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Michael C. Miller

The son of Jonathan Andrew, a farmer and storeowner, and Nancy Green Pierce, a schoolteacher, John Andrew was born in Windham, Massachusetts (in the part of the state that became Maine in 1820). He attended Bowdoin College and graduated in 1837. He moved to Boston, where he entered the law and became active in politics. An idealistic lawyer, devoting much of his early career to pro bono work for prisoners and blacks, he made a name for himself fighting fugitive slave laws. He considered the abolitionist John Brown a hero and arranged for his defense counsel after Brown was caught at Harpers Ferry in 1859. In politics he was active with the “Young Whigs,” an antislavery splinter group that became the Free-Soil Party. He served a term in the Massachusetts legislature (1857).

During the 1860 elections Andrew was the head of the Massachusetts delegation ...


Heidi L. Scott Giusto

Henry Walter Bibb was born a slave on the plantation of David White in Shelby County, Kentucky. His father, James Bibb, was a slaveholding planter and state senator; his mother, Mildred Jackson, was a slave. By 1825 Bibb began what he referred to as his “maroonage,” or scheming of short-term escape. Excessively cruel treatment by several different masters engendered this habit. Bibb's life lacked stability; the slave's owner began hiring him out at a young age, and between 1832 and 1840 he would be sold more than six times and would relocate to at least seven southern states.

In 1833 Bibb met and fell in love with Malinda, a slave who lived four miles away in Oldham County, Kentucky. After determining that they had similar values regarding religion and possible flight, the two pledged honor to one another and considered themselves married in December 1834 Approximately one year later ...


Paul Finkelman and Richard Newman

escaped slave, was born on a plantation in Louisa County, Virginia, to unknown parents. As a youth, Brown lived with his parents, four sisters, and three brothers until the family was separated and his master hired him out at age fifteen to work in a tobacco factory in Richmond, Virginia. Brown's autobiography illuminates the vicissitudes of slave life but does not recount any further major events in his own life other than his marriage around 1836 to Nancy, the slave of a bank clerk, with whom he had three children. In August 1848 Nancy's owner sold her and her three children (Brown's children) to a slave trader who took them South. Brown begged his own master to purchase them, but he refused. Brown later wrote in his autobiography: “I went to my Christian master but he shoved me away According to his autobiography Brown actually saw his wife and ...


Paul Finkelman

Henry “Box” Brown was born a slave in Louisa County, Virginia, probably around 1815. By 1830 he was living in Richmond, where his master hired him out to work in a tobacco factory. Around 1836, when he would have been about twenty-one, Brown married a slave named Nancy, who was owned by a bank clerk. The owner promised not to sell Nancy but soon did so anyway. She was later resold to a Mr. Cottrell, who persuaded Brown to give him fifty dollars of the purchase price. Cottrell also promised never to sell Nancy, but in 1848 he sold her, and her children with Henry, to slave traders, who removed them from the state. Brown pleaded with his own master to buy Nancy and the children. As Brown wrote in his autobiography, “I went to my Christian master but he shoved me away from him as ...


Kate Tuttle

A hero to many, a madman to others, John Brown was one of the most controversial figures in pre–Civil War America. Like all abolitionists, his goal was the end of Slavery in the United States. But unlike other antislavery activists, Brown was neither an idealistic pacifist nor a man willing to work through political and legal channels. Brown worked peacefully guiding fugitive slaves to freedom via the Underground Railroad, yet he was also involved in the killing of proslavery militants in the Kansas territories. He later led the Harpers Ferry raid, which he believed would inspire a massive slave revolt, and subsequently turned his trial for treason into a national pulpit to denounce slavery.

Born in Charles Town, Virginia now West Virginia Brown was deeply influenced by his father a devout Congregationalist who opposed slavery Like many of his generation Brown completed only a few years of ...


Peggy A. Russo

John Brown was born in Torrington, Connecticut, the third of six children of Ruth Mills and Owen Brown, a tanner. The family moved to Hudson, Ohio, in 1805, and soon after his mother's death in 1808, John, who was an indifferent scholar, went to work in his father's tannery. Although he never joined any official abolitionist societies, Brown was opposed to slavery from a very early age, having been taught by his deeply religious father that slavery was a sin against God. Brown witnessed the real meaning of his father's lessons when he traveled alone to Michigan during the War of 1812 to deliver some of his father's cattle to the U.S. Army. During a visit to a farm, Brown saw the farmer beat a slave who was about Brown's age. Deeply affected by the incident, Brown declared himself an enemy of slavery.

In 1820 Brown ...


Alice Knox Eaton

slave narrator, novelist, playwright, historian, and abolitionist leader, was born in Lexington, Kentucky, the son of a slave mother, Elizabeth, and George Higgins, the white half-brother of Brown's first master, Dr. John Young. As a slave, William was spared the hard labor of his master's plantation, unlike his mother and half-siblings, because of his close blood relation to the slave-holding family, but as a house servant he was constantly abused by Mrs. Young. When the family removed to a farm outside St. Louis, Missouri, William was hired out in various capacities, including physician's assistant, servant in a public house, and waiter on a steamship. William's “best master” in slavery was Elijah P. Lovejoy, publisher of the St. Louis Times, where he was hired out in the printing office in 1830 Lovejoy was an antislavery editor who would be murdered seven years later for refusing ...


Stephanie A. Tingley

Lydia Maria Child's name was a household word in America for nearly fifty years, beginning in 1824 with the publication of her best-selling and controversial novel about interracial marriage, Hobomok: A Tale of Early Times. Child's pioneering work in many realms combined her passions for literary excellence and for social justice. In the literary arena she worked as a novelist, short-story writer, essayist, women's-advice book writer, children's writer, and magazine editor. As an activist and reformer she became a prominent advocate for both Native American and women's rights. Her path and passions crossed with those of Frederick Douglass through her work as an antislavery activist and as the editor of Harriet Jacobs's slave narrative Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1860), the work for which she is probably best known today.

Child's writing about abolition began in 1833, when she published An Appeal ...


John Craig Hammond

“I do not set up for being perfect: far from it!” wrote the Kentucky antislavery agitator Cassius Marcellus Clay to the abolitionist John Fee in 1855. “I wish I were,” he continued, but “a good balance sheet of good against evil is all I aspire to!” Judged by his own standards as well as by those of black and white antislavery advocates, Cassius Clay succeeded in fulfilling his ambition, through his battles against the evil of slavery. A former slaveholder and one of the few antislavery leaders to remain in the South after 1830, Clay became something of a hero to northern abolitionists, who appreciated his willingness to challenge slaveholders on their own turf.

Cassius Clay was born in Kentucky s Bluegrass region to the planter Green Clay and his wife Sally in Clermont Clay lived to the age of ninety three and spent much of his life ...


Aimee Lee Cheek and William Cheek

abolitionist, was born free in Raleigh, North Carolina, the son of John Anthony Copeland, a carpenter and joiner emancipated in childhood upon the death of his white owner-father, and a freeborn biracial woman, Delilah Evans, a domestic worker. In 1843, impelled by the increasing proscription of free blacks in North Carolina, the Copelands moved to the heavily abolitionist Oberlin, a key station on the Underground Railroad, in northern Ohio. Taking advantage of the exceptional egalitarianism, his parents acquired their own home and reared eight children. Copeland, who was the eldest child, attended the preparatory department of Oberlin College in 1854–1855 and pursued his father's trades. A newspaper editor in a neighboring town wrote that young Copeland was regarded as an “orderly and well-disposed citizen.”

According to the 1894 autobiography of John Mercer Langston a leading black townsman Copeland regularly attended meetings of blacks in Oberlin to ...


Barbara McCaskill

a slave born in Clinton, Georgia, the daughter of a mulatto slave named Maria and their owner, Major James P. Smith. She trained as a house slave, becoming a skillful seamstress, only to be given as a wedding present to her half-sister Eliza, who settled in Macon, Georgia, with the wealthy Robert Collins. Ellen fell in love with William Craft, an urban slave and skilled carpenter, who leased his services to neighboring households and plantations. The desire to enter a Christian marriage and to raise freeborn children catalyzed Ellen and William’s decision to escape to the North during the 1848 Christmas holidays, when southerners traditionally slackened their surveillance of the slaves.

Ellen s flight demonstrates both her own agency and the manipulation of her image in pre Civil War mass culture Using her near white complexion to advantage she planned to disguise herself as an ailing white ...


James Sellman

Frederick Douglass was more than a great African American leader. He was, in the words of his biographer William S. McFeely, “one of the giants of nineteenth-century America.” He was a man driven by his anger at injustice, McFeely observed, a man who “never ran away from anything”—except the bondage of slavery. Even in that, he took flight not simply to escape but to engage. After gaining his freedom, the former slave turned in his tracks and confronted the institution head-on.

Douglass played a prominent role in nineteenth-century reform movements, not only through his abolitionism but also in his support for women's rights and black suffrage. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he stayed true to his principles, remaining steadfast in his commitment to integration and civil rights. Douglass was militant but never a separatist. He rejected the nationalist rhetoric and latter-day conservatism of black abolitionist Martin Robison Delany ...


David W. Blight

Frederick Douglass lived for twenty years as a slave and nearly nine years as a fugitive slave. From the 1840s to his death in 1895 he attained international fame as an abolitionist, editor, orator, statesman, and the author of three autobiographies that became classics of the slave narrative tradition. Douglass lived to see the Emancipation of the slaves during the Civil War and made a major contribution to interpreting the meaning of those epochal events. He labored for the establishment of black civil rights and witnessed their betrayal during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age. He advocated women's rights long before they were achieved.

It took nearly a century after his death for Douglass s work to receive widespread attention in school curriculums and in the scholarly fields of literature and history With the flowering of African American history and culture in the 1960s and a greatly increased attention to slavery ...


Roy E. Finkenbine

abolitionist, civil rights activist, and reform journalist, was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey near Easton, Maryland, the son of Harriet Bailey, a slave, and an unidentified white man. Although a slave, he spent the first six years of his life in the cabin of his maternal grandparents, with only a few stolen nighttime visits by his mother. His real introduction to bondage came in 1824, when he was brought to the nearby wheat plantation of Colonel Edward Lloyd. Two years later he was sent to Baltimore to labor in the household of Hugh and Sophia Auld, where he remained for the next seven years. In spite of laws against slave literacy, Frederick secretly taught himself to read and write He began studying discarded newspapers and learned of the growing national debate over slavery And he attended local free black churches and found ...


Julie Winch

abolitionist and educator, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Robert Douglass Sr., a prosperous hairdresser from the island of St. Kitts, and Grace Bustill, a milliner. Her mother was the daughter of Cyrus Bustill, a prominent member of Philadelphia's African American community. Raised as a Quaker by her mother, Douglass was alienated by the blatant racial prejudice of many white Quakers. Although she adopted Quaker dress and enjoyed the friendship of Quaker antislavery advocates like Lucretia Mott, she was highly critical of the sect.

In 1819Grace Douglass and the philanthropist James Forten Sr. established a school for black children, where “their children might be better taught than … in any of the schools … open to [their] people.” Sarah Douglass was educated there, taught for a while in New York City, and then returned to take over the school.

In 1833 ...


Gerda Lerner

Born into a free black family in Philadelphia, she was reared in comfortable circumstances in a Quaker household. Her grandfather, Cyrus Bustill (1732-1806), was the son of his white owner and his female slave. A Quaker, Thomas Prior, bought him, taught him the baking trade, and freed him after seven years. Bustill baked bread for the Revolutionary Army and after the war moved to Philadelphia, where he prospered as a baker and built a house. He married Elizabeth Morey (Morrey), whose mother was a Native American. One of the couple’s children was Grace Bustill, mother of Sarah (1782-1842). Cyrus Bustill was active in the Philadelphia African American community and helped to found the Free African Society. After his retirement he opened a school.

Grace Bustill grew up as a member of the Society of Friends and married Robert Douglass, a barber. Robert Douglass ...


Brycchan Carey

slave, writer, and abolitionist, was, according to his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, born in the village of Essaka in Eboe, an unknown location in the Ibo-speaking region of modern Nigeria. Equiano recorded that he was the son of a chief and was also destined for that position. However, at about the age of ten, he was abducted and sold to European slave traders. In his narrative, Equiano recalls the Middle Passage in which “the shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying, rendered the whole a scene of horror almost inconceivable” (58). Despite falling ill, Equiano survived the voyage and was taken first to Barbados and then to Virginia, where in 1754 he was bought by Michael Pascal a captain in the Royal Navy Pascal s first act was to rename the ...


John Saillant

Olaudah Equiano identified himself by this name only once in his life—on the title page of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789). In the Narrative itself Equiano wrote of his forename that it was an Ibo word meaning “change,” “fortunate,” or “loudly or well spoken,” but this derivation has not been corroborated. Words similar to his surname have been identified in languages spoken both east and west of the Niger River, which flows south through Iboland, the southeastern region of present-day Nigeria, where Equiano claimed to have been born. He was accused almost immediately of fabrication, however, and he may have been born in North America. All other documentation of his life, including vital records and his own signatures, used the name Gustavus Vassa (sometimes Vasa, Vassan, and other variations). Both the Narrative and commercial and public ...


Henry Highland Garnet was born a slave on a plantation in Kent County, Maryland, where his grandfather, a former chieftain in Africa, was a leader of the slave community. In 1824 Garnet's father escaped, bringing the rest of his family with him to New York City. While the father became an active leader of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Garnet was enrolled in the African Free School. He spent several years afterward as a sailor and a farmer's apprentice before returning to school, this time under the tutelage of abolitionists Theodore S. Wright and Peter Williams, who ran the Canal Street School for African Americans.

After graduation from the Canal Street School, Garnet and several other young blacks, including abolitionist and nationalist Alexander Crummell enrolled in a newly established academy in New Canaan New Hampshire Only weeks after the school opened however angry white ...


Sean Patrick Adams and Diane L. Barnes

William Lloyd Garrison was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, to a family of modest means. After an apprenticeship with a local printer, he set out to found his own newspaper and became one of the nation's most vocal moral reformers. Garrison tried his hand at editing newspapers in Massachusetts and Vermont, but his radical critique of electoral politics and his air of moral superiority were unpopular with readers. After a series of failed ventures, in 1829 he accepted an offer to work on a Baltimore-based antislavery newspaper, theGenius of Universal Emancipation, edited by Benjamin Lundy. In 1830 Garrison drew national notoriety when he was convicted of libel for an editorial denouncing a wealthy merchant s participation in the slave trade He refused on principle to pay the fine and was jailed for forty nine days Garrison used the time to propagate the idea that he had ...