Prior to the raid on Harpers Ferry John Brown often met with the Secret Six in Boston to finance his deadly expedition. The Secret Six were five existentialists from Boston[i] and one New Yorker, Gerrit Smith.
In one combination or other the Six were radical abolitionists, social reformers, educators, transcendentalists and wealthy. The five that lived beyond the Civil War all prospered, even in exile. All of the six supported the Suffrage and Temperance Movement and Gerrit showed his commitment by building a temperance hotel.
In 1848 Gerrit ran for President of the United States under the Liberty Party platform. His plank called for universal suffrage. The plank did not discuss slavery suggesting that the U.S. Constitution addressed it. Yet, many other abolitionists were now beginning to view the Constitution as a pro-slavery document. He lost his run for the Presidency but in 1852 was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives.
Gerrit established a legal fund to support those arrested under the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law. He further supported the relocation, to Kansas, of immigrants that would vote against slavery in the coming referendum of 1854. He was the major financier behind the New York Central College; a racially integrated institution.
John Brown spent two years in Boston soliciting support from the Secret Six for his Harpers Ferry expedition. The Six generally met at the Parker House on School Street where Brown often roomed. In this time-frame Gerrit donated land in upstate New York and funds to support John Brown’s large family. The flow of funds for the Brown family implicated Gerrit in the treasonous raid on Harpers Ferry. General historical opinion suggested that Gerrit knew the funds would be used to purchase arms.
Shortly after the raid Gerrit appeared to suffer mentally and was confined to an asylum in Utica, NY. He was never tried for treason although he always expected it.
Gerrit often felt his abolitionist activity and the Harpers Ferry raid brought on the Civil War. Consequently, he worked tirelessly in reform movements after the war. He sided with Lucy Stone and differed with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton, placing black voting rights before the woman’s right to vote.[ii] To put a cap on his life, he along with several wealthy gentlemen from Richmond signed the bail bond to release Jefferson Davis, the imprisoned President of the Confederate States.
It is estimated that his charitable donations exceeded eight-million dollars.[iii]
Please see our blog on Franklin Benjamin Sanborn of the Secret Six and Concord Massachusetts.
The secret six : the true tale of the men who conspired with John Brown / Edward J. Renehan, Jr. / Edward J. Renehan, Jr Renehan, Edward, 1956- | Crown Publishers | c1995. | 1st ed.
[i] Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Samuel Gridley Howe, Theodore Parker and Franklin Benjamin Sanborn (blogged 9/25/2016)