Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Hero of the Christiana Riot

writtn by William Whitson's cousin, the son of the more famous Thomas Whitson.

William Parker
The Hero of the Christiana Riot
written in the 1896-7 Journal of the Lancaster County Historical Society
by Thomas Whitson

To understand the full significance of the Christiana riot, so insignificant in itself, it is necessary to have a thorough knowledge of where we were and whither we were drifting as a nation at the time. An English statesman sojourning in France some years before that great upheaval of 1793 wrote, "I discover here all the symptoms of revolution that I have ever met with in history;" at the same time a weak, conservative, purblind, vacillating, well-intentioned King sat upon his throne and saw nothing of all that. If any intelligent stranger had been sojourning in America in the year 1851, possessed with ordinary powers of penetration, able to see with his eyes and not with his prejudices, he might have said, “I see in the United States a young and growing nation, peopled with the best blood of the Caucasian race, self-deceived, however, by their marvelous growth, standing at the crater of a volcano, trying to keep back the lava by rolling another rock down its throat."

Both immediately before and after the formation of the constitution the representative men of the country, south as well as north, regarded slavery as an evil greatly to be abhorred. General Gates, the hero of Saratoga, had liberated his slaves; Washington, as all people know, did the same; Jefferson hall uniformly borne his testimony against it, and manumission societies were formed in the years 1789 and 1791, respectively, in the states of Maryland and Virginia. Among the members of the Maryland society was Samuel Chase, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Luther Martin, one of the framers of the Constitution; in Delaware the movement was favored by such men as Hon. James A. Bayard, grandfather of the present Minister to England, and Caesar A. Rodney, afterwards Attorney General. In the north the first anti-.slavery society formed, that of Pennsylvania, was pre sided over by Benjamin Franklin and then by Benjamin Rush. The New York Manumission Society had for its first president John Jay, and for its second, Alexander Hamilton. Further examples might be given, but this is enough to prove that the leading, enterprising, patriotic men of the country did not regard slavery at that time as a blessing, nor even as something to be looked upon with indifference.

These men must either have had a very poor conception of the kind of government they had been forming and the character of the work they were engaged in, or else, their children afterwards woefully misconstrued them. For, in process of time, the discovery was made under the more rapacious lead of the cotton States that such societies were at war with the constitution, with good citizenship, and that it was treasonable and seditious to even petition Congress for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. Relatively speaking, about the same time, the discovery was also made by a young man heretofore unknown to fame, publishing a small sheet from a garret loft in Boston, “That the Constitution of the United States was a covenant with death and an agreement with hell." These two, not to say remarkable, at least most diametrically opposite, interpretations of the fundamental principles of our National Union ought to have convinced the most obtuse mind that the “irrepressible conflict” was at hand.

The truth is, the more clear-sighted and candid leaders of the one or the other side did see it, but the great mass of people were too eagerly engaged in making money, too anxious to avoid any unpleasant relations, and too busy developing the great resources of the Nation to worry themselves about the ethics of the question.

There is neither time nor necessity to review the long legislative history in the great struggle, only this brief prelude is necessary to get a faint idea of the moral forces of the issue. Of all the acts of Congress in the entire drama, none had been so strenuously insisted upon by the South for the moral effect it would have in forcing a proper recognition of the rights of the master to this peculiar species of property as the fugitive slave law of 1850. None, on the other hand, had come so directly in open conflict with the conscience of the North. By the provisions of the Act, every citizen was at once made a slave catcher. If he refused to obey the Marshal in assisting to return a fugitive he was guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to fine and imprisonment. The person claimed as a slave could be arrested upon the warrant of the United States Commissioner, sworn out by any person claiming him as his slave; he was denied the right of trial by jury, the Commissioner could deliver him to the alleged master at his own discretion, and the slave was not allowed to testify In his own behalf.

Such was the law that Daniel Webster said he was willing to vote for "with all its provisions to the fullest extent," because “neither in the forum of conscience or in the face of the constitution are we justified in disregarding it." Such was the law which caused Thaddeus Stevens to exclaim from the other side of the Capitol: "Can the free North stand this? Can Pennsylvania stand it? Great God! can New England endure it?" It was a close question on which side of Mason and Dixon's line the rebellion would first appear.

Such was the condition of things on the eleventh of September, 1851, about one year after the passage of the Act, when Edward Gorsuch, a Maryland slave holder, and his son, Dickinson Gorsuch, Joshua M Gorsuch, his nephew, Dr. Thomas Price. and two other men from Maryland, with the United States Marshal, H. H. Kline, arrived with warrants regularly issued by the United States Commissioner at Philadelphia, about daylight, at the residence of William Parker, a colored man and an escaped fugitive, about a mile and a half from the village or Christiana, this county:

The community was settled principally by Quakers and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, but it would be a mistake, however, to suppose that the anti-slavery sentiment of Southern Lancaster County was so strong at that time as to have prevented the peaceable enforcement of the fugitive slave law in ordinary cases. Public opinion there might properly be divided into three classes, as was probably the case throughout the most of the North. First, the more ultra abolitionist or antislavery people, who made no concealment of the fact that they never intended to obey the law. Second, the professional slave hunters and nigger haters, who obsequiously followed the leaders of the South and obeyed their slightest impulse. Third, the great conservative and far more numerous class, who doubtless felt a pang at the hard service imposed upon them by the law, and who ostensibly and for political reasons would profess to support it, but who would secretly aid the fugitive in his flight. To this latter class Castner Hanway, the sometimes recognized hero of the riot, belonged. He doubtless sympathized on that morning with the Negroes and desired them to win the battle, if one should commence, which they did. But he would much preferred to have had the Marshal and his posse, or rather Gorsuch and his posse, accept his advice and leave without a struggle, as Marshal Kline would have done, (he being pronounced by all parties as the most consummate coward ever seen in battle). This being done, he doubtless would have consulted with the Negroes and aided them to escape. But that he ever gave the insolent answers to the Marshal or resisted his authority, as Kline, the champion liar as well as coward, testified in the trial, was not correct. Hanway himself never claimed that he did, and Parker's only regret, as he read Kline's testimony or had it read to him after his escape to Canada, was that he had not killed him on the spot. That Hanway was the first of the white neighbors on the ground was not because he started first, but because Elijah Lewis, when on his way to the place, stopped at his (Hanway's) residence, the brick mill in the valley, now abandoned, and asked him to go along. Hanway, instead of accompanying him on foot, mounted his horse and arrived some few minutes before Lewis on the scene of action. Instinct, stronger than reason, doubtless told the Negroes that he was not their enemy, and hoped that he might be turned to account as a friend. But he was there by no prearrangement with them, nor had they regarded him as a special counselor. Neither was he a member of the Society of Friends as has been so frequently asserted. He simply lived there in a Friends' community; was indicted for treason with Lewis and Joseph C. Scarlet; both of whom were members of the Society, and thus historians have naturally fallen into that error, one recent writer in the Philadelphia Times calling it the riot led by three non-resistant Quakers. Elijah Lewis, as already stated, arrived some minutes later than Hanway, and when commanded by the Marshal to assist in the arresting of the fugitives, is reported to have said: "That my conscience will not allow me to do." Joseph O. Scarlet, the other white man who enjoyed the distinction or being indicted for treason and of being shipped to Philadelphia in a cattle car with a lot of Negroes to answer the charge, was not on the ground at all. His treason consisted in notifying the blacks of their danger and admonishing them to prepare for it. He seemed to be one who actually did have some intimation in advance of what was likely to happen. He was a man of mighty strength and brawn, and had he been upon the ground, and had occasion, he doubtless would have proved a very good man for slave hunters to keep away from, not withstanding his Quaker principles.

With this brief mention of these actors in the drama, let me say a word about the real hero of the tragedy. His name was William Parker, the man in whose house the fugitives were concealed, some four in number, for whom the Marshal had warrants. Parker, born himself a slave in Maryland, had made his escape in his early manhood some years before to Pennsylvania, and had settled in southern Lancaster County. Whether he had drifted into that section through that mysterious and invisible agency, the Underground Railroad, I am not able to say; at all events, he there lived and worked for several years among the farmers, never deeming it necessary to advance on to another station. He at once impressed himself not only upon his own race, but upon the whites with whom be came in contact as well, as a man of wonderful force of character; I remember seeing him but once, and that was as far back almost as memory goes; but his personality is distinctly impressed upon my mind. He was at my father's house the day of the riot after it was over, but I did not see him on that occasion, nor did my father, as he was away from home. He was a dark mulatto of medium height, wonderful muscle, and possessed of resolution, courage and action. The neighborhood was rife with stories of his physical feats. He could walk leisurely up to an ordinary post fence, leap over it without touching it with his hands, work hard all day and travel from ten to fifteen miles during the night to organize his people into a society for their protection against the numerous kidnappers who were constantly committing depredations through the community, or rescue one of their number that had been captured, flog the villain who was carrying him away, and return to his labor in the morning with a bullet in his leg, apparently unfatigued and keep his secret well to himself, He was by common consent recognized by his race in the neighborhood as their leader. They depended upon him with abiding confidence to keep them from being taken back to slavery. They regarded him as their leader, their protector, their Moses, and their lawgiver all at once. The white people of the neighborhood knew that be possessed these qualities, that he was the Toussaint L' Ouverture of his people; that he could have commanded an army had he been educated, and he challenged the universal respect of all of them who did not have occasion to fear him.

He of all the men of his despised race along the border in that slave hunting era could have led the riot. Without him there would have been no riot. The rest would have fled upon receipt of the news that their masters were coming, or would have surrendered and gone back with them to slavery. When he was approached by the United States Marshal with his warrants on that eventful morning, his revolvers and his armed assistants, clothed with all the panoply of authority, this colored Spartan stood at the threshold of his humble home and bid him defiance. And in this, be it remembered, lies the real significance of the Christiana riot. In all the slave hunting era, during all the period of mob violence attending the anti-slavery struggle up to that time, there had been no open resistance to the authority of the government. This man advanced out in his yard and struck the United States down in open battle in the person of Edward Gorsuch. It was this that caused the matter to be published in every paper in the land, to be noticed even in England, and made the entire slave power tremble from the Potomac to the Rio Grande. It was not because Gorsuch was killed, or that his son and nephew were badly wounded, that the community was scoured for weeks by bandits disguised as United States Marshals, or that the United States Marines were sent to a quiet, peaceful neighborhood to terrorize it; but because one brave man, preferring death to slavery, said, "I don't care for you or the United States; there will be no slaves taken back from here while I am alive,"

It is easy for a white man sitting in the Executive Mansion of a great State, with a powerful public sentiment behind him, to say on a question largely sentimental, "There will be no flags returned while I am governor;" but it required nerve of the stronger quality to utter Parker's words in the face of his powerful and venerated enemy. Gen. Taylor said at Buena Vista to a lot of half-Spanish Mexican drones, "Gen. Taylor never surrenders," and the people made him President. General Sheridan arrived at Winchester in time to say to his brave educated Saxon American army, "Face the other way, boys, you are going the wrong direction." and by his inspiring presence changed defeat to victory, and poetry has made him immortal. General Parker, this representative of a despised race, held his little band of ignorant followers together by the imperial command, “The first man that offers to surrender I will shoot." It was his will and his alone that laid Gorsuch still in death, whom he always spoke of as "a fine soldier and & brave man." And by the aid that God who notices even the sparrow's fall and sometimes condescends to uphold and strengthen the good right arm of him who strives for the liberties of himself, his wife and children, he made his way through every obstacle to Canada.

And now, when the Lancaster County Historical Society visits this most tragic spot of all within our borders; when they propose to erect some small monument to mark the spot where occurred this first battle of the American conflict; while we all stand reverently at the memories of Grant, of Sherman and of Sheridan, of Reynolds, of Hancock and of Meade, men from whose well-decked brows I would not take a single flower, let us not forget to make one small niche in our tablet of heroes for this Afro-American, William Parker.

First Draft of Mary Alice Whitson Harvey's Book

William Whitson 1818 to 1909
In the year 1905, William Whitson came to live with his son, Wilzue. William’s second wife had recently died and he thought it would be best to spend his last few years on his son’s farm. The land for this farm had once belonged to William. Twenty-five years before, William had traded a 40-acre farm in Pennsylvania for 160 acres of unbroken prairie sod in western Iowa. His son Wilzue had purchased the land from him and turned the prairie into a fine and productive farm. Wilzue then married Lizzie and together they raise nine children.

Wilzue’s and Lizzie’s home, filled as it was with seven sons, reminded William of his Pennsylvania home when he and his three brothers were young men. Whitson men love to debate and to just generally talk. William was transported back to the days of his youth. He felt sorry for his daughter-in-law Lizzie and his two granddaughters who could hardly get a word in with so many men discussing politics, religion, farming, and more.

It was at this time that Wilzue’s middle son, twenty-year-old Jay, became ill with Rheumatic fever. As it turned out, Jay was confined to bed for ten months. William helped pass the time talking with Jay, sharing stories of the family’s rich history. The following are stories much like the ones William share with Jay. They were recreated through research and from those parts of William’s stories Jay passed on to his daughters and grandchildren:

Mary and Micah
My parents, Mary and Micah, were born just as the new nation was taking form, and their lives were shaped by the problems with slavery that were left unsettled in the new constitution. By the time they married in 1817 the abolitionist cause was being defined and they knew that they needed to be involved. Some of the earliest memories from my childhood are of my mother and father preparing meals for hungry travelers. We generally didn’t know the names of our guests nor did we ask. We feed, clothed, and transported strangers and asked for nothing in return. That was what it was like to be a station on the Underground Railroad.

There always was an air of secrecy surrounding these activities. Spies could be watching the house. We were concerned my younger brothers and sisters might accidentally say something to a neighbor or friend. Indeed, even our guests might be spies. The less said the better. The Fugitive Slave Act placed a $1000 fine on our activities.

As children, we were drawn to the secret room our father had built under the ramp going up to the thrashing floor of our barn. We were forbidden to play there, but of course we did. The room was invaluable as a place to temporarily conceal those fugitives closely pursued by slave catchers. The secret entrance was at the back of the stallion’s stall in the walkout basement of the barn. We always kept a large and spirited horse in the stall to assure that slave catchers would not search there.

As I grew older, I was given increasing opportunities to do farm work and to help with my parents’ abolitionist activities. This work added excitement to our lives and a great deal of satisfaction. My happiest memories during those years, however, were of Sunday afternoons. Sundays started with Meeting at the Bart Meetinghouse where my father was a well-known and powerful Quaker preacher. My mother was a gracious hostess and we often had dinner guests following meeting. For entertainment, my brothers and I often raced horses with other young men from the Bart Meeting. We also engaged in a variety of youthful contests. One of the favorites was scything and cradling. In the days before mowing machines and grain binders, hay and grain were cut by hand with a scythe. The cradle was a frame attached to the scythe to catch the grain so that enough to make one bundle was set down in one place. My brothers and I were taller and broader shouldered than most and were proud of the speed with which we could cut hay and grain. We often challenged visiting Quakers to Sunday afternoon contests. One much smaller man who could beat us, though, was Elias Hicks.

These Sunday afternoon activities were especially bothersome to our Presbyterian neighbors who believed in strictly “keeping the Sabbath.” They did not approve of our racing horses up and down Valley Road, nor did they greatly approve of our justification for breeding fast horses (we claimed to need fast horses to outrun pursuing slave catchers). My father once responded to a Presbyterian minister’s criticism by noting that Whitsons kept the Sabbath at least as well as any minister who earned his main livelihood by Sunday preaching.

Hicksite Friends
A split was occurring between Friends during my childhood. Sadly, many Friends were caught up in arguments and faultfinding. Our differences were especially sad and painful as they occurred between friends in the same meeting. A formal and complete split occurred in the Sadsbury Meeting resulting in two new meetings, generally known as the Orthodox and the Hicksite Friends. The Whitsons were among the Hicksite Friends who broke off from the Sadsbury Meeting and built the Bart Meetinghouse not too far from our farm.

The reasons for the split were many. I’ve no doubt that each Friend in our Meeting would give different reasons why they aligned with one group or the other. In general, however, the Friends calling themselves Orthodox emphasized the importance of establishing a personal relationship with the biblical Christ. Hicksite Friends wished to bring the faith back to the original intent of George Fox and the founders of the Society of Friends. Hicksite Friends sympathized with the religious teachings of Elias Hicks, believing that attention to the inward Christ was more important than understanding the biblical Christ. We, the Hicksite Friends of the Bart Meeting, felt that Orthodox Friends would be more accurate if they labeled themselves Methodists.
The Orthodox Friends were indeed influenced of John and Charles Wesley, founders of the Methodist movement. Orthodox Friends placed great emphasis on evangelistic activities, upon a developing pastoral system, and upon both home and foreign mission work. We Hicksite Friends have no paid ministry. We focus on helping those in need. Many in our meeting are deeply involved in the abolitionist cause and women’s rights. Hicksite Friends wish to be remembered simply as those who went about doing good.

Thomas Whitson
My uncle, Thomas Whitson, had a very active Underground Railroad station. His home was on a main route, Daniel Gibbons usually sent the fugitives who traveled at night in the care of a Negro who worked for him. Those who came in the daytime carried a note from Daniel Gibbons, “Friend Thomas, some of my friends will be with thee tonight.” My Uncle Thomas usually passed these secret guests on to the next station, his good friend Lindley Coates. Uncle Thomas’s Station differed greatly from our own. Though we lived about 15 miles from the Pennsylvania and Maryland boarder, we were not located on a line with other active stations. Our guests seemed to come to us more by chance, often making their first contact with the Underground Railroad system.

Uncle Thomas lived near Christiana, the sight of an 1851 violent resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act. William Parker was the leader of a group of former slaves who mutually pledged to stand together and resist any slave catcher or kidnapper in their community. Parker became famous for boldly and courageously confronting armed slave catchers and running them off. William Parker had once been shot in the leg and still got back on his feet and forced his attacker to flee empty handed. On at least two other occasions men held a pistol on him, yet, without fear, Parker struck these men so suddenly and with such force as to break their arms.

It was generally thought that kidnappings and arrests were reduced in the Christiana area due to Parker’s reputation. Negroes throughout southern Pennsylvania could well have used more men like William Parker. The Fugitive Slave Act and the high price paid by slave brokers in Maryland put all people of color at risk. Negro men would go to work in the fields and never return, girls would be snatched from the homes of their employers, and indeed whole families would be carried off in the night never to be heard from again. The Negro community waited in fear wondering whose turn would come next?

For all of William Parker’s fierceness, he was a well-liked and trusted leader in the Negro community and beyond. Friend Lindley Coates knew William Parker well and said of him, “he was bold as a lion, the kindest of men, and the warmest and most steadfast of friends.”

In September of 1851 a slave owner name Edward Gorsuch arrived in Christiana. This slave master from Maryland had with him a marshal and a group of supporters. At William Parker’s door Gorsuch attempted to retake “his property” and return the men to slavery. Parker told Gorsuch repeatedly that there would be blood shed before those men under his protection would be taken. Gorsuch ignored the warnings and was reported to have said he would rather die than give up “his property.” The situation escalated and Gorsuch was killed. Some viewed this armed resistance as self-defense while others called it a “riot”. Indeed, Parker and the “riot” became famous throughout the South. Years later Robert E. Lee, as he pushed his army into Pennsylvania toward Gettysburg, was said to have expressed a wish that his army could take a detour and destroy Christiana.

Immediately following the resistance in Christiana, slave-catchers were everywhere looking for people to arrest. Uncle Thomas received word that a man who worked for him had been arrested. My uncle quickly gave chase and soon caught up with the men arresting his friend.

Thomas stood before these rough men and said, “Thee have no just reason to take this man.”

“Who is this man who tries to tell us what to do?” called one of them. Another, a local who was acting as guide said, “That is Thomas Whitson, a Quaker and an abolitionist.”

One man pulled out a gun and climbed out of the wagon pointing the revolver at Thomas while the leader of the group asked, “Are you an abolitionist?”

“I am,” said Thomas, “and I am not afraid of thy shooting me. So thee may as well put thy pistol down.”

The one with the pistol cursed and said, “Shall I shoot him?”

“No,” was the leader’s quick reply, “let the old Quaker go.”

Thomas then found a neighbor who had seen the colored man at the hour of the riot several miles distance from the tragedy. Together the two men went to where the officers held the man under guard. Thus proving that he had no connection with the riot, Thomas obtained the man’s release.

The Fultons
Mary Ann Fulton, sister to my wife Elizabeth, helped to shelter the wife of William Parker on the day following the Christiana resistance. The wives of William Parker and Alexander Pinkney had become separated from their husbands that first evening following the resistance. The two women felt unsafe in their homes and in the Christiana area. As darkness fell, they decided to flee to find a place of safety. They became lost in the dark and wandered all night before finding the Fulton home in the morning not five miles from where they started the evening before.

The Fultons were strongly abolitionist and very active in the Underground Railroad. However, their son Joseph could not be trusted. He worried that his inheritance might be seized as a result of the family’s defying the Fugitive Slave Law. This meant that any escaping slaves that came their way had to be passed on very quickly. Daughters Mary Ann and Elizabeth often paired up for his duty. As pre-teens and teenagers these two were often out at night in snowstorms or in rain, sometimes having to improvise and change destinations or go further than originally intended.

Elizabeth and I were married by the time Mrs. Parker and her friend came to the Fulton’s seeking shelter. Mary Ann’s parents were gone from home and her brother, Joseph, refused Mary Ann the use of the family’s best horses. His hope was to discourage his sister, but she was determined and ended up taking the old blind mare. The women traveled a great distance and were turned away at several homes due to the heightened fears raised by the recent Christiana “riot” and especially due to these women’s association with the resistance. Evening fell, made all the darker by clouds and pouring rain. Mary Ann became lost in the dark with a horse that did not know the way. The women were, of course, afraid to ask where they were or even to ask for directions. Eventually they met a free Negro woman walking in the rain with a tub over her head. She gave them directions to her own home where the two fleeing women found shelter. They were eventually able to make their way north and rejoin the husbands in Canada.

The Fugitive Slave Law
As time passed following the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Law, the slave catchers become more bold and numerous. No person of color was safe. Opportunists created false ownership papers or simply kidnapped an unlucky person and spirited then away tied and hidden in a wagon. Kidnappers took people into the slave state of Maryland and sold their hapless victims to slave buyers heading to the Deep South. I remember a sad incident when a Negro family in Bart Township found their light skinned teenage daughter missing one morning as the girl was getting water from the well. She was never heard from again, certainly a victim of those mercenary Negro stealers who infested our neighborhoods.

My brothers and I were building a corncrib one day when a man running through our field approached us. We could see, in the distance, slave catchers in pursuit. The man was thin, so we placed him in the wall and continued nailing wallboards over him. The catchers soon arrived and said they had seen their man approach our building. We, of course, said nothing other than to invite them to look around. As the catchers searched and searched, we continued our work nailing boards. When the searchers finally gave up and left, we had to undo a large part of our morning’s work.

Whitsons as Public Activists
The Whitson’s were, by their nature, the type of people who would publicly state their opinion. All who worked with the Underground Railroad took great risks, but most preferred to work quietly. The two Whitson brothers, however, gave speeches and took a very public stand against slavery and the Fugitive Slave Law. Of the two, Thomas was the more famous, but my father Micah took many courageous stands.

A colored man, who had long been the town blacksmith, became the target of a southern marshal. The blacksmith resisted arrest and Micah and I stepped forward in the hopes of giving some sort of aide to our neighbor. The marshal turned to us, deputized us, and demanded that we assist in the arrest. We refused and were charged with violating a provision of the Fugitive Slave Act.

A lawyer with the famous name of John Jay, he was grandson of the governor John Jay, volunteered to defend us in court. This gave a very public platform for abolitionists to draw attention to the evils of slavery and the corrupt institutions supporting it. .

Our family’s abolitionist activities and the fines we were forced to pay mortgaged our lands and cause my father, my brothers, and I to gradually leave farming. I pursued my talent for carpentry and my love of mechanical design. For a number of years I worked for the Conestoga wagon Company in Lancaster County. I then moved my family to Juniata County, PA for a time and operated a mill. After a few years we returned to Lancaster County, but soon moved to Indiana, where my brother Joseph was plant superintendent for the Studebaker wagon company. The company was at that time expanding into new things beyond wagons and stagecoaches. I became the manager of the new farm machinery division and helped develop a new steam engine threshing machine. Your father, Wilzue, was the “engineer” who took the thresher out for farm demonstrations.

Years later when I settled my father’s estate, there was, at the time of Micah’s death, only a 40 acre parcel of land left of the Whitson family farm. An Amish family traded a 160-acre piece of Iowa prairie (which became your family farm) for the 40 acres in Pennsylvania. I was pleased that the Whitsons could return to farming.

Long Island with Lucretia Mott and Sojourner Truth
While my family was in Indiana, my parents moved to Long Island where my mother Mary eventually died and was buried. My youngest brother was born and died there also. At this point in their lives, my parents were devoting themselves entirely to abolition and women’s rights work. My father, I believe, was the superintendent of a school there for escaped slaves and freedmen. It was in this connection that their friendship with Lucretia and James Mott deepened. Many abolitionists came through their home. Sojourner Truth sometimes lived with them when she was between speaking tours. Sojourner Truth and my mother Mary were both very interested in the idea of the approaching end of the world. Mary was convinced that it was necessary to be buried wrapped in a white blanket in order to rise from the grave on Judgment Day. She worked at weaving white blankets to shroud every member of her family.

Lucretia Mott
Our Whitson family greatly admired Lucretia Mott and was proud to have her as a frequent visitor in our home. Lucretia was considered a minister by her Meeting and spent her life traveling the country ministering to Friends. Lucretia spoke and dressed in the simple manner of Friends, yet spoke in support of the most progressive issues of the day. She was able to bridge gaps that might have divided people of faith. I believe she did more than anyone, for as long as was possible, to keep united the Friends, the women’s rights movement, and the abolitionist movement.

William Lloyd Garrison
My Uncle Thomas Whitson was a friend of William Lloyd Garrison and had earned Garrison’s praise when the two spoke at an anti-slavery convention. Both men were founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society. My parents, brothers and sisters, and I meet Garrison through Uncle Thomas.

The Women’s Rights Movement
Women, especially Friends, were an early and strong force in the abolitionist movement. The Society of Friends has always risen above the restrictions society has placed on women. It is not surprising that Quaker women such as Lucretia Mott and Lucy Stone became early abolitionist leaders. My mother Mary was one of many. Some time later, as I remember it, I first became aware of the Fulton sisters, Elizabeth and Mary Ann, because of their boldness as abolitionists. Then it was Elizabeth’s passion and devotion to abolitionism that, at least in part, won my heart.

My mother, and Friends like Lucretia Mott, had taught me that the best love was one based on mutual respect between equal and strong partners. I especial like a quotation of Lucretia’s: “…”

Elizabeth and I had nine children: four girls, your father Wilzue, and then four more girls. We were successful, I think, in raising all our children to be bold and passionate in their beliefs. Elizabeth did an especially good job shaping Wilzue’s personality. Despite having nine women in his home, Wilzue learned to cook, wash, iron and sew. I taught him farming, carpentry, and mechanical design. No one taught him debate and talking skills, they just came to him naturally. He was, after all, a Whitson.

Wilzue’s training stood him well when, in 187-, he started farming on this property as a young bachelor. I believe his homemaking skills allowed him to take his time finding a good mate. Lizzie has further benefited from your father’s ability and willingness to sew and Wilzue’s willingness to help with laundry and feeding the then houseful of babies, toddlers, and young children. His mother and I were also very proud when Wilzue spent time in Des Moines lobbying for women’s rights when the state’s laws were first being drafted. He was successful in getting women the right to inherited property and other rights that protected women. He wasn’t successful in getting the vote for women, but, for the time, he really was fairly successful.