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Smith, Gerrit  

John Stauffer

Among the most renowned American abolitionists, Gerrit Smith devoted his life and most of his great wealth to the cause of equal rights for all men and women. The immediate abolition of every sin was his most passionate desire, and he went to great lengths to effect it.

Smith was born into one of the wealthiest families in the country and grew up in the rural village of Peterboro in Madison County, part of the Burned-Over District of western New York. The young patrician had visions of becoming a man of letters, an eminent lawyer, a respected minister, or a statesman. However, immediately after graduating as valedictorian from Hamilton College in 1818 a series of incidents occurred that precipitated his turn to reform work the death of his mother the death of his new bride and the retirement of his father who requested that Gerrit manage his vast ...