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Clarke House

photo courtesy of Jenny Masur

Well known abolitionists Edwin W. (1801-1886) and Charlotte Clarke (1809-1867) built this large brick Italianate residence in Oswego's historic Oak Hill section in 1857. Edwin's epitaph reads: "Just fearless humane…He gave the best of his years and powers to the relief of the oppressed and to the aid and succour (sic) of slaves escaping from bondage, having in all he did the effective sympathy and cooperation of his devoted wife." Family tradition recounts the role of Edwin and his brother in the Underground Railroad, with freedom seekers lodging in Edwin and Harriet's home before moving on to his brother's.
Edwin Clark grew up in Oswego, and after studying law, was admitted to the bar in 1828. He first served as clerk of the Village of Oswego and then held a position with the Northwestern Insurance Company. Harriet, whom he married in 1833, was a teacher and homemaker, and by 1855 they had six children still living at home. They purchased the home at 80 East Mohawk Street in 1848.
While Clarke's interests ranged from history to law to horticulture, his anti-slavery activities were extensive. He attended numerous anti-slavery meetings, signed petitions, and most importantly became involved in the Vigilance Committee, giving away anti-slavery tracts and urging citizens to sign petitions. Clarke brought his law background to bear on his abolition activities. Clarke used newspapers as a public forum to argue against the legality of slavery based on the Constitution. He argued in 1847 for example in the newspaper The National Era that the Constitution was an antislavery document. As documented in letters, in 1840 Clarke took leadership of the campaign to free James Watkins Seward, a freeborn African American from New York, from potential enslavement in New Orleans. His nephew reminisced that in the following year Clarke attempted unsuccessfully to get a writ of Habeas Corpus to rescue an enslaved woman from a canal packet right in Oswego.

80 East Mohawk Street, Oswego, New York. Currently not open to public.

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