William Lloyd Garrison.

Helen Eliza Garrison. A memorial.. online

. (page 1 of 6)
Online LibraryWilliam Lloyd GarrisonHelen Eliza Garrison. A memorial.. → online text (page 1 of 6)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

o. * «



♦ <t? "^ "^

< V "^^ * ° - "


<> *'t;** ,0

'. » * A

r..* .0^

c^ -:■


-O^-^v^. ). „. • i,^'y^y

■H< iJ.i^OJ.'Sir.r


a jWemoriaL



\j\f \\\\ ftTTA U\ oy c\ Gra-rr\ S o n


' There 's not a charm of soul or brow, —

Of all we knew and loved in thee, —
But lives in holier beauty now.
Baptized in immortality!"


IPrintcti at tljc i!!i\3er.siDc ^xi^$,





?ariutctt for prtbatc jJirsTntatiDii.

H. E. G.

The Grave, deai- sufferer, had for thee no gloom,
And Death no terrors when his summons came :
Unto the dust returns the mortal frame —

The vital Spirit (under no such doom)

Was never yet imprisoned in the tomb ;
But, rising heavenward, an ethereal flame,
Shines on unquenched, in essence still the same

As is the Light that doth all worlds illume.

Thou art translated to a happier sphere,
To gain companionship among the blest.

Released from all that made life painful here,
And so pi-epared to enter into rest : —

If stricken hearts bend weeping o'er thy bier.

Still, still for them — for thee — all's for the best!

W. L. G.

The portrait which for'ms the frontispiece of this volume
is copied from a daguerreotype^ taken probably in 1852 or
1853, and is regarded as an excellent likeness of Mrs.
Garrison as she appeared at that time.

The facts pertaining to her father, Mr. Benson, are prin-
cipally taken from a genealogy of " The Benson Family
of Netvport, R. 7.," printed in 1872 ; to ivhich is added
an Appendix concerning the Benson Families in America
of English descent.


The following tribute to vanished loveliness and worth is
solely for private distribution among beloved friends. Nev-
ertheless, in proceeding to record it, I feel much embarrass-
ment because of the delicacy of the task. This is enhanced
by the sacredness of the relation tliat subsisted so long be-
tween the dear departed one and myself, and by a lively
remembrance of the shrinking modesty and genuine humility
of her nature. For if she could give vocal utterance to her
wishes, it would be most sincerely to beg me to desist from
what my heart irresistibly prompts me to perform in this
instance. Indeed, to no one could the following panegyric
be more truthfully applied than to herself : —

" As streams that run o'er golden mines,

Yet humbly, calmly glide.
Nor seem to know the worth that shines

Within their gentle tide;
So, veiled beneath the simplest guise.

Her radiant genius slione,
And that which charmed all otlier eyes

Seemed worthless in her own."

But I cannot allow this consideration wholly to prevent tlie
expression of my estimate of her as a wife and mother, and
my large indebtedness to her as a helpmate through many


years of fiery trial and stormy conflict, now that she is trans-
kited to anotlier sphere of existence. It will give needed re-
lief to those feelings which so sharp a bereavement naturally
awakens in the breast, while it will be a merited recognition
of her admirable qualities, which, in justice to her memory,
I ought not to withhold. '

The greatest of poets assures us,

" There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Koutrh-hcw them how we Avill."

Certainly, it is a problem not easily solved how far our
earthly career is determined by ourselves, or by the circum-
stances that surround us. From this or that seemingly tri-
fling, fortuitous occurrence, how much of help or hindrance,
joy or sorrow, success or failure, has fallen to our lot ! AVhat
if it had not taken place ? Whore or wluit should we now
be in our affectioiis, relations, pursuits, attainments, aspira-
tions ? In all probability it would have changed or greatly
modified our after life ; but in what direction, or to what
extent, all conjecture is vain.

Exempli gratia. In the year 1828, while editing a weekly
temperance journal (TAc National PJt'danthropist^ in Boston,
I received among my newspaper exchanges a small monthly
j)eriodical, entitled The Cienius of Universal Emancipation^!
published at Baltimore. A perusal of it gave me the first
intelligent conception I had had of the nature and extent
of chattel slavery at the South, and strongly excited my
compassion for the victims of that cruel system. I accord-
ingly gave it a commendatory notice in the PJtilanthropist,
which proved so gratifying to its Quaker editor (Benjamin
Lundyj that it induced him, among other reasons, to take
his staff in hand and make a pedestrian tour all the way
from the Monumental City to Boston, in order that he might


see me, and, if possible!, dcM^pc.n tlio intorosfc T was bofjjinning
to fool in tlie cause of negTo (Mn;in('ii):iti()ii. Tiiis led to my
joining- liiin in Ualliniorc afterward, in <'di(in<;- liis periodical
— changed from a monthly to a w(!ekly — and consccrafcin^if
all my fncuUics and powers to tlu> task of delivering; the op-
pressed out of the hnnds of llieii- oppressors. What a loui:;
chain of se(pi(>nces, in my experience' and destiny, resulted
from that prinniry link ! What if th:it little anti-slavery
sheet had not been on my exchantj;(! list? In tJiat case there
would, of course, have been no knowledt^e, and consmpiently
no reco<i;nition of it by me ; in the absence of which, no
acquaintance on my part witii its intrepid and |)iiiianthro[)ic
conductor, no union with him at Baltimore, and no subse-
cpient publication of The Llhcntlor in I'oston !

" \\'c ^Iridc the river d.iily :il ils sjiriii'^,

N(ir ill (lur (•liilili>li lli(mij,lil Icssiic^s I'drcsfi!

What in\i-i;i(l v;iss;il slrcaiiis sli:ill triliiKc l)ring,

How like ;iii i(|u:il it ^il:lll urcrl tiu' ^■(■a."

Again: not less fortunate for m(% in respect to my future
life of domesticity and wedlock, was my acquaintance in
1832 with the family of the venerable George Henson, of
Brooklyn, Connecticut, arising purely from a, common sym-
pathy in the anti-slavery niovement.

Mr. Benson was a native of Newjiort, 11. J., but com-
menced business in Boston as early as 178?), when at tlu; ex-
piration of the year he removed to Providence, and, joining
in partnership with Nicholas Brown, under the title of
Brown & Benson, — later, Brown, Benson & Ives, — eon-»
tinned in successful business for several years.

Traces of Mr. Benson as a business man are to be found
in the Prejvidence Gazette of October 6, 1792, from which
it appears that on the Monday previous he was unanimously


elected a director of the Providence Bank, in place of Mr.
Nicholas Brown, who resigned in his favor ; and in the same
paper of January 18, 1800, where he figures as director and
secretary of the Washington Insurance Company of Provi-
dence, then just formed. He was also one of the Trustees
of Brown University, but retired from the Board in 1801.

He was a rare example of moral excellence — in justness
an Aristides, in peaceableness a Penn, in philanthropy a
Clarkson. As a youth he was uncommonly studious, though
measurably self-taught. He made himself thoroughly ac-
quainted with the best literary and religious works extant,
and habitually extracted such portions as were specially de-
serving of transcript and circulation. In this labor his judg-
ment and taste were excellent. His reverence for the Deity
was profound, and his piety fervent without fanaticism, and
strict without bigotry. He was baptized by the Rev. Dr.
Gano, of Providence, of whose church he became a mem-
ber, but ultimately withdrew from it, his religious views
conforming more nearly to those of the Society of Friends.
He frequently spoke in admiring terras of the character of
Penn, Benezet, and Woolman, and of the emphatic testi-
monies borne by Friends against slavery and war. His own
spirit breathed only of " peace on earth, good will to men."

As early as 1775, it is supposed Mr. Benson was inter-
ested in the abolition of slavery in his native State, a letter
in the Gazette of September 9, of that year, signed " A
Friend of America," being attributed to him. This commu-
nication had reference to a petition to the General Assembly
to pass an act " for prohibiting the importation of negroes
into this colony, and asserting the right of freedom of all
those hereafter born or manumitted within the same." At
the June session of the General Assembly, in 1790, was


passed an " Act to incorporate certain Persons by the Name
of the Providence Society for promoting the Abolition of
Slavery, for the Relief of Persons unlawfully held in Bond-
age, and for improving the Condition of the African Race."
Of this Society Mr. Benson became an active member, and
at a later period of its existence was its secretary, — Judge
Howell being its president.

Mr. Benson took a deep interest in the labors of Granville
Sharpe, Wilberforce and Clarkson (his contemporaries), in
behalf of the same despised and oppressed race under Brit-
ish rule ; and he never hesitated to avow his abhorrence of
slavery and the slave trade at all times, notwithstanding the
overwhelming pro-slavery sentiment in Rhode Island at that
period. How the Providence Society was regarded at the
time of its formation, Mr. Benson himself tells us : —

" It had a most formidable opposition to encounter. The inhabitants
of Newport had been many years eno;aged in that inhuman traffic, which
in its various ramifications furnished employment to numerous persons.
It was the. source of almost ever}/ other branch of hu^'mess. Of course the
ship-owners, officers and seamen, with all their connections, wei'e inim-
ical to the Society, as was also the town of Bristol, though of minor
importance. Add to this, some "of the principal merchants were in the
opposition rank."

It was under such a crucial test that his moral courage
was exemplified, regardless of all personal consequences.
For his conspicuous zeal and fidelity at that time, the
" Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of
Slavery," etc., whose first President was Benjamin Frank-
lin, elected Mr. Benson an honorary member, his diploma
bearing date October, 1792.

During his residence in Providence, he frequently inter-
posed to deliver the prey from the slave-trader or slave-
hunter — cheerfully perilling his person and property, yet


meeting danger and threats with cahn determination and
unflinching courage.

It deserves to be recorded, that while so many worthy
persons were beguiled by the cunningly devised scheme of
the American Colonization Society, Mr. Benson clearly com-
prehended its spirit and tendene}^ and wrote a long and an
elaborate document in opposition to it, even before The
Liberator made its appearance.

When the new anti-slavery movement was initiated, on
the basis of immediate and unconditional emancipation, he
was not intimidated by the fierce outer}'- that was every-
where raised against it, but gave to it his cheering counte-
nance. In 1834 he was elected President of the New Eng-
land (afterward the Massachusetts) Anti-Slavery Society,
and served for that year.

In this connection, the following extract from the " Me-
moir of Samuel J. May " will show his estimate of this
venerable philanthropist and his family : —

" J^arly in my ministry I commenced preaching the doctrine of peace,
and denouncing the custom of war. In the spring of 1825, a most ex-
cellent man came to reside in Brooklyn, who was an earnest fellow-
laborer and efficient helper in this cause, Mr. George Benson, for many
years a merchant in Providence, R. I., a member of the distinguished
firm of Brown, Benson & Ives. He dissolved his connection with them
because he could not conscientiously consent to some things which they
and most merchants deemed perfectly proper. He was respected by all
who knew him, for his steadfast adherence to whatever he believed to
be true and right. Although never a member of the Society of Friends,
he entertained most of their opinions, cherished their spirit, dressed very
much in their style, and generally attended their religious meetings. He
was over seventy years of age, very gentle, and a perfect gentleman.
He and his family were a valuable acquisition to our society, and added
much to my personal comfort. His wife, six daughters and two sons
were all sensible, earnest persons. They conscientiously differed some-


what in their religious opinions, but they were harmonious among them-
selves, charitable towards others, and all interested in the great work of
our Lord, the redemption of mankind from ignorance, sin and misery.
.... Mrs. Benson, one of the most motherly of women ; Charlotte,
now JNIrs. Anthony of Providence ; Sarah, a very saint ; and Helen, now
Mrs. AVilliam Lloyd Garrison, together with George W. and Henry E.,
were devoted co-workers with me, and constant attendants on my preach-
ing. Frances, the oldest daughter, was very Orthodox, and Mary and
Anna were Quakers. I wish I could do better justice to this most esti-
mable family. George W. was a most energetic, fearless young man in
behalf of anything that he believed to be true and right, and Henry E.
was, I think, one of the most faultless persons I ever knew.

" Mr. Benson and I soon discovered how much we agreed in our opin-
ions upon the great subjects of war, intemperance and popular educa-
tion. He was conversant with most of the best Quaker and other
writers upon those subjects, and helped me much to define and settle my
own opinions. We succeeded in interesting so many persons in our
views of war, persons not only of Brooklyn but of several otlier towns,
that in August, 1826, we called a county meeting of the friends of peace,
and succeeded in forming tlie Windham County Peace Society. Mr.
Benson was the Pi'esident ; I was the Corresponding Secretary. We
distributed a great many tracts, and held meetings in most of the towns
of the county."

George Benson was married in Providence, January 27,
1793, by Rev. Dr. Gano, to Sally Tlmrber, daughter of
James Thurber. " They went to housekeeping in the ele-
gant residence, near the corner of Angell and Prospect
Streets, which still stands, perfectly preserved and but little
altered. Mr. Benson had built it for himself in the most
thorough manner, and its site Avas, in those days, one of the
most commanding in the town." Here, in the course of the
next twenty-nine years, all their children were born. In
the spring of 1824 he removed with his family to Brooklyn,
Conn., having purchased a farm near the centre of the vil-
lage, where on the 11th of December, 1836, after a few


days' illness, he died in the eighty-fifth year of his age —
" never having previously known what toothache or head-
ache was, all his teeth being sound, and his sight so unim-
paired as to enable him to read the smallest print without
the aid of spectacles." Moreover, his complexion was as fair
as a child's ; so scrupulously in his habits did he adhere to
the physiological and hygienic laws of life. As a husband
and parent his affection, solicitude and tenderness were very
strongly developed.

In his choice of a wife he was exceedingly fortunate. In
her were combined all the best qualities — sound discretion,
admirable economic prudence, cheerful self-denial, retiring
modesty, " a meek and quiet spirit," and a rare capacity for
the faithful discharge of all household responsibilities. A
portraiture of female excellence, drawn ages ago, is equally
accurate in regard to her own married life : — " The heart
of her husband doth safely trust in her. She will do him
good all the days of her life. She seeketh wool and flax,
and layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the
distaff. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth
meat to her household. She stretcheth out her hand to the
poor ; yea, she reacheth forth her liands to the needy. Her
husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the
elders of the land. Strength and honor are her clothing.
She openeth her mouth with wisdom ; and in her tongue is
the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her
household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. Her
children rise up and call her blessed ; her husband also, and
he praiseth her. Give her of the fruit of her hands ; and
let her own works praise her in the gates."

The location of the Benson family in Brooklyn received
the descriptive appellation of " Friendship's Valley," and


many were, the visitors drawn to it by a magnetism as at-
tractive as it was irresistible. A family more " given to
hospitalit}''," or one evincing a more benevolent and gracious
consideration in all cases of personal need, especially as af-
fecting the poor colored race, could not be found ; and in
the aggregate the number fed, lodged and succored under
that sheltering roof was very large. The social welcome
and communion were of the most delightful character.
Hither came persons of every variety of sentiment, not for
controversy or even a comparison of views, but to partake
of a common baptism of the spirit, and to find the broadest
catholicity. Conspicuous among these were members of the
Society of Friends, highly appreciated for their walk and
conversation ; two of the daughters (Mary and Ann Eliza-
beth) having, through " convincement," accepted the views
and testimonies of that Society, and conformed in dress and
language thereto. But particularly did such visitors as were
actively engaged in the temperance, peace, anti-slavery, and
other reformatory movements receive a cordial greeting and
strengthening assistance ; for, in regard to all such issues,
there was no division of sentiment from the oldest to the
youngest of the family.

In this delightful family did that philanthropic heroine
and martyr. Miss Prudence Crandall, of Canterbury (a
village adjoining Brooklyn), find the warmest sympathy
and the heartiest support in the midst of the fiery trials to
which she was subjected. Her case is without a parallel ;
and the new generation which has since come upon the stage
will read the facts pertaining to it as though they related to
some occurrence in a remote age and among a semi-civilized
people. An experienced and capable teacher, and compas-
sionating the benighted condition of the colored population,


she was moved in 1833 to establish in Canterbury a board-
ing-school for " colored young ladies and little misses," and
soon obtained a number of scholars — two or three of them
from beyond the limits of the State. Up to that time she
had been highly respected for her amiable qualities and spot-
less character ; but for this attempt to raise the fallen and
give light to the blind, she was immediately assailed in the
most violent and opprobrious manner. Had she been guilty
of the worst crimes of which human depravity is capable,
she could not have been denounced in severer terms, or re-
garded with a more malignant, relentless spirit b}^ the great
body of the inhabitants of Canterbury. They were thrown
into a state of what John Milton calls " demoniac phrensy,"
the wealthiest and most influential citizens taking tlie lead ;
Andrew T. Judson being the most culpable of these —
afterwards raised to the United States judicial bench, un-
doubtedly for this display of rampant colorphobia and pro-
slavery servility ! Indulgence was given to the filthiest lan-
guage, the wildest threats, and the basest accusations. As
these were unavailing, the town conspired not to sell any
food or other articles to Miss Crandall for the sustenance of
herself and pupils. " Her well," says Samuel J. May in his
" Recollections of the Anti-Slavery Conflict," which contain
all the particulars of this insane outbreak, — " her well was
defiled with the most offensive filth, and her neighbors re-
fused her and the thirsty ones about her even a cup of cold
water, leaving them to depend for that essential element
upon the scanty supplies that could be brought from her
father's farm, a distance of several miles. Nor was this
all : the physician of the village refused to minister to
any who were sick in Miss Crandall's family ; and the trus-
tees of the church forbade her to come, with any of her


pupils, into the house of the Lord ! Again : at midnight her
house was assaulted by a number of persons with heavy
clubs and iron bars ; five window sashes were demolished,
and ninety panes of glass dashed to pieces." Next, an at-
tempt was made to set the house on fire while the inmates
were sleeping, by which the front rooms were hardly left
tenantable, though the building was saved. Finally, Miss
Crandall was arrested and thrown into Brooklyn jail, under
the Black Law of the State, enacted expressly by the Leg-
islature in order to render the success of such a scliool im-
practicable ; and the result was its compulsory abandon-
ment, after an exhibition of moral courage and personal
endurance on the part of that noble woman and her promis-
ing pupils worthy of all honor and admiration.

It was while thus outlawed and defamed that Miss Cran-
dall was received under the sheltering roof of the Benson
family as one deserving of all possible respect, esteem and
assistance ; and never will she forget how she was strength-
ened and sustained by their cheering words and unstinted
hospitality throughout that extraordinary conflict ; for, after
the lapse of forty-three years, she is still living to bless God
for the marvellous deliverance which has since been wrought
in behalf of that class so long " peeled, meted out, and trod-
den under foot."

Henry Egbert Benson, the youngest of the family, was a
remarkable instance of early self-dedication to the cause of
God and suffering humanity. At the age of sixteen his
mind seemed to have attained the maturity of manhood, and
his moral nature was unusually developed. Seeking only to
know the right, he asked not who were its advocates or op-
ponents, but zealously espoused it, in proportion to its un-
popularity, as something more precious than life itself.


Especially is he deserving of honorable remembrance for his
early and indefatigable efforts in the anti-slavery cause, upon
the altar of which he offered himself a living sacrifice.
As soon as he saw a copy of The Liberator (in 1831), he
volunteered to become one of its agents, and by his zeal in
procuring subscribers for it at that critical period materially
helped to secure its continuance. In connection with his
equally energetic and devoted brother George, he did much
to cause an entire revolution in the sentiments of a consid-
erable portion of the people of Rhode Island on the subject
of slavery. In July, 1835, he was chosen Secretary and
General Agent of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society ;
and his premature death, in his twenty-third year, was ow-
ing in part to his unremitted application in discharging the
onerous duties of his office, and to the exposures to which
he was subjected on various occasions. For several months
he travelled with that most eloquent champion of human
rights, George Thompson, of England (then everywhere
vilified and mobbed as "a British emissary"), acting as
his amanuensis ; and he was the last abolitionist who bade
farewell to Mr. Thompson, prior to his leaving for England,
having gone down to St. John, N. B., to give the hunted
philanthropist the parting lumd.

In person he was tall, graceful and handsome ; with a
radiant countenance, a heart overflowing with sympathy for
every phase of human misery, a conscience ever prompting
to the noblest endeavors, and a spirit in an eminent degree
pure, unselfish, reverential : —

" He loved the good and wise, but found
His liuman heart to all akin
Who met him on the common ground
Of sufferinsc and of sin."


With reference to this ISIeinorial, my highly endeared
friend, Rev. Samuel May, of Leicester, jNIass., has commu-
nicated the following personal recollections : —

' ' Mrs. Garrison was about nineteen years old when I first saw lier and
became ac(^uainted with her, very early in 1830. It was at the house of
my cousin, Samuel J. May, in Brooklyn, Ct., and soon after at her
father's house. I spent some eight months of that year in Brooklyn,
and remember them always with great delight. Especially do I think,
with increasing admiration, of the two families, Mr. Benson's and Mr.

1 3 4 5 6

Online LibraryWilliam Lloyd GarrisonHelen Eliza Garrison. A memorial.. → online text (page 1 of 6)