The Motts: Lydia and Abigail

Two people, of whom little is known but who played an important part in Albany’s underground railroad effort, are Lydia and Abigail Mott. They seem to have been cousins of the more famous Lucretia, but their importance for Albany is greater as far as local efforts are concerned.

We had previously stated that the Mott sisters were from a Quaker community in western albany County. Recently a couple of researchers who have also done research on the Mott’s story have shown that that the sisters were rather from another Mott family line. The family had lived in Albany from a while and had originally come from down state New York. The work of the sisters in connection with temperance meetings in the community is noted in Howell and Tunney’s history of Albany.

Lydia and Abigail are in Siebert’s list of underground railroad operators as active in the Albany area. Unfortunately there is no other reference in Siebert regarding the Motts. Information has to be gathered from other sources.

One such source is Charles Blockson’s The Underground Railroad: First Person Narratives of Escapes to Freedom in the North. This book, published in 1987, collects short writings from primary sources which tell stories about fugitive escapes from slavery. One account is that of Austin Bearse. Mr. Bearse was a native of Massachusetts and a commercial sailor. Sometimes the boats he worked on were involved in shipping in the south and sometimes slaves. The treatment of slaves was revolting to him but he said little of it until after 1834 when he began reading the Liberator. In July 1847 he sailed with a ship for Albany, New York. He says:

“On my arrival there [in Albany], I called upon the Mott sisters, ladies well known to the anti-slavery friends in Boston and elsewhere. Miss Mott told me they had a slave secreted just out of the city, who was in danger. His name was George Lewis. A writ was out for him, and she wished me to take him to Boston. As soon as I was ready to sail , she brought him to my vessel at night, with his baggage, and I stowed him away. In three days I passed New York, and on getting into Long Island Sound, I told George Lewis he could safely show himself on deck, which he was glad to do.”

This story of the active work of the Mott sisters, though we don’t know which of the two is being referred to here, is one of the few references we have been able to find in our readings. We are sure there is more to be told and we are busy trying to search out such information. From this passage we can see that the Mott in question was taking a clear and active role in hiding, assisting, and arranging safe passage for fugitives.

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