AUGUST 2017

AUGUST  2017
FACING DOWN THE RULERS OF WALL STREET A HUNDRED YEARS AGO. THEY ARE BACK.

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Friday, August 13, 2010

TILL THE COWS COME HOME

I admit that eventually we must all bow to the will of genetics, even if we aren’t common cattle. And when you come up against a human family like the Smith’s of Glastonbury, Connecticut, any argument of nature verses nurture seems almost pointless. Zephaniah Hollister Smith graduated an ordained minister from Yale, but he gave it up because he did not believe in mixing prophets with profits. Allegedly he excommunicated his entire congregation, and they returned the favor. Swinging to the other extreme Zephaniah then became a successful lawyer. His wife, Hannah Hadassah Hickock Smith was a linguist, a mathematician and a poet, all the more amazing an achievment since she lived in the second half of the 18th century. The couple shared a fascination for astronomy, a passion for the abolition of slavery, and five girls.
 First there was Laurilla Aleroyia Smith, born in 1785, who painted portraits in her own studio on Main Street in Glastonbury. She also taught French in nearby Hartford. Then there was Hancy Zephina Smith, born in 1787. She was of a mechanical mind. She built her own boat, and invented a machine to shoe horses. Then there was Cyrinthia Scretuia Smith, born in 1788 with a green thumb. She raised fruit trees, grapes, strawberries, and grafted her own varieties of apple trees. In her free time she was also a scholar of Latin and Greek literature. But the real revolutionaries were the two youngest girls.
They told a story about Julia Evelina Smith (born in 1792.) While trapped during a long stage trip with a Chancellor and a professor, both from Yale, “Miss” Julia was insulted when the two men began an animated conversation in French, ignoring her completely. After listening for several minutes, Julia spoke up, saying “Excusez-moi, mais je comprends le français.” Without an acknowledgement of her presence, the two men immediately shifted their discussion to Latin, whereupon Julia interrupted again; “Excuse mihi , EGO quoque narro Latin.” The intellectuals were appalled at the continued interruption and shifted to Greek, and Julia responded with “Και κατανοώ επίσης ελληνική". Finally the Chancellor spoke to the lady directly, demanding, “Who the devil are you!?”
Julia also spoke Hebrew, and had been conducting her own study of both the Old and the New Testaments. You see, she had expected the world to end in December of 1843, and was determined to find it why it had not. Her younger sister, Abby Adassah (born in 1797) was the quietest of the five, and much to everyone’s surprise (including herself) was perhaps the best public speaker of all. It seems a pity to point out that none of men in the area seemed to have been bright enough to garner any of the ladies’ interests in marraige.
It also seems a pity that of this entire family, all of them independently financially successful, intellectually powerful and culturally sophisticated, only the father, Zephaniah, was politically empowered. And when he died, on February 1, 1836, the richest, best educated family in central Connecticut, was no longer allowed to cast a single vote.
This oddity lay simmering beneath the surface until November of 1873. By now most of the female members of the Smith family had gone on to meet their maker, until only Julia, now aged 82, and Abby, now aged 77, were left to bear the Smith genetic code. It was then that the male officials of Glastonbury made the decision to raise the property tax assessment on the Smith farm by $100. The sisters would have no trouble meeting the obligation, but the increase bothered Abby, and she looked into it.
What she discovered was that in the entire town, only three properties had suffered the reassessment; the Smith farm, and the properties of two widows. Not a single male property owner had been reassessed. Abby was so incensed that she wrote a speech, which she delivered at the next town meeting. “…here, where liberty is so highly extolled and glorified by every man in it, one half of the inhabitants…are ruled over by the other half...All we ask of the town, is not to rule over them as they rule over us, but to be on an equality with them.”
When the citizens at the meeting (overwhelmingly male) responded to the speech in the same way the Yale Chancellor and Professor in the coach had responded to Julia, by ignoring them, the sisters decided more radical action was required. They announced that until they received representation (the right to vote), they would no longer submit to any additional taxation. Oh, they paid thier property taxes each year, promptly, but simply refused to pay the reassessment.
In response the tax collector, Mr. George C. Andrews, seized from the Smith frarm seven cows, pets almost, named, Jessie, Daisy, Proxy, Minnie, Bessie, Whitey, and Lily. The cows were valued well beyond the $101.39 additional tax bill. But the incensed sisters dispatched an agent to buy the beloved pets at auction, paying far in excess of the tax bill to save four of them. The remaining three were sold at auction, although I doubt they proved to be worth the price since none of the cows were willing to be milked unless Julia was present.
The Springfield Massachusetts Republican newspaper reprinted Abby’s speech, and it was picked up and reprinted in newspapers nationwide, and the story was even repeated in Europe. It was, wrote one newspaper, “A fit centennial celebration to the Boston Tea Party.”
In April Abby was denied time to speak again at the next town meeting. So she climbed onboard a wagon out side and delivered her remarks, instead. Mr. Andrews responded by seizing 15 acres of Smith pasture, worth about $2,000. And this time he moved the location of the auction at the last minute, so the sisters could not buy back their own land. The valuable property was bought by a male neighbor for less than $80.
In response the sisters sued Mr. Andrews and won. The court ordered the property (and the cows) returned to the sisters, and Mr. Andrews was fined $10. The city appealed, and the case began the tortuous climb through the courts. In November of 1876, they won at the Connecticut Supreme Court, and the city finally accepted it had been beaten by two old spinsters.
Julia wrote an account of their adventure, “Abby Smith and her Cows”, published in 1877. The two spoke at suffragette meetings, until Julia’s death in 1878. Abby followed in 1886. Women could not vote in Connecticut until the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was officially passed, in August of 1920.  The Smith family home was eventually made a National Historical Landmark in 1974.
The history of the Smith family, and their cows, ought to be considered by members of the modern Tea Party movement. In one case taxes were protested because the right to vote was denied. While in the modern case, the vote has been thrown away, by a people who do not trust the government they have a vote in choosing. In the former case, it was brilliance of mind and spirit that drove the two ladies to rebellion. In the latter it seems that ignorance is the fuel that powers the movement's leaders.
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