This is the second installment of a three part series about the life of Philip Pearl Jr., his daughter Hannah, and their involvement in the early years of the Abolition Movement. The first installment can be found at this link.
The crisis began in January of 1833, but its roots go back many years before that.
A year and a half earlier, the families of Canterbury, Connecticut invited a teacher, Prudence Crandall, to establish a “Boarding School for Girls” in The town. One reason for such a school was very obvious to many at the time.
The Erie Canal had opened in 1825, providing the first portage-free route from Albany New York to the Great Lakes. The Ohio and Erie Canal soon followed, traversing Ohio from the Ohio River north to Lake Erie, entering the lake not far from the Erie Canal’s terminus in Erie, PA. Many of the young men and families in New England, faced with a shortage of sufficient land, and with soil exhausted from a century or more of farming, were taking advantage of the new canals to move west to Ohio and beyond. During these decades, large population drops are recorded throughout the region.
Connecticut was very hard hit by this migration: the Western Reserve of Ohio (i.e., what is now Northeastern Ohio, including Cleveland, along the shores of Lake Erie) was once part of Connecticut’s claim to a 120 mile wide strip of land that reached from the Pennsylvania border all the way to the Mississippi River. The State gave up its claims in 1786. However, it retained what came to be known as the Connecticut Western Reserve (about 3.4 million acres) in Ohio, which it sold off, mostly to families that emigrated there from Connecticut. These families formed the nucleus of the very New England-like culture and institutions that persist in that part of Ohio to this day. Many of them retained connections with their Connecticut relatives, friends and colleagues; and it was these connections which provided an incentive and ability for many Connecticut natives to move to Ohio in the 1820’s and 30’s.
The young women, left behind as the young men moved west, had no hope of marriage – there were few eligible men. Something had to be done for them, to improve their prospects. The wealthy families of the area, as so many have done in other places and times, resorted to education to ensure a future for their daughters. But, public education did not yet exist. School was an at-home and ad hoc endeavor: important in the eyes of those descended from the original settlers of the New England colonies. But with no public funding, all schools were either private or community efforts.
So, the wealthy families of the area, including (apparently) the Philip Pearl, Jr. family of Hampton, joined together to underwrite a new school. A young teacher of good repute, Prudence Crandall, was recruited from the school in Plainfield where she taught. And in the Fall of 1831, opened a boarding school in the heart of the town dedicated to educating the daughters of wealthy local families: the Prudence Crandall School for Girls. Among the school’s students boarding there that year was Hannah Pearl, daughter of Philip Pearl Jr.
In September of 1832 Miss Crandall received a letter from the Fayerweathers, a family of Free Blacks living in Canterbury, asking that their daughter be allowed to enter the school. After briefly considering the matter, Miss Crandall, an ardent Abolitionist and Quaker, agreed. And so, in January of 1833, Sarah Harris Fayerweather began attending the school: making it the first integrated school in the United States.
This immediately created an uproar. Miss Crandall refused to back down in the face of threats from the parents of many of the white girls in the school. Even from a modern post-Civil Rights era perspective, you can understand some of their concerns: they had invested a great deal of money to establish this school, and now the teacher was refusing to provide the environment and education they had expected of her. They were furious. Their dreams of creating a respectable and high quality school for their daughters had been ruined by what they saw as a stubborn and disobedient woman with abolitionist tendencies.
Most of the white families then withdrew their daughters and the school was forced to close. That Spring (1833), refusing to accept defeat, and with the help of well known abolitionist and journalist William Lloyd Garrison, Miss Crandall traveled to New York and Providence that Spring to recruit students. She announced her plans to re-open as a school exclusively for Black girls in Garrison’s recently established newspaper, The Liberator. His reporting of her challenges and work made her an early heroine of the Abolitionist movement.
This led to a whole new round of angst and fury: now the school that the local people had paid for out of their own pockets was overwhelmed by out of state students, out of state BLACK students. Even though most Northerners believed that Slavery was inherently wrong, they were far from believing (yet) that people of color should be treated as equal to a White person. They fretted over what would happen once the Free Blacks in all the other abolitionist States, like New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont, heard about this. They feared the State of Connecticut would be overwhelmed by a flood of Free Blacks.
Philip Pearl Jr., father of Hannah, stepped into the fray at this point and worked closely with Andrew Judson to write the infamous “Black Law“, which sought to prohibit out of state Blacks from attending schools within the state of Connecticut. It became law on May 24, 1833. in August, Miss Crandall was arrested and convicted of breaking the new law. After series of legal maneuvers and trials that summer, the charges against her were set aside by the State Supreme Court for technical reasons and Miss Crandall was free to open her school.
On September 9th, at the beginning of the new school year, a mob attacked and ransacked the school while Miss Crandall and her students were inside. Fearing for the safety of her students, she permanently closed the school. She married soon after and left the state.
At some point after he succeeded in passing the Black Law, Philip Pearl, Jr., was visited by a young friend and one of the great architects of the Abolitionist movement, Theodore Dwight Weld (1803-1895). Weld’s father Rev. Ludovicus Weld had been Minister at Philip Pearl’s church (now known as the Hampton Congregational Church UCC) from 1792-1824. Weld was born and had grown up in Hampton, and was about 20 years younger than Pearl.
Theodore Weld apparently had quite a talk with Philip Pearl, and convinced him that the Black Law was an unjust Law. Pearl repented of what he had done, saying at one point “I could weep tears of blood for the part I took in that matter–I now regard that law as utterly abominable.”
He immediately set to work to repeal the law, which he successfully did in 1838. Many of those who worked alongside Philip Pearl to create and then repeal the law (such as Andrew Judson) were soon to have critical roles in the Amistad incident (1839): defending the rights of the Africans who’d hijacked the ship that was to carry them into slavery.
So, now you know the story of Philip Pearl, but what happened to Hannah? Even though she had a crucial though minor role in the whole debacle, she has not been remembered by History. She vanishes without a trace after leaving the school in 1833.
Like all women at the time, she was not valued as a person of her own. We can also see this in the way Prudence Crandall was treated by the men of the town; and in how the school’s primary purpose, from the point of view of those who sponsored it, was to enhance the marriageability of their daughters.
It’s taken me 8 years to piece together what happened to Hannah. Her story will be told in the third (and final) installment of this series.