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Diane L. Barnes

Born to the prominent Boston merchant Joseph May and Dorothy Sewall, Samuel Joseph May enjoyed a comfortable childhood. He graduated from Harvard College (1817) and Harvard Divinity School (1820), then sought a pastorate with a Massachusetts Unitarian congregation. After several failed attempts, May agreed to accept a position with the First Congregational Church in Brooklyn, Connecticut, where he became the only Unitarian minister in the state. (Samuel Joseph May should not be confused with his fellow Unitarian minister and abolitionist Samuel May Jr. of Boston, who was not his son but his near contemporary.) Often at odds with his Congregationalist parishioners, May turned to reform, becoming active in the American Unitarian Association and gaining a national reputation for his activities on behalf of the peace and temperance movements and as a champion of public education and women's rights.

Although May embraced many reform goals the abolition ...


Kathryn Mudgett

Parker was born in Lexington, Massachusetts, the son of John and Hannah (Stearns) Parker. His paternal grandfather was Captain John Parker, who commanded the minutemen at the Battle of Lexington. Ordained in 1838, he served as minister to a rural church in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. Parker's 1841 sermon “A Discourse on the Transient and Permanent in Christianity,” in which he challenged the Bible as a source of revelation, set him at odds with orthodox Unitarian thought. In 1845 he was offered the ministry of the newly organized Twenty-eighth Congregational Society of Boston.

Parker's development as an antislavery activist was gradual, beginning with sermons and turning to membership in a vigilance committee, participation in public protest meetings, and, finally, financial assistance for John Brown's 1859 raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry Virginia Parker did not immediately embrace either the activist or the abolitionist cause ...