Study Guide

Abolitionists People

  • Harriet Beecher Stowe

    Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) was an American abolitionist and novelist who wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, one of the most influential books in American history.

    Her father was Lyman Beecher, pastor of the Congregational Church in Litchfield, and her brother was the famous Congregational preacher Henry Ward Beecher.

    After the death of one of her children made her contemplate the pain slaves must endure when family members are sold away, she decided to write a book about slavery. With the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852, she became a national celebrity, and went on to write several more books on the topic, many of them in response to Southern critiques of the original.

    During her twenties in Cincinnati, Ohio, Stowe developed the idea of an unbreachable boundary between right and wrong. In the context of a renewed sectional debate over slavery, the acquisition of new territories, and the infamous Fugitive Slave Law that formed a part of the Compromise of 1850, Stowe began publishing Uncle Tom's Cabin in serial installments in The National Era, a popular weekly paper.

    Through her writing, Stowe sought to shock her readers' Christian consciences on behalf of African Americans. In 1852, Uncle Tom's Cabin was published in its entirety in book form, and sold 500,000 copies within four years.

    It was translated into a variety of languages, and by the end of the century, Stowe's book had sold more copies in America than every other book except the Bible. Despite the popularity of her publications, the mother of six never made much money from writing. She remained deeply religious and a supporter of reform movements for temperance and women's suffrage.

  • Henry Walton Bibb

    Henry Walton Bibb (1815-1854) was a runaway slave and antislavery lecturer who published his autobiography, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave, in 1849.

    Bibb's mother was a slave but his father was a white Kentucky state senator named James Bibb. Henry made several attempts at escaping before he finally reached Canada in 1837.

    Bibb returned to Kentucky a year later to bring his wife and child to freedom with him. Unfortunately, he was recaptured, and his multiple attempts to escape from slavery with his family were unsuccessful.

    He escaped again on his own in 1840, moved to Detroit and remarried in 1848. When Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Bibb and his new wife fled to Canada, where he continued his activism and founded a church, a school, and several antislavery societies. He also founded the Voice of the Fugitive, Canada's first black newspaper, in January of 1851.

  • Maria W. Chapman

    Maria W. Chapman (1806-1885) was a prominent American abolitionist and a close associate of William Lloyd Garrison. She was a Ladies' High School principal in Boston before she married merchant Henry Grafton Chapman, who introduced her to several abolitionist activists.

    Maria then helped organize the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society along with twelve other women in 1832, and served as treasurer of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. She also assisted Garrison in editing his antislavery paper, The Liberator.

    Chapman organized fairs throughout New England to help raise funds for the antislavery cause, and along with Angelina Grimké and others, Chapman spoke at the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women in Philadelphia in May 1838.

    Like Grimké, she defied the hostile mob that surrounded the building and persisted in making her speech anyway. In 1839, Chapman published the pamphlet, Right and Wrong in Massachusetts, in which she argued that differences in opinion about women's rights were at the center of the widening divisions among abolitionists.

  • Lydia Maria Child

    Lydia Maria Child (1802-1880) was a very influential antislavery author who came from an abolitionist family in Massachusetts.

    She married David Lee Child in 1828, and naturally, both were avid antislavery activists. They contributed a sizable portion of their modest income to the antislavery cause.

    Child wrote several antislavery pamphlets while editing a New York City weekly, the National Anti-Slavery Standard, from 1841 to 1849. She's perhaps best-known for An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans, published in 1833, which included a history of slavery and demanded equality for Blacks in education and employment, the first book-length work of its kind.

    Child also wrote historical novels, a history of religious sects, and books about Native Americans. She also founded a magazine for children.

  • Lucretia Coffin Mott

    Lucretia Coffin Mott (1793-1880) was a feminist, abolitionist, and one of the pioneers of the women's movement.

    She was a Quaker who both studied and taught at a Friends school near Poughkeepsie, New York, and in 1811, she married fellow Quaker—and abolitionist and feminist activist—James Mott. From 1818 on, she lectured for a number of reformist causes, from temperance to workers' rights to abolition.

    Mott attended the founding convention of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833 and then established its women's auxiliary, the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society.

    In 1840, when the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London refused to recognize its female delegates, Mott put her foot down and became a leading champion of women's rights, helping Elizabeth Cady Stanton organize the first women's rights convention in the United States at Seneca Falls in 1848.

  • Frederick Douglass

    Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) was a champ of the abolitionist movement—so much so that he was able to write not one, not two, but three bestselling autobiographies about his life. 

    Born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, he was a runaway slave, a supporter of women's rights, and probably the most prominent abolitionist and human rights leader of the nineteenth century.

    A renowned orator, Douglass favored the use of political tactics to work for abolition. During the Civil War, he advised President Lincoln to let former slaves fight for the North, and helped organize two Black regiments in Massachusetts.

    While much of the country was ignoring the elephant in the room, Douglass worked zealously to make the war a direct confrontation with slavery.

    A literate runaway slave, Douglass began his renowned speaking career in 1841, when he delivered some extemporaneous remarks on his experiences under slavery at a Massachusetts antislavery convention. Abolitionist activists quickly recognized his talent and made him an agent for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society.

    In 1845, he wrote his autobiography—Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself—in part as a response to critics who argued that such a well-spoken man could never have been a slave. While Douglass spent time abroad, English supporters purchased his freedom for him, for the sum of $710.96.

    After returning to America, he debated with his white counterparts in the Anti-Slavery Society, who thought he should simply tell his dramatic story, not comment on the racism that he encountered in the North. In the same breath, he also began to argue that the Constitution was not necessarily a proslavery document, and that the lofty aims stated in its preamble could be consistent with the abolitionist cause.

    His position, in direct contrast to that of William Lloyd Garrison, caused a break with the Garrisonian faction of the abolitionist movement in 1851.

    Like Douglass, other Black abolitionists experienced similar problems in emancipating friends and family members while articulating their views and commanding respect.

  • Henry Highland Garnett

    Henry Highland Garnett (1815-1882) was one of the most prominent black leaders throughout the antebellum period and a leading figure in the American Anti-Slavery Society.

    An escaped slave, Garnett attained national notoriety when, at the 1843 National Negro Convention in New York, he called upon slaves to murder their masters. 

    Well, that didn't go over so well. 

    The convention refused to endorse such a radical proposition, and Garnett increasingly turned to religion, leaving his fellow abolitionist Frederick Douglass to assume the mantle of black leadership. 

    Still, many of Garnett's former critics, including Douglass, gradually moved toward his own radical position.

    Garnett supported the cause of an independent black republic in Liberia, which was established in 1847, but also maintained optimism for the future of blacks at home in America.

    Nevertheless, fueled in no small part by the failure of Reconstruction, Garnett lost faith in the prospect of a black future on American soil. Appointed minister to Liberia in 1881, he supported colonization, but died two months after his arrival in Africa.

    Even before his turn to colonization, Garnett's radical approach to the slavery question reminds us that factions abounded within the antislavery movement, while Black activists had to navigate these differences to achieve their goals of freedom and equality.

    Though he began his career with a passion for justice, he ended it consumed by disenchantment over the state of race relations in America. Unfortunately, these problems seem to be ingrained in our DNA as the country still struggles to live up to its idealistic founding words today.

  • William Lloyd Garrison

    William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) was one of the most prominent and uncompromising abolitionists of the nineteenth century.

    He published The Liberator, an antislavery newspaper, from 1831 until the day that all American slaves were freed.

    So, he published a lot of issues, because that was a long 34 years later...

    Garrison also organized the first Anti-Slavery Society in New England, and co-founded the first nationwide organization, the American Anti-Slavery Society. Southerners and anti-abolitionists often condemned him as a troublemaker who sought to incite their otherwise contented slaves to insurrection. Though a pacifist all his life, Garrison did celebrate the notion of slave rebellions after John Brown's failed raid on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia.

    Garrison was anything but a moderate. In 1832, he published Thoughts on African Colonization, which savaged the colonization effort, arguing that colonization would actually solidify the institution of slavery. By simply eliminating the "problem" of free Blacks in society and providing a convenient means for disposing of elderly and ill slaves, the country would only be tossing the true race problem aside. 

    He acknowledged that many people with good intentions had joined the Colonization Society, but argued the Society must fall together with slavery itself. Garrison also disapproved of the small religious sects that had formed to oppose slavery, on the grounds that his American Anti-Slavery Society should not be weakened by disunity.

    Additionally, Garrisonians wanted a new government that forbade slavery from the start, and they labeled the Constitution a proslavery document, illegal in its denial of freedom to African Americans. The position alienated Garrison's supporters, brothers Arthur and Lewis Tappan, who split with Garrison in 1840 to pursue a more moderate route through the new Liberty Party.

    That same year, Garrison's insistence that women be allowed to serve as delegates to abolitionist conventions led to a split in the American Anti-Slavery Society and the formation of the Foreign and American Anti-Slavery Society, also founded by the Tappans.

  • Angelina Grimké Weld

    Angelina Grimké Weld (1805-1879) was an abolitionist who wrote and lectured in favor of emancipation and women's rights.

    Horrified by the brutalities of slavery that she witnessed while growing up, Angelina followed in the footsteps of her sister, Sarah, and moved to Philadelphia to become a Quaker. An abolitionist by 1836, she wrote An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South.

    Two years later, Angelina married Theodore Dwight Weld, an equally determined evangelist and abolitionist organizer. Both Grimké sisters were excommunicated from the Quaker church, since Angelina married a Presbyterian and Sarah attended the service. 

    Due to poor health, Angelina stopped lecturing shortly after her marriage. Still, she remained committed to the cause and completed Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses along with Sarah and her husband in 1839.

    Yep, even without their Quaker Friends, the Grimké sisters couldn't be stopped.

    In 1838, Angelina made three appearances before the Massachusetts legislative committee in the Boston State House. She was the first American woman ever to address a legislative body. Before a packed crowd, Angelina spoke on behalf of the 20,000 Massachusetts women who placed their names on antislavery petitions to the Legislature.

    In May of the same year, Angelina spoke at the Pennsylvania Hall antislavery meeting. She took the podium as a gathering crowd surrounded the building, screamed obscenities, and pelted the edifice and those leaving it with rocks and any other implements.

    Undaunted, she delivered her speech to an audience of some 3,000 people, calling the attackers "deluded beings." At the end of the day, whites and Blacks walked out of the hall arm in arm, partly as a display of solidarity but also to protect their Black comrades. The next day, the Hall was burned down by the mob.

  • Sarah Moore Grimké

    Sarah Moore Grimké (1792-1873) was an abolitionist who wrote and lectured as an advocate for emancipation and women's rights.

    She was born into a prominent slaveholding family in Charleston, South Carolina, but was horrified by the brutalities of slavery that she witnessed while growing up.

    Sarah strongly influenced Angelina, her younger sister by thirteen years, when she became a Quaker and moved to Philadelphia in 1821. Angelina followed eight years later and the sisters continued to work closely together all their lives. When Angelina married Theodore Dwight Weld in 1838, both Grimké sisters were excommunicated from the Quaker church, since Weld was a Presbyterian and Sarah had attended the wedding.

    The Grimké sisters began their public speeches when they addressed small groups of women for the American Anti-Slavery Society, but they soon began speaking before larger audiences of men and women.

    Sarah wrote An Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States and Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Woman, having been prompted to compose the latter in 1838 after the General Association of Congregational Ministers of Massachusetts issued a pastoral letter denouncing female reformers and preachers.

    That wasn't going to fly with the Grimké sisters.

    After working with her sister and brother-in-law on Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses (1839), Sarah retired from most public advocacy and lived quietly in New Jersey and Massachusetts.

  • Wendell Phillips

    Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) was a wealthy Harvard Law School graduate who gave up his career and social prestige in order to join up with the abolitionist cause in 1835. He became one of its most stirring orators.

    Phillips joined up with the antislavery cause after witnessing a hostile mob dragging William Lloyd Garrison through the streets of Boston in 1835, and they later became close friends and associates.

    Phillips opposed both the annexation of Texas and the Mexican-American War. Like Garrison, he refused to identify with any political party and condemned the Constitution as a proslavery document. He thought that, in addition to freedom itself, the government owed Blacks land, education, and all civil rights.

    Phillips blasted President Lincoln for his moderate stance on emancipation and after the Civil War, he continued to call for other reforms, such as women's rights, temperance, and the Greenback Party.

  • Gerrit Smith

    Gerrit Smith (1797-1874) was a wealthy abolitionist from Utica, New York. He was the only abolitionist to hold a Congressional office, the president of the New York Anti-Slavery Society for three years, and a Station Master of the Underground Railroad. He also helped found the anti-slavery Liberty Party in 1840.

    Smith joined the antislavery cause in October of 1835 while attending an abolitionist conference in his hometown. The meeting was disrupted by a violent mob of anti-abolitionists, so Smith offered his Peterboro, New York estate to house the conference and made a powerful speech on behalf of the cause.

    Smith began to sell portions of his land to fugitive slaves for the nominal fee of just a dollar, and he became one of the Secret Six, a group of supporters who gave financial assistance to John Brown for his 1859 raid at Harper's Ferry.

  • Arthur Tappan

    Arthur Tappan (1786-1865) was an American abolitionist from Northampton, Massachusetts. He became very wealthy from the dry goods business that he ran with his brother and partner, Lewis, in New York City. 

    Abolition became one of Tappan's chief causes, and his courage and generosity often made him the target of hostile Northern anti-abolitionist mobs. But his commitment to the cause remained steadfast. When he supported white pastor Simeon S. Jocelyn's proposal for a Black college in New Haven, Connecticut in 1831, local residents stoned his house on Temple Street to demonstrate their opposition to the plan.

    In 1832, Tappan even financed William Lloyd Garrison's Thoughts on African Colonization, an attack on the American Colonization Society. With Tappan's support, the pamphlet gained a wide circulation, reaching as far west as Ohio.

    He also organized the first state Anti-Slavery Society in New York and was then elected the first president of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833, the first national abolitionist organization.

    When the AAS mailed out some 385,000 inflammatory pamphlets to the South in 1835, Southern governments put a price on Tappan's head. In East Feliciana, Louisiana, and Mount Meigs, Alabama, he was worth $50,000, while New Orleans offered $100,000 for his delivery.

    Yikes.

    He split with William Lloyd Garrison in 1840 and helped organize the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, where he also served as president. The rupture came because Garrison's followers were more radical than the Tappans; Garrisonians wanted a new government that forbade slavery from the start, and they considered the United States Constitution to be a proslavery document that was also illegal because it denied African Americans their freedom.

    The Tappans pursued a more moderate route that led to the emergence of the Liberty Party, which they founded along with Theodore Dwight Weld, in 1840. Garrison scorned this sort of political action as futile, but the Tappans believed it could work. The Liberty Party lasted eight years and influenced many local elections where legislators were persuaded to adopt antislavery platforms. When it dissolved in 1848, many of the former members joined up with the Free Soil Party, which was then absorbed into the Republican Party in 1854.

  • Lewis Tappan

    Lewis Tappan (1788-1873) was an abolitionist, philanthropist, and activist who ran a very profitable dry goods business with his bro/partner, Arthur, in the Big Apple.

    Thankfully, Lewis and his brother chose to use their money for good.

    Lewis formed the Friend of Amistad Africans (or simply the "Amistad") Committee in the fall of 1839, which supported the case of the African slaves who rebelled aboard a ship off of Cuba and steered their way into American waters.

    He also became a delegate to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1843 and had founded the predecessor of Dun and Bradstreet, a business that rates commercial credit, in 1841. But he actually retired from business in 1849 to devote himself entirely to the abolitionism and other humanitarian causes.

  • Sojourner Truth

    Sojourner Truth (1797-1883), born Isabella Baumfree, was one of the most famous female African-American abolitionists of the nineteenth century.

    Born into slavery, Truth was set free in 1827 and took the name Sojourner Truth in 1843. She became an evangelist and a moving public speaker, despite the fact that she remained illiterate throughout her life.

    Truth was introduced to the abolitionist movement upon joining a utopian community in Massachusetts, and spoke at antislavery rallies and conventions throughout the Midwest in the 1850s. She supported herself by selling copies of her life story, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth.

    In the 1850s, activists including Lucretia Mott encouraged Truth to become involved with the women's rights movement. Seeking to enhance Truth's popular image, Frances Dana Gage, a white woman and activist, witnessed the "Ain't I a Woman?" speech and published it years later. She likely wrote and enhanced the headlining question for which Sojourner Truth later became wildly famous.

    Truth continued to speak at suffragette meetings until her death. She was hardly alone as a Black woman in the struggle for abolition and women's rights, but many of her colleagues' names and memories have lamentably been lost to history or—more specifically—left ignored by too many historians. They included Sarah Douglass, Maria Stewart, Sarah Remond, and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.

  • Harriet Tubman

    Harriet Tubman (1820-1913), born Araminta Ross, was a runaway slave and abolitionist who guided some 300 fellow runaways to freedom as one of the most famous and successful "conductors" on the Underground Railroad.

    The so-called Railroad was a secret network of safe houses where slaves were hidden on their journey northward. To facilitate its success, Tubman journeyed perilously back into the South at least a dozen times, and was able to bring her parents and brother to freedom.

    Tubman was also a prominent antislavery lecturer and a friend of famous abolitionists such as John Brown, who may have told her about his secret plan to raid the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry and incite a slave revolt.

    During the Civil War, Tubman worked in various capacities for Union forces in coastal South Carolina: she was a cook and a laundress, but she was also a scout and a spy

    We call it like we see it: she was a badass.

    Despite the fact, Tubman had to apply twice for a federal pension for her Civil War services, and finally received one from Congress (at $20 a month) in the 1890s.

    After the war, she opened the Harriet Tubman Home for Indigent Aged Negroes, a home for poor and elderly Blacks, which was supported by several of her former abolitionist colleagues and many citizens in Auburn, New York, where she lived for the rest of her life.

  • David Walker

    David Walker (1796-1830) was a free Black man, a self-taught clothes dealer, a radical abolitionist, a devout Christian, and a writer who published his self-titled David Walker's Appeal in 1829. 

    Walker was harshly criticized by some white abolitionists who wanted a gradual emancipation and who feared that his radicalism would hurt the antislavery movement as a whole.

    Walker was born free, but was exposed to the cruelties of slavery throughout his childhood. By 1828, he had settled in Boston, joined the Massachusetts General Colored Association, and become one of the city's most prominent antislavery spokesmen.

    Utilizing his trade as a clothes dealer, Walker stitched copies of his Appeal pamphlet into the lining of coats that he sold to Black sailors, who transported the work across the country with them. As a result, Georgia and North Carolina enacted laws against incendiary publications, while several southern towns offered rewards for Walker's head or to anyone who could bring him to the South alive.

    Three editions of the pamphlet were printed within a year after its 1829 release. In the pamphlet, Walker addressed his fellow African Americans, arguing against colonization. He wrote that "America is more our country than it is the whites—we have enriched it with our blood and tears."

    Walker was found dead in his home in August 1830, and while some speculated that he was poisoned, recent research suggests that he died of tuberculosis, the same affliction that killed his daughter.

  • John Woolman

    John Woolman (1720-1772) was one of the OG abolitionists, and the most influential Quaker antislavery activist prior to the revolutionary era.

    In 1754, Woolman published Some Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes, in which he asked his readers to "suppose that our ancestors and we had been exposed to constant servitude...destitute of the help of reading and good company...while others, in ease, have plentifully heaped up the fruit of our labour...should we, in that case, be less abject than they now are?"

    Woolman died of smallpox while attending a Yearly Meeting in England in 1772, but just four years after his death, the Quakers banned slaveholding among the Society of Friends.

    Like the Puritans, the Quakers initially expressed no objection to slaveholding. Still, George Fox, founder of the Quakers, did visit Barbados in the late seventeenth century and admonished the slaveholders he encountered there to train their slaves about God and to treat them "gently and mildly."

    However, no formal sect-wide action took place until 1742, when Woolman objected to preparing a bill of sale for a Black woman that his boss had sold. Although he did ultimately comply, Woolman told his employer that he considered slaveholding inconsistent with Christianity, and he began a life-long campaign with like-minded members of the Society of Friends. Quakers soon came to comprise the majority number of the most conscientious opponents of slavery, helping to found the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery in 1775.

  • Elizur Wright

    Elizur Wright (1804-1885) was an actuary—a.k.a. a statistician—on top of being a Yale graduate and a leading abolitionist in the American Anti-Slavery Society.

    During the summer of 1835, he had to barricade his doors in New York City "with bars and planks an inch thick," for fear of the uncontrollable anti-abolitionist mobs.

    In 1839 he became editor of the Massachusetts Abolitionist beforebecoming a leading proponent of life insurance reform later in his life.