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The story of Peter Smith is the story of Upstate New York in the earliest
days of the United States. A billionaire by today’s standards, Smith made his
fortune in the fur trade and especially as one of the country’s original land
barons. His story of land speculation is the story of the Indian Land Claims
made famous hundreds of years after he used deceptive means to assume ownership of millions of acres of New York State.
The reader will note the great distance between Peter Smith and his son,
19th-century abolitionist and philanthropist Gerrit Smith: While the father
gained great wealth in part by taking advantage of those of lesser means, the
son gave away much of that fortune to help the less fortunate.
Peter Smith’s legacy—positive or negative—is still evident in the people and
places that make up much of the State of New York. This is the story of the
man behind the family fortune.
Once again, Norm Dann proves that he is a master researcher and authority on the
history of Peterboro and environs. In this his seventh book, Dann explores the life of
Peter Smith, father of the famous abolitionist Gerrit Smith. Unlike his reform-minded
son, the father was driven by a spirit of greed—first in the fur trade, then as a
speculative land baron. Dann perceptively explores how Peter Smith’s life-long obsession
with money-getting resulted in tragedy not only for himself, but for all around him.
Peter Smith was a dark and troubled soul, and Norm Dann has rescued his story from
the shadows of history in this pioneering biography.
- Dr. Milton C. Sernett
Professor Emeritus of
African American Studies and History