Library of Congress
Gerrit Smith was a widely known philanthropist and social reformer who ran for President in 1848. He was born in Utica, New York in 1797 and lived in nearby Peterboro. He was Elizabeth Cady's first cousin. It was at Smith's home in Peterboro, New York that Elizabeth Cady met fellow abolitionist and future husband Henry Stanton. Elizabeth Cady Stanton met and was influenced by many other people at Smith's home, including his daughter, Elizabeth Smith Miller.
Smith's commitment to social justice was wide ranging. He was a major player in various antislavery and temperance societies. As a philanthropist he gave away forty acres of Adirondack land in Northern New York to 3000 poor (and "temperate") African Americans, to permit them to meet the requirements for voting, and in hopes of promoting self-sufficiency. He subsequently sold John Brown the land at North Elba, New York (where Brown is buried, near Lake Placid). The plan was for Brown's family to help the new settlers to become productive farmers. Though much of the land was clearly unsuitable for farming, some lasting settlements were formed. In all it is estimated that Smith's philanthropy reach $8 million before he died.
An equally dramatic story surrounds the arrest of a fugitive slave from Missouri, William "Jerry" Henry, who was arrested in Syracuse during the time of an anti-slavery convention. U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster, responsible for enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law, was singled out for special attention after Henry was set free. The Jerry Rescue is memorialized by a monument in downtown Syracuse, where for several years after the event was celebrated by abolitionists on October 1.
Did You Know?
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