The True Story of The Angels and Women/Seola Book
By Jim Rizoli
Since a lot of this information is scattered all over the internet I took it upon myself to put it all in one easy place to read. Hopefully you will find this informative and faith inspiring.
This is, for all intents and purposes, the official Website for the Angels and Women/Seola book, nothing fancy just facts. I guess you can say I started it all by publishing the AW book in 1997.
Let see how it all came about........
In the fall of 1978 my wife at the time and I, had the opportunity to provide home care for an elderly woman named Edith Brenisen living on 29 Church St in Holliston Massachusetts.
Our time living with Mrs. Brenisen was brief due to the fact she would soon be moving to New York State. One day as we were helping her move some items around in her home she directed me to the basement and said there was a box there that I could have. I went down to the basement and came upon an odd shaped slender box that was about two feet high. I opened the box and found a dozen or so royal blue books with a gold title called Angels and Women. As far as I could tell this was the first time these books saw daylight since they were first boxed in 1924. I took the case of books home and put it on my porch, where they stayed until it was time to do some spring-cleaning. Not being really interested in the subject matter at the time, I took a couple books out of the case and threw the rest of them away. Nothing like making a rare book even rarer!
Some time after I lent a copy of the book out for a friend to read and she said she really enjoyed it. Eventually I got around to reading the book and was truly fascinated by it. I said to myself that if I ever had the time I would like to revise and republish the book for others to read and enjoy. So in 1997 I took the original book revised and edited it, because the original book was written in old archaic English and there were terminologies and words in it that people would have a hard time comprehending today. I found a publisher that would print the book up for me for a reasonable cost, and eventually made the book available on certain websites to those who were interested in reading it. I’ve since sent out quite a few copies of the book to people all over the world. The book has found its way to England, Australia, Sweden, and all over the United States to name a few places.
In the yr 2000 I presented the book to an internet publishing company and they finally got the book listed on the web for me, so now you can order the book on any of the major book seller sites like Amazon, Borders etc. The response to the book has been excellent, in fact if you get onto the Amazon site and do a search for Angels and |Women the book will come up and you can read a few of the reviews and so far the comments have been all positive (5 stars.) Here's a quick link to the site. http://www.amazon.com/Angels-Women-J-G-Smith/dp/0595005160
People have even written to me personally saying how much they have enjoyed the book thanking me that I took the time to republished it. In fact I have a stack of letters and notes from interested ones who have made nice comments about the book. Now people from all over the world can order and read this book and glean from its pages the story that started it all in regards to antediluvian tales. But that story is just beginning, the woman who initially wrote the book is now, for me, the main story!
Actually, I really didn’t think Mrs. Smith existed and I thought someone just used a pen name and wrote the book. I felt like I hit a stone wall because information out there on this woman was next to nil. Things were about to change! In Feb 2002 I was doing some searching on the web on anything relating to Mrs. Smith or the book Seola, which by the way I’ve been doing but coming up short, I did a search for the word Seola, which was the original title of the book Angels and Women and low and behold I got a hit! It took me to a website link that talked about man named Ezra Byington who was a minister and preached for a time in 1862 in St. Albans, Vermont, the home town of you guessed it Miss Ann Eliza Brainerd (later Mrs. J. G. Smith), the writer of the novel Seola (revised in 1924 as Angels and Women).
I finally found what I was looking for; Mrs. J. G. Smith was real and actually lived and died in St. Albans Vermont. After a few phone calls I was put in touch with the St. Albans Historical Society and they confirmed what I just stumbled upon. I was then provided with a good amount of information from Historical Society member Don Miner who helps out with research in St. Albans.
With the information he provided I was able to piece together the puzzle that’s been eluding me for these past 20 yrs. The history behind this woman is quite remarkable and I hope that by providing this for you it might be somewhat encouraging and inspiring.
I’ll start with her husband Mr. Smith since he is better known because of his business ventures and political ties.
Mr. Smith’s Biographical Sketch
J. (John) Gregory Smith was born in St. Albans, Vermont, July 22, 1818, the son of John and Maria (Curtis) Smith. He attended the University of Vermont and Yale Law School, and was admitted to the Vermont bar in 1842. His father was a lawyer who was actively involved in the expansion of the railroads in Vermont and J. Gregory joined him both in the practice of law and railroad management.
John Smith was on the board of the Vermont Central Railroad, a railroad chartered in 1843 and headquartered in Northfield, and was president of the Vermont and Canada Railroad, which he had started in 1845 to eventually connect the Vermont Central Railroad with Montreal. Upon his father's death in 1858, J. Gregory Smith became president of the Vermont Central Railroad and his brother, Worthington C. Smith, was named president of the Vermont and Canada. The Central Vermont Railroad was organized in 1873 and assumed management of both the Vermont Central and Vermont and Canada Railroads. In 1883 the Consolidated Railroad of Vermont was formed to purchase the Vermont Central and Canada property, and immediately leased it to the Central Vermont Railroad thereby consolidating the Smith family's railroad holdings. The family expanded their holdings to include related industries such as the St. Albans Foundry, the National Car Company, and its subsidiary the Vermont Iron and Car Company.
While expanding his holdings in Vermont and the northeast, J. Gregory Smith became interested in the idea of a railroad to the west and became president of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company in 1866, a position he held until 1872. Smith was also active in politics and was elected to the state senate in 1858 and 1859. In 1860, 1861, and 1862 he was elected to the house as a representative of St. Albans, and served as speaker of the house. In 1863 Smith was elected governor and served two terms before retiring to devote time to his duties as the president of Central Vermont and the Northern Pacific Railroad. J. Gregory Smith married Ann Eliza Brainerd of St. Albans in 1842 and together they had six children: George Gregory (married Frances Lewis), Edward Curtis (married Anna B. James), Lawrence (died in infancy), Annie B., Julia B. (married Oliver Stevens), Helen L. (married D. Sage Mackay). Smith died November 6, 1891.
Now we know a little about her husband lets find what we know about Mrs. Smith.
Mrs. Smith’s background and accomplishments.
Mrs. Smith was the eldest of twelve children of Lawrence Brainerd and his wife, Fidelia B. Gadcombe, and was born in St. Albans, October 7, 1819. Of her brothers and sisters four boys lived to maturity and four died in infancy or youth; two girls lived to womanhood and two died at an early age.
Her lineage goes directly back to John Alden of the original Plymouth Rock colony, and tenth in descent from the famous Sir Francis Cook.
Mrs. Smith loved to write and was the author of numerous essays, poems, and miscellaneous writings and of four works “Dawn to Sunrise,” a collection of essays on religious topics, and three novels, “Seola,” “ Selma,” and “Atla.” Her writings were not only received with much popular favor but won for her the friendship and intimate correspondence of Dr. John Lord and other distinguished men of letters and scholars. She was often invited to address societies and social gatherings of various kinds and to read original papers and essays before them, and was widely known throughout New England by reason of this public service. She also wrote a paper on “Reminiscences of Early Vermont” which I will include later on.
The book From Dawn to Sunrise was said to be “the smartest book ever written in Vermont” by Henry K. Adams who wrote the book A Centennial History Of St. Albans Vermont.
I have now in my possession three of her books, From Dawn to Sunrise, Atla, and Angels and Women (the 1924 revision of Seola) and her Personal Reminiscences article.
I don’t as of yet have a copy of the book Seola, but I do have a photocopy of it. Hopefully some day I’ll find a copy of it in good condition. Mrs. Smith was a veteran traveler even up to an advanced age and had in the course of her busy life made five trips to Europe and had also visited Egypt, to say nothing of making frequent journeys about this continent which she had covered from its extremes north to south, east to west, including Mexico and the West Indies.
She was actively interested in the woman’s sphere of public life in St. Albans and had been president of the board of managers of the Warner Home for Little Wanderers since the foundation of that institution. She was a member of the First Congregational Church and Society and a worker in its Sunday school, having taught a class of students with more or less regularity up to within a short time of her death. She was president of the board of managers for, the Vermont woman’s exhibit at the Centennial exposition of 1876 at Philadelphia and was frequently chosen in similar capacities as a representative Vermont woman and one of the most distinguished daughters of the state.
Mrs. Smith’s own unusual personal talents as well as her proud opportunity as wife of one governor and mother of another brought her active career into a degree of prominence before the public that rarely falls to the lot of woman in the home life of old New England. And the charm of all this distinction that came to her was that it was the simple, natural evolution of the noble attributes of a true womanly, wifely, motherly character, with never a trace in it of that self-seeking that too often tempts woman from her fireside. In all her long married life, Mrs. Smith was first the loving mother of her household, and its ties and interests centered in her heart The daughter of a pioneer Abolitionist of note, a brave and daring champion of a then feeble cause, she was nurtured from infancy in the precepts of that sturdy faith in the ideals of American liberty which her devoted nature throughout all her four score and more years of useful life never forsook. Her father was one of the promoters of the famous “Underground Railroad” by which escaped slaves from the South were helped to freedom across the Canada line, and his house was one of the stations in the black man’s journey to freedom. Familiar from girlhood with such scenes as transpired in this adventurous and holy work, it was but an easy and natural transition for her to assume in the maturity of her womanhood the responsibilities of helpmeet to Vermont’s distinguished war governor. Throughout the dark years of the Civil War, she held up the right band of her patriot husband in the noble discharge of weighty responsibilities and even came herself to figure in a gallant episode that served to bring out yet another phase of the splendid instincts and heroic determination of her Americanism.
The Famous St. Albans Raid
The Civil War was going strong and Confederacy was in need of money, and also wanted to stir up trouble between the United States and Canada, a combination that made Vermont the scene of the only Confederate military action in New-England. It all came to a head on Wednesday October 9th 1864 a day when the people of St Albans, Vermont were most likely thinking of hunting and relaxing with the hope that the war would soon be over. There was not even a hint of trouble even though the number of visitors who were registered at the local hotels were more than usual for that time of year and no one paid much attention to the fact that some of the strangers in the town spoke with Southern accents. The plot was simple Bennett Young and twenty-five of his confederate men would arrive in town in small groups of twos and threes from Montreal, posing as salesmen and horse-buyers, to rob the banks.
They figured they would make their move late in the afternoon when bank clerks were tired and not too alert and few people would be on the streets. Young stepped to the porch of his hotel and shouted, “In the name of the Confederate States, I take possession of St. Albans.” Those who were unlucky enough to be on the streets were held at gunpoint, and watched in astonishment as the raiders entered the three banks in the town and rode away with $200,000 towards Canada, a small fortune in those days! Luckily no bank employees were killed, but a stranger in town was hit by a stray bullet and died while another man, was wounded. They were chased to the Canadian border but the raiders got away, dropping some of the money along the way. Some time later, the men and the remainder of the money were seized by the Canadian government, and after a long time the banks got some of the money back. The end of the war came before the two governments reached an agreement over what to do about the fugitives, the raiders were not punished enough to suit the people of St. Albans.
Mrs. Smith Defends the Homestead
While all this was going on, her husband the governor, was in Montpelier, her eldest son was away at school, the youngest away at play, the male servants were not at home, and only her young daughters, one an infant in arms, and the servant girls were on the premises. With the characteristic resolution and courage of the pioneer blood that leaped in her veins, she instantly set about preparations for the defense of the executive mansion. The pride of the state of Vermont was involved in it, and no less the instinct of the mother fighting for her hearthstone. Summoning her servant girls, she closed every blind and shade and bolted every door but the front one. As she herself afterward related, her first impulse was to run up the flag that if she and her little garrison went down it might be with flying colors, but realizing the rashness of such an act she desisted.
Then she began a search for weapons which resulted in her finding an old horse-pistol but no powder or bullets. Hardly was this in her hand when a horseman was seen galloping furiously up the hill, and, thinking this was the advance of the raiders, the plucky woman took her post on the front steps of the house with the empty revolver in her hand, determined to accomplish by daring and strategy what could not be done by force. But, fortunately the horseman turned out to be her brother-in-law, Lieut, F. Stewart Stranahan, an aide on the staff of the gallant General Custerand at the time home on sick leave. He informed her that the rebels had come part way up the bill with the intention of firing on the Governor’s mansion, but; fearing the loss of their plunder from the banks if they delayed too long had turned back and were then on their way to Sheldon.
Parties of pursuers were then being organized by the townspeople and Mrs. Smith gave up to Lieutenant Stranahan her pistol and emptied her stables of horses that the party might have mounts. Returning to the house she discovered one of the girls had found a rifle, and, with this on her shoulder, the noble woman started for the village and turned it over to the first man she met that was preparing to pursue the fleeing raiders. From this day through the exciting days that followed, while for nine months the governor’s residence was guarded by armed sentinels, the brave woman did her part in the nerve-straining drama of war lime as her grandmothers bad done when they molded bullets and loaded muskets and fought side by side with their husbands against the red skins in the log cabin in the forests of long ago. For her conspicuous patriotic service in this respect; and in recognition of her inspiring example to patriotic Vermont womanhood, Mrs. Smith was paid the unique honor of being commissioned colonel-by-brevet on the staff of Gov. Peter T. Washburn.
Then there was the gender strain of devotion to duty in her life that ministered in her household and sent out from the hearthstone such influences for good as only the wife and mother know, influences and ministry too sacred to her loved ones to be dwelt upon in the public print. Blessed with strong, alert; and gifted mental powers, her mind literally dominated her body and helped her to continue a life of active usefulness to her family and the world long after she had passed the alloted age of man. Her vitality was remarkable, and the charm of her old age was the warmth, hopefulness, vivacity, and refreshing youthfulness of a ripe old mind that made her almost the youngest and the cheeriest of her family circle at the same time that her wealth of mellowed wisdom was the refuge of them all. (St. Albans Daily Messenger; Friday, January 6, 1905, page 1.)
What about Brainerd, Minnesota?
There was a belief for years that the City of Brainerd Minnesotta was named after Mrs. Smith. So I did some research and contacted Lucille Kirkeby who lives in the town of Brainerd. She was kind enough to send me among other things a letter dated February 25, 1971 written from Carl Zapffe who was a well known historian of the area, he wrote this to Mr. John Stensrud then President of the Crow Wing Historical Society.
“ In short, our City of Brainerd was not named after Mrs. J. Gregory Smith, but rather after her father Lawrence Brainerd, one-time Governor of Vermont and the head of numerous Vermont railroading enterprises. He had been the one responsible for employing “young J. Gregory Smith”, who then later married Brainerd’s daughter. In the very month of May 1870 that the Congress of the United States approved the Northern Pacific Railroad Company as Grantee “of certain lands situated in the State of Minnesota for the purposes mentioned”, and at the very time that J. Gregory Smith was leaving his wife in the East in order to join that canoe party that made the fatal decision on the location of The Crossing, Lawrence Brainerd died. A son of the Smiths by name of Lawrence Brainerd Smith had also died previously, a namesake of the ex— Governor; and therefore at this time of tragedy in the East and discovery in the West, with Thomas Canfield the President of the L.S.P.S. Co. in charge of laying out and naming townsites, and J. G. Smith President of the N.P.R.R. responsible for locating the spot that would naturally become a townsite, an agreement easily followed to name the two sides of the river Lawrence Brainerd, with the main family name on the main side of the river. I do not yet have an actual definitive record of what went on between these parties in the course of choosing the names, but I do have record that the names were chosen. Personal discussion with the grandson, James Gregory Smith, finds him in complete agreement with the supposition that it was named after his great grandfather directly, involving his grandmother only indirectly. Particularly at that time of intense sorrow over her father’s death and he was by all means the commanding figure in the Brainerd lineage for some generations we both feel that the naming of the new townsites after Mrs. Smith’s father was meant as a solace to her, and a salute to the great former friend and sponsor of Smith himself.”
Mrs. Smith died in 1905; her passing away was most likely a small town story, her funeral attended by friends and family, paying their last token of respect to a venerable daughter of St. Albans.
If I didn’t come across the Angels and Women book in 1978 this story might not of been told, and I wouldn’t be writing this article today.
Hopefully the book Angels and Women. and the original book Seola
will be a legacy to her.
I’m happy I had a small part in bringing this book and her story to life again.
My next hope would be to see the book made into a movie, that would bring the story around full circle, the ultimate tribute to this remarkable women.
To obtain a copy of the Angels and Women Book go to this website
Check out my Lulu.com site that have all my books including the original 1878 Seola book
If you would like to contact me I'm more than happy to talk with you about all of this.
Just added audio of my AW book