In the Service of Others
Four families of strength and courage
by: Mary Alice Harvey and Daniel Barrett
This book traces the family history of two sisters, Bertha Smith Whitson Barrett and Mary Alice Whitson Harvey. The story is told mostly through Mary Alice’s collected family photos, her research and records, and the oral history lovingly passed down to her by parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents. The authors of this book, in bringing together these strands of family history, have discovered they weave a rich tapestry, a culture of service colored by a belief in equal rights for all.
The four families came together through the marriage of two couples, Bertha and Mary Alice’s grandparents:
Bertha Stoddard (born in India to missionary parents)
Henry Whitney (Civil War Captain of “colored troops”)
Lizzie Smith (a teacher, at the center of a 185 year family tradition of teaching)
Wilzue Whitson (tireless worker for equal rights).
Mary Alice’s grandparents and great grandparents were not leaders of the Anti-Slavery and Women’s Rights Movements, not well known like Sojourner Truth, Elias Hicks, or Lucretia Mott. Nor, at a later time, were they in the public eye as was Henry Wallace, Vice President and later third party candidate for president. Rather this is the story of quiet heroic farmers, teachers, and tradesmen who were close friends to these more famous people and at the forefront of the fight for freedom and justice. Indeed, these were quiet radicals who risked all in the fight for equal rights for the subjugated and enslaved; indigenous peoples, American blacks, and women everywhere.
We will discover the culture and support structure that gave ordinary people the strength to do heroic things, allowed quiet family people to risk everything to protect and serve others. These were Quaker and Baptist families whose belief in equality and the dignity of all put them in opposition to the prevailing practices of the time. Their motivation came in part from a religious and family support structure that gave the strength to risk fines, jail, and public scorn; gave the strength to operate stations on the Underground Railroad at great financial peril (as did three of the families); gave the strength to move to Virginia in the 1850s to help enslaved blacks escape from plantations; and gave the strength to put aside personal comfort and security to work and live among indigenous peoples.
Mary Alice and the other descendants of these illustrious ancestors are proud and deeply honored to be a part of this heritage. We tell this story to help keep alive this culture of service to others and this tradition of standing tall when public opinion and policy conspire to hurt and steal from the weak and have-nots. Sadly, the need for such heroes is still with us, for injustice and oppression are never ending, and the need for loving people to stand tall never dies.
The story tellers who have written this book are Mary Alice Whitson Harvey and Daniel Barrett, the second son of Mary Alice’s sister Bertha. Mary Alice has spent her life gathering oral history from her grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles, and cousins. She has traveled to visit the farms and homes of her ancestors. Mary Alice has done countless hours of research in libraries and on the internet. She is assisted in the writing of this narrative by her nephew Daniel who has also added some stories and letters from his grandparents and mother.
We have chosen to tell this story of four families through the voice one member of each family. We start with Mary Alice’s father’s grandfather, William, telling the story of our Whitson ancestors. The second section of the book is told by her mother’s grandmother, Drusilla, telling of our Stoddard ancestors. The third section is told by her mother’s father, Henry, telling of the Whitney family. The fourth section is told by her father’s mother, Lizzie, of the Smith/Keene family. Finally, the fifth section is narrated by Mary Alice, telling of the coming together of these four families through her parents Edith and Jay.
grandparents 1. William Whitson 2. Drusilla Stoddard
Grandparents Wilzue Whitson --- 4. Lizzie Smith Bertha Stoddard --- 3. Henry Whitney
Parents Jay Whitson ------------------------------------------ Edith Whitney
Sisters Bertha Whitson 5. Mary Alice Whitson
This book is intended to be a written recording of oral history. We, the authors, have, however, done much research to verify and cross check all that can be verified. We have provided, at the back of this book, a list of the written sources we consulted. You are encouraged to go to these sources and learn more of the people and events that shaped our history. We believe you will come to share our belief that these were indeed heroic people living at a momentous time in history.
A Brief History Lesson
Before starting with William Whitson’s story in Part One of this book, it might be helpful to remind ourselves of this time in U. S. history.
1. The Abolitionist Movement was born in the mid 1830’s and yet in less than 30 years saw Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Violent mob action and extreme intimidation was used by proslavery supporters against abolitionist and blacks unceasingly during all of these years yet the movement grew and flourished. Indeed, while mob action seemed to be successful in each specific instance stopping a given abolitionist activity, it was this very violence, more than any love or respect of blacks, that in the end fueled
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abolitionist support and brought an end to slave owner control of the U.S. Congress.
A very small core of dedicated abolitionist struggled through the 1830’s and early 1840’s with little apparent success, meeting violence and political setbacks at every turn. Quakers and other very religious idealists stood alone facing this violent immoral slave culture and a church hierarchy that supported and defended slavery in all denominations except the Society of Friends (Quakers) and, for a short while, the Methodist who then later caved in to proslavery economic and political pressure.
2. The Fugitive Slave Act I and II Slavery was not mentioned in the Constitution, it was the wish of many, including Thomas Jefferson, that slavery be ended But slave powers would not yield and demanded special protection as key to the adoption of our new Constitution.
"No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under
the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Conse-
quence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from
such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim
of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due."
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 was passed in strict conformity with the Constitution, of the United States; and it impressed upon the executive authorities of the several States the duty of arrest, and upon their magistrates the obligation to hear and commit the fugitives for return. That act was generally recognized as just in its essence and object. As late as 1850 even the Free Soil party assented to the legal principle it involved. In execution, however, its processes were greatly abused; unlawful seizures, unwarranted reclamations and ruthless kidnappings were common occurrences in the lower parts of the Border States along the line of Slavery and Freedom. Pennsylvania, after respectful
hearing of the Maryland Commissioners and due consideration for their suggestions, enacted the Act of 1826, which made the State Courts the arbiters of claims to fugitives; forbade justices to exercise these powers; and, in the line of Pennsylvania's movements since 1780 to extinguish slavery and protect free persons, it made the free-born children of escaped slaves citizens of Pennsylvania and put them under its protection.
Hence the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, with its more drastic processes, manifold deputies marshal, "posse comitatus" of the bystanders, penalties for obstruction of processes and many other provisions--which if they had been tolerable under the conditions prevailing long after 1793, had now become odious to the largely increased and rapidly increasing number of persons who were opposed to all forms of slavery, regardless of its constitutional protection or right at law.
3. Negroes in the Christiana Area There were many freedman and escaped slaves who chose to live in the southeast part of Lancaster County near the town of Christiana. It was dangerous for even freedmen to live so close to a slave state boarder because of kidnappers and the possibility of false arrest by southern slave catchers. Even so, an especially large group of Negroes lived in this area. There are three possible reasons for
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this. First, a rather large group of supportive Friends lived in the area. These friends went out of their way to hire people of color for farm and house work. Second, Friends around Christiana often took an active role in protecting their neighbors from slave catchers and kidnapers. Third, many brave freedmen chose to live close to the Maryland boarder to help other fugitives escaping enslavement. In the words of one escaped slave, William Parker,
I thought of my fellow servants left behind, bound in the chains of slavery, and
I was free! I thought that, if I had the power, they should soon be set free as I
was; and I formed a resolution that I would assist in liberating everyone within
4. Women’s Rights Movement - grew out a zeal for reform in the 1800s. Debates and meetings were held which led to conventions and the forming of societies – education, prisons, temperance, hospitals, and the abolition of slavery. The only role women were allowed in these movements was limited to holding teas and discussing issues with other women. It would be highly improper for a woman to be one of the abolition societies paid lecturers who traveled the country arousing the populous. A woman simply could not speak before a promiscuous crowd (“permiscuous” – meaning both men and women together in the audience).
The American Anti-Slavery Society was organized in Philadelphia in 1833. Four Quaker women were at the founding meeting but were not allowed to join. Lucretia Mott and these women then formed their own organization, the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. Soon, societies were formed by women in other cities. These societies taught women to organize and to speak in public. The violent opposition men had to women stepping out of their subservient role demonstrated to women that they were oppressed in a manner no different than were slaves. Sarah Grimike was an abolitionist speaker who was quick to shift her focus to women’s rights. She felt women had allowed themselves to be reduced to a child like inferiority, to be satisfied with those small rewards that men condescendingly granted. In a letter pulished in William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper the Liberator, Sarah Grimike wrote:
But I ask no favors for my sex. I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask of
our brethren is, that they will take their feet from off our necks and permit us to
stand upright on that ground which God designed us to occupy . . . .All history
attests that man has subjected women to his will, used her as a means to
promote his selfish gratification, to minister to his sensual pleasures, to be
instrumental in promoting his comfort; but never has he desired to elevate her
to that rank she was created to fill. He has done all he could to debase and
enslave her mind; and now he looks triumphantly on the ruin he has wrought,
and says, the being he has thus deeply injured is his inferior.
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Table of Contents
Table of Contents 5
1. William Whitson Narrative with Photos 6
Whitson Family Tree
Mary Alice’s Whitson Family Stories
2. Drucilla Stoddard Narrative with photos
Stoddard / Allen Family Tree
Mary Alice’s Stoddard Family Stories
3. Henry Whitney Narrative with Photos
Whitney Family Tree
Mary Alice’s Whitney Family Stories
4. Lizzie Smith Narrative with photos
Smith / Keene Family Tree
Mary Alice’s Smith Family Stories
5. Life and Times of the Edith and Jay
Whitson Family with photos