Preserving A Window On Your Past

By Karen Board Moran
Fugitive Slaw Law Convention, August 1850
Fugitive Slave Law Convention, August 1850, Cazenovia, NY
Abby Kelley Foster
Abby Kelley Foster

    This is a cautionary tale regarding the unique daguerreotype by Ezra Greenleaf Weld which captured the Cazenovia, NY Fugitive Slave Law Convention in Grace Wilson's apple orchard on Sullivan Street on 22 August 1850.  It is hard for us to imagine a huge gathering of abolitionists and fugitive slaves in a rural community where the audience would be held as spellbound by speeches about a federal law protecting the institution of slavery as popular as a modern day band concert.

    As I tried to capture that excitement to breathe life into Abby Kelley Foster, I seized upon this picture found in Dorothy Sterling’s definitive biography Ahead of Her Time: Abby Kelley Foster (1991).  This image became my personal icon for Abby as Carolyn Howe and I tried to bring Abby to life in Yours for Humanity—Abby as portrayed for WWHP by Lynne McKenney Lydick.  Abby’s carte de visite on the right was too staid to capture the dynamic Abby who could sway people’s minds with her words and actions.

    Sadly, I did not search thoroughly enough for evidence that the woman at the table was actually Abby.   Would she have worn such a bonnet?   Hugh Humphrey’s “Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!” The Great Fugitive Slave Law Convention and its Rare Daguerreotype. (Madison County Heritage #19, 1994) identifies the woman at the convention table as Theodosia Gilbert, fiancé of William L. Chaplin.  The picture was taken to send to Chaplin who was to have been a keynote speaker, but was in jail for helping fugitive slaves escape.  Abolitionists would not have wasted time posing for the long exposure without a good cause.

    The lesson for all of us who are trying to preserve our family or historic stories is to label and date one’s photos while the memory is fresh in our minds or the minds of relatives.  While most of us will never “make it to the history books”, every person influences the people around them by word and deed.  We shape the next generation whether they are our biological offspring, our employees or the kid down the block.  It is up to us to make the efforts to  listen to others and to encourage the art of thinking for oneself to shape the kind of world where we want to live.

Published Date: 
September 23, 2013