Gerrit Smith
- About This Website

This website was created to facilitate access to information about an important figure in American history. Gerrit Smith was a leader of anti-slavery activities in Syracuse, and nationally. He converted Frederick Douglass to political abolitionism, and helped to finance his work. He was a close associate, financier and co-conspirator of John Brown, during his Kansas campaigns, and prior to his raid on Harper's Ferry. Having helped to start the Civil War, he became a strong Union supporter, and an advocate for post-war reconciliation. Along with twelve others, he signed the bail bond to free Jefferson Davis from his post-war imprisonment.

Smith was leader in the Temperance Movement, operated a temperance hotel and formed a political party to outlaw Dram Shops. Frustrated with the sectarian religions of his time, he established his own church.

A cousin to Elizabeth Cady, he introduced her to the Reform movements, and to her husband, Henry Stanton. Among his contemporaries, Smith was an early advocate for equal rights for women, and for female dress reform. His daughter, Elizabeth Smith Miller introduced Amelia Bloomer to the outfit that made her name famous.

Despite his important role in the history of American social reform, Gerrit Smith remains largely unknown. There are no statues, no universities, no monuments. His mansion house burned down in 1936, leaving Peterboro, NY without the museum it would have become. Fortunately, he left behind a library of books, manuscripts and correspondence that has been described as perhaps the largest collection of a purely reformist nature in the United States.

In 1928, Smith's grandson, Gerrit Smith Miller, placed Smith's papers and those of Smith's father in the care of Syracuse University. This collection is now preserved by the Department of Special Collections in the Syracuse University Library. Another important collection of documents related to Gerrit Smith is found in the archives of his alma mater, Hamilton College in Clinton, NY. Other significant documents and images are held by the local historical societies in Peterboro and Madison County, NY. The four institutions cooperate in the development of this site.

The decision to create this website was occasioned by the bicentennial of Gerrit Smith's birth (March 6, 1997) and a recent growth of interest in his contributions. As there is no contemporary biography of Smith (the most recent published in 1939), it is hoped that this site will help bring Gerrit Smith and his work to the attention of scholars and others with an interest in the great reform movements of the Nineteenth Century. Content for the site is being developed cooperatively, and it is intended that the finished product will be maintained on servers at Syracuse University and Hamilton College. All original text, and all digitized graphics have been developed as a public service by NY History Net, with permission of the owners of the original documents and images. See the Credits page for information about additional uses of this material.

As with all sites on the web, this is a work in progress. Persons able to contribute articles, information, images or criticism are encouraged to contact the website editor.

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