The earliest organized opposition to slavery in the American colonies came from the Society of Friends, commonly called Quakers. Between 1754 and 1776, Friends throughout the colonies strengthened their commitment to pacifism and began to denounce slavery. John Woolman, a Quaker minister, traveled throughout New York preaching that slavery was against the beliefs of the Society of Friends. He was also the first to argue that the use of goods produced by slaves was as bad as slave holding itself. The slave population on Long Island had gown to one slave for every five settlers by 1773. In 1773, the members of the Flushing Monthly Meeting urged members not to purchase slaves. Elisa Hicks attended that meeting and reminded members that the Quaker community would disown anyone who continued to buy or sell slaves.
In 1776, the Long Island Quakers freed one hundred fifty-four slaves. By 1791, 154 slaves freedom were recorded in Queens County. The antislavery movement achieved significant momentum in 1831 with the publication of the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator. The formal founding of the abolitionist movement came with the inauguration of the American Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia in 1833.
Newspaper notices for runaways began to appear as soon as newspapers became regular publications in the early 1700s. From 1750 to 1770, notices for runaways were very common and they were usually clustered in small paragraphs with a notice for a reward.
One well used route on the Underground Railroad for New York was the home of George Jackson. Jackson was born in Bethpage in 1781 and purchased a farm in White Pot (which is now Forest Hills). Small boats traveled out of Flushing Creek to Westchester County, were the connections could be made. Another stop was the home of Valentine and Abigail Hicks in Jericho, which is now the Maine Maid Inn. Between 1815 and 1865, at least five families in Jericho assisted escaped slaves to their freedom. It was a custom for slaves to come to Long Island, especially Westbury, because it contained a sizable community of freed Africans.
In 1835, twenty-seven fugitives were sent to New York from North Carolina. They were brought to Jericho under the care of Valentine Hicks. There were so many of them that Valentine decided to separate the family members into different homes until connections were made. One of these homes was the Thomas Powell farm, now located in the Old Bethpage Restoration Village. The most detailed accounts of Quaker assistance to fugitive slaves on Long Island come from the writings about the Mott family. The Sands-Willet house is reported to be a stop. The Plandome Manor estate had an ice house and was observed to have a secret escape tunnel. There are also frequent references to Motts Point as a station.
In 1878, Isaac T. Hopper settled in Philadelphia and began to develop a program for the systematic assistance of slaves escaping from the South. The clandestine nature of the Underground Railroad prevents any accurate estimate of the number of slaves who found their way to freedom. Estimates fall between 50,000 to 100,000.
Driscoll, James. Angels of Deliverance: The Underground Railroad in Queens, Long Island, and Beyond. The Queens Historical Society, 1999.
Vahey, Mary Feeney. A Hidden History: Slavery, Abolition, and the Underground Railroad in Cow Neck and on Long Island. Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society, 1998.
Velsor, Kathleen G. The Underground Railroad on Long Island: Friends in Freedom. The History Press, 2013.