Fredonia Censor, May 20, 1885, Fredonia, NY.
A NOTED PHILANTHROPIST.
Death of Dr. Eber M. Pettit.
Dr. E. M. Pettit died in this village May 18, 1885 at the age of 83 years.
A painful sense of bereavement pervaded our village on Wednesday evening, as the news rapidly spread from house to house of the death of Dr. Pettit. It was so sudden, and took all by surprise. And yet every one seemed to say in thought or word, as the news was broken to them, “blessed are the pure in heart.” He had suffered from slight hoarseness for a few days, but was in the village on Monday, going about our streets with his usual elastic step, pleasantly greeting his friends and enjoying the social intercourse which was so inspiring with one of his genial nature. He expressed regret at not being able to enjoy a social gathering on Saturday at the house of a septuagenarian friend. It did not then seem possible that he was so near the shore from which he was soon to pass to the other side. But an All Wise Providence had numbered his days without the usual premonitions attending such a departure. In the afternoon of Wednesday, his hoarseness became more serious, his inability to throw off secretions increased, till finally the death struggle terminated in the early evening hour, and he was peacefully at rest.
Dr. Eber M. Pettit was born in Pompey, Onondaga Co., May 5, 1802. He had just passed his 83d birthday when the summons came. At an early day he came to Fredonia with his father, Dr. James Pettit. When still a young man he went to Versailles to engage in business, where he lived for many years.
Dr. James Pettit, the father, had compounded an Eye Salve which proved an excellent remedy for sore eyes and local inflammations, and which the son manufactured. It was found so meritorious that it finally sustained a world-wide reputation, and gave a competence to the manufacturer. He was joined in this enterprise by Darwin R. Barker, who had married his only daughter. Some twenty years ago he came to Fredonia with his family and Mr. Barker, where in his beautiful home he has passed a serene life, surrounded by every comfort, an enjoying the respect and esteem of a large circle of acquaintances. But here he had sorrow. His wife with whom he had lived nearly fifty years, his only grandchild, the daughter of D. R. Barker, and then his daughter, Mrs. B., were taken away.
More than sixty years ago he became a prominent agent and conductor on the Underground Railroad. Many a fleeing fugitive from slavery has found an asylum and safe conduct to liberty through his instrumentality. On the one of the four principal lines with which he was connected, many fugitives were aided when on their way to Canada, numbering on all lines in the thousands. His position was often attended with peril. The fugitive slave law of 1850 imposed a fine of $1,000 for selling or giving away a meal of victuals to one of these fugitives. Some of the noblest and purest men in the country suffered these severe penalties, though he has often said that if the law had been enforced against him, he would have been made bankrupt many times over.
About five or six years after the war, when his commission in this service of humanity had expired by virtue of the Emancipation Proclamation, the company broken up and the stock “divided among the passengers” he was importuned to write out the history of some of these most remarkable escapes. The history of “The Underground Railroad” was written in a series of numbers for the Fredonia Censor. They were charmingly written, and attracted much attention. Some years later, in 1870, the sketches were published in a small volume, and many copies distributed among his friends, who will keep them as choice memorials of his philanthropy and self sacrificing nature.
He also took a deep interest in the welfare of the Indians, on the border of whose reservation he resided for many years. He was their trusted counselor and friend, and aided to procure the necessary legislation for the protection of the reservation and the preservation of their rights. He was the projector of the Reservation school and the Superintendent over twenty years. He chose for teachers those who took an interest in their welfare and progress.
In the Thomas Asylum, organized for the care and education of the Indian orphans in the State, he took a deep interest. He was one of the originators of the Institution and a trustee and treasurer for twenty-nine years from its commencement. He served faithfully and without pay, and was regarded by all the beneficiaries with almost filial affection. It is one of the best eleemosynary institutions in the state, and reflects great credit on its management.
In every work of philanthropy when he had opportunity, his heart and hand were engaged with heartfelt earnestness. In this he was no respecter of persons. In his benevolent work his best services were rendered without regard to distinctions of race or color. His kind heart and hand were ever open to the needs of humanity. No one, we venture to say, in the large circle of acquaintances, ever knew a nobler or more unselfish man. In his unostentatious charities to the poor, he was most exemplary. Very often the recipients were unaware who was the giver.
Early in life he became a member of the Baptist Church, to which he was fervently devoted, and yet with a liberality that recognized the image of the Master under all circumstances, in all walks of life, without regard to creed or denominational name.
There was an integrity of principle manifested through all his long and useful life. He dared to do right though he should stand alone with all the world against him. He would be true to his conscientious convictions “though the heavens should fall.” He was a firm believer in “the higher law.” His life was one of faith and trust, and his death that of the righteous, and to their reward he has gone.
The fleeing fugitive from slavery, the red man whose cause he championed, the poor who received aid from his bountiful hand, the philanthropist in whose circle he was such a conspicuous example, the Christian who has “respect to the recompense of reward” in life beyond, will all enshrine the memory in their inner hearts, and will mourn his departure with heartfelt grief, and yet will rejoice that the great Giver of all good has vouchsafed to them a friend. A large concourse of people attended the funeral at the Baptist Church last Saturday afternoon. The pastor Rev. Dr. Palmer, a friend of many years, paid a worthy tribute to the good man so suddenly removed from our midst.