Gerrit Smith was a wealthy abolitionist from Peterboro, New York, and one of the “Secret Six” that funded John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry. Smith became acquainted with Brown after selling him property in North Elba, New York, where Brown relocated his family. The farm in North Elba was also where Brown was buried. After the failed raid on Harpers Ferry and Brown’s capture in October 1857, Smith had a mental breakdown and was confined to an insane asylum for several weeks.
Smith frequently aided fugitive slaves and paid for their legal fees. When George L. Stearns began raising the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment in 1863, Smith contributed a significant amount to the cause. After the end of the Civil War, Gerrit Smith became the vice president of the American Antislavery Society under Wendell Phillips, while Stearns served on the executive committee.