Emily Clemons Pierson
Early abolitionist

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First book published in Hartford:

Emily was a white woman, telling black stories in her novels. Her first book Jamie Parker, the Fugitive, was built around the story of a slave who escaped, rescued others and finally made it to Canada where he could be free. Her book was published in Hartford in February 1851. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin appeared in serialized form in June of that same year.  Stowe’s book became wildly popular but Clemons Pierson’s never caught the popular attention. Perhaps the fact that Stowe’s book started its life as serialized chapters made it more accessible than Clemons Pierson’s novel.

Jamie Parker, the Fugitive came out a year after the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law and might have been “written as a protest and intended to increase public sentiment against the new law”. It opens with an advertisement describing the escaped Jamie Parker – typical of fugitive slave notices posted during this time period.

 

Clemons Pierson’s exposure to slavery came from time spent as a tutor with a family on a slave holding plantation in Virginia. It appears that she was earning money to settle debts on her grandfather’s estate following the panic of 1838.

What did Clemons Pierson believe about emancipation?

At that time there was quite a range in what abolitionists believed about freeing slaves. Some believed that the freed slaves would be happier if they were returned to Africa. Others thought they should be freed gradually, because they would surely need guidance in order to navigate the world around them. Very few believed they should be allowed to vote or be full citizens. If one can move from Clemons Pierson’s fictionalized characters to her abolitionist beliefs, it appears that she believed freed slaves were capable of being full citizens.

Clemons Pierson’s Background:

Emily came from a family who prized education for all their children, not just the boys. Her grandfather was the first president of Yale. Her father started an Academy in what is now North Granby to educate the local children. She was a member of the first class at Mount Holyoke, although that first group of women were not allowed to graduate.

 

She married Charles Henry Pearson who had many careers; he was a minister, a doctor, and an editor. Carol Laun, Granby archivist, said it looked like Charles “didn’t know what he wanted to be when he grew up so she may have been supporting the family” with her writing. They had at least 6 children. Eventually Charles left her and remarried. She died in 1900, at age 82.

Emily Clemons Pierson:

Yes, Granby can claim a woman who was an abolitionist and a published author. In 2022, Emily Clemons Pierson is almost unknown. She was born and raised at 130 Lost Acres Road. She was baptized Emily Clemons in Granby First Congregational Church on September 27, 1818. The house she grew up in is now part of Lost Acres Orchard and the Wutkas live there.

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Clemons Pierson’s Black Characters Are Not Caricatures

Clemons Pierson’s Black characters are complex. They are not the caricatures often found in novels written by other white authors. In her books Blacks are portrayed as eager to learn to read and totally capable of leading full, productive lives when they reached freedom. After all, as she said in her novel, they had been caring for their own families while at the same time performing duties for their masters. On the other hand, in her book Jamie Parker, the Fugitive, the white, slave-holding mistress, Mrs. Chadwick, seemed unable to go forward when her personal slaves escaped. Clemons Pierson portrays Mrs. Chadwick as utterly bewildered and helpless when her slaves Rose and Judy run away while the family is on vacation in upstate New York. Mrs. Chadwick was sure the slaves would return when they found they could not manage for themselves.  Of course, in the story they did not return but escaped to Canada.

She also portrayed both enslaved people and free Blacks helping other enslaved people to freedom. She depicted the Underground Railroad as a biracial effort, not an instance of White charity.

Her Books And Articles:

Many of her early published articles were for religious publications. At that time, she was a Millerite (forerunner of Seventh Day Adventists) who believed that the world would end in October of 1844. When the world did not end (called the Great Disappointment) she left that religion. Her later books still had a strong moral compass and called on Christian ethics. She wrote short stories, hymns, helped found the Boston YWCA and the Woman’s Board of Foreign Missions.

Her published books and articles included: Jamie Parker, the Fugitive, Letters from Virginia, Cousin Franck’s Household, Plantation Pictures, Old Delia, The Poor White or The Rebel Conscript, Prince Paul, the Freedman Soldier, Echo-bank: a Temperance Tale, Gutenberg; or the world’s benefactor, Lydia: A Cantata for Sunday-School Exhibitions, Madonna Hall, the Story of our Country’s Peril.