After the Revolution, a group of Quakers established a settlement called The Union in what would become Peru. These pacifist believers in civil rights for all offered haven to the frightened populace during the War of 1812, and went on to shape the abolitionist movement and support the dangerous work of helping fugitives from slavery escape to Canada.
In the spring of 1837 abolitionists from many parts of the county met at the Methodist Church in Beekmantown to organize the Clinton County Anti-Slavery Society. Its mission was expansive; they wrote, “The object of this society shall be the abolition of slavery throughout the world.” It was composed of local anti-slavery organizations from Beekmantown, Champlain, Chazy, Keeseville, Mooers, Peru, Plattsburgh, and West Chazy. Initially there was considerable opposition to their work, but support grew. Indeed, in an 1846 statewide referendum to eliminate the requirement that black voters own a minimum of $250 in property, more Clinton County voters (72.8%) favored the proposition than any other county in the state.
Lake Champlain flows out through Canada, so the waterway served as a principal route on the “Underground Railroad, the network of concerned citizens helping fugitive slaves make their way to freedom. Black refugees hid on the farms of Samuel and Catherine Keese and their nephew, Stephen Keese Smith in Peru, and were driven in a wagon by a fast team of horses to the Champlain home of Noadiah and Caroline Moore, just south of the Canadian border. Along with Keese, Moore was the county’s most active abolitionist. He carried the freedom seekers on the last leg of their journey, across the border.
Other refugees, starting from Boston and passing through Vermont, came through Rouses Point, then on to Montreal or west to Ogdensburg, which had the narrowest St. Lawrence River crossing. Once in Canada, they sought refugee settlements between Windsor, Ont. and Toronto, or in Montreal. But some former slaves remained in Clinton County, at a settlement called “Richland” in Beekmantown, near the present Northway Exit 40. To find out more about the Underground Railroad in the Champlain Valley, explore the exhibit “Waterways to Freedom” at the North Star Underground Railroad Museum at AuSable Chasm.