January 1, 2004

Early days of Republicans in Dryden

As the Republicans are taking over the town board this year, it seems like a good day to reflect back upon the earliest days of Republicanism in Dryden, during the years before and during the Civil War. George Goodrich relates how Dryden was so opposed to slavery that it became known as "Black Dryden" for its staunchly Republican voting patterns.

Chapter XVII

The Civil War Period - Slavery

It is with a consciousness of our inability to do the subject justice that we undertake to record the history of Dryden in connection with the War of the Rebellion and the great events which immediately preceded and followed it, occupying the third quarter of our Century Period, and extending from 1847 to 1872. It was no slight misunderstanding or sudden outburst of jealousy or anger which caused the enlightened and usually sober-minded people of our country - North and South - to engage with all their might in a fierce and bloody conflict lasting over four years, sacrificing hundreds of thousands of lives and expending billions of money, involving in its results the very existence of the nation itself. No section of the country stood more loyally by the government, freely offering up its treasure and the lives of its best citizens for the support of the Union and the cause of freedom in this desperate struggle than did the town of Dryden, and none can claim a greater interest in, or credit for, the result. In the darkest days of the conflict, when the draft riots in New York city indicated weariness of the war, and the votes of the majorities in some sections seemed ready to declare the war a failure, our people continued to roll up increasing majorities at the polls for the war party, and with a firm determination to win, promptly responded to all calls for men and money. To the extent in which she participated in it, the history of this war is the history of Dryden and will be so treated.

In the light of history it is no uncertain fact that the cause of this war was negro slavery. It was not so fully recognized as such at the time, neither party being willing to admit it, the North claiming that they were simply fighting to preserve the Union, while the South contended that they were merely seeking their independence. History removes all sham pretenses from both sides and clearly reveals the fact that the subject of the contention was the perpetuation of slavery in the United States.

As we have seen, slaves were held in Tompkins county at least as late as 1820, when the number was fifty. In the year 1799 the population of the state of New York included twenty thousand slaves, but in that year provision was made by the state government for their gradual emancipation, and on July 4, 1827, the last slave in the state was declared forever free. The colored people of the county celebrated the event at that time at Ithaca. While all the Northern States voluntarily abolished slavery within their limits early in the century, the institution flourished with increasing vigor in the South, and the antagonism between the two sections, engendered and maintained by the subject of the existence and entension of slavery, led slowly but surely to the terrible War of the Rebellion.

One of the local circumstances which early served to call attention to and agitate this subject in our county was the trial of Robert H. Hyde, the father of the late R. H. S. Hyde, Esq., of the town of Caroline, who was charged with taking to Virginia and selling a negro slave girl, Eliza, whom he had held here, in violation of the laws which provided for the gradual abolition of slavery in this state and prohibited the removal of slaves to other states to evade this law for their emancipation. In 1805 there had settled in Caroline a small colony from Virginia, including the Hyde and Speed families, who brought their slaves with them. Hyde was indicted and twice tried upon this charge at Ithaca in 1825. He escaped conviction, being ably defended by Ben Johnson, the most noted lawyer of the country in those years, but the affair served to stir up the rapidly growing anti-slavery sentiment in this county. While the South undertook to defend the institution of slavery as of divine origin, best calculated to subserve the highest interest of the colored race as well as that of their masters, the prevailing sentiment of the North was rapidly growing to condemn it as radically wrong. Still the mass of the Northern people were not prepared before the war to interfere with slavery in the old states where it had been established, but the question as to permitting it to be introduced and further extended in the new states and territories led to heated and bitter discussion and an increasing enmity between the two sections. The sentiment at the North was, however, divided on the subject, and there were some citizens, even in Dryden, who, up to the time of the war, openly defended Negro slavery. The writer remembers that Mills Van Valkenburgh, a lawyer of Dryden and afterwards county judge, who taught the Dryden village district school in about 1855, had such pronounced views upon the subject of tolerating slavery that some of the radical abolitionists of the village, R. H. Delamater for one, refused to send their children to school under his instruction, although he was everywhere recognized as an excellent teacher and exemplary citizen.

When John Brown in 1859 made his raid into Virginia to free the slaves and create an insurrection among them in defiance of law, the masses of people in Dryden, as well as elsewhere in the North, condemned it as a mad and foolish act. Still there was a growing sentiment in sympathy with him, which was disposed to resist the fugitive slave law requiring the return of runaway slaves to their masters, maintaining that there was a law higher than the law of the land upon that subject, and the readiness with which soldiers of the North afterwards took up the song:

"John Brown's body lies a mouldering in the grave,
But his soul goes marching on,"

demonstrated that this sentiment was not then forgotten.

The presidential campaign of 1856, in which Fremont and Dayton were defeated by James Buchanan, was an exciting time in Dryden, only exceeded by the subsequent election of Lincoln and Hamlin in 1860. While there were never very many colored people residing in the town, the anti-slavery feeling became so intense and prevalent prior to and during the war, and the "Black Republican" majorities given in sympathy with the negroes grew to such an extent, that the town came to be known in those days as "Black Dryden."

Goodrich, George B. The Centennial History of the Town of Dryden, 1797-1897. Dryden: Dryden Herald Steam Printing House, 1898. Reprinted 1993 by the Dryden Historical Society. Pages 50-52.

(The Dryden Historical Society, which sells this book, may be reached at 607-844-9209.)

Posted by simon at January 1, 2004 5:21 PM in
Note on photos