Gerrit Smith (1797-1874), a nationally prominent and influential abolitionist and social reformer
who played a critical role in the operations of the Underground Railroad, lived on this estate and
conducted business out of this land office. A major turning point in Smith's life occurred when he
attended the Utica Conference of 1835, where 600 antislavery advocates assembled at the Bleeker
Street Presbyterian Church. A
mob of 80 rioters, including Congressman Samuel Beardsley, stormed the church, forcing the
group to flee the building. Smith offered to host the meeting the following day in his home town
of Peterboro, a small community named after Gerrit Smith's wealthy father, Peter. The events
surrounding the Utica Conference moved Smith to serve as president of the New York Anti-Slavery Society between 1836 and 1839. By the end of his term, Smith was calling for abolitionists
to defy the law and help fugitive slaves escape into freedom. During the 1840s and 1850s, Smith
acted as a "station master" in the Underground Railroad. His Peterboro estate provided a widely
recognized safe haven for runaway slaves enroute to Canada and was recognized as a financial
and intellectual center of the antislavery movement.
Gerrit Smith Land Office and one of the barns used as a hiding
place for fugitive slaves
National Historic Landmarks photograph
Portrait of Gerrit Smith
Portrait courtesy of Madison County Historical Society.
The Smith family had extensive land holdings in New York, and the
Land Office, constructed by Peter Smith in 1804, was the administrative
focal point of the family's real estate activity and business ventures.
Out of the Land Office, Gerrit Smith sold farm tracts for one dollar
each to 3000 poor African Americans, many of whom he had helped escape
into freedom, with approximately 140,000 acres being transferred betwen
1846 and 1850. Now owned by the Town of Smithfield, the building provides
a tangible link to the life of one of the Underground Railroad's most
active participants. The estate has been designated a National
The Gerrit Smith Estate and Land Office are located in Peterboro, New York at the corner of
Nelson and Main Streets. The Land Office and the Lodge, now the location of Smithfield Mercantile, are open to the public. The barn and laundry are currently undergoing repairs. Visit the website for more information.
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