Many refugees from slavery came through Farmington, linked to a network that extended south to Maryland, Delaware, and Washington, D.C. In 1815, Austin Steward was the first freedom seeker to settle in Farmington. William Wells Brown, America’s first Black playwright, lived in the Farmington in the 1840s. Quaker women set up a school for Mary and Emily Edmonson after their escape in 1848. Selby and Harriet Howard escaped from Maryland, lived near the Meetinghouse, and are buried in the Farmington cemetery.
“When I arrived in Farmington, I felt, for the first time in my life, that I was my own master. I cannot describe to a free man, what a proud and manly feeling came over me, when I hired to Mr. C[omstock], nor when I assumed the dignity of collecting my own earnings.” – Austin Steward, Twenty-Two Years a Slave and Forty Years a Free Man (1857)
Frederick Douglass came often to Farmington and spoke in the Meetinghouse.
“I did not rely alone upon what I could do by the paper, but would write all day, then take a train to Victor, Farmington, Canandaigua, Geneva, Waterloo, Batavia, or Buffalo, or elsewhere, and speak in the evening. . . .Looking back to those nights and days of toil and thought, compelled often to do work for which I had no educational preparation, I have come to think that, under the circumstances it was the best school possible for me. It obliged me to think and read, it taught me to express my thoughts clearly, and was perhaps better than any other course I could have adopted.” (Life and Times, 269-70)
In 1838, the federal government introduced the Treaty of Buffalo Creek, hoping to send all Haudenosaunee people west of the Mississippi River. Seneca people refused to leave. At the request of Seneca leaders, Quakers worked as allies, meeting in councils with Seneca people at Farmington and Cattaraugus to develop a coordinated campaign of resistance. They were partially successful. A Supplementary Treaty in 1842 left Senecas in control of homelands at Cattaraugus and Allegany. Tonawanda Seneca negotiated a separate deal in 1857. Buffalo Creek was lost.
“Brothers…we want to be allowed to live on our land in peace. We love Tonawanda. We have no wish to leave it. It is the residue of the land of our fathers. Here we wish to lay our bones in peace.” – Tonawanda Seneca leaders, petition read in Farmington, The Case of the Seneca Indians, in the State of New York (Philadelphia, 1840)
“We pulled the strings, and the world’s people danced.” – Griffith Cooper, 1843. Cooper, a Quaker whose home in Williamson was a stop on the Underground Railroad, worked for Seneca Indian land rights and African American rights.
In 1848, Quakers affiliated with Farmington helped organize the Seneca Falls women’s rights convention. At least one-quarter of the signers of the Declaration of Sentiments Convention were Quakers. Lucretia Mott, a Philadelphia Quaker, spoke regularly in the 1816 Meetinghouse.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton spoke on women’s suffrage at the Meetinghouse on October 6, 1848 – on the same day that reformers organized a new Yearly Meeting of Congregational Friends. Stanton later wrote that she considered herself a member of the Congregational Friends.
“One night, in the Quaker Meetinghouse in Farmington, I invited…discussion and questions. We all waited in silence for a long time; at length a middle-aged man…arose and responded in a sing-song tone: ‘All I have to say is, if a hen can crow, let her crow.’ The meeting adjourned with mingled feelings of surprise and merriment. The good man…put the whole argument in a nutshell: ‘Let a woman do whatever she can.’ ” – Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Eighty Years and More (1898).
In November 1872, Susan B. Anthony wrote exultingly to Stanton that she had “positively gone and done it!” By casting her vote for Ulysses S. Grant for President, Anthony faced federal charges for “knowingly, wrongfully and unlawfully” voting as a woman. In June 1873, while she awaited trial in Canandaigua, she spoke in the Orthodox Quaker Meetinghouse in Farmington. She gained popular support everywhere for the right of women to vote, but she lost her case in court. Women could not legally vote in the U.S. until 1920, with passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.