As abolitionist Gerrit Smith's land agent, friend, and colleague and as an engineer committed to public service, John Benjamin Edwards shaped Oswego's economic and cultural development for over sixty years. For at least sixteen of those years, he and his family were key helpers on the Underground Railroad. The John B. and Lydia Edwards House, a two-story frame dwelling with proportions and details of an urban Federal style house, was built between 1834 and 1835, bought by John B. Edwards in 1836, and owned by Edwards until his death in 1895. It was located on the city's east side in open fields, only two blocks from the Oswego River. John Benjamin Edwards and his family moved to Oswego in 1824 so he could work on the construction of a hydraulic canal. John B. Edwards became abolitionist Gerrit Smith's business agent in Oswego. Documentation of the Edwards' activities are remarkable, both for detail and for the long time span covered. Edwards' letters to Smith between 1845 and 1860 refer to the use of the house as a way station on the Underground Railroad, an activity in which his wife was a partner. John B. Edwards also arranged passage across Lake Ontario for freedom seekers on the very last leg of their journeys to Canada. On July 17, 1845, Edwards wrote to Smith, "nine poor fugitives from slavery's prison left this port last evening for Canada. They were, I am told, in much fear that pursuers were after them." In 1855 Edwards wrote Smith that he had put ten freedom seekers, five women and five children, aboard a steamboat for Canada. In 1860 he wrote, "a smart colored man, Henry, arrived here last evening. I will see to getting him underway for Canada."
The Edwards also entertained well known abolitionists, both black and white like Samuel Ringgold Ward, a Congregational minister himself a fugitive from slavery. In 1866 Edwards ran for alderman, and, despite some hostility to his pro-abolitionist stance, he won. When he died in 1895, the local newspaper’s obituary stated: "Like Gerrit Smith he was an abolitionist and took an active part in abolition of the slave laws, attended abolition conventions and in every way in his power contributed largely and liberally towards the freedom of the black man."
The John B. and Lydia Edwards House is located at 144 East Third Street in Oswego, New York. It is not open to the public.
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