The Bristol Hill Congregation Church, begun in 1832 and dedicated in 1835, was built in a Federal style, reflecting the New England origins and traditional values of its members. It stands on its original site at the highest point in the Town of Nolney, on the north side of State Route 3, three miles east of Fulton, New York. Except for the loss of its bell, the church is in virtually original condition. The Oswego County landfill encroaches 200 feet to the rear of the church, but otherwise the surrounding countryside retains its rural character. Many of the area’s farmhouses were associated with church members and church activities.
This church is significant architecturally because it represents a simple, functional, and unostentatious Federal form common to many upstate congregations influenced by New England traditions. The pattern reflects the congregation’s rural lifestyle and their commitment to traditional values, including ideals of Calvinism and republican virtue. The building also reflects the congregation’s relatively modest means and suggests that they defined wealth in spiritual rather than material terms.
The Bristol Hill Church illustrates the history of the underground railroad, abolitionism, and African American life in central New York in three important ways:
1. First, at least tow families in this church participated in well-documented underground railroad activities. One family, that of Hiram and Lucy Gilbert, was European American. One family, that of Amos and Hannah Mason, was African American.
2. From the 1820’s on, this church had African American as well as European American members. Hannah Mason apparently became a member shortly after she migrated to Oswego County in 1825. Two daughters of Amos and Hannah Mason were baptized in this church in 1827. Amos Mason and James Watkins Seward joined in 1831. Isaac and Sally Lawson joined in 1832. Venus Slater, Silas Slater, two of Silas’ sons, and A. (Andrew) and B. Slater were also African American members. Several of these African Americans gave money to build and support the church.
3. Many church members were active abolitionists, and their involvement with the underground railroad occurred in the context of concerted abolitionist organizing. This church’s history illustrates the importance of religious values in sustaining abolitionist action, as well as the impact of abolitionism on church structure and doctrine. Church members signed at least one anti-slavery petition (1837), passed an anti-slavery resolution (1843), voted for the Liberty Party (1844) , and worked to free William Chaplin, arrested in 1850 for trying to free enslaved people in Washington, D.C.
Visitor Information: Currently open to public.
Location: NYS Route 3, Fulton, 13069
National Park Unit: No
Ownership: Rev. James Hinman
Location Type: Site
Religious Denominations: Congregational