Sugar Grove Underground Railroad Convention

Sugar Grove Underground Railroad Convention

Date Observed: Third weekend in June
Location: Sugar Grove, Pennsylvania

The two-day Sugar Grove Underground Railroad Convention in Sugar Grove, Pennsylvania, commemorates the Sugar Grove Anti-Slavery Convention of June 1854, which the famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass called "the crowning convention of them all." The event also celebrates Juneteenth on June 19, the day in 1865 when, two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, slaves in Texas learned they were free (see also Emancipation Day and Frederick Douglass Day).

Historical Background

From the 1830s to the time of the Civil War, anti-slavery conventions were common throughout the northern states. Women from several states formed anti-slavery societies and held the first Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women in 1837. Other conventions included men and women, with both black and white abolitionists in attendance.

One anti-slavery convention was held in 1854 in Sugar Grove, Pennsylvania, on the border between Pennsylvania and New York, near Lake Erie. Settled in 1797 by an abolitionist family, Sugar Grove was a place where many abolitionists lived, and it became a safe haven for fugitive slaves on their way to Canada via the Underground Railroad. Prominent abolitionists Frederick Douglass, Reverend Jermain Loguen, and Lewis Clark addressed the Sugar Grove Convention at an outdoor meeting with more than 500 people in attendance. Before speaking, Douglass had tea in the home of Cynthia Catlin Miller, who was active in the Sugar Grove Fugitive Aid Society, sewing clothes for escaping slaves.

Creation of the Observance

The first reenactment of the Sugar Grove Convention took place in 2004, under the leadership of creator Gregory Wilson, director of Underground Railroad programs for the Warren County Historical Society. After reading Douglass's account of the first antislavery convention in Sugar Grove, Wilson was inspired to recreate it. He and current residents of Sugar Grove were proud of their anti-slavery heritage and wanted to share their stories and activities of their past.


The annual Sugar Grove event features presentations by historians performing as Frederick Douglass, Reverend Jermain Loguen, and other well-known figures from the abolitionist movement. Many Sugar Grove residents in this town of 3,000 appear in period costumes and help set the stage for reenactment of the abolitionists' speeches.

Offspring of the town's early abolitionists take part, among them a descendant of Cynthia Catlin Miller, who had tea with Douglass at her home in Sugar Grove during the 1854 convention. Activities also include guided tours and history workshops for students and educators.

Frederick Douglass at Sugar Grove

Frederick Douglass described the Sugar Grove event in his Frederick Douglass' Paper published June 23, 1854:

The crowning Convention was held Saturday and Sunday, in a beautiful grove in Sugar Grove, Warren County, Pennsylvania, about three miles from Busti. The responsibility of getting up this meeting rested upon the Storom family at Busti - an enterprising family of farmers, well to do on the world and when I tell you that these industrious and well to do farmers are of the color of you and me, you will . . . draw from it the right hopes for our whole people.

I observed that this family (it is a large one) had so deported itself, that white people among whom they moved, appeared to regard and treat them precisely as respectable people ought to be treated. . . .

But a word of the Convention; it was, as I have said, the crowning one of all. . . . The meeting was strictly a religious Anti-Slavery meeting, and left a most favorable impression for the cause.

Contacts and Web Sites

206 E. Mill St. P.O. Box 544 Sugar Grove, PA 16350 814-489-3062

Warren County Historical Society 210 Fourth Ave. P.O. Box 427 Warren, PA 16365 Phone and fax: 814-723-1795

Further Reading

Bordewich, Fergus M. Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America . New York: HarperCollins/Amistad Press, 2005. Buckmaster, Henrietta. Let My People Go: The Story of the Underground Railroad and the Growth of the Abolition Movement . Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1992. Burgan, Michael. Escaping to Freedom: The Underground Railroad. New York: Facts on File, 2006. (young adult) Douglass, Frederick. Letter to W. J. Watkins, Esq. Appearing in the Frederick Douglass' Paper , Rochester, New York, June 23, 1854. Parker, John P. His Promised Land: The Autobiography of John P. Parker, Former Slave and Conductor on the Underground Railroa d. Edited by Stuart Seely Sprague. New York: W. W. Norton, 1996.
African-American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2007