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Harriet Powell Collection

An inventory of the collection at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: MRC
Date: 26 Jul 2010

Biographical History

Harriet Powell arrived in Syracuse in September of 1839 with wealthy Mississippi plantation owner J. Davenport and his wife. Powell was evidently very fair-skinned, as she was referred to as "the white lady fugitive" and initially several visitors thought her a family member, only later discovering that she was in fact the Davenports' slave.

The Davenports and Powell stayed at a local hotel called The Syracuse House for some time. During a reception on October 8, the night before their departure, Harriet escaped with the help of Tom Leonard, then a waiter at the Syracuse House, and of Deputy County Clerk William M. Clarke (nephew of abolitionist Dr. John Clark) and local businessman John Owen. Although Leonard was subsequently arrested and questioned regarding Powell's escape, he gave no information regarding either Powell or his fellow conspirators.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Harriet Powell Collection consists of clippings and a personal narrative. The lengthy clipping is from the Sunday Morning Times (Syracuse, New York) of June 10, 1877, and gives a detailed account of Powell's escape in 1839, in particular the role of Tom Leonard in organizing her escape. The handwritten narrative, dated October 1941, was written by the donor, Theodore W. Clarke, who was the grandson of William M. Clarke, also involved in the escape. Clarke's narrative gives some historical background for the story -- based in part on family tradition -- and the clipping. A typed transcription of the narrative is included.

Arrangement of the Collection

No particular order.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

Additional Harriet Powell material is available in our Rare Books holdings. Please search the Classic Catalog to locate these items.

Subject Headings


Clarke, Theodore W.
Clarke, William M., fl. 1839-1877.
Leonard, Tom, d. 1877.
Powell, Harriet, fl. 1839.


Abolitionists -- United States.
Slavery -- United States.


Syracuse (N.Y.) -- History -- 19th century.

Genres and Forms

Clippings (information artifacts)

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Harriet Powell Collection,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Theodore W. Clarke, 1978.

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