Harboring Runaway Slaves in Vermont

This article was originally published in the Middlebury College News Room. Read the complete article here.

 

15,000 Letters from an Abolitionist Family Offer Vast Opportunities for Research

<p>Rowland T. and Rachel G. Robinson operated Rokeby Farm and harbored runaway slaves.</p>
Rowland T. and Rachel G. Robinson operated Rokeby Farm and harbored runaway slaves.

The Davis Library at Middlebury College is now steward of a remarkable collection of letters from four generations of a Vermont family that harbored runaway slaves and were outspoken supporters of the Abolitionist Movement.

The Robinson Family Letters, an accumulation of 15,000 letters dating from 1757 to 1962, will offer students and scholars a wealth of research opportunities for many years to come. The letters are on extended loan to Middlebury Special Collections from the Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburgh, Vermont.

Rowland Thomas Robinson (1796-1879) and Rachel Gilpin Robinson (1799-1862) were devout Quakers and radical abolitionists, and were among Vermont’s earliest and most vocal opponents of slavery. Married in 1820, they tended Merino sheep at the family’s Rokeby Farm. At the same time they boycotted slave-made goods and – as the letters attest – sheltered Negro men, women, and children who escaped from slavery in the South.

Will Nash, professor of American studies, is using the letters in his Reading Slavery and Abolition course. “The Robinson letters bring students closer to the anti-slavery struggle than most published texts do, because of their personal nature and their close geographic link to Middlebury,” he said.

In one string of correspondence, Rowland T. Robinson writes to a North Carolina slave owner on behalf of “Jesse,” a fugitive then living at the Rokeby Farm. Jesse wished to purchase his freedom from his former owner, and Robinson contacted the owner to negotiate the transaction.

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