Prestonia Mann Martin and
Recent Correspondence with Enid Mastrianni
On Slavery--Making Connections
I have been researching a woman, Prestonia Mann Martin (1861-1945) who was a reformer, writer and the founder of an utopian community for a biography. Her father, Dr. John Preston Mann (1821-1893) and great grandfather, Newton Mann, (1770-1860) were prominent white abolitionists in NY. Nobody but me has researched them, though.
I came across a fascinating document contained in an 1896 history of Oneida
County in NY. Here's the link to the lengthy entry:
The fascinating part (one among many in this article) is about "Caesar the
Ethopian," a slave owned by an ancestor of the Mann family. I found a photo of his grave here:
Note that the entry in the 1896 book has transcribed the verse incorrectly. It should read, "changed," not "chained."
It seems to me that most slaves were just buried in a field someplace, and that someone (probably the owner of the slave) would commission an elaborate carved stone headstone for this slave is extraordinary.
I've been doing a little research on slave tombstones, and a woman associated with a group that studies gravestones, in general, said she once heard about a slave tombstone for an "Othello" in Harvard, MA. 1
On the Mann Family and Abolition
The Mann family was remarkable because they did think that African Americans were capable and worthy of salvation. (Although not really in the religious sense; they were free-thinking Unitarians.)
Prestonia Mann Martin built her utopian community near North Elba, NY where the residents communally did laundry while they sang, "...the clothes go washing on..." and in a most astonishing discovery, was acquainted with Zora Neale Hurston.
I was able to make contact with a distant relative of the Mann family, and
she has in her possession a scrapbook compiled by a woman who was a first
cousin to Prestonia Mann Martin. It contains a treasure trove of info. Here
are some gems:
Hand written in pencil at top of clipping: "Nov 2, 1893"
(Julia Doolittle Mann born Dec. 28, 1792, died July 17, 1872)
Indeed, this whole family is a veritable beehive of anti-slavery activity. Prestonia's mother's father, Robert Furman, of Syracuse NY attended many anti-slavery meetings there, his obituary was written by Samuel J. May, and the kicker; Ann Rebecca Furman married Dr. John Preston Mann on October 1, 1855 in Syracuse, the much celebrated four year anniversary of the famous "Jerry Rescue." Dr. John Preston Mann grew up in Whitesboro, NY and almost certainly attended the Oneida Manual Labor Institute. The wife of George Washington Gale, the founder of that school, was related to the Mann family and one source indicates that the Mann family lived in the same house as Beriah Green, but before him.
The more I research and discover about this family, the more I tend to think that abolition related activities were somewhat of a family business. 2
March 6, 2004
As I may have mentioned, I started researching Prestonia Mann Martin years ago. The first time I ever heard of her, I was living on a hippie commune in the Adirondacks. I was sitting by the garden reading The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. There were a few lines about "...Miss Prestonia Mann's unique establishment in the Adirondacks..." She went on to describe how it was run fraternally and how everyone had to do labor. She recounts how "...high minded..." professors and poets (male) enthusiastically did laundry while "...spots remained and buttons flew...." They sang, "...the clothes go washing on..." She also mentioned that "Miss Mann's" parents were "...progressives in the days of the abolitionists..." Prestonia's estate was located just a few miles from North Elba of John Brown fame. She also mentioned that Prestonia's parents were interested in Brook Farm. (of Ripley, Channing, Hawthorne fame) Charlotte Perkins Gilman was the niece of Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Hmmm....this is interesting, I thought. And now I have a full fledged obsession that makes my family and friends' eyes roll when I start to talk about Prestonia. And that's where it started.
The labor aspect of Summer Brook Farm was interesting. It was Christopher Densmore who pointed out to me that it reminded him of the Oneida Manual Labor Institute. Then I found out that Dr. John Preston Mann grew up in Whitesboro, NY. Then I found some newspaper clippings from the 1880s that said that various members of the Mann family lived IN THE SAME house as Beriah Green. Then I read the autobiography of George Washington Gale and discovered that a member of the Mann family married a member of the Gale family.
Then I got a copy of the obit of Robert Furman who was the father of Dr. John Preston Mann's wife. (She was Ann Rebecca Furman 1822-1892.) Not only did it say that he was one of the "...earliest and most devoted..." of "...anti slavery men...," but also it was written by none other than Rev. Samuel J. May! That Robert Furman attended at least one anti-slavery meeting in Syracuse was another fact I found out. (From the PSCNY website)
I found out that Ann Rebecca Furman and John Preston Mann were married, in Syracuse, on October 1, 1855. Hmm...interesting; that's the four year anniversary of the "Jerry Rescue."
Then I got in touch with the woman with the scrapbook and obtained a copy of John Preston Mann's obit. I'll have to forward it to you. It extolls his anti slavery activity. (It's on my other, unplugged, computer.) Beriah Green's obit was in there too, along with the Julia Doolittle Mann letters.
I found several copies of advertising brochures Dr. John Preston Mann produced to publicize his ability to "...cure the afflicted." He lists references: Gerrit Smith, Henry Ward Beecher and Samuel J May.
It just keeps getting more and more interesting. I noticed that a copy of Prestonia Mann Martin's 1910 book, Is Mankind Advancing, in a library at Harvard, was signed by the author. I got a copy of the inscription, and it reads:
To Thomas Wentworth HigginsonAnd then I found out, astonishingly, that Prestonia Mann Martin befriended Zora Neale Hurston in Winter Park, Florida!
Oh, the administrator of the Oneida County History book site made some corrections and added the photo of Newton Mann which is in the 1896 book. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the photo of him. Prestonia Mann Martin donated much of her estate to Rollins College (her husband lectured there) in Winter Park, and they have a daguerreotype of the SAME MAN! in the same clothes, in the collection of the items from Prestonia's estate.
Phew! All of this leaves me breathless. 3
1. Correspondence, Enid Mastrianni to Afrolumens Project, February 06, 2004.
2. Correspondence, Enid Mastrianni to Afrolumens Project, February 07, 2004. Ms. Mastrianni notes that the articles transcribed above are from the collection of Julia Puterbaugh Marshall, and are used by permission.
3. Correspondence, Enid Mastrianni to Afrolumens Project, March 06, 2004.