Monday, November 27, 2017

beggar woman, wandering pilgrim, insane literary colored man, and more!

Gerrit Smith was a wealthy white abolitionist in 19th century New York state. He had a “Grecian mansion” and “owned at least 750,000 acres.” Smith was generous, too. Besides handing out donations to individuals and organizations with a special interest in funding anti-slavery work, Smith explored ways to deed over thousands of acres to former slaves in the hope they might become self-sufficient farmers.

He sounds like a pretty great guy. Smith kept a diary and in it recorded a little bit about each of the many travelers he welcomed to his big house. I love the excerpts that appear in Fergus Bordewich’s Bound for Canaan, a book on the underground railroad. I have to share:

Mrs. Crampton, a beggar woman, spent last night with us. Charles Johnson, a fugitive slave from Hagerstown, took tea at our house last evening and breakfasted with us this morning.

Mr. William Corning, a wandering pilgrim, as he styles himself, dines with us. He is peddling his own printed productions.

Poor Graham, the insane literary colored man, has been with us a day or two.

Elder Cook and William Haines of Oneida depot arrive this evening. Mr. H. is a ‘medium,’ and speaks in unknown tongues.

Dr. Winmer of Washington City, with five deaf mutes and blind child take supper and spend the evening with us.

We find Brother Swift and his wife and daughter at our house, where they will remain until they get lodgings. There come this evening an old black man, a young one and his wife and infant. They say they are fugitives from North Carolina.

A man from ____ brings his mother, six children and her half sister, all fugitives from Virginian.

An Indian and a fugitive slave spent last night with us. The Indian has gone on, but Tommy McElligott (very drunk) has come to fill his place.

source: Bound for Canaan: the underground railroad and the war for the soul of America by Fergus M. Bordewich


David Lee Ingersoll said...

The first image that came to mind when I read "insane literary colored man" was guy covered with tattoos of poems in multiple, clashing colors.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

Somehow I think Gerrit Smith meant that respectfully.