James Madison Cosad (1810–1893) was a freethinker and farmer who in 1877 hosted the first meeting of what would become the New York Freethinkers Association at his farm.
Growing up on a farm in Junius, New York, he attended school only when field work permitted (mostly in the winter). Despite a modest education, he formed a taste for scientific and freethinking books, including Volney’s Ruins of Empires and Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason. His reading made of him a freethinker who, in the words of a contemporary publication, “does not hesitate to proclaim his views at all times and under all circumstances, believing that he has abundant evidence that his belief is sustained by moral law and the law of mind and matter.”
Cosad became a successful farmer in Junius. After an eight-month hiatus to join the San Francisco gold rush (in which he was less successful), in 1851 he purchased 164 acres of farmland in the town of Huron, to which he added acreage and buildings through the years. He was active in local Republican politics.
An 1872 farm accident left him able to walk only “with crutch and cane.” He focused more intently on his interests in freethought. In 1875, he erected a meeting hall across from his residence for the specific purpose of holding freethought gatherings. His farm was thus an ideal setting for the area’s first freethinker meeting of regional, if not national, scope.
In 1878 Cosad attended, and was honored at, the convention of the New York State Freethinkers Association held August 22–25 at Watkins (now Watkins Glen), New York. This event was the direct successor of the 1877 meeting on Cosad's property.
Cosad died in 1893. He is buried in the Cosad family plot in nearby Huron Evergreen Cemetery. His son, Samuel Cosad, attained prominence in local politics.
Special thanks to Ruth and James Chatfield for historical assistance.
August 22–25, 1878