Today we will visit with several White abolitionists.

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William Lloyd Garrison (1805 – 1879)


William Lloyd Garrison was born December 10, 1805 in Newburyport, Massachusetts.  In 1830 he started an abolitionist paper, The Liberator. In 1832 he helped form the New England Antislavery Society. When the Civil War broke out, he continued to blast the Constitution as a pro-slavery document. When the civil war ended, he at last saw the abolition of slavery. He died May 24, 1879 in New York City.

Early Life

Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison was born the son of a merchant sailor in Newburyport, Massachusetts on December 10, 1805. When Garrison was only three years old, his father Abijah abandoned the family. Garrison’s mother, a devout Baptist named Frances Maria, struggled to raise Garrison and his siblings in poverty. As a child, Garrison lived with a Baptist deacon for a time, where he received a rudimentary education. In 1814, he reunited with his mother and took an apprenticeship as a shoemaker, but the work proved too physically demanding for the young boy. A short stint at cabinetmaking was equally unsuccessful.

Start in Journalism

In 1818, when Garrison was 13 years old, he was appointed to a seven-year apprenticeship as a writer and editor under Ephraim W. Allen, the editor of the Newburyport Herald. It was during this apprenticeship that Garrison would find his true calling.

Through Garrison’s various newspaper jobs, he acquired the skills to run his own newspaper. After he finished his apprenticeship in 1826, when he was 20 years old, Garrison borrowed money from his former employer and purchased The Newburyport Essex Courant. Garrison renamed the paper theNewburyport Free Press and used it as a political instrument for expressing the sentiments of the old Federalist Party. In it he would also publish John Greenleaf Whittier’s early poems. The two forged a friendship that would last a lifetime. Unfortunately, the Newburyport Free Press lacked similar staying power. Within six months, the Free Press went under due to subscribers’ objections to its staunch Federalist viewpoint.

When the Free Press folded in 1828, Garrison moved to Boston, where he landed a job as a journeyman printer and editor for the National Philanthropist, a newspaper dedicated to temperance and reform.


In 1828, while working for the National Philanthropist, Garrison took a meeting with Benjamin Lundy. The antislavery editor of the Genius of Emancipation brought the cause of abolition to Garrison’s attention. When Lundy offered Garrison an editor’s position at Genius of Emancipation in Vermont, Garrison eagerly accepted. The job marked Garrison’s initiation into the Abolitionist movement.

By the time he was 25 years old, Garrison had joined the American Colonization Society. The society held the view that blacks should move to the west coast of Africa. Garrison at first believed that the society’s goal was to promote blacks’ freedom and well being. But Garrison grew disillusioned when he soon realized that their true objective was to minimize the amount of free slaves in the United States. It became clear to Garrison that this strategy only server to further support the mechanism of slavery.

In 1830 Garrison broke away from the American Colonization Society and started his own abolitionist paper, calling it The Liberator. As published in its first issue, The Liberator’s motto read, “Our country is the world—our countrymen are mankind.” The Liberator was responsible for initially building Garrison’s reputation as an abolitionist.

Garrison soon realized that the abolitionist movement needed to be better organized. In 1832 he helped form the New England Antislavery Society. After taking a short trip to England in 1833, Garrison founded the American Antislavery Society, a national organization dedication to achieving abolition. However, Garrison’s unwillingness to take political action (rather than simply write or speak about the cause of abolition) caused many of his fellow abolitionist supporters to gradually desert the pacifist. Inadvertently, Garrison had created a fracture among members of the American Antislavery Society. By 1840, defectors formed their own rival organization, called the American Foreign and Antislavery Society.

In 1841, an even greater schism existed among members of the abolitionist movement. While many abolitionists were pro-Union, Garrison, who viewed the Constitution as pro-slavery, believed that the Union should be dissolved. He argued that Free states and slave states should in fact be made separate. Garrison was vehemently against the annexation of Texas and strongly objected to the Mexican American War. In August of 1847, Garrison and former slave Frederick Douglass made a series of 40 anti-Union speeches in the Alleghenies.

1854 proved a pivotal year in the Abolition Movement. The Kansas-Nebraska Act established the Kansas and Nebraska territories and repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which had regulated the extension of slavery for the prior 30 years. Settlers in those areas where allowed to choose through Popular Sovereignty whether or not they would allow slavery there. The plan, which Garrison considered “a hollow bargain for the North,” backfired when slavery supporters and abolitionists alike rushed Kansas so they could vote on the fate of slavery there. Hostilities led to government corruption and violence. The events of the 1857 Dred Scott Decision further increased tensions among pro and anti-slavery advocates, as it established that Congress was powerless to ban slavery in the federal territories. Not only were blacks not protected by the Constitution, but according to it, they could never become U.S. citizens.

In 1861, as the American Civil War broke out, Garrison continued to criticize the U.S. Constitution in The Liberator, a process of resistance that Garrison had now practiced for nearly 20 years. Understandably, some found it surprising when the pacifist also used his journalism to support Abraham Lincoln and his war policies, even prior to the Emancipation Proclamation in September of 1862.

When the Civil War came to a close in 1865, Garrison at last saw his dream come to fruition: With the 13th Amendment, slavery was outlawed throughout the United States—in both the North and South.

Lydia Maria Child (1802 – 1880)

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Lydia Maria Child, née Lydia Maria Francis   (born February 11, 1802, Medford, Massachusetts, U.S.—died October 20, 1880, Wayland, Massachusetts), American author of antislavery works that had great influence in her time.

Born into an abolitionist family, Lydia Francis was primarily influenced in her education by her brother, a Unitarian clergyman and later a professor at the Harvard Divinity School. In the 1820s she taught, wrote historical novels, and founded a periodical for children, Juvenile Miscellany (1826). In 1828 she married David L. Child, an editor. After meeting the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison in 1831, she devoted her life to abolitionism.

Child’s best-known work, An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans (1833), related the history of slavery and denounced the inequality of education and employment for blacks; it was the first such work published in book form. As a result, Child was ostracized socially and her magazine failed in 1834. The book succeeded, however, in inducing many people to join the abolition movement. Child’s further abolitionist efforts included editing the National Anti-Slavery Standard (1841–43) and later transcribing the recollections of slaves who had been freed.

In 1852 the Childs settled permanently on a farm in Wayland, Massachusetts. They continued to contribute liberally, from a small income, to the abolition movement. Child’s other work included once-popular volumes of advice for women, such asThe Frugal Housewife (1829), and books on behalf of the American Indian. Among her later books were three volumes of Flowers for Children (1844–47), Fact and Fiction (1846), The Freedmen’s Book (1865), and An Appeal for the Indians (1868). Her letters have been compiled in Lydia Maria Child, Selected Letters, 1817–1880(1982).

John Brown (1800 – 1859)

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John Brown was born on May 9, 1800, in Torrington, Connecticut, in a Calvinist household and would go on to have a large family of his own. Facing much financial difficulty throughout his life, he was also an ardent abolitionist who worked with the Underground Railroad and the League of Gileadites, among other endeavors. He believed in using violent means to end slavery, and, with the intent of inspiring a slave insurrection, eventually led an unsuccessful raid on the Harpers Ferry federal armory. Brown went to trial and was executed on December 2, 1859.

Early Life

John Brown was born on May 9, 1800, in Torrington, Connecticut, to Ruth Mills and Owen Brown. Owen, who was a Calvinist and worked as a tanner, ardently believed that slavery was wrong. As a 12-year-old boy traveling through Michigan, John would witness an enslaved African-American boy be beaten, haunting him for years to come and informing his own abolitionism.

Though the younger Brown initially studied to work in the ministry, he instead decided to take up his father’s trade. Brown wed Dianthe Lusk in 1820, and the couple had several children before her death in the early 1830s. He remarried in 1833, and he and wife Mary Ann Day would have many more children.

Ardent Abolitionist

Brown worked in a number of vocations and moved around quite a bit from the 1820s to 1850s, experiencing great financial difficulties. Brown also took part in the Underground Railroad, gave land to free African Americans and eventually established the League of Gileadites, a group formed with the intention of protecting black citizens from slave hunters.

Brown met with renowned orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass in 1847 in Springfield, Massachusetts. Then, in 1849, Brown moved and settled in the black community of North Elba, New York, which was created on land provided by philanthropist Gerrit Smith.

In 1855 Brown moved to Kansas, where five of his sons had relocated as well. With the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, there was conflict over whether the territory would be a free or slave state. Brown, who believed in using violent means to end slavery, became involved in the conflict; in 1856, he and several of his men killed five pro-slavery settlers in a retaliatory attack at Pottawatomie Creek.

Harpers Ferry Attack

In 1858, Brown liberated a group of enslaved people from a Missouri homestead and helped guide them to freedom in Canada. It was also in Canada that Brown spoke of plans to form a free black community in the mountains of Maryland and Virginia.

On the evening of October 16, 1859, Brown led a party of 21 men on a raid of the federal armory of Harpers Ferry in Virginia (now West Virginia), holding dozens of men hostage with the plan of inspiring a slave insurrection. Brown’s forces held out for two days; they were eventually defeated by military forces led by Robert E. Lee. Many of Brown’s men were killed, including two of his sons, and he was captured. Brown’s case went to trial quickly, and on November 2 he was sentenced to death.

In a speech to the court before his sentencing, Brown stated his actions to be just and God-sanctioned. Debate ensued over how Brown should be viewed, deepening the divide between North and South and having profound implications for the direction of the country. Several of his colleagues also petitioned that the courts should look at Brown’s questionable mental state when it came to his actions. Brown was executed on December 2, 1859.

James Redpath (1833 – 1891)

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James Redpath was 17 years old when he emigrated to America, leaving his Scottish homeland to settle in Allegan County, Michigan. He was enthralled by pioneer life, but had little interest in the fundamentals of farming that otherwise engaged his family. His first love was writing, and his subject rarely varied: slavery. He would write passionately against the institution, using his words to influence opinion throughout the North.

Horace Greeley, influential editor of the New York “Tribune,” became aware of Redpath’s writing and invited the boy to come work for him. By age 19, Redpath was an editor at the paper.

Influenced by Greeley’s reform advocacy, Redpath decided to go to the South to witness slavery firsthand. He conducted interviews with slaves, publishing his accounts in antislavery newspapers and later as a collection titled, “The Roving Editor.” He provided Northern readers a rare perspective on the hardships of slavery:

“Have any of your children been sold?” I inquired.

“Yes,” she said, sobbing, the tears beginning to trickle down her furrowed cheeks, “three on ’em. Two boys were sold down South — I don’t know where they is; and my oldest son was sold to Texas three years since…. it seems as if this life was to be a hard trial to colored people.… I’s no hopes of seeing my boys agin this side the Land.”

In 1856 Redpath went to Kansas, where violence between free-state and proslavery forces were threatening to ignite an all out war. His reports to the New York “Tribune,” Chicago “Tribune,” and the St. Louis “Democrat,” kept Northern readers abreast of the unrelenting struggles of the free-state cause, and provided a taste of the lawless frontier:

In this region when men went out to plow they always took their rifles with them, and always tilled in companies of from five to ten…Whenever two men approached each other, they came up pistol in hand, and the first salutation invariably was: ‘Free State or Proslave?’ It not infrequently happened that the next sound was the report of a pistol.

To ensure his stories reached Kansans, Redpath started his own newspaper, “Crusader of Freedom.” His first printed words left little doubt of his politics: “I enroll myself a Crusader of Freedom until slavery ceases to exist.”

Redpath’s crusade took a remarkable turn on the day he met John Brown. The murder of five proslavery men along Pottawatomie Creek had electrified the territories. John Brown stood accused of committing the killings, and U.S. troops and Missouri militia were searching the countryside for him. Redpath found him first after stumbling across his encampment in the woods.

Near the edge of the creek a dozen horses were tied, already saddled for a ride for life, or a hunt after Southern invaders… Old Brown himself stood near the fire. He was poorly clad, and his toes protruded from his boots…

It was a prophetic meeting for both men. Brown represented something of a romantic ideal to Redpath — a Northerner who fought back.

I have spoken of the rumors of midnight murder in the Pottawatomie region. Captain Brown was accused of having done the deed — the charge is false.

Whether he knew about Brown’s involvement in the Pottawatomie killings or not, Redpath proceeded to write about Brown as if he was a noble hero, a “warrior-saint” who’s actions were directed by a higher order.

After every meal, the old man would retire to the densest solitudes. he would say that the Lord had directed him in visions; that, for himself, he did not love warfare, but peace.

The interview was John Brown’s debut in the press. But it wasn’t until the battle of Osawatomie that John Brown, the abolitionist hero, fully emerged. At the end of August, almost three months after the Pottawatomie killings, some 250 Border Ruffians attacked the free-soil town of Osawatomie. Brown defended the town with 30 men. He fought desperately, but Osawatomie burned to the ground. His son, Frederick, was killed by a bullet through the heart.

Redpath’s report of the battle spread across the country; almost overnight, John Brown was propelled to national attention. Soon after, when he rode into the free-soil town of Lawrence, a crowd gathered to cheer — “as if the President had come to town.” Even in New York John Brown was now famous. Less than two weeks after the battle, a drama called “Ossawattomie Brown” celebrated him on Broadway.

Three years later, after Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, Redpath would write in defense of his actions. As historian Paul Finkelman writes, “He was one of the first antislavery men to declare Brown’s raid a victory, because, ‘his mission [was] to render slavery insecure,’ and this he certainly had done.”

After Brown’s execution, Redpath wrote a biography on the abolitionist, with a large percentage of the profits going to the Brown family. The book was a huge success, selling over 40,000 copies in its first months.

The hangman would send Redpath a piece of the scaffold on which Brown was hanged. He treasured it for years, labeling it, “A Bit of the True Cross, a Chip from the Scaffold of John Brown.”



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