of the tri-cities area was Easton. We are not aware of any other Friends communities in our area at that time. The Quaker community of Smith Corners is mainly a crossroads today.

These communities were no doubt refuges for some fugitive travelers. The communities interacted with others who shared their opposition to slavery and desire to aid fugitives. Those they interacted with were Free Black abolitionists, non-black political radicals, church people and vigilance committees, separate elements that made up the whole we have come to call the underground railroad.

Quaker activists Lydia and Abigale Mott became well known in anti-slavery circles as underground railroad activists. They came to the Capital Region in the late 1820s. Their activities were not only well known in our area but among Boston anti-slavery workers too as is pointed out in exerpts from testimony cited in Charles L. Blockson’s The Underground Railroad (Prentis Hall, New York 1987).

Present day members of the Society of Friends such as Emma Fleck, Clerk of the Quaker Street Meeting of the Society of Friends, relate the traditions of the Quakers regarding their underground railroad work. According to Fleck, many of the houses in Quaker Street contain double root cellars which were used as hiding places. Porches with movable sections concealed other hiding places. Even a town Justice in that period, an ancestor of Fleck’s, who should have been responsible to arrest fugitives, had a double root cellar which he used to protect fugitives.

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