The drama Possessing Harriet that debuted at Syracuse Stage in October 2018 will be presented at the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark on July 13th, 2019.
The setting of the play is 1839 at the Gerrit Smith Estate in Peterboro NY where Harriet Powell, a young, mixed-race, enslaved woman has found a temporary safe harbor in the home of impassioned abolitionists Gerrit Smith. With slave catchers in pursuit, Harriet spends the hours before her nighttime escape to Canada in the company of Smith’s young cousin Elizabeth Cady, who became an outspoken advocate for women’s equality. As both women confront new and difficult ideas about race, identity, and equality, Harriet is forced to the precipice of a radical reckoning with the heartrending cost of freedom.
The Onondaga Historical Association in Syracuse commissioned playwright Kyle Bass to write a play about the situation of the $200 reward poster describing a woman named Harriet. This poster is in the OHA collection and is referenced in the performance. Elizabeth Cady Stanton writes in her autobiography of her cousin Gerrit Smith’s introduction to the young woman in the attic.
Due to the theme and setting of the play, the Smithfield Community Association and the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark have arranged programs before and during a coach ride from Peterboro to Franklin to see the performance. The programs begin at 11 am on July 13 at the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark, 5304 Oxbow Road, Peterboro. Norman K. Dann PhD will guide a tour from the site of the attic in the mansion to the barn where the horses and carriage awaited Harriet for the journey to Canada. When the coach departs at 12:30 pm, a video of Kyle Bass’ presentation A Playwright’s Journey for Gerrit Smith’s birthday March 2, 2019 will be shown, followed by Dann’s background information on the four characters in the play. Dann’s eight books on Peterboro history include Practical Dreamer: Gerrit Smith and the Crusade for Social Reform (2009), When We Get to Heaven: Runaway Slaves on the Road to Peterboro (2008), and Cousins of Reform: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Gerrit Smith (2013).
The coach will stop at the Chenango County Historical Society, 77 Silver Street in Norwich to pick up people with reservations in that area – arriving at the theatre in time for the travelers to take their reserved seats for the 3 pm matinee of Possessing Harriet. The coach will return through Norwich arriving in Peterboro at 7 pm.
Bring your own lunch or reserve a lunch at the Deli on the Green by calling (315) 684-3131.
Reservations are limited and must be sent by June 30th to assure the coach. Reservations cover programs, coach, theatre seats, plus a donation to the preservation of the carriage barn. Send $55 check or money order with name, email, postal address, and phone number to Smithfield Community Assn (501c3) PO Box 6, Peterboro NY 13134. Responses to reservations will include travel and updated information.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (315) 280-8828.
Photo of Reward Poster courtesy Onondaga Historical Association.