Final Project Fall 2022: The Cazenovia Convention

The only existing visual record of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Convention in Cazenovia, New York. Pictured attendees include Frederick Douglass, Gerrit Smith, Mary Edmonson, George W. Clark, Theodosia Gilbert, Emily Edmonson, and James Caleb Jackson
(courtesy of the Madison County Historical Society).

In the 19th century, our area of Central New York State was a hotbed of social justice activism. Upstate New York was called the “threshold of freedom before the Civil War.” Nineteenth-century Black preacher and abolitionist Samuel Ringgold Ward asserted that, here, racism was “less active and less bitter . . . than in any other portion of the United States.”

Upstate New York was a crucially important center of Abolitionism, the movement to end slavery. A historical milestone in the struggle against slavery took place just north of Binghamton, in Cazenovia, New York, in August 1850. This event, the Fugitive Slave Convention (or just the Cazenovia Convention), was held in protest of the anticipated passage of the Fugitive Slave Act the following month, and was attended by many of the most prominent abolitionists in America. Among the hundreds of attendees, Black and white, there were at least 50 self-emancipated, formerly enslaved people.

Your capstone project for Fall 2022 will be a living history re-creation of the Cazenovia Convention. This will be a multimedia, all-hands-on-deck endeavor that will showcase YOUR unique abilities, and allow you to demonstrate your mastery of Black music history through your own creative work.

The class will be responsible for all aspects of this project. You will be assigned into one of seven teams, of approximately 3 members each. Each team will be responsible, respectively, for the following:

  • Researching the history of the convention, and of the historical figures who attended. Your librarians will help with this! (Research Team)
  • Writing the narrative/plot/script (Writing Team)
  • Portraying the historical personages who were present (Living History Team)
  • Performing the music (we know of several identifiable abolitionist songs that were sung at the convention; it is also historically appropriate to perform other abolitionist songs known to have been sung at abolitionist meetings) (Music Team, reinforced by The Chamber Singers)
  • Designing costumes and stage props/sets — minimalist is fine, but this team needs to look at visual records of the styles of the era (Design Team)
  • Collecting biographies from your classmates, designing a program, and writing historically-informed program notes (Program Team)
  • Developing a concept for the presentation and overseeing it; directing the living history action and music (Directing Team)

I will be assigning you to your team based on your individual interests, talents, and inclinations. Please let me know if you have a preference for which team you wish to work on. I can’t promise to put everyone on their first choice team, but I will do my best!

You will notice from the Team descriptions that all Teams need to talk to each other on the regular. For instance, the Writing Team will be getting its information from the Research Team; the Acting Team will be getting its information from the Writing and Directing Teams; etc. The work that each team does informs the work that all the other teams do, and all teams are interdependent with one another for the project’s success.

Project Criteria:
  • The final piece should be somewhere between 10-20 minutes in length.
  • You should have a clearly defined story line based on history.
  • Characters should be well researched. Know who they are so that you can show who they are.
  • Some class time is set aside for work on this project, but you will also need to collaborate outside of class time. Part of your grade will be determined by the evidence of your having met, worked together, and rehearsed outside of class time. (I will easily be able to tell if you have met regularly, collaborated, planned, and rehearsed, or not.)
  • Individual teams should meet once a week outside of class. The entire class should meet once every couple of weeks outside of class. You can schedule meeting space at the library at this link.
  • You will be using actual abolitionist music from the nineteenth century to help accentuate the plot line. Some music can be found in your handout, and other anti-slavery songs can be found in these 19th-century collections:

The Anti-Slavery Harp, a book of songs (lyrics only) that were sung at abolitionist meetings, compiled by William Wells Brown, a fugitive slave (1848)

The Liberty Minstrel, George W. Clark (an attendee of the convention and a so-called antislavery minstrel)

Other sources:

Digital Scores: A Guide to Online Notated Music Sources: Sheet Music (Mostly Pre-1923)

Library of Congress Timeline of Abolitionist Documents

HathiTrust Digital Library

And don’t forget the Course Guide for this project. Your librarians are standing by, ready to help!

  • You may also contribute your own original music to the presentation.
  • You will be keeping a Personal Accountability Log of the work you do on this project. You must fill out the log every time you engage in any form of work on the project. It is a record-keeping tool for you as an individual, for your group, and for me. Your work on this log, therefore, will be ongoing throughout the semester. Log is due to me on December 15.

Your presentation will take place in the Gallery @ SUNY Broome in the Cecil C. Tyrrell Library on December 13th.

Throughout the semester, the library staff will be assisting you with research.

Project Timeline

For Sept 16: Read: “The Cazenovia Convention,” Stanley Harrold. This will be the topic of your Reading Log due on September 16. (For more information on how to do your Reading Logs, see this page.)

Link to the Reading Log

Sept 20: Class meets in the library.

For Sept 23: Read: “The Truth About Black Freedom,” (a reflection on Juneteenth that talks about the Cazenovia Convention), Daina Ramey Berry. This will be the topic of your Reading Log due on September 23.

Sept 27: Group assignments announced. Group members exchange contact information and set up first meetings.

From this point forward, start filling out Personal Accountability Log EVERY TIME you work on the Cazenovia project, either as an individual or as a team.

Please note that the schedule of due dates varies from team to team. The Research Team leads the effort; other groups’ work is dependent on communication with the Research Team.

For Sept. 30: Watch: 2020 Documentary about Abolitionist Music, Songs of Slavery and Emancipation. This will be the topic of your Reading Log due on September 30.

Between Sept. 27 and Oct. 13: RESEARCH TEAM MEET AT LEAST TWICE.

Oct. 13: Class meets in Gallery @ SUNY Broome in the library. In this session, teams will work as follows:

  • Research Team: Be able to tell the class key facts about the anti-slavery movement in the antebellum (pre-Civil War) era, in particular in Upstate New York
  • Writing Team: Based on this information, begin to map out a storyline
  • Living History Team and Directing Team: Based on information from Research Team, consider which historical personages you will portray, and what you want to emphasize about them
  • Music, Design, and Program Teams: nothing due today, but pay close attention to what your classmates are doing: you will be using it!

Between Oct. 13 and Oct. 27: ALL TEAMS MEET AT LEAST TWICE.

Oct. 27: Class meets in Gallery @ SUNY Broome in the library. In this session, teams will present their work to this point. Here are some things your team should be on top of by now.

  • Research Team: Be able to tell the Writing, Living History, and Directing Teams important information about the historical personages they will be bringing to life. Be able to show the Design Team images of what early 19th-century clothing and architecture looked like
  • Writing Team: Have storyline mapped out and ready to present
  • Living History Team: Know which historical personages you will be portraying and be able to identify them and tell us why they are important
  • Music Team: Identify the texts of songs you wish to perform (from your handout and/or the sources below) and be able to explain why you chose them
  • Directing Team: Have a plan for the unifying concept of the presentation
  • Design Team and Program Team: Nothing due today, but listen and gather information: you will be using it!

Nov. 3: Class meets in Gallery @ SUNY Broome in the library. In this session, teams will present their work to this point. Here are some things your team should be able to talk about:

  • Design Team: Show sketches for historical costumes and sets. Have a plan for construction for these. Sets can be posters/blown up photographs of buildings/architectural details; librarians will help with this. The Theater Club led by Professor Mary Donnelly can help with building any 3D sets
  • Program Team: Have begun writing your program notes
  • Music Team: Have the texts of your songs coordinated/lined up with the appropriate tunes, and begin rehearsing the music
  • Directing Team: Have a summary of your concept/vibe for the presentation and begin moving Living History team around in the space
  • Writing Team: Have a draft of your script
  • Living History Team: Have begun working through your character’s lines
  • Research Team: nothing due today, but be ready to provide information and answer other teams’ questions

Between Nov. 3 and Nov. 22: ALL TEAMS MEET AT LEAST TWICE.

Nov. 22: Class meets in Gallery @ SUNY Broome in the library

  • Design Team: Have templates for costumes and plans for creating or accessing them; have plans for sets and make sure that they are in the process of being printed and/or built
  • Program Team: Have first draft of your program notes ready
  • Writing Team: Have script ready
  • Directing Team: Work on staging
  • Living History Team: Work on staging and interpolation of songs in presentation
  • Music Team: Work on songs
  • Research Team: nothing due today, but be ready to provide information and answer questions

Nov. 29: Class meets in Gallery @ SUNY Broome in the library

  • Writing Team: Fine tune script as needed
  • Directing Team and Living History Team: Rehearse
  • Music Team: Rehearse
  • Design Team: Have costumes and sets chosen [we are going to costume shop after class]
  • Program Team: Collect bios from Living History and Music Teams [Google Doc]
  • Research Team: nothing due today, but be ready to provide information and answer questions

Dec. 6: Class meets in Gallery @ SUNY Broome in the library

  • Directing Team and Living History Team: Dress Rehearsal
  • Music Team: Dress Rehearsal
  • Design Team: Costumes and sets loaded in, set up, and ready to go
  • Program Team: Deliver final program layout to me. Make sure font/text is ADA-compliant (librarians will help with this). I will deliver it to Copy Services for duplicating
  • Research Team and Writing Team: nothing due today, but be ready to provide information and answer questions as needed

Dec. 8: Class meets in Gallery @ SUNY Broome in the library

Dec 13: Class meets in Gallery @ SUNY Broome in the library

All Teams tweak, fine tune, rehearse as needed

Final Project Presentation in Gallery @ SUNY Broome, Cecil C. Tyrrell Library, 7 PM

Dec. 15: Personal Accountability Logs due

In-Class writing session: personal statement about the project, what you learned, how it affected you, and how the lessons of Abolitionism can be remembered, repurposed, and resurrected in our own time

Appendix I: Readings (These can also be found as hard copies in your handout)

“The Truth About Black Freedom,” Daina Ramey Berry

“The Cazenovia Convention,” Stanley Harrold

“Antislavery in America,” Vicki L. Eaklor

“Singing for Emancipation,” Eaklor

“The Musical Expression of Anti-Slavery Sentiment in Ohio,” Carol Bishop Myers

The following chapters are from the book The Rise of Aggressive Abolitionism (Stanley Harrold). The complete book is available for online reading/downloading here.


The Addresses (primary sources, includes two of Gerrit Smith’s addresses from Cazenovia, 1842 and 1850)

Optional but pertinent: “Maternal Grief in Black and White: Enslaved Mothers and Antislavery Literature on the Eve of War,” Cassandra Berman

Appendix II: Graphics

Advertisement for meetings against the Fugitive Slave Act following the Cazenovia Convention, 1850.
“North Star” Country, Upstate New York
Populations of African Americans in Various Upstate New York Counties, 1790-1870
(from North Star Country: Upstate New York and the Crusade for
African American Freedom, Milton C. Sernett)
Photo detail of Cazenovia Convention, courtesy of Madison County Historical Society

Appendix III: Forms

Reading Log

Grading Rubric

Appendix IV: Costume Resources for Design Team

Sizing chart for costume rental

Some costume pieces that we MAY have access to (TBD):


Blog at

%d bloggers like this: