Hello all… Shawna Wright chiming in one last time on the research project titled, Esther Carpenter Pierce: Daughter, Wife and Confidante of Freedom’s Friends.
As I noted in my third blog, after reading all three of Frederick Douglass’ autobiographies, many connections can been made between Pierce and Douglass; both were New Yorker’s, abolitionists, attendees of anti-slavery conventions, and most significantly, participants in the Underground Railroad.
Faculty member Dr. von Huene Greenberg has since suggested that I read Carol Faulkner’s biography of Lucretia Mott, Lucretia Mott’s Heresy: Abolition and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth-Century America, to see if I could identify any connections between Pierce and Mott. Interestingly, there are many. Most notably, that Pierce and Mott were both Quaker abolitionist women.
Pierce and Mott were devoted daughters, wives, mothers, and grandmothers. Both came from families with anti-slavery convictions, and both were inspired by their families to become abolitionists themselves. Both had husbands who were important abolitionists. And both had large families; Pierce had six children, and Mott had five. One disturbing correlation between the two is that they each suffered the loss of a child. Coincidentally, both of the children were boys, and both died at the age of two.
Pierce and Mott were American Quakers, members of the Society of Friends, and supporters of Elias Hicks—an important Quaker minister and key figure in the Separation of 1827, which divided “American Quakers into ‘Hicksite’ and ‘Orthodox” (Faulkner 6). Pierce and Mott belonged to the same close-knit Hicksite group and shared Quaker beliefs—beliefs that supported gender and racial equality. Quakers believe in equal education for boys and girls. And women are also accepted as preachers and elders. Quakers “[believe] that the divine light of God [is] in every human being” (Faulkner 5)—for this reason, they are against racial prejudice, religious intolerance, and war or violence of any kind. This lead Pierce and Mott to be against slavery. They even abstained from using and consuming slave-made products (such as cotton and sugar), which they believed was “showing” their opposition towards, and hindering, the institution of slavery. Quakers also empathized with slaves as they experienced persecution themselves for their religious beliefs; and, like slaves, they were “imprisoned, whipped, and even executed” (Faulkner 11).
Other, less direct, connections between Pierce and Mott include being among the few women to attend early anti-slavery conventions and meetings. Pierce was “one of three young women who attended the convention in New York City in 1833, that organized the New York Anti-Slavery Society” (Greenberg 15). And Mott was “one of [at least eight] women present at the founding meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833” (Faulkner 4). In addition, Pierce and Mott both have connections to the Nine Partners Boarding School in Dutchess County, New York. Although Pierce did receive a Quaker education, she did not attend Nine Partners; however, her mother-in-law, Hannah Sutton, did. Mott had many connections to the school: she and her husband, James, attended and taught at the school, her younger sister, Eliza, attended the school; James’ grandfather co-founded, taught, and was superintendent of the school; and the infamous Elias Hicks was a “founding member of the school committee” (Faulkner 27).
In addition to the many similarities observed between Pierce and Mott, there are some telling differences. Though Pierce and Mott both harbored strong abolitionist beliefs, Mott was a visible figure in the abolitionist movement and Pierce was not. Mott was a public advocate of racial equality locally and internationally, while Pierce remained a local, more private, supporter of the cause. Pierce was an active participant in the Underground Railroad (her home was a stop on the Underground Railroad in Westchester County, Pleasantville, New York), and Mott was not. As an abolitionist, Mott felt that slavery was wrong and unjust. But she thought it best to use one’s time, energy, and finances to overthrow the slave system as a “whole,” and emancipate “every” slave, rather than focus on one fugitive at a time. In this context, it is not surprising then that Mott and the rest of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society protested against the “British abolitionists’ purchase and liberation of Frederick Douglass” in 1847 (Faulkner 6). Mott felt that purchasing a fugitive’s freedom was actively acknowledging a founding idea of slavery—that slaves were property, not human beings, and that their master’s had a right to their ownership. In Douglass’ case, Mott and the other members of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society felt that “Douglass’ effectiveness as an abolitionist lay in his bondage” (Faulkner 115), not in his freedom. Mott and Douglass became personally acquainted when, in the summer of 1847, they travelled together for a week attending anti-slavery gatherings along with Mott’s husband and William Lloyd Garrison. As it happened, Douglass did not harbor any resentment toward Mott for her opinion regarding the purchase of his freedom. In fact, Douglass is known to have described Mott as “noble” and “eloquent,” and Douglass even defended Mott against other Quakers who challenged her radical ways.
Although the paths of Pierce and Mott, and, Pierce and Douglass do not appear to have physically crossed—their abolitionist beliefs and shared goal of abolishing slavery links them together. They all had the courage to fight against the popular practice of slavery, to expose themselves to physical violence, and to risk being socially ostracized—in support of their progressive opinions and as a result of their radical actions.
Participating in the Undergraduate Student-Faculty Research Program has been a remarkable and rewarding experience. My research skills have improved considerably—especially my critical reading, data collection, analysis, and reflection skills—though my organizational skills still need some improvement. I have developed a greater understanding about the topics of slavery, the Underground Railroad, the abolitionist movement (including abolitionists and Quakers), and even the associated topic of the women’s rights movement. And, perhaps most importantly, I have developed a wonderful mentorship with Dr. von Huene Greenberg—an experience I have and will continue to cherish. Working with Dr. von Huene Greenberg on her current project has ignited my interest in conducting research in the future. And I hope to continue to work with her for the rest of my time here at Pace, and perhaps in the years to come. I have gained a trusted advisor to help guide me through the rest of my educational career, and I have gained a dear friend.