Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Quaker Migrations by Steven Mann anticipated for HTDC Corridors issue.

As I proofread and edit Steven Mann’s upcoming article on Quaker Migrations I am excited by the multiplying effect of its content for future subject material. I originally thought that the article was appropriate for the Corridors issue due to the very nature of those migrations forming an actual corridor through Dutchess County. Additionally I hoped that it would generate anticipation for a future Quaker Symposium to be held in Dutchess County. But the topic actually promises to run throughout many of the future issues. Covering the historical aspect requires using the space intended for the genealogical content as well. However there is genealogical material contained in the history article. It seems more than likely that the various Quaker family genealogies mentioned will form an ongoing series to be published here or on our main web site at historicdutchesstowns.org

However, as an illustration of how connections present themselves in unlikely ways, work on a totally unrelated project that focuses more often on New England and New Brunswick genealogy recently landed me right back in Dutchess County New York in the midst of this topic! The National Association of Leavitt Families’ annual reunion this year celebrated our 75th anniversary by honoring the founder, genealogist Emily Leavitt Noyes. We decided to focus on making the genealogy aspect more meaningful to our many members who are not genealogists. It occurred to me that most of our members gather for the fraternal aspect and must sometimes wonder why we genealogists insist the bus tours stop at every cemetery. We must seem a little quirky…most of the time these Leavitt graves do not even belong to our own ancestors!

To communicate what we are doing for the Association I made a display entitled “Genealogy 101”—pages illustrating how we find the records and how we use them to place individuals and flesh out their biographies. I had no illustrations particularly apropos for probate records, but knew I would find something I could use at the NEHGS database “Abstracts of Wills, Administrations and Guardianships in New York State 1787-1835”. Sure enough I found a Leavitt listed, one that led to a mystery. Roger Leavitt of Franklin County, MA was appointed executor in 1813 for a Jonas Hayw[?] of Otsego County, NY who died intestate. This is puzzling in that these two counties are not even on the borders of their respective states, but rather are separated by four other counties. What could the two men have in common? They could be related, but I did not find evidence of this yet in Roger Leavitt’s genealogy, which is fairly well defined. I remembered from our reunion a few years ago in Charlemont, MA that this Roger Leavitt’s children were active abolitionists. And, I was pretty sure I remembered something about the Underground Railroad passing through Otsego County. But wasn’t the time frame off a little? I did some digging and found the following passage from Fergus M. Bordewich.

Dutchess County had the largest concentration of Quakers outside Philadelphia. The eastern portion of the county was densely settled with Quakers. The Oblong Meeting of Quaker Hill was was the first in the country—in 1769—to free slaves as an official action of the body.

North of Quaker Hill, fugitives could count on protection from Quakers belonging to the Oswego Meeting, to the northwest. Some were sheltered at Susan Moore’s Floral Hill boarding house, a few miles from the Meeting, at Moore’s Mills.

About twenty miles north of Quaker Hill stood the most important single abolitionist institution in the valley—and one of the most important in the country: the Nine Partners School, just east of present-day Millbrook.

This Quaker school may, in fact, have served as a sort of command center for the underground in the entire region. As early as the 1810’s, students were required to memorize a lengthy anti-slavery catechism that described slavery as a “dreadful evil.” Ending slavery, it went on, was “a great revolution,” a “noble purpose” for which men and women had been created by their Heavenly Father.

The school had a profound influence on students who went on to shape the entire abolitionist movement—and other great reform movements. They included abolitionist and women’s rights advocate Lucretia Coffin and her future husband James Mott, also a prominent abolitionist. And Daniel Anthony, later a stationmaster on the Underground Railroad, and the father of Susan B. Anthony.

The school’s headmaster Jacob Willetts—he was author of the most popular textbooks of the day—personally sheltered fugitives at his home just down the road from the school. So did several of his Quaker neighbors.

Well, I still don’t know if or how this plays into the Otsego County connection with Roger Leavitt. But I did learn more about the Underground Railroad and the Abolitionist movement in Dutchess County. Clearly this topic will come up again, especially as we move to the townships where Quaker Meeting Houses are found.

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