Autograph Letter Signed. Greenfield, Mass., Oct. 11, 1824. To Elllinor Rawson, Putney, Vermont. 1pg.+ stampless address leaf.
“The black girl Laura who will give you this has come to live with us – you will take care of her after breakfast let her go up into the Hill and lay and rest her, she has been broke of her rest all night. Do not let her have a moment alone with Phillis, if she should happen to be there. We expect to be at home Tuesday night…”
Based on historical speculation, we believe this cryptic note may have shielded a clandestine operation of the Underground Railroad.
The extended Leavitt family – which had links to both Greenfield, Massachusetts and Putney, Vermont – were “considered ardent – and active – abolitionist sympathizers.” Several Leavitt houses in upstate Massachusetts have been confirmed, by National Park Service research, as way stations on the Underground Railroad, including the homes of Roger Leavitt and his wife Chloe (possibly the writer of this letter). Their son, Joshua, practiced law in Putney in 1822 before going to Yale to study Theology. He went on to become a leading American Abolitionist editor and activist, a founder of the New York Anti-Slavery Society who suffered threats and mob violence for his aid to runaway slaves.
It’s entirely possible that the “black girl Laura” who “came to live” with the Leavitts, was in fact, a fugitive slave on her way to Canada, by way of Vermont. As the Underground Railroad was, in effect, a secret society engaged in illegal activity, many details of its activities can only be read between the lines of conventional communications such as this.