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Prestonia Mann Martin and the Mann Family of New York

Research by Enid Mastrianni, Page 2

March 21, 2004, Family and children

There are other Mann family/anti-slavery activity ties that are just kind of interesting on their own, but with the other information (see page 1 of this series), take on added significance.

Prestonia adopted several children with her husband John Martin. Oral history and a source or two indicate that she adopted them in a grand experiment in nature vs. nurture. Sadly, the experiment did not turn out well. It's really hard to find out about these children. The oldest ended up living his life in Keene NY, where her utopian community was, doing odd jobs. The daughter, who, I am told, was described as a "gypsy" and was found on the streets of NYC wrapped in newspapers as an infant, totally drops from view. I know almost nothing about her, but I was shown some pictures of her when she was a child. John Martin's will is cruel to her, and says something like, for reasons she knows, she gets nothing.

A second son drops out of sight even sooner. He's in one census as a young boy, and in the next, ten years later, he's gone.

The third son, apparently adopted when he was a teenager, is the most fascinating and tragic. His name was Oliver Johnson Keyes. Researchers up on their abolition history will recognize that there was an Oliver Johnson who was the editor of an anti-slavery publication. He went to Columbia in NYC. Inexplicably, one day when he was 26, in 1932, he went to a hardware store in Manhattan, bought a hammer, then caught a train to Winter Park, where Prestonia and John were then living. He went to their house and attacked John Martin with the hammer, almost killing him. Later, John Martin wrote to a friend that he wouldn't recommend anyone ever adopting children. In later photos of John Martin, you can see a dent in his head. According to the one newspaper clipping I found about the incident, it was Prestonia who stopped the attack and called the police, and waited with Keyes for the police to arrive while her husband was nearly mortally wounded in another room.

I tend to feel that it wasn't so much that she was a "bad mother" which is the rap she got, but rather, that she adopted children who were seen as "difficult." Was she adopting kids with a history of mental illness in their families? Hard to say. It's an area of my research that needs more attention.

When Prestonia was a young woman, she spent time with some cousins named Knowlton who lived in a part of Saratoga County called Rexford Flats. It's just north of the Mohawk River, across the river from Schenectady and near a crossing that's been there since colonial days. Siebert mentions a Knowlton involved with the UGR, but in western NY. I discovered some very odd documents about one of these Knowlton cousins. Apparently a Knowlton man fathered a child with a woman not his wife, and was ordered to pay her money. I have to find these documents---I have copies of them, but I have no idea where they are now.

Later years

Elizabeth Cady Stanton mentions Prestonia in Eighty Years and More, her biography:

I met Mr. Dana for the first time at the Brook Farm Community in 1843, in that brilliant circle of Boston transcendentalists, who hoped in a few years to transform our selfish, competitive civilization into a Paradise where all the altruistic virtues might make co-operation possible. But alas! the material at hand was not sufficiently plastic for that higher ideal. In due time the community dissolved and the members returned to their ancestral spheres. Margaret Fuller, who was a frequent visitor there, betook herself to matrimony in sunny Italy, William Henry Channing to the Church, Bronson Alcott to the education of the young, Frank Cabot to the world of work, Mr. and Mrs. Ripley to literature, and Charles A. Dana to the press. Mr. Dana was very fortunate in his family relations. His wife, Miss Eunice MacDaniel, and her relatives sympathized with him in all his most liberal opinions. During the summer at Glen Cove I had the pleasure of several long conversations with Miss Frances L. MacDaniel and her brother Osborne, whose wife is the sister of Mr. Dana, and who is now assisting Miss Prestona [sic] Mann in trying an experiment, similar to the one at Brook Farm, in the Adirondacks. (
Prestonia attended the Concord School of Philosophy in MA in 1879. Julia Ward Howe and Ralph Waldo Emerson were still alive and lecturing there.

John and Prestonia Mann Martin donated a lot of money to the Hungerford School, a boarding school for African American children in Florida.

Sometime between 1900 and 1915, John and Prestonia purchased a house on Staten Island in NYC. The house, built around 1850 and lived in by Samual MacKenzie Elliott, according to one source, harbored Blacks during the 1863 draft riots. Elliott rented another house he owned on Staten Island to Sidney Howard Gay. Elliot was Unitarian.

In 1906, Maxim Gorky fled Russia after a failed attempt at Bolshevik revolution. He planned a speaking tour in America. Mark Twain was the head of the committee to arrange the tour. The press found out that he was traveling with a woman, not his wife. Gorky was vilified and the tour was cancelled. H.G. Wells, who also was visiting America, and staying with John and Prestonia in Staten Island, suggested to Prestonia that she take Gorky and his entourage in. She did and they spent the summer in the Adirondacks at her utopian community. I found a book of translated letters from Gorky to his real wife in Russia while he was in America, and he mentions how Prestonia had some Black servants. He describes how the Russians taught the servants Russian dancing, and the servants taught the Russians, "Negro" dancing. How fascinating is that?!?

Much later, Prestonia mentions in a letter that she doesn't like Scandinavian servants; she says they are too "gloomy."

So, I don't know how I'm ever going to integrate all of this information. It does seem though that there was an interrelated group of Unitarians who all participated in anti-slavery efforts.1



1. Correspondence, Enid Mastrianni to Afrolumens Project, March 21, 2004.

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