Thomas Robinson Hazard

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Thomas Robinson “Shepherd Tom” Hazard (1797–1886) was an American author, social reformer, and advocate of Modern Spiritualism.

Early life[edit]

Hazard was born on January 3, 1797 in the village of South Kingstown, Rhode Island, the second-eldest son of textile industrialist Rowland Hazard and fifth-great-grandson of Thomas Hazard. [1] At twelve, Thomas enrolled in the Friends’ School at West Town, Pennsylvania but left to assist in the operation of the family’s wool carding manufactures at Peace Dale. After a gift of two ewes sparked his interest in agriculture and livestock, Hazard acquired the nickname “Shepherd Tom.” [2]

In 1838 he married Frances Minturn, daughter of New York merchant Jonas Minturn. The couple had five children.

Social reform[edit]

In 1844, Hazard became one of the original twenty three incorporators of the Rhode Island Hospital for the Insane, later Butler Hospital.[3] The facility was the first of its kind in the state; responsibility for the care of destitute and mentally handicapped citizens at the time fell largely upon local governments.

Owing to his extensive record as an outspoken champion of the rights of the “insane poor,” Hazard was appointed by the state to conduct a survey of Rhode Island’s poor houses and insane asylums. The Report on the Poor and Insane in Rhode Island: Made to the General Assembly at its January Session, 1851 provided a detailed census of “insane paupers” at thirty-three local facilities. The abuse of disabled Rhode Islanders in rural localities exposed in the report helped abolish state policies which treated mental illness as a crime.

Hazard was also a committed antislavery activist and published dozens of tracts in support of the American Colonization Society and the Republic of Liberia. From 1840 to 1841 he served as a Vice President of the ACS. Other causes for which he labored included the abolition of the death penalty in Rhode Island and public education.[4]

Spiritualism[edit]

Following the death of his wife in 1854, Hazard became interested in spiritual communication and began visiting mediums in Providence and Boston. The author Maud Howe Elliott, a neighbor and childhood friend of the Hazard children, recalls Shepherd Tom’s grief and subsequent obsession with “materialization, spirit life, mediums, psychic photographs.”[5] Hazard penned numerous firsthand accounts of spirit materializations and séances held in a dedicated room at his Portsmouth estate, Vaucluse. After two of his daughters died of tuberculosis and a third drowned herself in a river on the family’s property, he dedicated himself exclusively to the defense of mediumship. His works on spiritualism include:

  • Eleven Days at Moravia (1873)
  • Blasphemy; Who Are the Blasphemers? The "orthodox" Christians, or "spiritualists"? (1872)
  • Modern Spiritualism Scientifically Explained . (1875)

Other works[edit]

Hazard authored two books of local folklore: Recollections of Olden Times: Rowland Robinson of Narragansett and his unfortunate daughter: with genealogies of the Robinson, Hazard, and Sweet families of Rhode Island (1879) and The Jonnycake Papers of “Shepherd Tom”,: Together with Reminiscences of Narragansett Schools of Former Days (1880). The latter became the subject of controversy when Dr. Leroy Vaughn used the work as evidence of Thomas Jefferson's African Heritage. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation has since dismissed these claims.

References[edit]

  1. ^ L.E. Rogers, ed. (1881). "Hazard, Thomas R.". Biographical Cyclopedia of Representative Men of Rhode Island. Providence: National Biographical Publishing Co. 
  2. ^ Robinson, Caroline; Daniel Berkely Updike (1896). The Hazard family of Rhode Island 1635-1894 : Being a genealogy and history of the descendants of Thomas Hazard, with sketches of the worthies of this family, and anecdotes illustrative of their traits and also of the times in which they lived. Boston: Merrymount Press. p. 121. 
  3. ^ Field, Edward (1902). State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations at the End of the Century: A History, Volume 3. Boston: The Mason Publishing Co. p. 419. ISBN 1144749522. 
  4. ^ Hazard, Thomas R. (1883). Miscellaneous Essays and Letters. Philadelphia: Collins. 
  5. ^ Elliott, Maud Howe (1944). This Was My Newport. New York: Mythology Co. p. 67. 

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