- 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
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.