Brown, Hallie Q.
|SARAH HARRIS FAYERWEATHER -- Born, Canterbury, Conn., 1802 -- Died, Kingston, R. I., 1868|
The larger portion of the nineteenth century covered a period of great political activity in the United States, slavery being the foremost topic of discussion. Very much was then being said and written concerning the "peculiar" institution. Antagonists and apologists seized upon pulpit, press and forum to aid in moulding public sentiment to be utilized as barricades in defense of respective positions. From the earliest days there was launched and extended, a campaign for the emancipation of the slaves, the elevation of free colored people, and the practical application of the fundamental principles underlying humanity and justice in the administration of government. Naturally colored people in the free states had the condition of their brethren in bondage very near to their hearts and thought but little of the trouble and nothing at all of the risk and cost involved in making their oppressed fellow creatures objects of solicitude and devotion.
The record of the "Underground Railroad" disclose how the bondmen who were able to think at all regarded their anomalous state of existence. The creed and procedure of abolition and anti-slavery societies were in harmony with the sacred idea of human brotherhood. Tradition, which is verified through unwritten history, furnishes ample testimony to the race loyalty of the many who daily as it were had the fact forced into inner consciousness that they, too, suffered a thraldom none the less vicious because invisible. Any average man or woman living under such a disability might properly serve as a type to illustrate the
At Canterbury a select school for girls was kept by a Quaker lady, Miss Prudence Crandell. The Harris sisters were entered there as pupils. This philanthropic high-minded woman who received them upon precisely the same terms as she did other village pupils, later became a victim to the meanest sort of persecution. Disgusted with a sporadic outburst of race prejudice in her native state, Miss Crandell tried for a while to maintain a school for colored girls exclusively. Finally she emigrated to Kansas toward which all eyes were then turned as a presumptive "free state."
In earliest youth Sarah Harris became the wife of George Fayerweather, who was descended from French West Indians named Monteflora. He was a blacksmith as was his father before him and one of his sons, C. Frederick Douglass succeeded him in the business. Their eldest daughter, another Sarah, was so deeply impressed by the Crandell episode that it influenced her entire life. She
In the quiet precincts of a model New England village, Kingston, R. I., the Fayerweathers built a home and reared a family. After the formal, reserved habits of the day, they were trained in politeness and obedience. They were expected to study, to perform manual labor, keep early hours, and follow the strict practices of the Congregational Church.
Artisans, in days of yore could do well for and by their families, for the doubtful custom of living beyond or even up to one's means, had not as yet in rural localities become fashionable. Had this family been burdened only with the natural responsibilities attached to their position, affairs would have moved on easily and smoothly as in a groove. But they were "colored people" and that significant epithet embodies a "true tale" of sadness, sin, and sorrow.
The opponents of slavery have been divided into three classes, those who made appeals verbally and in writing to influence public sentiment, those who gave full financial support to aid in the propagation of the doctrine of personal liberty, and those who gave secret service of time, thought, and strength to make effective the attempted escapes of slaves. Almost without exception our men and women were numbered in at least two of these divisions. Douglas, Remond, Sojourner Truth, Sarah Lenox, Frances Harper, won world wide fame for their eloquence and aggressiveness. Countless obscure, though loyal adherents, worked differently but as effectively in a cause which to them had all the sacredness and importance of a latter day crusade. In many a household like that of Sarah Fayer-weather, a portion of the income was duly set aside to be devoted to the forwarding of this work. The people responded to any call however sudden, cheerfully and with
Under such conditions, so continuous, so tense, the elders in a family could not fail in being thoughtful, cautious and full of rescources; the youthful members caught the reflected spirit and only awaited a signal to become participants as well as sympathizers in a work which they gradually began to know was being carried on. This missionary work as they understood it to be, was not disclosed to them in all its details until the age of discretion had been attained. Though no dawning intellect could be entirely oblivious of the sudden additions and as sudden subtractions to the household numbers, yet a premature reference to anything out of the ordinary was never hazarded.
Upon the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law there was a tacit understanding among the lovers of freedom, that the iniquitous statute was to be regarded in the letter only. The most sensitive New England conscience felt that in the spirit it ought to be violated with impunity. In a way, so far from being a hindrance, it gave fresh impetus to the effort of helping those who were encountering all sorts of risks to escape slavery.
In large cities like Boston where anti-slavery meetings were regularly held, they were not only attended by the townspeople, but by those living in outlying towns like Canterbury and Kinston. Persons traveled miles to hear the scathing indictments of a Garrison, the impassioned oratory of a Phillips, the pathetic pleadings of a Lucretia Mott, the dignified utterances and unassailable logic of a
For men it meant sudden, often dangerous trips, midnight watchings and waitings that sorely taxed body and mind. None knew until the very last moment when action would be required, but each one was aware that almost every day some would come seeking good offices. This was the responsibility undertaken by Sarah Fayerweather, and the discipline resultant made her alert, discreet, sympathetic, untiring. In addition to the ordinary wear and tear of family support and oversight, came the exigencies of this extraordinary current of under life.
Each family had silent advisers and informers in the guise of the newspapers of the times; the "Liberator," the "Anti-Slavery Standard," the "Colored American," and "New York Tribune," kept them in touch with the trend of affairs. No child old enough to have any measure of confidence reposed in him ever hesitated to take the usual lengthy walk to and from a village post office; to read any portion of a newspaper was ample reward. In such an atmosphere of unselfish service a spirit of race consciousness was developed. One daughter for many years a successful teacher in Wilmington, Del., transmitted to a second generation all that was valuable in the training she had received from her parents who upheld an ideal of self-respect and self-sacrifice. The eldest son, Prof. Geo. H. Fayer-weather, was for a long time a member of the Board of Education at New Orleans, La. His assistance in the conduct
Mrs. Fayerweather's sisters were fortunate in their children, who wherever they located, became valuable residents of their respective localities. The daughters of Mrs. Celinda Harris Anderson, were not only successful in teaching, but won reputations as devoted race women. As such they are still remembered in Washington and New York City.
Within the precincts of the Fayerweather homestead noted groups often assembled. Wm. Wells Brown and Wm. C. Neal enjoyed infrequent, brief vacations there. Leading anti-slavery women paid visits to Kingston exclusively to talk with "Friend Sarah." There the famous Hutchinson family sang their songs of freedom while all the neighborhood entered fully into the spirit of the occasion.
Personally, Mrs. Fayerweather presented a very distinguished appearance. She was tall, fine looking and had a voice of peculiar sweetness. Her favorite attitude was sitting erect with clasped hands (while her stead gaze seemed to pierce far below the surface of things. She made a beautiful picture with abundant gray hair framing an almost colorless ivory face, whose smile redeemed it from severity. She could listen as well as converse and had the happy faculty of eliciting confidences unasked.
This woman was representative; such were to be found everywhere. Their lives presented a grand illustration of faith reinforced by fidelity. This makes the memory of Sarah Fayerweather and her noble band of sisters a precious legacy to our women of today and should incite in them a spirit to do, to dare, and to suffer, and to become strong.
Our country has not yet attained the supreme position of a consistent republic. The "duty of the now" is the teaching of an axiomatic doctrine. "So long as one chained and oppressed man in any part of the world remains bound