Civil War Weekend
Peterboro is a small village in the Town of Smithfield, on the hills of central Madison County. It was settled in 1795 and named for Peter Smith, who had acquired the large New Petersburgh tract from the Oneida Indians. Smith's land agent, Jasper Aylesworth, was the first settler and cleared the two-acre plot that would become the lovely village green, around which the hamlet was built.
Peter Smith and his family came to Peterboro about 1806. In 1820 the youngest son, Gerrit, took over his father's land dealings. As the inheritor of Peter's wealth, Gerrit could afford to expend large sums of money on his many "causes." Varied business enterprises, education, land reform, religion, temperance, women's rights--all at various times benefited from his generosity. Yet, of all his concerns, the abolition of slavery was utmost. In the late 1830s, Peterboro became a stop on the Underground Railroad with conductors such as Harriet Tubman guiding the fugitives. Later, Gerrit Smith became a member of the Secret Six, who supported John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry.
For over fifty years, Gerrit Smith was the guiding force of Peterboro, his philanthropy extending to many aspects of life in the village. Yet, when he and his family were gone, Peterboro survived. The village today is a tribute to the current residents and others who are concerned about preserving its history.
Prepared by: Donna Burdick, Town Historian
Last Updated on 12/29/08
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