Frances Anne "Fanny" Kemble

No man could quell this pen


"Scorn, derision, insult, menace — the handcuff, the lash — the tearing away of children from parents, of husbands from wives — the weary trudging in droves along the common highways, the labour of body, the despair of mind, the sickness of heart — these are the realities which belong to the system, and form the rule, rather than the exception, in the slave's experience."

Before author, actress and abolitionist Frances Anne "Fanny" Kemble lived at her Lenox estate, "The Perch," she resided on a Georgia plantation with her husband, Pierce Butler. In "Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation 1838-1839" (1863), Kemble provides a firsthand account of slavery's atrocities during a four-month span on St. Simon's and Butler islands. The work emerged from letters she wrote to Elizabeth Sedgwick during that time and offered vivid, awful details that garnered lots of attention from abolitionists in the North.

Kemble would move in that direction after leaving Butler. When they married in 1834, she didn't know he was set to become one of the country's largest slaveholders. Born in London in 1809 to a famous acting family, Kemble had come to the U.S. in 1832 for a theatrical tour. Butler attended some of her acclaimed performances, wooing her in the process. But when Butler inherited his grandfather's slaves, Kemble soon became painfully aware of her husband's moral lacking. She eventually left him, though it wasn't until 1848 that Butler, not Kemble, filed for divorce. Kemble lost her parental rights in the case.

"Mrs. Butler was an abolitionist and her husband wished her to keep her tongue and pen still on the subject, his income being derived from slave property in Georgia. The lady persisted in the utterance of her sentiments and it was the cause of domestic infelicity," The Pittsfield Sun wrote at the time, according to past Eagle reporting.

The next year, Kemble settled in Lenox at "The Perch," which she called her "safe haven," across from what is now Canyon Ranch. Her dramatic readings of Shakespeare drew considerable praise in the Berkshires. But she also kept writing, penning poems, plays, memoirs and a novel, "Long Ago and Far Away," while hanging at "The Hive" with Catharine Sedgwick and other literary luminaries.

Today, Kemble Street in Lenox pays homage to Fanny.

— Benjamin Cassidy, The Berkshire Eagle



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