Moving here from the upper Midwest, there was – and still is – a lot I don’t know about the South. A few weeks ago, though, I mentioned the “Secret Six” in the Building Your Own Theology class. I don’t remember the context – probably just talking about our Unitarian history. I was a little surprised that others hadn’t heard the term before.
So – here’s your UU history moment for the week!
The Secret Six – sometimes called the Secret Committee of Six – were a group of men who secretly funded abolitionist John Brown’s 1859 attempted raid on the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry. Often referred to as wealthy, only two (Smith and Stearns) actually were; however, the others were in positions where they could influence others to donate to the cause.
As it turns out, the phrase “Secret Six” was not used in Brown’s trial, or the publicity surrounding it. The term was invented later. In fact, the six men did not work together. They barely knew each other. They were: Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Samuel Gridley Howe, Theodore Parker, Franklin Benjamin Sanborn, Gerrit Smith, and George Luther Stearns.
Three of the six were Unitarians – Higginson and Parker were Unitarian ministers, and Howe was baptized a Unitarian. He was an educator who founded the Perkins School for the Blind, and advocated for abolition and prison reform.
Brown, of course, was executed. The men of the Secret Six? Parker was suffering from tuberculosis in Italy, a guest of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Fearing prosecution, Howe, Sanborn, and Stearns fled to Canada. Smith had himself confined to an insane asylum and denied any knowledge of the attempted raid. Only Higginson remained in the country for the trial, and later went on to command the first black regiment of the Civil War, the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, recruited, trained, and stationed right here in Beaufort!
The more you know, as they say. We Unitarians, Universalists, and Unitarian Universalists are part of the fabric of the history of this country.
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