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Frederick Douglass Gerrit Smith, February 5, 1852



Rochester, [N.Y.] 5 Feb[ruary] 1852.

Gerrit Smith Esq:


I am much in your debt for kind notes and messages during my late illness.1No letters from Smith to Douglass have been located for this period. Douglass had been ill with a throat ailment since the previous November. FDP, 13 November 1851. My health is improving and I am on my legs again. My joints have not yet attained their wonted elasticity—but they work pretty well and I am thankful for the good service they do me. My hands are somewhat stiff and swollen—Yet you see I can use my pen, which to me is a source of much happiness. I look forward to warm weather for complete restoration—but until then, I shall have to play the old man. Mrs. Smith smiled upon us yesterday, having ascended the long dark stairs of the office for the purpose[.] I fear the exertion cost her dearly. How I wish that her health were better.2Ann Carroll Fitzhugh Smith had visited a water cure establishment the previous November.FDP, 13 November 1851. My happiness at seeing her was much shaded by the thought that she had exerted herself too much in making the call. Poor Julia3Julia Griffiths. to whom the sun light of a sympathising face is as cordial, was delighted. They rode up from the office to our new home together.

God will bless you, my dear Friend: for the interest you have taken in in the cause of Jerry’s rescuer’s.4Though a leading plotter in the successful rescue of 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 began in January 1852 in Albany, with a team of six lawyers representing 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. To be able to assist McHenry personally, Smith gained admission to the New York bar in October 1852. The Jerry Rescuers’ trial resumed in January 1853 with Smith now 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). The time and money devoted, though great, has been I think, wisely and beneficially expended. My heart leaped up, when I read your name among the counsel for the rescuer’s. I assigned you a place in that trial which would send your name down to posterity beside that, of Granville Sharpe.5Granville Sharp (1735–1813) is commonly regarded as the father of the British antislavery movement. In 1765, while a clerk in the Ordnance Department, he aided slave Jonathan Strong, who had been abandoned by his owner on the streets of London. Two years later, when Strong’s owner, a Barbadian lawyer, attempted to ship Strong to Jamaica, Sharp began to search English constitutional and common law for precedents outlawing slavery. He published the results of his studies in a 1769 pamphlet, On the Injustice and Dangerous Tendency of Tolerating Slavery in England. Three years later Sharp aided lawyers representing James Somerset, a fugitive slave whose owner recaptured him and sought to send him to the West Indies. Abolitionists hailed Sharp’s influence on the Somerset decision, which declared that slavery could exist in England only by “positive law” and limited the authority of masters over their slaves in England. Later active in the campaigns against the African slave trade and slavery in the colonies, Sharp frequently communicated with abolitionists on both sides of the Atlantic. An energetic pamphleteer, Sharp fought for Irish home rule and parliamentary reform and denounced the impressment of seamen. He resigned his position in the Ordnance Department to protest British efforts to subdue the colonies during the American Revolution. Roger Anstey, The Atlantic Slave Trade and British Abolition, 1760–1810 (Atlantic Highlands, N.J., 1975), 244–46; Reginald Coupland, The British Anti-Slavery Movement (London, 1933), 45–65; David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770–1823 (Ithaca, N.Y., 1975), 387–98, 479–501; Prince Hoare, The Memoirs of Granville Sharp, 2 vols. (London, 1828); Frank Joseph Klingberg, The Anti-Slavery Movement in England: A Study in English Humanitarianism (New Haven, Conn., 1926), 35–41; DNB, 17:1339–42. You were to be made (under God) the honored instrument of making the soil of New York like that of England—too sacred to bear the foot prints of a slave or a slavehunter. I need not tell you that I feel disappointed that the trial did not go on. I hope you will follow up the case. It was a happy thought—leaving Mr. Thomas6John Thomas wrote a series of articles for Frederick Douglass ’ Paper, describing the trial of the Jerry Rescuers in the U.S. district court in Albany, New York. FDP, 29 January, 5, 12, 19 February 1852. at Albany[.] I will write you again soon.

Most truly and affectionately yours


ALS: Gerrit Smith Papers, NSyU.



Douglass, Frederick


February 5, 1852


Yale University Press 2009



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