Today, the small area of Post Street could be easily missed, tucked behind a bus station. But if you go back about 200 years ago, that’s where historians say many of Utica’s African American population lived.
“They would have giant rooming houses, and people might live in an apartment that was just nine-feet by seven-feet, like the size of a rug, and have a lot of people packed in there. But it was also a vibrant neighborhood. There was commerce there. There’s bars, saloons,” said Deirdre Sinnott, an author, activist, and historian.
Sinnott has extensively studied African American history in Oneida County.
One of the city’s most recognized events is when the first New York State Anti-Slavery Society tried to meet for the first time, but there were some issues.
“As it got closer, the uproar got louder and louder,” Sinnott said.
Utica’s Common Council ended up reversing their decision to allow the meeting to happen in the courthouse.
But the Bleecker Street Church, right around the corner from Post Street, opened its doors to the abolitionists.
The opposition made up of politicians, bankers, and shopkeepers met at the nearby courthouse.
“They got joined by a large number of men who were very rowdy. Some of the drinking establishments had been open all night and certain gentlemen had paid money to have the liquor flow freely,” said Sinnott.
Congressman Samuel Beardsley demanded the anti-slavery meeting be disbanded.
Nevertheless, the society was formed and one of the attendees, Gerrit Smith told everyone to visit his property in Peterboro to finish the meeting.
“Leaving the church, they got hit with stones, and eggs and mud. It was a very rainy day,” said Sinnott.
The riot got national attention.
“It kind of depends on who you were looking at, but it sort of made Utica look provincial to think that the right to assemble would be cut off. It just made Utica look bad in some ways,” Sinnott said.
Moving forward it was one of many events that helped empower abolitionists across the country.
Sinnott is releasing a book this July with the story taking place in Utica during 1835, the same year as the riot.