The Liberals and Freethinkers of Central and Western New York (later the New York Freethinkers Association) held its first convention, or “Grove Meeting,” on August 17–19, 1877, at the farm of freethinker James Madison Cosad in Huron, New York. (Some sources give the place name as Wolcott.)
The event featured leading freethought speakers from all over the Northeast. Scheduled speakers included D. M. Bennett, editor of The Truth Seeker in New York City; Horace Seaver and J. P. Mendum, respectively editor and publisher of The Boston Investigator; C. D. B. Mills of Syracuse; P. O. Hudson of Indianapolis; and freethought publisher H. L. Green from the Buffalo area, among many others. The meeting was not without institutional support: the Rome, Watertown, and Ogdensburg Railroad offered free return passage for any who rode its rails to the event.
An estimated 500 persons attended on Saturday, August 18. A newspaper correspondent reported that “on Sunday there were many more.”
This event was followed in the next year by an unquestionably national convention, held on August 22–25, 1878, in a city park and an opera house in Watkins (now Watkins Glen). That conference is best known for the arrest under obscenity laws of atheist publisher D. M. Bennett and two other activists for selling a marriage reform and birth control tract. The New York Freethinkers convened again in Watkins in 1882, though the venue is unknown.
Special thanks to Ruth and James Chatfield for historical assistance.