Gerrit Smith, John Brown and the Crusade for Social Reform

Gerrit Smith, the wealthiest land owner in New York State, believed his wealth a divine gift to give away to those less fortunate.

Crusade for Social Reform in Peterboro

Peterboro will launch its 2017 Crusade for Social Reform at 1 pm on Saturday, March 11, with the annual celebration of Gerrit Smith’s birthday. Born March 6, 1797, Gerrit Smith, who lived and worked his entire adult life in Peterboro was known for his philanthropy and activism for equality.

Norman K. Dann PhD, researcher and author of Practical Dreamer: Gerrit Smith and the Crusade for Social Reform will introduce the 19th C. Smith family activities, and then volunteers from the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark and the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum will explain the 2017 programs that will continue the quest for human rights in the 21st C.

The 25th annual Peterboro Civil War Weekend June 10 and 11 will feature the relationship of John Brown and Gerrit Smith who were determined to abolish slavery. This weekend

John Brown was introduced to Gerrit Smith through Smith’s land grants to 3000 black men. Smith and five others from Boston supported Brown’s efforts to destabilize slavery. These supporters became known as the Secret Six.


The Dreaming of Timbuctoo exhibit created by John Brown Lives project in Lake Placid explains the 120,000 acres of lands donated by Gerrit Smith to disenfranchised free black men. The exhibit will be in Peterboro June and July 2017.

event began in 1992 with the vision and leadership of Beth Spokowsky to explain how the relationship between Gerrit Smith and John Brown helped ignite the Civil War. Dr. Dann will describe the events leading up to Harpers Ferry in 1859.


The catalyst that brought Smith to Brown’s attention was Smith’s endeavor to assure voting rights to black males by providing 40 acres of land to 3,000 African-Americans. This project in the Adirondacks came to be known as Timbuctoo, and after years of research the John Brown Lives organization has created a traveling exhibit Dreaming of Timbuctoo which will open in Peterboro for Civil War Weekend.

On Saturday afternoon, August 6 during Emancipation Days, Timbuctoo creators will provide programs on the exhibit and voting rights. During Emancipation Days, attendees commemorate the emancipation activities of generations before and provide Community Conversations to examine the quest for human rights.

In commemoration of the New York State Centennial of Women’s Suffrage, Civil War Weekend will also include a series of programs on Women in the Civil War – from fashion to equal rights. September 23, Elizabeth Smith Miller will be featured with programs, Morning Marmalade, and a Bloomer Tea to relate her contributions to the domestic sphere of women, to dress reform with her bloomers, and to political equality with her club. Afternoon programs and the evening Suffrage Supper will focus on Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her reform upbringing in Peterboro, as well as her relationship with her reform cousin Gerrit Smith.

Angelina Grimké was inducted into the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum October 22, 2016, and will be commemorated at the Hall October 21 and 22, 2017 with relatives, authors, and a community read of Invention of Wings.

On Sunday, September 24, Suzanne Spring PhD will explain how the abolition movement launched the Women’s right movement. Area libraries will launch the Community Read of Invention of Wings. The Read will culminate on Sunday, October 22 with a program on Angelina and Sarah Grimké during the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum (NAHOF) Commemoration Weekend. A panel will examine current extensions of these crusades for women. In closing Sally Roesch Wagner PhD will challenge the audience to continue the suffrage movement.

On Saturday October 21 NAHOF will commemorate its 2016 inductees to the Hall of Fame. Programs on Rev. John Gregg Fee, Beriah Green, Angelina Grimké, and James W.C. Pennington will be presented during the Abolition Symposium. A concert by the Berea College choir will honor Rev. Fee, a special tour of Beriah Green’s Utica will be conducted by the Oneida County Freedom Trail, a School of Divinity will honor Rev. Pennington, and The Invention of Wings Community Read culmination will feature the connections of inductee Angelina Grimké to Peterboro.

The public is encouraged to participate in all activities. The Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark and the National Abolition Hall of Fame will be open for events, weekend afternoons, by special appointment for group tours, and week days to be determined. Check for updates and developments, or contact 315-280- 8828.

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