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Frederick Douglass to Gerrit Smith, December 14, 1857



Rochester[, N.Y.] 14 December 1857[.]


I am most Sincerely glad to See again a letter in your well known hand
writing. In your own behalf and that of your Dear family and in behalf of
my woe smitten people and the thousands to whom your life is precious, I
thank my God that you have been raised up from your recent illness,1In the late fall of 1857, Gerrit Smith developed a case typhoid fever while visiting New York City. After six weeks of recovery there, he returned to his home in Peterboro, New York. Several more months passed before Smith resumed his normal strenuous course of reform and business activities. Harlow, Gerrit Smith, 376–77. and that you begin to feel again the strength of returning health. Yes, My dear


Sir, I saw you, as yourself, Mrs Smith,2Ann Carroll Fitzhugh Smith. Green3Greene Smith (1842–80) was the sole surviving son of the abolitionist Gerrit Smith. Educated by private tutors, Smith did not share his father’s appreciation of education and often clashed with his tutors. Greene Smith’s relationship with his father suffered because of Gerrit Smith’s strong belief in temperance. Smith briefly joined the Union army in 1864 and was given the rank of second lieutenant in the Fourteenth New York Artillery. After the war, he developed an interest in ornithology and built a large collection of stuffed birds. Labeled an “eccentric," Greene Smith died among his collection at the family estate in Peterboro, New York. Chattanooga Gazette, 27 July 1864; New York Times, 24 July 1880; Harlow, Gerrit Smith, 42, 189–90; Chattanooga Gazette, 27 July 1864; New York Times, 24 July 1880. and Mr Morton4Edwin Morton (1832-1900) was an occasional poet and active abolitionist from Massachusetts. After graduating from Harvard in 1855, Morton easily found employment as a tutor. One of Morton’s first clients was Gerrit Smith. While in Smith’s employ, Morton became acquainted with John Brown and was present on 22 February 1859 when Brown presented his audacious plan to capture Harpers Ferry to his closest friends. To escape the possibility of having to testify against Brown and his accomplices, Morton fled to Europe in 1859 and remained there until the following year. Ill health prevented Morton from joining the Union war effort, and he remained on the home front. In 1876, Morton moved to Switzerland, where he worked as an essayist and poet until the end of his life. Franklin Sanborn, “John Brown and his Friends,” Atlantic Monthly, 30:50-61 (July 1872); E. H. Abbot, “Edwin Morton,” Harvard Graduates’ Magazine, 8:561–62 (June 1900); Edward J. Renehan, Jr., The Secret Six: The True Tale of the Men Who Conspired with John Brown (New York, 1995), 127, 141–45, 205–06; Jeffery Rossbach, Ambivalent Conspirators: John Brown, the Secret Six, and a Theory of Slave Violence (Philadelphia, 1982), 124, 139, 141–42, 199, 220, 241.
by the Cars in the Station at Albany. The nights Air was cold and pierc-
ing and your Step though quick was feeble. I quickly determined that it
was more kind to let you pass in Silence than to stop you for a moments
recognition. I deemed myself quite fortunate that I got this early glimpse
of you. I had just been on a lecturing tour in Massachusetts5Many of the issues of Frederick Douglass’ Paper from the fall of 1857 have not survived, and so no published account has been found of Douglass’s lecturing tours in Massachusetts or Canada. and was returning home and thought I Should be telling news to my family when I
should Say that you had Started for home, but the lightning had already
made them acquainted with the fact. I am just home now from a Short tour
in Canada where I found much desire to hear me. The great increase of
Colored people, most of them quite ignorant, and Some of them vicious
has raised up prejudice against Colored people in Canada6Modern scholars concur with Douglass’s perception of growing antiblack sentiment in portions of Ontario, where fugitive slaves and free black migrants from the United States had settled in significant and gradually increasing numbers. Silverman, Unwelcome Guests, 72, 132, 157; Winks, Blacks in Canada, 114–78. as well as here.
The masses do not look into Causes. If they find a people degraded they
pity them for a while and at length despise them.

Please remember me kindly to your Dear Household all My family
join me in Love to you—

Yours Most Truly


ALS: Gerrit Smith Papers, NSyU.



Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895


December 14, 1857


Yale University Press 2018



Publication Status