Seth M. Gates
Lewis Bishop of the Warsaw Historical Society in February 1963 responded to questions posed by a Columbia University history student, Eric Foner.
I went to the library Monday evening and looked up the obituary of Seth M.Gates in the files of the Western New Yorker, our local newspaper, thinking I might find answers to some of your questions. Congressman Gates died August 14, 1877. I found almost nothing though there [were] four columns of small type about him.
I did discover this in the funeral sermon, by the minister of the Congregational Church which may be of a little value. I quote, "He (Mr. Gates) felt that duty to his God, who had made of one blood all nations of man, and the teachings of the Master who directed his followers to do as they would be done by, bade him to strike as best he could against the fetters on the limbs of his brothers."
The newspaper stated that Mr. Gates' name was known among negroes as far south as southern Maryland as one who helped negroes escape into Canada. Here in Warsaw we are a little less than fifty miles from the Niagara River. The men and I assume most of them were men, and came in warm weather were employed in the fields by day and secreted by night. Gates kept them in a little room entered through a trap door. This must have been at the old family home on Genesee Street house but no evidence of any trap door on the [Gates'] Water Street house [now Perry Avenue]. Except for a few boards recently replaced, apparently the present floor is the original.
The story is told of a negro fugitive who came to Warsaw, was befriended by Mr. Gates and set to work which a white man who was a Democrat and not especially opposed to slavery, hoeing corn two miles north of town. One day he stripped to his waist and showed the man great welts on his back where he had been whipped and where he had been branded with a red hot iron. With this visible evidence of the cruelty of the slave holders, the white man appeared to be deeply moved. It had been reported that Federal Marshalls were on the way before the fugitive went to the field. The white man thought here was a fellow man, with wife and children who could hoe two rows of corn to his one and felt he was entitled to his freedom. Later in the day they saw three men approaching, and thinking they were Federal officers, the negro asked his companion if he would fight for him, and he agreed, he would. However, one of the men was Mr. Gates who said he would hide him until arrangements could be made to make his escape into Canada.
My great aunt, Mrs. L. H. Humphrey was born in the house on Genesee Street in 1857 and stated as I wrote you before that she did not believe any slaves were kept in her uncle Seth M's house but in her father's. Mother was born the same year in Sheldon. Her grandfather, Lester H. Humphrey, Sr. had a station of the underground railroad. He was a cousin of John Brown who was hung by the United States government.
To quote from a letter written by Dr. Merrill E. Gates in 1910 to Harwood Dudley for many years editor of the Western New Yorker. He states that Wallace Bartlett formerly from Warsaw had done a wonderful work in developing real estate a few miles from Washington, D.C. where he had given altogether exceptional facilities by way of fair treatment and encouragement to a settlement of negroes who were owners of their places, bought from him on special terms. Mr. Bartlett told Mr. Gates that it was his father's influence and convictions that led him to undertake and had inspired him in this work for those were victims of slavery. If it had not been for Seth M. Gates, and his friendly interest in me, there never would have been this settlement here in Maryland.
I'm not sure I have been of any material help to you in answering your question but given you perhaps a little background data.
Good luck to you. I would be interested to see a copy of your study if that is a reasonable request. It might help me for program material for one of our historical society meetings.