Vineyards dominate the slopes of Seneca Lake today. On the west side of the lake in the Yates County Town of Starkey there was a dramatic attempted rescue of Freedom Seekers.
The very name of Yates County's seat [Penn Yan] indicates that its
settlers came there from different directions. Under the self-confidence
continuously proclaimed nationally and in the local papers, the County's
people were far from unanimous on the great questions of the day.
One well-documented episode illustrates the undertow of passions that occasionally broke through the good-times surface: It occurred in about 1830, when a pair of slave-catchers came up from Virginia pursuing seven runaways who had made it as far as Eddytown, then the chief settlement in the southern part of the county, now the hamlet of Lakemont in the town of Starkey.
Three of the fugitives were at Zenas Kelsey's farm, helping to get in the harvest, and a fourth was employed at Carmichael's Red Mill, at the south edge of Dundee. Local residents told the slave-catchers where these men could be found, and they were quickly rounded up. The action was observed by others, who knew that it was not unknown for free blacks to be kidnapped and sold into slavery; federal law stripped fugitive slaves of their rights under the Constitution, even that of due process. Men angry at their neighbors' betrayal of the fugitives gathered in the road to denounce people they had grown up with, whose defense was observance of the obnoxious law. Weapons were drawn, an incipient riot ensued, and the Southerners finally agreed, under considerable duress and perhaps realizing they had no choice, to stay the night and allow an investigation to be made.
The challenge to the fugitives' arrest was led by Isaac Lanning, an influential Eddytown resident. While the slave-catchers were distracted, Lanning lent his fastest mare to his neighbor's son John Royce, with instructions to ride to Silas Spink's farm in Milo, where he knew the remaining three fugitives were working. Young Royce rode slowly and boldly away under the slave-catchers' noses, and as soon as he was out of sight he sped across country to Spink's farm northwest of Himrod. He found the runaways there and advised them to flee without delay to Penn Yan, where Henry Bradley would conceal them and help to spirit them out of the country.
Meanwhile about 200 people had gathered at the tavern in Eddytown, angrily arguing both sides of the question. The next day a local justice found the slave-catchers' papers to be in order and they took the four fugitives they had in custody back South with them. They actually filed a lawsuit against Silas Spink for harboring the three men who got away, but it was never tried.