Hidden History: New York church provided refuge for slaves seeking freedom

A small church in Central New York played a large role in the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad

Bristol Hill Church

A small church in Central New York played a large role in the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad.

Located in Volney, about 30 miles north of Syracuse, Bristol Hill Congregational United Church of Christ is known as an icon of the Underground Railroad, helping fugitive slaves on their journey to freedom.

The church was organized in 1812 in an unprecedented way and built between 1831 and 1835. In the Bristol Hill congregation, blacks and whites worshipped together and fought to end slavery.

“We have documented records from the time that African Americans and European Americans built this church and formed this church,” said Jim Hinman, former pastor of Bristol Hill.

Because of Lake Ontario and its importance as a route to escape the United States into Canada, Hinman says the church was a key stop.

“Not only did white people hide fugitive slaves of this church, but they also made resolutions in the church that slavery was a sin,” said Hinman.

In a resolution, the church vowed to free slaves and abolitionists in the church hid slaves in their homes in Gilbert Mills, which is about two miles away from the church.

Members of the church formed a vigilance committee and harbored slaves, helping them in their journey to freedom.

Bristol Hill is now listed on New York’s Underground Railroad Heritage Trail, as well as New York State’s and National Register of Historic Places and the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.


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