Susan LaFlesche Picotte, a Nebraska doctor and and reformer, had credentials that wowed me and reminded of Susan B. Anthony. Google saluted her yesterday; Continue reading
Why was D.R. Anthony so fiercely abolitionist? Events such as the following would have fueled his anger. Today’s post gives us a typical example of how proslavery forces treated John Brown, an antislavery man whom Anthony revered and probably knew. (D.R.’s brother Merritt had fought with Brown several years earlier in southern Kansas.)
Living only 25 miles away from the following tense encounter between a proslavery posse and Brown, Anthony might have stood with the guards who protected the famous hero. Even if Anthony didn’t, he certainly would have followed the news with as much anxiety as did New Hampshire emigrant Julia Louisa Lovejoy, whose letter back east gives us this riveting account.
For the death of John Brown, the Missouri governor and others offered $5,500. Lured by this “bait,” Lovejoy reported, a pro-slavery posse headed by Marshal J.P. Wood tracked “our champion” (Brown) to a cabin where the abolitionist holed up with a dozen African-Americans.
This cabin he had strongly barricaded, and told his pursuers “he would never yield, neither would he be taken alive.” The Marshal and his force surrounded the cabin and ordered Brown to “surrender!” Brown replied, “Come and take me.” The officer dared not undertake the job, and one hundred more like him could not capture those indomitable spirits that well knew what would follow if they were taken prisoners.1
A stand-off occurred. Brown’s group, armed with Sharpes rifles, was guarded by a company of twenty-five antislavery supporters. Giving voice to the bodyguard, Lovejoy wrote, “Take care, sir, if one gray hair on that venerable head is singed, your whole party will be riddled with balls!”
The Marshal’s posse sent for reinforcements to Atchison (about four miles away) and rumored that two cannons would soon arrive to explode the cabin. In an oddly turned phrase, Lovejoy wrote that United States Army troops who engaged in “pretended pursuit” seem to have sufficiently distracted the posse, during which time:
Brown sallied forth and took three of the Atchison men prisoners (one of them, it is affirmed, he recognized as the miscreant who shot his own son, F. Brown, at the “Ossawottamie battle.”) He also took four of their horses that they had secreted in the timber, and then with his freed slaves and party pulled for Iowa, taking prisoners and horses along with him!
Thus Brown escaped from Kansas in February 1859, just eight months before his fateful raid on the arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, WV. In a summary of this western event, Lovejoy correctly predicted the manner of Brown’s death, saying, “We fear now that Brown and his party will be intercepted by an overwhelming force, but he cannot be captured alive.” “
Photo courtesy of Kansas Historical Society
- Bell, Sarah. “Lovejoy, Julia Louisa” Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict, 1854-1865. The Kansas City Public Library. Accessed Mar, 31, 2017 at http://www.civilwaronthewesternborder.org/encyclopedia/lovejoy-julia-louisa
During the Civil War, Union Spy Elizabeth Van Lew lived in Richmond, VA, the very heart of the Confederacy. A wealthy churchgoing woman, she cited simple compassion for prisoners as her reason for visiting Libby Prison, six blocks from her home. Meanwhile, she was was exchanging valuable war secrets disguised in the soles of shoes and casserole dishes with secret compartments.
Even her rebel sister-in-law and neighbors did not realize she was against the politics of her city.
Like D.R. Anthony, Clarina Nichols emigrated to Kansas in 1854 with one of the earliest parties Emigrant Aid Company. By the time Nichols set foot in Kansas, D.R. had already returned to his home in Rochester, NY to save money for permanent relocation in Kansas. D.R. gave up (temporarily); Clarina stayed.
Both made the journey in response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which decreed that citizens of the new territory should determine whether the state entered the Union as a slave state or free state. The state was then a rough frontier, and in one letter Nichols described ten thousand rowdy pro-slavery Missourians storming the Kansas polling place and preventing antislavery voters from casting their ballots.
Nichols wrote many letters to eastern newspapers, cheerfully describing the austere conditions in Kansas and noting that most of the male emigrants who abandoned Kansas did so because they could not keep house and farm at the same time. She, however, was forced to do just that when shortly after moving to a remote, pro-slavery area outside of Lawrence, her husband and adult sons died leaving her among political enemies and needing to homestead by herself.
Not only did she want to fight slavery in the territory, but she hoped that the new state would have a more open mind on women’s rights. She addressed numerous legislatures in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Kansas, declaring that women should either be allowed to vote or excused from taxation. She was responsible for gaining women the right to vote in the school elections of Kansas in 1860 and many other gradual victories. Always, her ultimate goal was for woman suffrage.
Much of her devotion to righting the wrongs of married women comes from her three marriages, especially the first to fellow Vermonter Justin Carpenter. Moving around New York State, Carpenter depleted his wife’s dowry, had an irascible and erratic temper, and tried to kidnap the children. Nichols’ family prevailed upon state legislators to modify divorce laws and, in the late 1830s, she was allowed to leave Carpenter behind. Nevertheless, she was psychologically wounded and financially depleted. It was during those early years that she began a long career of newspaper correspondence and publishing, at first creating a humorous pseudonym Deborah Van Winkle, an outspoken Yankee who spoke of “wimins wrongs.”
Today’s heroine for Women’s History Month is Beulah Vanderhoop of Martha’s Vineyard, a maritime conductor on the Underground Railroad in the 1850s. She had the courage it took to assist as many as eight ex-slaves to safety and in my novel, profoundly affected Annie Osborn of Edgartown.
Though Vanderhoop is firmly grounded in history, the details about her are many and somewhat conflicting. Depending on which account you believe, she was either full or half Wampanoag, a member of the Native American tribe who populated the Island long before white settlers. In a custom not uncommon on the Vineyard, she was married to an African-American from Surinam.
Vanderhoop is the woman elsewhere identified by The Vineyard Gazette’s September 29, 1854 account of two women coaxing Randall Burton out of a swamp near Holmes Hole (now Vineyard Haven) and taking him to her home on Gay Head (now Aquinnah)—a distance of some 15 miles; another account says that he was brought to her home on the Wampanoag settlement at the furthest reach of the island. One version has her sailing him six miles across Vineyard Sound to New Bedford, while another suggests that another tribal member did it.
Beulah welcomed Burton into her home and fed him. One can imagine his appetite after being nearly starved hiding for months in a Florida swamp, stowing away on board a north-bound ship for at least five days, and then hiding in the Vineyard’s swamp for three days. All accounts agree that his enjoyment of his meal was short-lived, however, for the pro-slavery sheriff did his best to gather a posse, paying $1 to every man who would help him hunt and recapture the fugitive.
Though the sheriff wanted to search the Wampanoag homes, he had to leave the settlement empty-handed and come back six hours later with a warrant. That delay was enough for some of the Natives to arm themselves with guns, pitchforks, and clubs against the sheriff’s return and for others to undertake the arduous crossing of Vineyard Sound and Buzzard’s Bay, which can involve difficult headwinds and dangerous shoals. For a modern account of such a crossing, as well as some beautiful photos, click here.
True to form, some accounts say that Burton moved on to Canada, while others say that he remained for seven years gainfully employed in New Bedford, just across the Sound from the Vineyard. Personally, I like the one that says that every year he visited Beulah to thank her.
Photo by Jeanne Gehret
According to Susan’s official biography, it was said that Washingtonians marked spring each year with two signs: the return of Congress to the nation’s capital and the return of Miss Anthony in her red shawl to lobby Congress.
In her later years, the shawl was such a beloved trademark that when she stepped up on stage without it one day the newsmen ribbed her that they would not file their stories unless she wore it. She sent someone back to the hotel to fetch it. Only death could stop the indefatigable Anthony.
In 1906 (her 86th year), after making an earlier-than-usual visit to the capital, she contracted pneumonia and died at home on March 13. On her deathbed, she seemed to greet a parade of famous comrades with whom she had worked for universal suffrage. Together, they had labored long and hard and accomplished much, not only for women but for African-Americans. Still, the most precious right of female suffrage eluded her. Holding up her pinkie, she said to her lieutenant, Anna Howard Shaw, “Just think of it, I have been striving for over sixty years for a little bit of justice no bigger than that, and yet I must die without obtaining it. Oh, it seems so cruel.”
The following is an excerpt from the New York Evening Journal’s testimonial upon Susan’s death:
No wrong under which woman suffered was too great for her to dare attack it, no injustice too small to enlist her pity and her attempt to remedy it.
She saw the tears of the slave mother with the child torn from her arms…and she was foremost among those who fought for freedom for the negro.
She saw women with great intellects starving for knowledge, and she fought to open the avenues of education to them. She saw the poverty of the sweat shop women..and she fought to better the conditions under which they worked. She saw the honor of the girl-child made the plaything of the debauchee, and she fought for laws for her protection. She saw the woman working by the side of the man for half the salary, and she fought for equal pay for equal work. She saw the intelligent, educated, tax-paying woman of the country classed by the law with the idiot, the criminal and the insane, and she died fighting, with her face to the foe, to have this monstrous injustice removed.”
Ida Husted Harper, Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, vol III. Indianapolis: Hollenbeck Press, 1908
Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian
The National Women’s History Project salutes “countless millions of women who planned, organized, lectured, wrote, marched, petitioned, lobbied, paraded, and broke new ground in every field imaginable, [making] our world…irrevocably changed. Women and men in our generation, and the ones that will follow us, are living the legacy of women’s rights won against staggering odds in a revolution achieved without violence.”
For women’s history month, I have confined my selection of heroines to those who lived in 19th century America. That eliminates some of my favorite women like Alice Paul and Inez Milholland, who were both so instrumental in the second generation of suffragists that brought the movement through the final years before the woman suffrage amendment finally passed in 1920.
This is a special year for New York State, where women earned suffrage on state matters in 1917. Unfortunately New York State resident Susan B. Anthony did not live to exercise her right to vote legally in either her state or her country, for she died in 1906. Indeed, even though the entire country revered her late in life, her home state in 1894 ignored 600,000 petitions for woman suffrage, and the following year it formed an association opposed to woman suffrage. The only states that allowed women to vote in Susan’s lifetime were Wyoming (1890), Colorado (1893), Utah and Idaho (1896).
To offset this sad showing for New York State, today I am highlighting two female reformers who blazed their way across the empire state so brightly that they inspired the young Miss Anthony. They were Sarah and Angelina Grimke, who made themselves unpopular in their native Charleston by championing slavery, as memorialized in Sue Monk Kidd’s excellent historical novel The Invention of Wings. The sisters grew up as privileged daughters of a judge and plantation owner, with their slaves sleeping on the floor of their bedroom.
In an article about the sisters’ Charleston home, author Louise Knight also gives background on the economic dependence of that slaveowning city on slavery.
The striking elegance of the Grimké home reflected both the sophistication of the city they lived in and the family’s fabulous prosperity. Charleston in the early years of the nineteenth century was one of the new nation’s great metropolises. In 1810, with a population of roughly 24,711, it was the fourth largest city in the United States and possessed enormous wealth. The white community numbered 11,568. Charleston was a majority black city, with 13,143 Africans and people of African descent. In 1810, 89 percent of the black population—11,570 people—was enslaved, toiling in the households or the family stables or hiring out to work in the trades. Their unpaid labor across the city—combined with the unpaid labor of those working on plantations across the state—created Charleston’s wealth. The remaining 11 percent of the black population—some 1,430 African Americans—formed the free black community, whose skills in the trades and at the docks kept the city functioning.
Sarah and Angelina witnessed their mother’s arbitrary and cruel punishment of slaves in the “sugar house,” a place of such barbarism that its walls were soundproofed to muffle the screams of tortured persons within. Sarah taught her slave to read and would probably have been a lawyer had she been female. Angelina wrote a pamphlet entitled “Appeal to the Christian Women of the South,” in which she wrote:
I appeal to you, my friends, as mothers; Are you willing to enslave your children? You start back with horror and indignation at such a question. But why, if slavery is no wrong to those upon whom it is imposed? Why, if as has often been said, slaves are happier than their masters, free from the cares and perplexities of providing for themselves and their families? Why not place your children in the way of being supported without your having the trouble to provide for them, or they for themselves? Do you not perceive that as soon as this golden rule of action is applied to yourselves that you involuntarily shrink from the test; as soon as your actions are weighed in this balance of the sanctuary that you are found wanting?
Her pamphlet was burned in Charleston. Soon after, the Grimke sisters undertook a 67-city speaking tour of the Northeast (including New York), where they amazed crowds by addressed mixed audiences, not just women—a practice that was considered scandalous because the sexes were supposed to be kept separate and women were not supposed to speak in public.
Sarah and Angelina Grimke paved the way for Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, and others to speak in public about abolition and on women’s rights, as well.
It almost cost Frederick Douglass his home to publish his newspaper in the Talman Building in Rochester, pictured here; and Harriet Jacobs, who operated a reading room with her brother one floor up, couldn’t make her rent, either. Continue reading
Although he had established his writing and speaking career in New Bedford (near Boston), his rising fame threatened or inspired jealousy in some of the luminaries of the movement—most notably William Lloyd Garrison—so he set out in search of a new home. Continue reading
I’m still processing, both mentally and photographically, what I saw this week at the Talman Building. But here’s one tidbit I brought back for you: my heroine Harriet Jacobs, who self-published this book before the Civil War, had a reading room one floor above Frederick Douglass’s office in the Talman Building. What an amazing, brave woman she was!
If you want to experience for yourself how small a space Harriet hid in for seven years, visit the very worthwhile Underground Railroad exhibit at the Rochester Museum & Science Center. If you can spare the time, plan to spend at least an hour there.
We have much to consider this month! More on Harriet–and Douglass and the Talman Building– later, I promise.