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Frederick Douglass Gerrit Smith, January 14, 1853


FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO GERRIT SMITH1Gerrit Smith (1797–1874), a New York businessman and land speculator, became best known for his philanthropic work in such reform efforts as temperance and abolition. Between 1828 and 1835, he donated large sums of money to the American Colonization Society, but abandoned that movement in 1835 when his sympathies shifted to immediate abolition. In the 1840s he gave approximately 140,000 acres of land in upstate New York to three thousand black settlers, thus enabling them to qualify to vote. Smith was a founder and frequent candidate of the Liberty party, running for governor of New York on that ticket in 1840 and winning a seat in Congress in 1852. When the Free Soil merger with moderate antislavery Democrats and Whigs lured away many Liberty party supporters, Smith helped bankroll the Liberty party until 1860. Smith befriended Douglass when the latter moved to Rochester, and Smith frequently assisted in financing Frederick Douglass’ Paper. Like Douglass, Smith supported John Brown, but psychological stress caused by the failure at Harpers Ferry brought on the first of a series of bipolar episodes that greatly reduced his subsequent reform activities. Ralph Volney Harlow, Gerrit Smith: Philanthropist and Reformer (1939; New York, 1972); Gerald Sorin, The New York Abolitionists: A Case Study of Political Radicalism (Westport, Conn., 1971), 269–87; Lewis Perry, Radical Abolitionism: Anarchy and the Government of God in Antislavery Thought (Ithaca, N.Y., 1973), 170–80; John R. McKivigan and Madeleine Leveille, “The ‘Black Dream’ of Gerrit Smith, New York Abolitionist,” Syracuse University Library Associates Courier, 20:51–76 (Fall 1985); National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 63 vols., (New York, 1893-1984), 2:322–23; Dictionary of American Biography, 20 vols. (New York, 1928–36), 17:270–71.

Rochester[, New York]. 14 Jan[uary] 1853[.]
I have troubled you So little with my pen Since you were elected to con-
gress2Gerrit Smith was elected to Congress from his upstate New York district as an antislavery “Independent” in November 1852. From the time Smith was elected to the time of this correspondence, only one letter from Douglass to Smith has been located. In this letter, dated 6 November 1852, Douglass wrote Smith to congratulate him on his recent election to Congress. Douglass Papers, ser. 3, 1:486–88; Douglass to Gerrit Smith, 6 November 1852, Gerrit Smith Papers, NSyU; NASS, 11 November 1852; Phillip S. Foner, ed., The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, 5 vols. (New York, 1950–75), 2:219–20.—that I fear you will begin to think that your elevation has desolved
the bonds of my grateful affection. It is not So however, A thoughtful
regard for your precious time—and a knowledge of the fact that you are
increasingly occupied, is my apology. I am impatient to meet you at the
rescue trials.3Although a leading plotter of the successful rescue of the fugitive slave William “Jerry”
McHenry in Syracuse in October 1851, Gerrit Smith was not among those indicted for violating the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. The trial of the defendants began in January 1852 in Albany. A six-lawyer legal team represented the twenty-six defendants. Smith attended the Albany proceedings, and many press reports incorrectly identified him as a member of the defense team. After an initial hearing, the court postponed the trial. Smith soon thereafter began to develop concerns about the antislavery sentiments of several of the defense lawyers; he became a member of the New York bar in October 1852. The Jerry Rescuers’ trial resumed in January 1853, with Smith acting as one of the defense lawyers. FDP, 5 February 1852; Harlow, Gerrit Smith, 298-303; Jayme A. Sokolow, “The Jerry McHenry Rescue and the Growth of Northern Antislavery Sentiment during the 1850s,” Journal of American Studies, 16:433–37 (December 1982).
I want to See and hear you on that great occasion—for great
it will be—and I mean to have a String of appointments which will bring
me up at Albany, on the 25th[.]4Two days after writing this letter, Douglass spoke in Rushville, New York. His next recorded speaking engagements were in Troy and Albany, New York, from 25 January to 5 February 1853. Douglass Papers, ser. 1, 2:xxxiii. Our paper is getting on well. Subscribers
are renewing their Subscriptions—and a career of usefulness Seems to un-
fold before it. My health was never better than during this winter and my
Spirits—though Subject to Some clouds—are quite bright. Mrs Smith,5On 2 January 1822, Ann Carroll Fitzhugh (1805–75), sometimes called “Nancy," became the second wife of Gerrit Smith. She was born in Hagerstown, Maryland, where her father, Wilham Fitzhugh (1761–1839), was a prominent planter connected with elite families. In 1800, Fitzhugh entered into a real estate venture with his neighbors Charles Carroll and Nathaniel Rochester. The three purchased land in upstate New York and established the town of Rochester, where Fitzhugh moved his family in 1815. He became a prominent resident and philanthropist and contributed to the growth of the town into a city. Gerrit and Ann Smith had eight children, including Elizabeth Smith Miller (1822–1911), who followed in her father’s footsteps to become an activist and reformer in her own right. Octavius Brooks Frothingham, Gerrit Smith: A Biography, 3d ed. (New York, 1909), 27; Harlow, Gerrit Smith, 16; Robert F. McNamara, “Charles Carroll of Belle Vue: Co-founder of Rochester,” RH, 42:1, 13 (October 1980). intended to have called yesterday at the office, but feeble health prevented.
My friend Miss Griffiths6A native of London, Julia Griffiths (1811–95) was the oldest of seven children born to Thomas Griffiths, a onetime stationer turned publisher and bookseller, and his wife Charlotte Powis. She first met Douglass during the latter half of 1846 when he lectured in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where she was visiting with friends. Her mother had been a friend of William Wilberforce, who had advocated for the abolition of slavery in England, and she herself was active in the British antislavery movement. Charmed by the American, Griffiths followed Douglass back to the United States with her younger sister, Eliza, in 1848. In 1850, Eliza married John Dick, one of Douglass’s printers for the North Star, and the couple moved to Toronto. Julia became a constant companion and partner to Douglass and a leading antislavery organizer in Rochester for the next five years. She contributed to the North Star as copy editor and journalist, and saved the paper from financial ruin by organizing its books and by aggressively pursuing subscribers and donations. She helped found the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society, acting as its secretary, and organized the Rochester Anti-Slavery Fair. Initially, she lived with the Douglass family, which led to tension in the household and to unsubstantiated rumors that Douglass and Griffiths shared more than a business relationship. In 1853, the vicious attacks upon her in abolitionist newspapers drove her from the Douglass home and finally forced her to return to England in 1855, ostensibly to raise funds for the North Star. In 1859 she married a Methodist minister from Halifax, Henry O. Crofts (1814–80), who acted as an agent for Frederick Douglass’ Paper. Through the Civil War, she continued to organize and revitalize ladies’ antislavery societies and to lecture against slavery. After the war and her husband’s death, she ran a boarding school and worked as a governess. Her friendship with Douglass continued in frequent correspondence, and she welcomed him and his second wife, Helen Pitts Douglass, when they visited England in 1886. British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Reporter, new ser., 5:82 (1 April 1857); 1871 England Census, Durham County, Gateshead, 41; London, England: Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538–1812,; Maria Diedrich, Love Across Color Lines: Ottilie Assing and Frederick Douglass (New York, 1999), 179–84; Waldo E. Martin, Jr., The Mind of Frederick Douglass (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1984), 40–41; Janet Douglas, “A Cherished Friendship: Julia Griffiths Crofts and Frederick Douglass,” Slavery and Abolition, 33:265–74 (June 2012); Erwin Palmer, “A Partnership in the Abolition Movement,” University of Rochester Library Bulletin, 26:1–17 (Autumn/Winter 1970–71). has twice called upon her at Mrs Talman’s7Mary E. Fitzhugh Talman (1809–92), born in Hagerstown, Maryland, was the daughter of William Fitzhugh and the sister of Ann Carroll Fitzhugh Smith, Gerrit Smith’s wife. She married John T. Talman, a Rochester businessman who owned the building in which Douglass ran his newspapers. John Talman died before 1850, and his wife inherited his share of the building. 1850 U.S. Census, New York, Monroe County, 97; Daily American Directory for the City of Rochester [for 1851–1852] (Rochester, 1851), 250. and
once to tea. She was much delighted with the kind reception given her by
Mrs T. But what kind of news is this to be telling one, now burdened with
the “affairs of State"? Well, I know that Gerrit Smith the man—is before
Gerrit Smith the “honorable member.”

A very unpleasant controverSy is Springing up among the fugitives
in Canada8The controversy to which Douglass refers was a virulent dispute among blacks in Canada. At the center of the debate was the Refugee Home Society, which was founded in 1852 to create a black settlement in Canada West (present-day Ontario). The mission of the society was to raise funds in America to buy 50,000 acres of Canadian farmland that would then be sold at a low rate to recently immigrated blacks. Samuel Ringgold Ward and Mary Ann Shadd opposed this plan as a form of begging, and instead encouraged self-sufficiency and integration. They saw Canada as a permanent home, and assimilation as the best way to a better life. Henry Bibb represented another viewpoint and worked to raise funds for the Refugee Home Society. He advocated racial separatism and envisioned an eventual return to the United States. Douglass published a letter in which Bibb defended his views and argued that the Refugee Home Society’s actions were not a type of begging. Throughout the controversy, Douglass published letters from Lewis Tappan, George Whipple, and C. C. Foote that supported Bibb and the Refugee Home Society. He also published a letter from Ward arguing against it, and a report from a meeting of colored citizens of Windsor in which the Refugee Home Society was denounced. FDP, 3 June, 29 October 1852, 21 January, 22 April 1853; Jane Rhodes, Mary Ann Shadd Cary: The Black Press and Protest in the Nineteenth Century (Bloomington, Ind., 1998), 41–42, 45; Charles J. Heglar, introduction to The Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb: An American Slave, Henry Bibb (Madison, Wisc., 2001), xiii.—Mr Ward9Samuel Ringgold Ward (1817–66) was a black Congregational minister, abolitionist, editor, and orator. Around 1820, Ward escaped from slavery with his family. By 1834 he had become active in abolitionist circles and later lectured for the American Anti-Slavery Society. After 1844 Ward also acted as a spokesman for the Liberty party. In the 1840s he edited two Syracuse-based abolitionist newspapers, including the Impartial Citizen, but both failed financially. Following his 1851 involvement in the Jerry Rescue, he immigrated to Canada. Ward’s involvement in abolitionist activities necessarily brought him into close contact with Douglass, who remarked that “as an orator and thinker he [Ward] was vastly superior . . . to any of us,” and that “the splendors of his intellect went directly to the glory of his race.” Samuel Ringgold Ward, Autobiography of a Fugitive Negro: His Anti-Slavery Labours in the United States, Canada, & England (1855; New York, 1968); Douglass Papers, ser. 2, 3:217; Benjamin Quarles, Black Abolitionists (New York, 1969), 79, 98, 133, 138, 210.
—and Miss Shadd10Mary Ann Camberton Shadd Cary (1823–93) was born free in Wilmington, Delaware, to a family of prominent black abolitionists. She was educated at a private Quaker school and went on to teach at several schools for black children. After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, Shadd Cary became an outspoken advocate for voluntary immigration to Canada, and in the fall of 1851 she moved to Canada and opened a school. She married Thomas Fauntleroy Cary, and together they had two children. While in Canada, she partnered with Samuel Ringgold Ward to publish a newspaper, the Provincial Freeman, in Toronto. Her controversial opinions and forceful style earned her much criticism, her most notable feud being with Henry Bibb. She returned to the United States in 1863 to recruit soldiers for the Civil War. She studied law at Howard University after the war, receiving her degree in 1883. Throughout her life, she was active in many causes, including abolition, emigration, women’s rights, African American rights, and temperance. Jim Bearden and Linda Jean Butler, Shadd: The Life and Times of Mary Shadd Cary (Toronto, 1977); Rhodes, Mary Ann Shadd Cary; DCB (online); John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 24 vols. (New York, 1999), 4:522–23.
on the one Side, Mr11Henry Bibb (1815–54) first escaped from slavery in Shelby County, Kentucky, 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 and attended the black state convention in 1843. He became a lecturer for the Michigan Anti-Slavery Society in 1845, touring New England in 1846, and attended 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, was active in the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada, and was an officer and trustee of the Refugee Home Society, the organization formed when the Benevolent Association merged with a similar Detroit organization. NS, 24 March 1848, 12, 19 January, 16 February, 18 May, 15, 22 June 1849; Lib., 1 June 1849; FDP, 11 August 1854; Gilbert Osofsky, ed., Puttin’ On Ole Massa: The Slave Narratives of Henry Bibb, William Wells Brown, and Solomon Northup (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; Floyd J. Miller, The Search for a Black Nationality: Black Emigration and Colonization, 1787–1863 (Chicago, 1975), 106–07, 110–15, 149; William H. Pease and Jane H. Pease, Black Utopia: Negro Communal Experiments in America (Madison, Wisc., 1963), 109–22; idem, They Who Would Be Free: Blacks’ Search for Freedom, 1830–1861 (New York, 1974), 65, 252–53; Robin W. Winks, The Blacks in Canada: A History, 2d ed. (New Haven, Conn., 1997), 204–08, 254–55, 396–97; Quarles, Black Abolitionists, 61–62, 185, 218–19; Fred Landon, “Henry Bibb: A Colonizer,” JNH, 5:437–47 (October 1920).
Mrs Bibb12Henry Bibb had two wives, one enslaved and one free; Douglass is referring to Mary E. Miles (c. 1820–77), Bibb’s second wife. Mary was born free in Rhode Island and attended school in Massachusetts. She was trained as a teacher and taught for much of her life. Through their involvement in the abolitionist movement, Bibb and Miles met in 1847 and were married the next year. Following the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, the couple moved to Canada West, where Bibb began his abolitionist newspaper and Mary taught in a school for fugitive slave children and worked as a dressmaker. She was a founding member of the Anti-Slavery Society of Windsor and played an active editorial role in her husband’s paper. After Bibb’s death in 1854, she married Isaac N. Cary, brother-in-law of Mary Ann Shadd Cary, an adversary of the Bibbs. In the early 1870s she moved to Boston, where she lived until her death. Heglar, introduction, viii–xi; Jessie Carney Smith, ed., Notable Black American Women, Book 3 (New York, 2003), 30–33.
—on the other. The question is, whether “The Refugees Home Society” ought, or ought not be Supported. Bibb thinks it ought—Ward
thinks it not. Both Sides Shall be heard in our paper.

I think of Changing the name of my paper—or in other words giving
my paper a name, for as friend Garison13*William Lloyd Garrison (1805–79) was so closely identified with the abolitionist movement in the United States that his name became almost synonymous with the cause. He began his career as an apprentice printer on the Newburyport (Mass.) Herald at the age of thirteen. Garrison became editor of the Newburyport Free Press in 1826, but the paper closed within a year. He became associated with a series of periodicals in Boston that advocated reform, and then Benjamin Lundy introduced him to the antislavery cause. Garrison and Lundy edited the Genius of Universal Emancipation in Baltimore, Maryland, from 1829 to 1830, when a libel suit against them forced the paper to close and landed Garrison in jail. After his release, he courted the wealthy merchants of New York and Boston in order to start the Liberator (1831–65), a weekly journal based in Boston in which he advocated an immediate end to slavery. Garrison’s brand of abolition condemned any institution that tolerated the existence of slavery, including churches, political parties, and even the United States itself, or any scheme aimed at removing black people from the United States. Instead, Garrison hoped to demonstrate to the public that slavery was morally wrong, thereby forcing its end in an almost millennial moment of emancipation. His approach appealed to both white and black antislavery advocates, but earned him many enemies among those only moderately opposed to slavery and slaveholders alike. Seeing the need for action and organization beyond the pages of the Liberator, Garrison joined with other abolitionists to form the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1831. Two years later he helped form the larger American Anti-Slavery Society. In 1833 he established ties with English abolitionists after a trip to Great Britain, and he later brought the noted and notorious speaker George Thompson to the United States for a tour. Ever the radical, Garrison expanded his interests to include women’s rights after female delegates were excluded from the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840. The issue of women’s participation in the antislavery movement and Garrison’s absolute refusal to turn to politics to end slavery caused a division in the American Anti-Slavery Society. Those who opposed women acting as speakers and who hoped to use politics to realize abolition formed the “New Organization.” Garrison’s ideas were so closely associated with the “Old Organization” that its adherents became known more frequently as the “Garrisonians.” With the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, Garrison believed that he had accomplished his life’s work and that of the antislavery movement. He then resigned from the presidency of the American Anti-Slavery Society and closed the Liberator. Wendell Phillips Garrison and Francis Jackson Garrison, William Lloyd Garrison, 1805–1879: The Story of His Life Told by His Children, 4 vols. (New York, 1885–89); Henry Mayer, All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery (New York, 1998); James Brewer Stewart, William Lloyd Garrison and the Challenge of Emancipation (Arlington Heights, Ill., 1992); John L. Thomas, The Liberator: William Lloyd Garrison (Boston, 1963); DAB, 7:168–72. clearly proved—my paper is
without a name—Will you not Suggest one? I Shall look my reputation for
being unStable if I dont change Soon.

How would this do.

The Black Man
—or this
The agitator"
or this,
The Jerry Level14The phrase “Jerry level” originated in a campaign speech delivered by Gerrit Smith. On 12 August 1852 at a convention in Pittsburgh, Smith urged his supporters “to come up to the Jerry level” by denying the legality of slavery. In this case, “Jerry” refers to the widely publicized fugitive slave case known as the Jerry Rescue. In October 1851, the fugitive William “Jerry” McHenry was rescued following his arrest by two marshals in Syracuse, New York. The ensuing legal case and the phrase “Jerry level” became symbols of opposition to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. In an editorial celebrating Smith’s election, Douglass remarked, “Our representative will go to Congress with the ‘JERRY LEVEL’ IN HIS HAND.” Another editorial admonished William H. Seward, Thurlow Weed, and Horace Greeley to “avow themselves to be on the ‘Jerry level,' denying that slave laws have any validity.” FDP, 3 September, 12, 26 November 1852.
or this:
The Brotherhood


The black Man—is good but common—The agitator—is good but
promises too much—the brotherhood might imply the exclusion of the
Sisterhood—upon the whole I like the “Jerry Level” best—That’s destinc-
tive—Smooth—and conveys the true Antislavery ideas. But I Shall wait
your Suggestion—and Shall doubtless adopt it—when it comes

My family are all well—except Colds, of these they have all had a

Yours most truly,


ALS: Gerrit Smith Papers, NSyU.






Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895


January 14, 1853


Yale University Press 2018


Gerritt Smith Manuscripts, Syracuse University



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