ANN CARROLL FITZHUGH SMITH
Born on January 11, 1805, Ann Carroll Fitzhugh was the ninth of twelve children of Ann Hughes Fitzhugh and William Frisby Fitzhugh of Chewsville in Washington County, MD. The Fitzhugh family operated a 1,200 acre farm with the aid of over 60 slaves. In 1803, William F. Fitzhugh and his business associates Charles Carroll and Nathaniel Rochester purchased 100 acres of land on the Genesee River in upstate New York that had good water power options. Eventually, that site became the city of Rochester.
In 1817, William F. Fitzhugh sold his slaves and moved the family to that New York site. Ann was twelve years old. She met Gerrit Smith through his first wife Wealtha Backus. Ann's sister Rebecca had married Wealtha's brother Frederick in 1818. After Wealtha Backus Smith died in 1819, Gerrit courted Ann. They married on January 3, 1822.
Ann was apolitical, and accepted her subservient role in the domestic sphere of family duties. She fully supported Gerrit's social reform activities, and was his confidant and friend. Although they did experience a "mid-life crisis" in their relationship, they solved it and worked together during their 53 year marriage.
The Smith home in Peterboro was a model of baronial hospitality, and a therapeutic rehabilitation center for abused social reformers. When physically or socially abused on the speaker's platform, reformers often went to Peterboro for convalescence with Gerrit and Ann, and to receive their compassionate reassurance and financial support.
Ann developed a solid reputation for graciousness, affection, and empathy. Visitors viewed her traditional white dress as a sign of purity, and praised her benevolence, compassion, and willingness to help anyone in need. Her philanthropic generosity was extended to "the poor, the homeless, and the fugitive."
Ann gave birth to seven children, only two of whom--Elizabeth and Greene-- lived to adulthood. Three children died in infancy. Ann (Nanny) died at age five, and Fitzhugh died at age twelve.
Although Ann's health was generally good, her hypochondria did not allow her to see it that way. She was susceptible to hyped-up miracle cures, and spent three months per year away from home home chasing curative myths.
Ann's devotion to the value of religion was constant. She was influential in drawing the skeptical young Gerrit into church membership in 1826, embraced Spiritualism in the 1840s, and supported the merger of religion with politics in the abolition-oriented Free Church of Peterboro established by Gerrit in 1843.
Ann worked with Gerrit in the abolition movement, traveling with him to conventions and gathering signatures on antislavery petitions. Within the Smith home, support for woman suffrage was high, intense, and consistent. Gerrit favored it, Elizabeth worked for it, and Ann supported and encouraged them. Her apolitical stand toward it was conditioned by having been reared in a slaveholding family that offered her no cultural base for conceiving of a powerful role for herself. She favored dress reform for women a dozen years before it achieved recognition within the women's rights movement.
As a "quiet reformer," Ann's major resource was warmth and affection combined with empathy. Her conservatism regarding active political participation in social reform movements was reinforced by slave plantation nurturing, traditional religious morals favoring subservient women, and high dependency on powerful males. As a more urbane person than Gerrit, she enjoyed domestic and foreign travel, and time away from her mundane domestic role in Peterboro.
In recognition of her supportive contributions to human rights efforts, her birth-city of Hagerstown, MD inducted her into its prestigious Circle of Achievement with a bronze plaque commemorating her life at Memorial Park in May of 2019.
Norman K. Dann PhD, Author