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photo courtesy of Judith Wellman

The Orson Ames House is a ca. 1830 modest single story frame home in the village of Mexico, New York. It is where, on the evening of October 5, 1851, Orson and Amy Ames sheltered the famous freedom seeker William "Jerry" Henry. It is the only remaining property in the area marking where "Jerry" hid on his escape to freedom. "Jerry's" widely publicized and popularly supported escape directly challenged the Federal government's ability to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. "Jerry" had escaped slavery in Missouri, and was working in Syracuse, when he was arrested as a runaway by Federal marshals in October 1851. He was rescued from imprisonment by a crowd of free blacks and other abolitionists attending a convention of the Liberty Party. Once his shackles were removed by a blacksmith, he was hidden for four days before escaping in a meat wagon to Mexico. In the village, he was taken to the home of Orson and Amy Ames, where he stayed one night only because of fear he might be easily re-captured on a main street so near the business area. Local abolitionists moved him next to Asa and Mary Whipple barn in a more secluded area in Toad Hollow. After two weeks, the committee brought him on to Oswego from which he embarked for Canada, reaching haven in Kingston, Ontario. Asa and Mary Whipple's son-in-law in 1899 told the story in a surviving letter.

Orson Ames was born in Connecticut in 1799 and moved to Mexico with his parents about 1804. He married Amy Perkins and had six children. A skilled businessman, by 1826 he operated a tannery and later ran a sawmill, a factory making scythes and axes, and a shoe store. He was the wealthiest of the core group of Mexico abolitionists. He began his abolitionist career in the 1830s. He signed the first anti-slavery petition from the county, and in 1838 volunteered to be part of the town's Vigilance Committee which helped freedom seekers escape. Amy died in 1851 and Orson died in 1867. (341)

The Orson Ames House is located at 3339 Main Street in the Oswego County village of Mexico. It is currently not open to the public.

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