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Gerrit Smith to Frederick Douglass, December 8, 1847

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GERRIT SMITH TO FREDERICK DOUGLASS

Peterboro, [N.Y.] 8 Dec[ember] 1847.

FREDERICK DOUGLASS—

MY DEAR SIR:—

I welcome you to the State of New York. In this, your new home, may you and yours, and your labors of love for your oppressed race, be all greatly blessed of God.

Above is my draft for five dollars, to pay for two years' subscription to your forthcoming paper.

Conformably to my purpose of giving to 3000 colored inhabitants of this State the principal share of my lands, which are fit for farming, I made out 2000 deeds last year: I am now busy, with my clerks, in making out the remaining 1000.1In 1847 Gerrit Smith donated 140,000 acres of land in upstate New York to be granted in parcels to 3,000 African American citizens of New York. Spread between Franklin and Essex Counties, the parcels consisted of marginal farmland, but offered an opportunity for independence that many eagerly embraced. Smith’s generosity was lauded at black conventions across the region. NS, 3 December 1847, 7 January, 18, 25 February 1848, 12 January 1849. Inasmuch as you and Mr. Nell2William Cooper Nell (1816–74), a black Garrisonian abolitionist, was one of the original editors of the North Star. A graduate of Boston’s segregated Smith School, Nell studied law but never practiced because he refused, on Wendell Phillips’s advice, to take an oath to support the U.S. Constitution. During the early 1840s he worked for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and the Liberator. From 1847 to 1851 he assisted Douglass on the North Star and served as acting editor when Douglass was absent on speaking tours. Nell remained a Garrisonian loyalist and severed his ties with the North Star when Douglass shifted his allegiance to the Liberty party. At meetings of the Colored National Convention and its council in the 1850s, Nell, an opponent of racially exclusive organizations, attacked Douglass’s plans for a black manual-labor college on the grounds that it would hinder, not help, the movement for racial equality. After Nell advised Boston blacks not to subscribe to Douglass’s newspaper, Douglass branded his former associate a “hanger on” and “contemptible tool” of Garrison. In addition to his abolitionist activities, Nell wrote important histories of African Americans. His Services of Colored Americans in the Wars of 1776 and 1812 (1851) and The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution (1855) detailed the contributions of black people to the nation’s founding. In 1858 Nell staged the first Crispus Attucks celebration. During Lincoln’s administration he was appointed a clerk in the Boston post office. NS, 16 February 1849; FDP, 12, 19 August, 9 December 1853, 28 February, 31 March 1854, 12 January 1856; San Francisco Elevator, 27 June 1874; Quarles, Black Abolitionists, 111–12; Pease and Pease, They Who Would Be Free, 86, 245, 254; Robert P. Smith, “William Cooper Nell: Crusading Black Abolitionist,” JNH, 55:182–99 (July 1970); ACAB, 4:489; NCAB, 14:306; DAB, 13:413. have become inhabitants of this State, I feel at liberty to convey a parcel of land to each of you.3Among the Rochester recipients of Smith lands was William C. Nell, who served as secretary for the association of grantees from that city. NS, 15 December 1848.

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Herewith are the deeds. I wish that the land was in a less rigorous clime; but it is smooth and arable, and not wanting in fertility. Forty acres—that is, a quarter of the same lot of which I have conveyed a quarter each to yourself and Mr. Nell,—I have given to Mr. C. L. Remond.4Charles Lenox Remond. The remaining quarter will probably be conveyed to Mr. W. W. Brown,5William Wells Brown (c. 1814–84) was born a slave in Lexington, Kentucky, but escaped to freedom in Ohio in 1834. After settling in Cleveland, he worked on a Lake Erie steamboat, from which he helped many fugitive slaves escape to Canada. In the 1840s he and his family moved to New York state, where he began lecturing for the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society and the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society (1843–49). In 1847 Brown published his first book, Narrative of William W. Brown, A Fugitive Slave, Written by Himself, and moved to Boston. From 1849 to 1854, he traveled as a lecturer in Europe, meeting many prominent figures and continuing his career as an author with Three Years in Europe; or, Places I Have Seen and People I Have Met (1852) and Clotel; Or, The President’s Daughter: A Narrative of Slave Life in the United States (1853), the first novel known to be written by an African American. After friends in England purchased his freedom in 1854, he returned to the United States to continue his work in the abolitionist, temperance, woman suffrage, and prison reform movements. He also wrote four books about African American history. During the Civil War, Brown joined Douglass in recruiting blacks for the Massachusetts Fifty-fourth Infantry Regiment. Lib., 12 January 1855; London Lancet, 6 December 1884; DAB, 3:161; DANB, 71–73. who has also become an inhabitant of this State. One of the contiguous lots I have divided amongst four fugitive slaves, viz: Henry Bibb,6Henry Bibb (1815–54) first escaped from slavery in Shelby County, Kentacky, in 1837. In attempting to rescue his wife, Melinda, and their daughter, Mary Frances, he was recaptured, but escaped again in 1842. Settling in Detroit, he became active in antislavery politics, attending the black state convention in 1843, lecturing for the Michigan Anti-Slavery Society in 1845, touring New England in 1846, and attending the Boston reception to welcome Douglass upon his return from England in 1847. In 1849 he became an agent for the North Star and published his own Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb. After the federal government passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Bibb became interested in Canadian colonization and founded a journal, the Voice of the Fugitive (1851–53). He became the recording secretary of the Benevolent Association, which purchased land in Canada West, and an officer and trustee of the Refugee Home Society, the organization formed when the Benevolent Association merged with a similar Detroit organization. Bibb was also active in the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada. NS, 24 March 1848, 12, 19 January, 16 February, 18 May, 15, 22 June 1849; Lib., 1 June 1849; FDP, 11 August 1854; Henry Bibb, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, in Puttin’ On Ole Massa, ed. Gilbert Osofsky (New York, 1969), 64, 74–82, 154–64; David M. Katzman, Before the Ghetto: Black Detroit in the Nineteenth Century (Urbana, Ill., 1973), 14–16, 39, 41–42; Miller, Search for a Black Nationality, 106–07, 110–15, 149; Pease and Pease, Black Utopia, 109–22; idem, They Who Would Be Free, 65, 252–53; Quarles, Black Abolitionists, 61–62, 185, 218–19; Winks, Blacks in Canada, 204–08, 254–55, 396–97; Fred Landon, “Henry Bibb, A Colonizer,” JNH, 5:437–47 (October 1920). and the three brothers, Lewis,7Lewis G. Clarke (1815–97) was born the son of an enslaved woman and a white man in Madison County, Kentucky. He escaped slavery and dedicated his life to the abolitionist cause. According to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Clarke was the basis for the novel’s character George Harris. Abolitionist J. C. Lovejoy wrote and published the dictated story of Clarke’s life as a slave in 1846. The narrative detailed Clarke’s early life in slavery, his escape across the Ohio River to freedom in 1841, and his life in Ontario, Canada, and Oberlin, Ohio. About 1843, Lewis Clarke and his brother Milton became lecturers on the antislavery circuit. The Clarkes were also active in the Underground Railroad, aiding many fugitives from Kentucky, where Lewis returned following the Civil War. Vacheenas and Volk, “Born in Bondage,” 36:101–06; DANB, 116–17. Milton,8Milton Clarke. and Cyrus Clark.9The younger brother of Lewis and Milton Clarke, Cyrus Clarke remained in Lexington, Kentucky, while his brothers escaped north. In 1842 with the help of Lewis, Cyrus himself escaped to Canada. Shortly thereafter he joined his free wife in Hamilton, New York, where he persuaded town officials to allow him to vote. Vacheenas and Volk, “Born in Bondage,” 104.

With great regard, Your friend and brother,

GERRIT SMITH.

PLSr: NS, 7 January 1848. Reprinted in Newcastle-upon-Tyne Christian, 4:382 (1 March 1848).

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Date

December 8, 1847

Type

Publication Status

Published