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Laura Murphy

a former Virginia slave who became an antislavery lecturer, used no last name. Almost nothing is known about him outside of the record contained in his episodic, forty-eight page memoir. He did not provide any information about his parents other than that “hard work and hard usage … killed them.” (Light and Truth 6 He recorded that he had lived in Maryland and Kentucky but that for most of his time as a slave he lived in Virginia owned by a master with seven other slaves three of whom were female Aaron s owner proved especially cruel preferring to personally punish his slaves rather than send them out for a whipping During the summer he forced his three female slaves to work all day and then spend the entire night cooling him and his family with fans while they slept Aaron was forbidden to go to church although ...


John Gilmore

The term can be applied either to the ending of slavery, or to the ending of the slave trade, but in British historical writing the former is more usually referred to as emancipation.

While there are earlier examples of individuals who had doubts about the legality or morality of both the slave trade and slavery, serious public questioning of these institutions only began in Britain in the third quarter of the 18th century, with the attention focused on legal cases such as those of Jonathan Strong and James Somerset (see Somerset case). The first group of people who collectively questioned the legitimacy of the slave trade were the Quakers, who formed a Committee on the Slave Trade in 1783 and were also prominent in the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade also referred to as the Society for the Abolition of the ...


Christopher Schmidt-Nowara, David Feeny, Dharma Kumar, Howard Temperley, Jan S. Hogendorn, Peter Blanchard, and Robert P. Forbes

[This entry comprises seven articles that discuss the premises and practices of abolition and anti-slavery in major regions around the world from the eighteenth century to the twentieth:



Southeast Asia


Continental Europe

Latin America

United States

For particular discussion of the role Christianity played in the abolition ...


Brenda E. Stevenson

O, ye daughters of Africa, awake! awake! arise! No longer sleep nor slumber, but distinguish yourselves. Show forth to the world that ye are endowed with noble and exalted faculties.

(Maria Stewart, 1831)


Richard S. Newman, Paul Finkelman, and Carl E. Prince

[This entry contains three subentries dealing with abolitionism from the late seventeenth century through the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in1865. The first article discusses the definition of abolitionism as differentiated from antislavery activism and its forms including Garrisonian and non Garrisonian abolition The second article describes ...


During the three decades that preceded the Civil War, abolitionism was a major factor in electoral politics. Most historians use the term abolitionism to refer to antislavery activism between the early 1830s, when William Lloyd Garrison began publishing The Liberator, and the American Civil War (1861–1865). The term also refers to the antislavery crusade that mobilized many African Americans and a small minority of whites, who saw their goal realized during the Civil War. Historians also commonly distinguish abolitionism, a morally grounded and uncompromising social reform movement, from political antislavery—represented, for example, by the Free Soil or Republican parties—which advocated more limited political solutions, such as keeping slavery out of the western territories of the United States, and was more amenable to compromise.

Abolitionists played a key role in setting the terms of the debate over slavery and in making it a compelling moral issue Yet abolitionists ...

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From 1841 to 1847 Frederick Douglass 1818 1895 who had escaped bondage in 1838 lectured on the evils of slavery as part of his work with William Lloyd Garrison s American Anti Slavery Society Douglass eventually differed with Garrison s revolutionary and arguably condescending tactics preferring instead a practical approach that preserved the core values of the republic The speech excerpted below delivered in October 1841 in Lynn Massachusetts contains the seeds of that conflict within the abolitionist movement Douglass states bluntly his concerns that Northerners are out of touch with the slaves experiences and that while their work to end slavery is admirable racism remains a problem even among the most determined abolitionists As an example he points out the irony of the Southern laws that prohibited teaching a slave to read While many Northerners believed that blacks were not smart enough to gain anything from education he states ...


David H. Anthony

Islamic scholar, Jamaican slave, and author, was born in Timbuktu, Mali. When he was two years old his family moved to Jenné in the western Sudan, another major center of Islamic learning and a renowned Sahelian trade city. Heir to a long tradition of Islamic saints and scholars claiming descent from the Prophet Muhammad, he was part of one of several dynasties designated as Sherifian or Shurfaa. Abu Bakr was trained and certified in Jenné by several ulama, the highly intellectual stratum of Islamic teachers. He was in the process of becoming a cleric when he was captured. As was true for many Islamized Africans caught in the vortex of the Atlantic slave trade, Abu Bakr's itinerant life had pre slave African and post slave black Atlantic dimensions His path shares the trajectory of many coreligionists from Muslim areas of the continent as well ...


Karen Backstein

dancer and arts administrator, was born in New York City, the daughter of Julius J. Adams, a journalist who rose to managing editor of the New York Amsterdam News, and Olive A. Adams, an accomplished pianist. Her parents cultivated in her a deep appreciation of the arts, as well as a legacy of social activism that stayed with Adams throughout her life—both during her career as a dancer and after her retirement from the stage, when she helped found community-based arts centers for children in Harlem. The dance writer Muriel Topaz described the Adamses' home as a “center of social and political activity,” and noted that the Global News Syndicate, an organization of black newspapers, was founded in their small apartment (Topaz, 30).

When she was eight years old Adams entered New York s progressive Ethical Culture School an institution dedicated to the moral as well ...


Toward the end of his long life, the congressman John Quincy Adams (1767–1848), son of John and Abigail Adams, was notorious for his militant stands against slavery and its expansion in the Republic that his parents had helped found. It is possible to argue that he absorbed many of his views from his mother, who told her husband that she had doubts about southerners and their commitment to liberty. On 31 March 1776 Abigail Adams wrote in a letter to her husband,

I have sometimes been ready to think that passion for liberty cannot be equally strong in the breasts of those who have been accustomed to deprive their fellow creatures of theirs. Of this I am certain, that it is not founded upon that generous and Christian principle of doing unto others as we would that others do unto us.

(Withey, p. 81)

In fact ...


Robert H. Gudmestad

John Adams was born in Massachusetts in 1735 and grew up in relatively humble circumstances. After graduating from Harvard, he passed the bar and began his legal career. Adams's law practice was steady but unspectacular at a time of growing tension with England. He was a reluctant Revolutionary, even defending the British troops who fired on the crowd for unclear reasons in the Boston Massacre, but served faithfully in the First and Second Continental Congresses. Adams is well known for his insistence on a formal declaration of independence.

He remained in public service as a wartime diplomat to France and Holland and was instrumental in negotiating the treaty that ended the American Revolution. Adams continued his work overseas as ambassador to the English court before returning to the United States, where he was chosen as George Washington s vice president Adams then succeeded Washington as president and faced a ...

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Charles Henry Langston (1817–1892) was the first African American enrolled at the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, a hotbed of abolitionist activity in the state of Ohio. Langston used his experience at the school to become a prominent member of the movement, helping to organize the 1848 Colored National Convention in Cleveland, working to promote the antislavery newspaper the North Star, and serving as the principal of a school for African Americans in Columbus. Perhaps his most famous act, however, was the role he played in helping the fugitive slave John Price escape to Canada after he had been arrested by slave catchers, an incident that became known as the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue. Langston was one of two rescuers who were charged with violating the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. But thanks to his eloquent speech delivered in Cleveland on 12 May 1859, the judge reduced the sentence to twenty days.

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A former slave and soldier identified as Dr Harris delivered the following speech before the Congregational and Presbyterian Anti Slavery Society in Francestown New Hampshire Though little is known about his personal life Harris was apparently one of nearly ninety blacks recruited to fight with the First Rhode Island Regiment during the Revolutionary War Harris appears to mention here the Battle of Rhode Island in which his segregated unit withstood several British advances as well as volleys from warships of the Royal Navy He also mentions the Dorr War 1841 1842 an insurrection that the state s black soldiers helped to quell several months earlier Understandably Harris connects the service of black veterans with the greater cause of emancipation If his speech seems optimistic for one delivered in 1842 it may be because Rhode Island was far ahead of most states regarding civil rights Slavery was formally abolished around this ...

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The Baptist minister and abolitionist Nathaniel Paul c 1793 1839 delivered the speech excerpted below on 5 July 1827 following the abolition of slavery in the state of New York The state had gradually worked toward emancipation starting with a 1799 law allowing for slaves born after that year to be freed after a long period of service twenty eight years for men twenty five for women Though it represented progress it was not bold enough for the increasingly popular Methodist church which pushed for a more comprehensive emancipation statute In 1817 Governor Daniel D Tompkins signed a law mandating freedom for slaves within ten years Paul s speech is memorable for its hopeful yet cautious tone and for its biting critique of the hypocrisy of a supposedly free country that still practices slavery This contradiction he says stain s the national character and renders the American republic a by ...

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Following the Civil War, Mississippi was the first state to enact a so-called Black Code, a set of laws designed to control the behavior, movement, and opportunities of the newly freed slaves. In effect, the laws codified the vigilante system of justice used to control minor offenses such as vagrancy, shifting it to the courts and the state bureaucracy. Blacks had to carry identification proving that they were employed and remained subject to humiliating and violent corporal punishments. The system was designed to make it nearly impossible for freed slaves to leave the homes of their former masters. Even when Congress attempted to repeal the Black Codes with the Civil Rights Act of 1866, southern states continued to implement statutes that gave local law enforcement agencies increased discretion with little oversight.

South Carolina s version of the Black Codes was even more extensive and within a generation helped to wipe ...

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Though he devoted his adult life to the abolitionist cause—harboring fugitive slaves, participating in political conventions, calling for boycotts on slave-produced goods—Henry Highland Garnet (1815–1882) gained notoriety for an 1843 speech reproduced below. At the National Negro Convention held in Buffalo, New York, the clergyman issued a “Call to Rebellion,” directly rebuking the more measured and pragmatic approach favored by Frederick Douglass (1818–1895). Douglass was quick to criticize the tone of the speech, and the convention narrowly defeated Garnet’s resolution, but the overall message gained traction within the abolitionist movement, influencing more militant leaders such as John Brown (1800–1859).

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Richard Allen (1760–1831), the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), converted to Methodism at the age of seventeen. He earned his freedom three years later, and became such an effective preacher that he even converted his former master. Later, he began an unpaid ministry for African Americans at St. George’s Church in Philadelphia, but left the church when white congregants demanded that the seats be segregated. As a result, Allen raised funds to build St. Thomas African Episcopal Church of Philadelphia, the first independent black church in North America and the precursor to AME. The new ecclesial organization became a focal point of abolitionist activity, through which Allen promoted education, petitions to the government, and abolitionist conventions. The sermon below is from The Life, Experience and Gospel Labors of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen published posthumously in 1833 although the sermon was most likely delivered around 1820 ...



Ana Raquel Fernandes

Founded in 1807, in the wake of the abolition of the British slave trade, the African Institution replaced the Society for the Abolition of Slave Trade (1787) and had similar aims to the Sierra Leone Company (1791). Its purpose was to secure African freedom from British imperial rule, the ‘civilization’ of Africa through the dissemination of Christianity, and the establishment of profitable trade ventures that did not rely on slavery.

William Wilberforce, who had led the parliamentary campaign for the abolition of the slave trade, was one of its vice‐presidents. Other prominent abolitionists members of the Institution were Prince William Frederick (president of the Institution), James Stephen, who served as one of its vice‐presidents, Granville Sharp, one of its first directors, Zachary Macaulay, honorary secretary, Henry Thornton, its treasurer, Edward Henry Columbine who became a commissioner of the Institution ...


Since Methodism first emerged in colonial America, it has consistently attracted African American adherents. According to religious scholar Alfred J. Raboteau, “the direct appeal, dramatic preaching, and plain doctrine of the Methodists, their conscious identification with the ‘simpler sort,’ and especially their antislavery beliefs” drew blacks to the church. Indeed, African Americans had been members of New York City's John Street Methodist Church since its founding in 1768. By 1793 black membership increased to 40 percent of John Street's congregation.

Still, African Americans within the John Street Church—and within American Methodism in general—were treated as second-class citizens. They were denied ordination, forced to sit in segregated pews, and limited in their access to the Methodist itinerant clergy and the Communion table. Frustrated by such treatment, two black John Street members, Peter Williams, and William Miller, founded the African Chapel in 1796 The chapel was later ...