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Prestonia Mann Martin and the Mann Family of New York

Research by Enid Mastrianni, Page 1

Correspondence, February 6, 2004, On Slavery, Making Connections

I have been researching a woman, Prestonia Mann Martin (1861-1945) who was a reformer, writer and the founder of an utopian community for a biography. Her father, Dr. John Preston Mann (1821-1893) and great grandfather, Newton Mann, (1770-1860) were prominent white abolitionists in NY. Nobody but me has researched them, though.

I came across a fascinating document contained in an 1896 history of Oneida County in NY. Here's the link to the lengthy entry:

The fascinating part (one among many in this article) is about "Caesar the Ethopian," a slave owned by an ancestor of the Mann family. I found a photo of his grave here: (inactive link)

Note that the entry in the 1896 book has transcribed the verse incorrectly. It should read, "changed," not "chained."

It seems to me that most slaves were just buried in a field someplace, and that someone (probably the owner of the slave) would commission an elaborate carved stone headstone for this slave is extraordinary.

I've been doing a little research on slave tombstones, and a woman associated with a group that studies gravestones, in general, said she once heard about a slave tombstone for an "Othello" in Harvard, MA. 1

February 7, 2004, On the Mann Family and Abolition

The Mann family was remarkable because they did think that African Americans were capable and worthy of salvation. (Although not really in the religious sense; they were free-thinking Unitarians.)

Prestonia Mann Martin built her utopian community near North Elba, NY where the residents communally did laundry while they sang, "...the clothes go washing on..." and in a most astonishing discovery, was acquainted with Zora Neale Hurston.

I was able to make contact with a distant relative of the Mann family, and she has in her possession a scrapbook compiled by a woman who was a first cousin to Prestonia Mann Martin. It contains a treasure trove of info. Here are some gems:

Hand written in pencil at top of clipping: "Nov 2, 1893"
"JOHN PRESTON MANN, M. D., one of the oldest physicians in New York City, and an eminent surgeon there, died recently in Syracuse, N. Y., where formerly for many years he resided. He passed away in fullness of years, being at the time of his death seventy-two. He was from the beginning ardently devoted to his profession, an enthusiast in all that belongs to improvement and advance in his chosen art. It is believed that he was the first practitioner to undertake the cure of club-feet in adults without the operation of cutting the cords. Ever he was the fast friend of intellectual and spiritual liberty, interested deeply in all that pertains to the growth and uplifting of man. In the old years he stood dauntless and untiring, hopeful and faithful to the end, in the band of the abolitionists, co-operating with and sustaining Gerrit Smith, Beriah Green and their associates in the fierce and deadly struggle against slavery. Later he was in New York among the most cordial and steadfast supporters in the religious and philanthropic work of Mr. O. B. Frothingham and Professor Felix Adler. The life throughout was luminous with the qualities of high character and noble doing and sacrifice in behalf of others. Brief words, a partial report of which has been furnished for UNITY, were spoken at the funeral, by an old and life-long friend of the deceased, Mr. C. DeB. Mills, of Syracuse, N. Y."

Watertown May 12th 1855
My Dear Children,
I received your letters to day & was pleased to hear from you & that little blue eyed baby. I think you are having rather more than your share & we have none can t you give one of the little girls to us now you must kiss them all for me. I am very glad your Father is Rail Roading again this side of the great Mississippi for it seems as if I should see you all again. I suppose you feel somewhat disappointed to think you are not going to see that silver lake quite yet perhaps it will be all for the best I hope so I am glad to hear your Mother is so smart I hope she will be careful & not move too soon it is very favorable it is getting so warm & pleasant. Aunt Sophia thinks your Father is so pleased with the baby he did not think to send his respects to her & Uncle George. He has a large class & is very busy making his garden. It is very dull in his store not doing much. I have had a letter from Whiteboro lately the friends are well as usual. Child with his family I heard were going to Ontario it seems to me that will be a good place for him. The land is so easily cultivated. It is very dry here. The gardens are quite backward but we hope warm rain & weather will start them along. What is Ella about? Tell her she must write after you get moved. When you come here again you must have some of your Mother's skirts & stockings. I hope I shall hear from you often this summer. We have been painting & papering two rooms which look quite nice. We missed your little hen she got down behind a barrel in the barn & was gone 2 days when we found her she was almost dead. I guess if you had been here you would have taken care of her she is now quite well again.
Aunt S. & Uncle George wish to be remembered to all & Grandma too.
Yours affectionately
Julia D. Mann

I did not forget your birth day that you was eleven the first of April. I can hardly realize that you are in your twelfth year. I expect you will improve very much by the time I see you again & Ella too in reading, writing & all your lessons. I hope you will have a good school this summer.

(Julia Doolittle Mann born Dec. 28, 1792, died July 17, 1872)

Anti-Slavery Notes

Julia Doolittle Mann is John Preston Mann's mother, and Prestonia's grandmother. The George referred to is Julia's son and John's brother. He was a music teacher. Ella and Kate--the recipients of this letter were Julia's granddaughters by her dead daughter, Mehitable. Helen is the new wife. Sophia is George's wife, and her father, Rev. Alvin Olivier Parmelee, signed anti-slavery petitions as early as 1839. I strongly suspect that the family referred to as going to Ontario were fugitive slaves.

Indeed, this whole family is a veritable beehive of anti-slavery activity. Prestonia's mother's father, Robert Furman, of Syracuse NY attended many anti-slavery meetings there, his obituary was written by Samuel J. May, and the kicker; Ann Rebecca Furman married Dr. John Preston Mann on October 1, 1855 in Syracuse, the much celebrated four year anniversary of the famous "Jerry Rescue." Dr. John Preston Mann grew up in Whitesboro, NY and almost certainly attended the Oneida Manual Labor Institute. The wife of George Washington Gale, the founder of that school, was related to the Mann family and one source indicates that the Mann family lived in the same house as Beriah Green, but before him.

The more I research and discover about this family, the more I tend to think that abolition related activities were somewhat of a family business. 2

March 6, 2004 More Connections

As I may have mentioned, I started researching Prestonia Mann Martin years ago. The first time I ever heard of her, I was living on a hippie commune in the Adirondacks. I was sitting by the garden reading The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. There were a few lines about "...Miss Prestonia Mann's unique establishment in the Adirondacks..." She went on to describe how it was run fraternally and how everyone had to do labor. She recounts how "...high minded..." professors and poets (male) enthusiastically did laundry while "...spots remained and buttons flew...." They sang, "...the clothes go washing on..." She also mentioned that "Miss Mann's" parents were "...progressives in the days of the abolitionists..." Prestonia's estate was located just a few miles from North Elba of John Brown fame. She also mentioned that Prestonia's parents were interested in Brook Farm. (of Ripley, Channing, Hawthorne fame) Charlotte Perkins Gilman was the niece of Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Hmmm....this is interesting, I thought. And now I have a full fledged obsession that makes my family and friends' eyes roll when I start to talk about Prestonia. And that's where it started.

The labor aspect of Summer Brook Farm was interesting. It was Christopher Densmore who pointed out to me that it reminded him of the Oneida Manual Labor Institute. Then I found out that Dr. John Preston Mann grew up in Whitesboro, NY. Then I found some newspaper clippings from the 1880s that said that various members of the Mann family lived IN THE SAME house as Beriah Green. Then I read the autobiography of George Washington Gale and discovered that a member of the Mann family married a member of the Gale family.

Then I got a copy of the obit of Robert Furman who was the father of Dr. John Preston Mann's wife. (She was Ann Rebecca Furman 1822-1892.) Not only did it say that he was one of the "...earliest and most devoted..." of "...anti slavery men...," but also it was written by none other than Rev. Samuel J. May! That Robert Furman attended at least one anti-slavery meeting in Syracuse was another fact I found out. (From the PSCNY website)

I found out that Ann Rebecca Furman and John Preston Mann were married, in Syracuse, on October 1, 1855. Hmm...interesting; that's the four year anniversary of the "Jerry Rescue."

Then I got in touch with the woman with the scrapbook and obtained a copy of John Preston Mann's obit. I'll have to forward it to you. It extolls his anti slavery activity. (It's on my other, unplugged, computer.) Beriah Green's obit was in there too, along with the Julia Doolittle Mann letters.

I found several copies of advertising brochures Dr. John Preston Mann produced to publicize his ability to "...cure the afflicted." He lists references: Gerrit Smith, Henry Ward Beecher and Samuel J May.

It just keeps getting more and more interesting. I noticed that a copy of Prestonia Mann Martin's 1910 book, Is Mankind Advancing, in a library at Harvard, was signed by the author. I got a copy of the inscription, and it reads:

To Thomas Wentworth Higginson
In remembrance of his kindness to a very weary girl in 1886--from that girl, now a very robust and cheerful middle-aged Author
Prestonia Mann Martin, April 11, 1911.
And then I found out, astonishingly, that Prestonia Mann Martin befriended Zora Neale Hurston in Winter Park, Florida!

Oh, the administrator of the Oneida County History book site made some corrections and added the photo of Newton Mann which is in the 1896 book. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the photo of him. Prestonia Mann Martin donated much of her estate to Rollins College (her husband lectured there) in Winter Park, and they have a daguerreotype of the SAME MAN! in the same clothes, in the collection of the items from Prestonia's estate.

Phew! All of this leaves me breathless. 3


1. Correspondence, Enid Mastrianni to Afrolumens Project, February 06, 2004.
2. Correspondence, Enid Mastrianni to Afrolumens Project, February 07, 2004. Ms. Mastrianni notes that the articles transcribed above are from the collection of Julia Puterbaugh Marshall, and are used by permission.
3. Correspondence, Enid Mastrianni to Afrolumens Project, March 06, 2004.

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