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The Secret Six: Gerrit Smith, Five Colleagues, and John Brown

A Focus on John Brown and the Secret Six in Peterboro

Gerrit Smith did not like to travel from his beloved Peterboro, but he did so May 24, 1858 to meet at the Revere House in Boston with four northern supporters of John Brown who lived in the Boston area. The five men further discussed the decision made by Franklin Sanborn and Gerrit Smith as they walked in the Peterboro snow February 23rd while John Brown waited inside Smith’s home for a decision to support Brown’s plan for a raid into the south to destabilize the institution of slavery. These four men of Boston, plus another absent from that spring meeting, and the one man of Peterboro became known as “The Secret Six.” Their support of John Brown’s objective led to the hostile fire of the South at Fort Sumter in 1861.

In observance of the Sesquicentennial of that beginning of the Civil War in 1861, Madison County Historian Matthew Urtz presents The Secret Six: Gerrit Smith, Five Colleagues, and John Brown at noon on Saturday and Sunday, June 11th and 12th at the Smithfield Community Center, 5255 Pleasant Valley Road in Peterboro during the 19th Annual Peterboro Civil War Weekend. On Sunday Urtz’ program on John Brown is immediately followed by Matthew Broderick’s presentation on the famous Louis Ransom painting of John Brown on the Charles Town Virginia Courthouse steps.

Urtz will use a PowerPoint program to focus on the relationships amongst The Secret Six. Urtz will cover how the six men (Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, Theodore Parker, Frank B. Sanborn, Gerrit Smith, and George L. Stearns) met, which men were close to each other, which ones were close to Brown, and their relationship with Brown until his death. Urtz will also look at what happened after Brown’s death, including Stearns dealing with the 54th and 55th Massachusetts and Wentworth as a Colonel of the First South which was the first authorized regiment that recruited former slaves for Federal Service.

Matt Urtz was born and raised in Verona, NY, graduating from Vernon-Verona-Sherrill in 1998. He went on to the State University of New York College (SUNY) at Oswego where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in May of 2002 in History with a minor in Economics. While at Oswego he interned at Fort Ontario in Oswego, NY and enjoyed the experience greatly. He then took a summer job working at the Rome Historical Society and upon the job’s completion enrolled in Graduate School at SUNY Oswego. He attended the college and worked full-time completing his Master’s Degree in December of 2005. During graduate school Urtz took a class on local history. It was in this class that he met Judith Wellman and Mary Messere who introduced him to the many stories of upstate NY, specifically Madison County. The last part of the graduate work was an internship at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. After earning his degree he worked in the private sector before being appointed Madison County Historian in April 2010.