Document 2: Excerpts from letter from Martha Coffin Wright to Lucretia Mott, 18 and 19 January 1843, Garrison Family Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College.
Lucretia Coffin Mott, ca. 1870
Courtesy Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College
Although many abolitionists in the North assisted fugitive slaves as part of the Underground Railroad, such assistance was illegal, and therefore contemporary accounts are very rare. In this letter to her sister from her home in Auburn, New York, Martha described the overnight stay of a fugitive slave in her kitchen. Her son Tallman, then 8, and daughter Eliza, then 10, had very different responses to the experience, and Martha and her husband David responded very differently to the discovery that the fugitive had taken a “tippet” (scarf) of Tallman’s.
18th--We were rejoiced to learn by Lib’s[A] letter to-day that our dear Mother had arrived in safety & we shall expect another very soon. Lib’s seal was very pretty. Marianna was pleased with it. She has gone to a lecture this evening with Mr. Leonard. Mr. Wynkoop came for her, but she was engaged--he sat till nearly time to go--he is the gentleman that came with Caroline Wood[B] & staid so late. As they all look alike to Mother she always wishes us to give “some little idea” in addition to the name. Just after Marianna went Catharine[C] brot me a paper directed to James Fuller & others of the “spiritually minded” recommending a runaway slave to the care of whom it may concern. Tho Catharine had never heard of Gerritt Smith’s[D] address to Slaves, she brought the waiter & spoons up with her. I went down & talked a little with him & left him to eat a comfortable supper. He left his bundle as soon as he had done & sd. he wd. be back soon, but has not come. While he was here I got him to put two heavy sticks into the furnace for we are such a poor set that we can but just make out to keep the furnace fed. If he comes back I shall get him to bring in some sticks, as Smith informs us that Mr. Dennis cant spare him to fulfil his agreement to saw & pile &c. David said he had a runaway slave at the office carrying wood today & he liked him so well that he talked of sending him up in Smith’s stead & I supposed the one that came to night was the one, but he says he has only just come into town. Mr. & Mrs. Seward called here today. Mr. S. has returned to his law office--but Mrs. S. said the days seemed very long to him.[E] Miss Townsend also called. Willie has slept nearly all day.[F]
19th--Before I go to bed I will write a few lines. Our slave returned about 9 last evening & sat alone in the kitchen & read till David came. He went down & talked with him--he said he was from Baltimore & had paid his master 300 dollars--he asked 800--being sold to go south he ran away to Pittsburg in the Southern states & was on his way to Massachusetts where his people lived. As I didn’t fancy having him go up stairs he had D’s old cloak, & slept by the kitchen stove on my settee--how little I imagined to what use it was to be applied. After getting him to put a stick in the furnace D. left him & fastened the door at the head of the kitchen stairs he gave him 50¢ as he wanted to get a ride part way--early this morning David saw him & got some bread & butter for him as he wished to be off before it was very light. So after putting in more wood & tying up a couple of shirts & bosoms that we gave him, he cleared. Tallman came down early to have some interesting conversation with him about the land of chains & was much disappointed to find he had left--he had to go to the Post Office then, but could not find his tippet which he knew he hung in the kitchen with his cap, and as David noticed it in the evening the inference was that early morning walks made warmer clothing desirable & the slave had taken Gerritt Smith’s advise & the tippet. - But we didn’t say so to Tallman, David sd. it wd. give such a shock to his philanthropy & as to Eliza, she was as afraid as could be of him before, & hardly dared to go to bed & if she should know it she would hardly dare stay in the house if another came--David didn’t relish it much & said if his master came for him he would not defend him--I suppose he wd. willingly have gi’n him the tippet if he had asked. I told him we must consider that he had had no one to teach him better--he sd. then he had better stay among thieves. Probably in his benighted state he had never met with the lines inscribed by the juvenile offender on the wall of his cell--“Him wot prigs what isn’t his’n--Ven he’s cotched, must go to prison.” I desired Marianna to shut the flue to day & told her that the slave had put it in the wood with a heavy hand. She replied that he appeared to be light fingered. David had told Tallman to ascertain where that other slave lived & send him here to saw the wood in Smith’s place. After breakfast he said solemnly “Tallman, as soon as you have done, go to Ptolemy & tell him to come & saw that wood.” Ptolemy is our white right handman wot cleans the snow. Marianna was much amused & told her father that slave labor seemed to have undergone a sudden depression. In ransacking the safe & shelves for a supper for the ‘outcast’ I found some flinty bread cakes in the safe wh. Catharine had neglected to have eaten before they dried. I had her to put them in milk over night and to day with Eliza’s assistance to beat the whites of the eggs separately she made the handsomest bread pudding I ever ate--which, with ham & potatoes made our dinner.
A. “Lib” was Lucretia Mott’s daughter, Elizabeth Mott Cavender.
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B. Caroline Chase Stratton Wood, wife of Charles Wood of Auburn, was a daughter of Ruth Bunker, a first cousin of Lucretia Mott and Martha Wright.
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C. Catharine was the Wright maid.
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D. Gerrit Smith was a New York abolitionist and first cousin of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
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E. William Henry Seward was an Auburn neighbor of the Wrights, and his wife Frances was a close friend of Martha. He served as Governor of New York State from 1839 to 1843, and in 1849 would be elected to the U. S. Senate, but at the time of this letter he was returning to law practice in Auburn. He later would serve as Secretary of State under Presidents Lincoln and Johnson.
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F. Martha referred to her son William Pelham Wright (1842-1902), born just one month earlier.
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