Document 5: Excerpts from letter of Martha Coffin Wright to Ellen Wright, 30 December 1860, Garrison Family Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College.

Harriet Tubman (left) and residents of Tubman Home in Auburn, N.Y.

Courtesy of Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College


       Near the end of a letter to her daughter Ellen, then twenty, Martha Wright reported the arrival in Auburn of a group of slaves that Harriet Tubman had led north from Maryland. Tubman, famed “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, had by this time led many fugitive slaves from the Southern states to freedom, usually to Canada. This was the last group of slaves that Tubman brought out before the Civil War. During the war, she served as a nurse and a scout for the Union Army, and after the war she settled in Auburn on land obtained from William Henry Seward. Martha Wright and her daughter Eliza Osborne became two of her closest friends and supporters.[15]

                                                        Auburn Dec. 30th 1860

My dear Ellen--

       As you request I will take to day for writing to you, at least this once, it is so nice & quiet now, my baby asleep, Pa gone to ch., Frank at Eliza’s.[A] A regular sleighing snowstorm in progress, & everything still as meeting -- Quaker meeting. . . . I will try to remember to enclose the programme of the Organ celebration at the Episcopal Ch. Pa went, but was not much charmed, except with the softest echo-like notes, the loud ones almost taking the roof off. Carrie wound greens enough with Addy Myers & the Frettles assistance for nearly half the Ch. Some objected to winding on Sunday, but others tho’t perhaps if they only wound crosses, it wd. do no harm.

       Mrs. Osborne took Milly & Floy[B] to the Christmas tree & supper provided for the Sabbath School children, tho’ of the latter they did not partake. They had a cornucopia from the tree. Jenny was exercised beforehand on the subject of an admissions fee--tho’t there ought to be one, or all the little riff-raffs in town, wd. be there. I asked her if there was not, in the Bible, something to the effect “Suffer little riff-raffs to come unto me, for such is the kingdom of Heaven.” I was rather tired of her chatter, & wanted to remind her of the distinction that God makes, between piety & Mag. piety.

*       *        *

        We have been expending our sympathies, as well as congratulations, on seven newly arrived Slaves that Harriet Tubman has just pioneered safely from the Southern part of Maryland. One woman carried a baby all the way, & brot two other childn. that Harriet & the men helped along, they brot a piece of old comfort & blanket, in a basket with a little kindling, a little bread for the baby with some laudanum, to keep it from crying during the day. They walked all night, carrying the little ones, and spread the old comfort on the frozen ground, in some dense thicket, where they all hid, while Harriet went out foraging, & sometimes cd. not get back till dark, fearing she wd. be followed. Then if they had crept further in, & she couldn’t find them, she wd. whistle, or sing certain hymns, & they wd. answer.

       Sunday evening--I must hurry this off by Frank on his way to ch. so that you may get it New Years . . . . Love to Lucie[C] & Affy.

                                                         Yr. Mother


A. Martha was babysitting her grandson, Thomas Mott Osborne, for her daughter Eliza. Martha's husband had gone to church, and her son Frank, then 16, was visiting his sister Eliza, who lived in Auburn only a few blocks away from the Wright home.
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B. Milly and Floy were Emily and Florence Osborne, daughters of Eliza and granddaughters of Martha. Mrs. Osborne was presumably their paternal grandmother, Caroline Bulkley Osborne.
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C. Lucy McKim, daughter of abolitionist J. Miller McKim, was one of Ellen’s closest friends. Later both Lucy and Ellen would marry sons of William Lloyd Garrison.
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