Document 4: Excerpts from letter from Martha Coffin Wright to Eliza Osborne, 9 April 1859, Garrison Family Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College.

Introduction

       In April 1859, shortly after attending a trial of a fugitive slave (see Document 3), Martha Wright attended a meeting of abolitionists in Philadelphia called to oppose the return of any fugitives. The meeting was threatened with an angry anti-abolitionist mob, and Martha described the events to her daughter. Martha’s willingness to break the law by harboring fugitive slaves (see Document 2), her attendance at physically trying court hearings to support the release of a fugitive slave (see Document 3), as well as her facing the possibility of mob violence, described below and in document 6, show how strongly Martha believed in the abolitionist cause.

                                          Saturday. 9th April 1859. Philada. 1127 S. 12th.

My dear Eliza--

       Your commissions I will attend to as soon as I feel strong enough to shop, at present I have not quite got over the fever that accompanied my sore throat, tho’ that (the throat) is pretty well now. I did not care however to go out of town yesterday with Thomas & Marianna & Miss Q.[uincy] but remained quietly at home. The day was damp & cold. Elly[A] went. They got home before dark, and Sister L. & Maria[B] & Anna Brown[C] came in to attend a meeting to resolve that no slave shd. ever be taken from Philada. We all went but Marianna--it was at Sansom St. Hall, where the Fair was. The Hall soon filled, and then a disorderly multitude of sympathisers with the South crowded the lower part and by constant cheers and groans drowned the voice of speakers. The tumult became so great that Passmore Williamson[D] sent for a strong force of police who soon arrived and arrested the disorderly ones, and quiet was restored. Miller came here with Anne[E] after the meeting, & said it was the first time that the mob had ever been obliged to yield. It looked rather serious just before the police arrived. The mob voted themselves the citizens of Philada. & repeatedly resolved that they wd. not associate with niggers, and there were many present, so designated, from Robt. Purvis[F] & family, to the deepest shades, & some were much terrified. I told some who were hurrying to leave by a door near the platform, that they were much safer in than out, & they remained, there were one or two women who were alarmed & excited & anxious to give up the meeting--one said she was at Pennsa. Hall when that was burned.[G] Just as the police got there the mob seemed about to triumph, & came trooping up the aisles to take possession of the platform. I sat next Harriet Purvis (Hatty’s mother)--on a side seat near the platform. As they passed us I heard them say “They’ve invited us forward to speak--we’ll come!--Don’t hurt the ladies!”--and I feared violence was intended to Miller & others--but we kept quiet as all the women there did, with very few exceptions. It was grand to see the police with their stars, step in & confront the mob just as they reached the platform. Ned Hallowell[H] & others of the junior society rushed forward & pointed out to the police those who had made disturbance. He was pale as death, as were most of the men, but full of fire. The young men then stood in a group near Ellen & Miss Quincy who with Thomas sat in the body of the meeting. I felt easy about Ellen because I saw in the beginning that they were near & she was quite calm. Miller opened the meeting, & was making a speech before there was any disturbance, but became faint & had to go out.

       I shall try to attend to your commissions next week. You need not send money. Pa will send me a check, and we can settle it when I come home. Ellen is just going to take her music lesson. I am glad she is taking lessons, because she longed so to learn & felt unable to go on, without one. He says she will make a fine player if she will follow his directions, but he never met with such a case. She enjoys Mary Quincy’s beautiful singing--there is a great deal to admire in Miss Q. Marianna is begging her to remain till the last of next week. She talks of going on Wednesday.

*       *        *

       Miss Q. has some conservative friends here, who hate abolition. She took tea with them after the slave case. She said the young son, a student of Divinity was as kind to her as he could be, and took care of her ball of yarn as if it had been a human soul, but she did not hesitate to defend her own opinions.

       Emmy took it into her head to write to Munson[I] & I promised to enclose her letter. A little girl at danthing thcool [sic] gave her the superb paper. I am glad to hear that Munson has returned safely--

with much love to him & the children, I must bid you lovingly adieu.

Yr Mother

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A. Ellen Wright, Martha’s youngest daughter, then 19.
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B. Lucretia Mott’s daughter, Maria Mott Davis.
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C. Anna Temple Brown, daughter of Solomon Temple and Mary Coffin, sister of Lucretia and Martha.
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D. Passmore Williamson was a Philadelphia Quaker and abolitionist who in 1855 had been tried and convicted, under the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, of assisting the escape of a woman slave and her children. He served a short sentence and was released in 1856 or 1857.
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E. James Miller McKim, Philadelphia abolitionist and close friend of Lucretia Mott, and his adopted daughter Anne.
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F. Robert Purvis was a prominent African-American abolitionist of light skin color. Martha contrasts him with others of “the deepest shades.”
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G. In May 1838, the Second Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women, including both black and white women, met in Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Hall, which had been built with money raised by Lucretia and James Mott explicitly for a building in which abolitionists could meet. An anti-abolitionist mob, particularly incensed by the presence of black women at the Convention, burned down the hall. A full account of the violence is given in Kathryn Kish Sklar, Florence Kelley and the Nation’s Work: The Rise of Women’s Political Culture, 1830-1900 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), pp. 18-19 and Margaret Hope Bacon, Valiant Friend: The Life of Lucretia Mott (New York: Walker, 1980), pp. 75-79.
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H. Probably Edward Needles Hallowell, then 19, a friend of Ellen Wright and others in the Mott extended family.
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I. David Munson Osborne, husband of Eliza Wright, Martha’s daughter.
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