On October 22, 1835, a statewide meeting was held in Utica for the purpose of reconstituting a previously dormant New York State antislavery society. At this time, antislavery and abolitionism were radical and widely unpopular stances, even in the north. Community resistance had prevented the meeting from being held in a public building, so the site was shifted to the Second Presbyterian Church on the southeast corner of Bleecker and Charlotte Streets.
Philanthropist Gerrit Smith attended the meeting almost out of curiosity. Though he opposed slavery, he was not an "immediatist," one who called for slavery’s immediate abolition. Instead he favored colonization—the repatriation of black slaves to Africa—a view then losing favor among serious reformers.
The October 22 meeting began at 10:00 a.m., with an attendance estimated at from 600 to 1,000 persons from across New York State. The meeting had not progressed far in its agenda when a crowd of some three hundred locals gathered outside, shouting invective and threatening to storm the church. Just when a riot seemed inevitable, Smith urged that the meeting reconvene in his home town of Peterboro, twenty-seven miles southwest of Utica, where the delegates’ safety could be guaranteed. Some 300 to 600 delegates made their way to Peterboro, where on October 22, the first meeting of the reconstituted New York State Antislavery Society at the village’s Presbyterian Church was held. The site of that meeting now houses the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum.
This experience profoundly changed Smith’s views. By the end of the Peterboro meeting, he had abandoned his support of colonization and come out as an immediatist abolitionist. He went on to become one of abolition’s most zealous advocates and without doubt was the movement’s most generous supporter. And it all began at the corner of Bleecker and Charlotte Street.
Because of this event—and Smith’s activism—African American abolitionist Henry Highland Garnet wrote: “There are yet two places where slaveholders cannot come, Heaven and Peterboro.” Frederick Douglass published this comment on the front page of his Rochester-based abolition paper The North Star on December 8, 1848.