Utica Rescue of 1839: The community helped free 2 slaves


UTICA, N.Y. (WUTR-TV) — In honor of Black History Month we spoke to the Co-Chair of the Oneida County Freedom Trail Commission about two runaway slaves who fled to Utica during the abolitionist movement.

“Two men who history knows them as Harry Bird and George, we have no last name for George, who escaped from Maryland. They were on Post Street being held in safety there by other African Americans, when they were captured by two slave catchers. They were taken to the office at 9698 Genesee Street of Judge Chester Hayden.” – Mary Hayes Gordon, Co-Chair, Oneida County Freedom Trail Commission

That building still stands on Genesee Street today. During that time, all that had to be done to recapture a slave was for someone to say this is the person we’re looking for and they fit this description. Unless they could get an elected official to represent them in court.

“Harry Bird and George were taken to Judge Hayden’s office, taken upstairs, other people in the area saw it happen. Word got around and Alvan Stewart, who was a local lawyer and an abolitionist, came to Judge Hayden’s office and said “I will represent these men and you cannot send them away until they get a hearing.” So, they were kept there for the day while Judge Hayden went to the court house to do his work.” – Mary Hayes Gordon, Co-Chair, Oneida County Freedom Trail Commission

On Decemeber 29,1836 a crowd of men from the community, armed with weapons, formed outside of Judge Hayden’s office to free Harry Bird and George. Later this would be called the Utica Rescue.

“This was December so it go dark early, Black Uticans, White Uticans, all male, gathered together. They stormed the office, they had Harry Bird and George, they rushed them down the stairs, put them in a wagon and took them away. And we do know now from some research that’s being done by another member of our committee… That they went to Mexico, New York, Otswego, New York and crossed over into Canada and ultimately become free.” – Mary Hayes Gordon, Co-Chair, Oneida County Freedom Trail Commission

With the help from the community, the two men were able to escape to freedom.

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