The Two Worlds of Erastus Hopkins

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The two authors in this evening’s program are linked in their work by a common historical figure, Erastus Hopkins. Bruce Laurie’s work Rebels in Paradise: Sketches of Northampton Abolitionists, looks at Hopkins the public leader.  Every antebellum politician in our Commonwealth was well aware of Erastus Hopkins, a longtime representative and senator from Northampton; a founding father of the Free Soil Party; and a leading radical Republican, he was widely seen as one of the finest orators of the era and known as a principled abolitionist. Yet, until recently he was unknown to historians of the Civil War era. He was also, as Anne Emerson discovered in the archives of the MHS, an extraordinary father, writing beautiful, loving letters to his children in the 1850s and 60s. Emerson, who is Hopkins’ great-great granddaughter, has woven a very modern tale of the power and meaning of these letters in her own life.  Letters from Erastus: Field Notes on Grace tells of the interplay of generations and values, and of the unusual ways we can use history in our lives. They will read and discuss their work together in this program.

Trained as a labor historian, Laurie is author or editor of numerous books including Working People of Philadelphia, 1800-1850  and Artisans into Workers, which was re-issued in 1997 and remains a core text in the field of US labor. Most of his current work is focused on the history of abolitionism, as reflected in Beyond Garrison: Anti-Slavery and Social Reform (2005) and Rebels in Paradise: Sketches of Northampton Abolitionists (2015). He is at work on the Civil War service of Henry S. Gere, a founder of the abolitionist movement in Northampton and longtime publisher of the Hampshire Gazette who served in the Army of the Gulf on the Louisiana Front in 1862-63. He taught at the University of Massachusetts from 1971 until 2008 and has also taught courses at Mt. Holyoke College and at the Centre for the Study of Social History at the University of Warwic.

Anne Emerson was the executive director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard from 1988 to 1998 and after that the director of the Bostonian Society and the Old State House Museum, and the Boston Museum Project.  She is a graduate of Brown University, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and the Boston University Public Management Program. Emerson is married to Peter Altman, who was artistic director of the Huntington Theater for its first 18 years. She was born in Brookline and lives in Jamaica Plain with her children and grandchildren nearby.  She is also a painter and shows her work in Jamaica Plain and in Sedgwick, Maine.  She has written for the Boston Globe and Letters from Erastus: Field Notes on Grace is her first book.