Essays









Faculty and students are invited to Contact the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, if they're interested in becoming involved with the Post Family Digitization Project.

Olivia Garber (UR 2016)

A Complex Conversation: William Cooper Nell, Frederick Douglass, and Spiritualism Among African Americans

African American Religious History (REL 157)
Professor Margarita Simon Guillory
May, 6, 2014

The city of Rochester, New York has long been home to a number of diverse groups of people. The city has a reputation, particularly in the nineteenth century, as being a Mecca for groups such as women’s rights activists, abolitionists, other social reformers, and African Americans. As such, the nineteenth century climate of Rochester was one of a tight knit community of social change, with a number of individuals, including some former slaves, taking part in these growing movements. Evidence of their involvement in various aspects of the community, like newspaper publications, religious life, and correspondence with other reformers of the day, is still accessible today through a web of letters that were written and received by a prominent Rochester family, the Posts, to and from a number of other reformers. Evidence of the lives of the reformers, including African Americans, is prolific in these letters. Read More




Jordan Shapiro (UR 2014)

Harriet Brent Jacobs depicts life as a female slave in her slave narrative Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Now available on-line, 160 years later, we can access Jacobs’s private thoughts in the letters sent to Isaac and Amy Post in Rochester, New York about her life as a free woman. Jacobs met the Posts through her brother, John Jacobs. In 1849, he opened an anti-slavery reading room in Rochester to interact with the many abolitionists that lived in and passed through the city. Harriet stayed with the Posts as a fugitive slave for almost a year, March 1849- November 1849, and the letters show that she was able to maintain a close relationship with them after she left their home. Together the letters and the book, written after Jacobs’s left Rochester, give the reader a detailed description of Jacobs’s life. The letters help the reader understand her writing process from fruition of the novel until its publication. The book details Jacobs’s early life as a slave and eventually a free woman. Read More




Daniel Gorman Jr. (UR 2013)

The Man Behind the Curtain: E.W. Capron and the Early Days of Spiritualism
(A Transcription Analysis)

REL 239
Professor Guillory
December 18, 2011

One night in March 1848, a rather unusual event (supposedly) occurred at the Fox residence in Hydesville, New York. To the alarm of the house’s residents, “[A] series of mysterious raps [….] showered from the walls and floor and even thin air, seemingly without source.” The inexplicable rapping continued for several nights, until, on March 31st, sisters Kate and Maggie Fox proposed a system of clapping and asking questions, “by which they could communicate with this disincarnate spirit that was haunting their home.” Their method worked, leading to their first, tentative séance with spirits. In the weeks to come, word of the Fox sisters’ gift of mediumship spread through Monroe County, as people sought to communicate with “the shades of departed relatives and intimate friends.” Before long, the Fox sisters – Kate, Maggie, and their elder married sister, Leah Fish – would become national celebrities and the central figures of a burgeoning religious movement, which newspaperman (and Fox patron) Horace Greeley dubbed “modern Spiritualism.” Read More