Last night I attended a remarkable presentation by Charlemont Librarians Bambi Miller and Mary Boehmer at the Deerfield Teachers Center behind Memorial Hall. It was part of a series presented by the Pioneer Valley Institute.
Miller and Boehmer, dressed in hoop skirts and other late 19th century garb, portrayed two cousins, Mary Leavitt and Elizabeth Field, looking over their grandmother’s family album and reminiscing.
The Leavitt-Field family was active in the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad. The Leavitt brothers had an enormous price on their heads Down South, and the women petitioned the General Court of Massachusetts year after year, and worked along with their African American friends Louisa and Basil Dorsey to wake up America to the evils of slavery.
In 1850 the moderates in the North got it wrong, really wrong, and agreed to the Fugitive Slave Law, requiring Northern states to turn over escaped slaves to their owners, and imposing prison terms, fines and loss of property on anyone aiding an escaped slave. That was the year when Daniel Webster and Henry Clay went from heros to zeros.
Bleep the moderates. They always get it wrong.
Basil Dorsey and eleven other escaped slaves sent a letter to the Northampton newspaper listing their names — in print! — and explaining the peril they were in. I’m not sure this would have worked anywhere else, but in Northampton, citizens took up subscriptions to buy the freedom of these brave men and women.
Seems to me that’s something a city can really be proud of.
Mary Leavitt and Elizabeth Field read newspaper clippings about this and talked about their family’s friendship with the Dorseys.
What a thrilling story, and what a great way to bring it to life! As someone steeped in this kind of stuff, it was delightful to see this complicated history presented in a way that is so accessible to everyone. Two cousins reminiscing over Granny’s family album.
Sorry I don’t have a picture, but they’re putting on another show next week, and I’ll take along my camera.