American Abolitionists and Antislavery Activists:
Conscience of the Nation

Updated April 4, 2021

l to r: Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips

Encyclopedia of Slavery and Abolition in the United States - N




Chapter: “The Virginia Constitutional Convention. --Southampton Insurrection. - Slavery Debate in the Legislature.” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872:

In the month of August, 1831, the people of Virginia were startled by the Southampton insurrection. Its leader was Nat Turner, then a slave about thirty-one years of age. From childhood he seemed to have been the victim of superstition and fanaticism, and to have grown up in the belief that he was destined to accomplish some great purpose. Austere in life and manners, he impressed upon his personal associates the conviction that he was a prophet of the Lord, and that he was guided by Divine inspiration. In his confession he said: "On the 12th of May, 1828, I heard a loud noise in the heavens, and the spirit instantly appeared to me and said, ' The serpent was loosened, and Christ had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and that I should take it on and fight against the serpent, for the time was fast approaching when the first should be last and the last should be first, and by signs in the heavens that it would make known to me when I should commence the great work, and until the first sign should appear I should conceal it from the knowledge of men.' On the appearance of the sign, which was to be the eclipse of the sun in February, 1831, he was to arise and slay his enemies. He states that immediately on the appearance of that sign the seal was removed from his lips, and he communicated the great work he had to do to his associates. The 4th of July was fixed upon as the day' for rising, but his mind was so affected by the magnitude of the undertaking that fie fell sick, and that time passed. “The sign appeared again," he said, and he then determined to wait no longer. The insurrection commenced on the night of the 21st of August by the massacre of his master, Mr. Joseph Travis, and his family. He and his associates had agreed that until they could arm and equip themselves and could raise a sufficient force, neither age nor sex should be spared; and this policy was invariably pursued. They proceeded from house to house, massacring the whites, until their numbers were increased to more than fifty, -all mounted and armed with guns and swords, axes and clubs. But the country was soon aroused, and they were met, fired upon, and dispersed. Deserted by his associates, Turner, after concealing himself for several weeks, was discovered, tried, and executed in November of that year. In this insurrection sixty-one white persons and more than a hundred slaves were killed or executed. The excitement in Virginia and throughout the South was intense. The "Richmond Whig” declared that another such insurrection would be followed by putting the whole black race to the sword. Portions of the community were thrown into panic, and the thrilling cry of the affrighted people, in peril of their lives and imploring protection, day after day filled the ears of the governor of that great commonwealth.

The legislature met early in December. In his message Governor Floyd called its attention to the Southampton insurrection. He stated that a “banditti of slaves," not exceeding at any time seventy in number, rose upon the defenceless inhabitants, and, under circumstances of the most " shocking and horrid barbarity," put to death sixty-one persons. He commended the promptitude and despatch with which the officers and militia had performed their duty, as also the cheerful alacrity of the people. He commended, too, the officers, soldiers, and sailors of the United States army and navy for their prompt and efficient action. Asserting that there was reason to believe that the spirit of insurrection was not confined to the slaves, he declared that there was too much cause for the suspicion that the plans of “treason, insurrection, and murder “ had been designed and" matured by unrestrained fanatics in some of the neighboring States." Asserting, too, that the most active among themselves in stirring up the spirit of revolt “were the negro preachers, he expressed the conviction that the public good required that they should be silenced. He urged a revision of the laws intended to preserve " in due subordination " the slave population, and suggested the idea that it would be indispensably necessary to remove the free people of color· from the State.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 1.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 190-192.








NELL, William Cooper, 1816-1874, African American, abolitionist leader, author, civil rights activist, community leader.  Wrote Services of Colored Americans in the Wars of 1776 and 1812.  First African American to be appointed a clerk in the U.S. Post Office.  Active in equal rights for African American school children in Boston, Massachusetts. 

(Mabee, 1970, pp. 98, 105, 116, 124, 126, 150, 157, 164, 165, 166, 171-181, 291n24, 295, 337; Rodriguez, 2007, p. 54; Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. IV, p. 489; Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1936, Vol. 7, Pt. 1, p. 413; Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., & Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, eds. African American National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2013, Vol. 8, p. 429)

Biography from Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography:

NELL, William Cooper, author, b. in Boston, Mass., 20 Dec., 1816; d. there, 25 May, 1874. He was of African descent. He was graduated at Boston grammar-school, winning a medal for scholarship, read law with William I. Bowditch, and was prepared for admission to the bar, but by advice of Wendell Phillips would not take the oath of allegiance to the constitution with slavery. He became a clerk in the Boston post-office in 1861, being the first colored man to hold a post under the National government, and remained there till his death. Mr. Nell was active in his efforts for the improvement of his race, obtaining equal school privileges for the colored youth of Boston, and forming many literary societies. Besides several pamphlets, he published “Services of Colored Americans in the Wars of 1776-1812”; and “Colored Patriots of the American Revolution,” with an introduction by Harriet Beecher Stowe (Boston, 1855).  Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. IV, pp. 489.


NELSON, David, 1793-1844, Tennessee, abolitionist leader, Army surgeon, clergyman.  Pastor in the Presbyterian Church, Danville, Kentucky, in 1828.  Slaveholder who freed his enslaved persons.  President of Marion College, Palmyra, Missouri.  Advocate of compensated emancipation.  Agent of the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS). 

(Appletons’, 1888, Vol. IV, p. 491; Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1936, Vol. 7, Pt. 1, p. 414; Dumond, 1961, pp. 92, 135, 199, 223; Mabee, 1970, p. 35; Rodriguez, 2007, p. 617)

Biography from Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography:

NELSON, David, clergyman, b. near Jonesborough, Tenn., 24 Sept., 1793; d. in Oakland, Ill., 17 Oct., 1844. He was educated at Washington college, Va., and studied medicine at Danville, Ky., and Philadelphia, where he was graduated. He went to Canada with a Kentucky regiment as surgeon in the war of 1812, subsequently accompanied the army of Gen. Andrew Jackson to Alabama and Florida, and after the establishment of peace settled in practice in Jonesborough. He had early in life made a profession of religion, but had relapsed into infidelity. Becoming convinced anew of the truth of Christianity, he left a lucrative professional career to enter the Presbyterian ministry, and was licensed in April, 1825. He preached for nearly three years in Tennessee, and at the same time was connected with the “Calvinistic Magazine” at Rogersville. In 1828 he succeeded his brother Samuel as pastor of the Presbyterian church in Danville, Ky., and in 1830 he removed to Missouri and established Marion college, twelve miles from Palmyra, of which he became president. In 1836, in consequence of the slavery question, Dr. Nelson, who was an ardent advocate of emancipation, removed to the neighborhood of Quincy, Ill., and established an institute for the education of young men. In addition to articles for the religious press, he published “Cause and Cure of Infidelity” (New York, 1836), which has been republished in London and elsewhere. Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. IV, pp. 491.



See also Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society

Chapter: “New England and New York City Antislavery Societies,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872:

While the doctrine of immediate emancipation, proclaimed with so much earnestness and boldness by "The Liberator," startled and incensed the many, it was welcomed and gladly accepted by a few. Adopting such sentiments, the latter naturally looked to association and co-operative action. Accordingly, on the 13th of November, 1831, fifteen persons met at · the office of Samuel K Sewall, then a rising young lawyer of Boston, to consider the expediency of forming an antislavery society. It was the understanding that, if twelve persons were found who would agree on the basis of immediate emancipation, such a society should be formed. As only nine of that number would thus agree no action was taken.

On the 16th of December another conference was held at Mr. Sewall's office. There were present Samuel E. Sewall, Ellis Gray Loring, David Lee Child, lawyers of that city ; William Lloyd Garrison, editor, and Isaac Knapp, publisher, of "The Liberator "; Oliver Johnson, Robert B. Hall, Isaac Child, John Cutts Smith, and Joshua Coffin. Mr. Child, Mr. Sewall, Mr. Garrison, Mr. Loring, and Mr. Johnson were appointed a committee to prepare a constitution. The meeting was then adjourned till the first day of January, 1832, at which time there was an additional attendance of .Alonzo Lewis, known as the Lynn Bard, William J. Snelling, Dr. Abner Phelps, Rev. Elijah Blanchard, and Dr. Gamaliel Bradford. The committee reported a preamble and constitution. .After discussion, the constitution was adopted, and the preamble referred to another committee, to report at an adjourned meeting, to be held on the 6th, in the school room under the African Baptist Church, in Belknap Street.

At that meeting the preamble, which was written by Mr. Snelling, was reported; and, after discussion and amendment, was adopted. The constitution was then signed by William Lloyd Garrison, Oliver Johnson, Robert B. Hall, Arnold Buffum, William J. Snelling, John E. Fuller, Moses Thacher, Joshua Coffin, Stillman B. Newcomb, Benjamin C. Bacon, Isaac Knapp, and Henry K. Stockton. There were in the conferences which preceded the formation of the society differences of opinion in regard to its name, principles, .and policy. David Lee Child, Samuel E. Sewall, and Ellis Gray Loring, members of the committee to prepare the preamble and Constitution, at first declined to identify themselves with the movement, as they did not fully concur in the expediency of putting forth at that time and in that' form all the sentiments contained in the preamble. But after a brief period they became members of the society, and gave to the antislavery cause the earnest and life-long devotion of their large abilities and influence. Among the earliest to join the new society was the venerable John Kenrick, of Newton, who had been for many years an earnest and active Abolitionist. He was subsequently made president, and in his will left the society the first legacy it received. Several colored men soon became members, but at that early period no women joined its ranks.

Its officers consisted of a president, two vice-presidents, a corresponding secretary' a recording secretary' treasurer' and a board of counsellors consisting of six members. Arnold Buffum, a member of the Society of Friends, was made president. His father was a member of the old Abolition Society of Rhode Island, and he was nurtured in the faith of immediate emancipation. Several years before, he had visited England and made the acquaintance of Thomas Clarkson, and other eminent antislavery men and women of that kingdom. He brought to its service faith, earnestness, and devotion. William Lloyd Garrison, whose name is more prominently identified with modern antislavery than that of any other individual, was made correspondi1ig secretary. On the board of counsellors were Moses Thacher, Oliver Johns011, and Robert B. Hall. Mr. Thacher was a clergyman, and somewhat distinguished for his earnest advocacy of the theology of Dr. Emmons, and also for his hostility to the institution of Free Masonry. He was the author of the first address put forth by the society, and continued till the close of the struggle an effective laborer in the cause of emancipation. Mr. Johnson was a young man, intending to enter the ministry. He, however, early identified himself with the antislavery cause, and 'became a practical and efficient worker, sometimes as a lecturer, but more generally as an editor. When the society was organized, he was the conductor of “The Christian Soldier,” which he made at once a champion of the cause. During Mr. Garrison's visit to England, in 1833, he had charge of “The Liberator," and was at times assistant editor. Afterward he was connected for several years with the ''New York Tribune,'' being subsequently, at successive periods, editor of the " Antislavery Bugle," the "Pennsylvania Freeman," and the " Antislavery Standard," each of them a radical antislavery journal. He labored in these different fields with tireless persistency for the emancipation and enfranchisement of the negro race. Mr. Hall entered upon the work with much activity, but his subsequent career hardly came up to his early promise. He became a clergyman of the Episcopal Church, and from that or some other cause he lost something of his early zeal; though as a member of the XXXIVth and XXXVth Congresses his votes were steadily on the side of freedom.

In the preamble the declaration was made that every person of full age and sane mind had a right to immediate freedom from personal bondage; that man could not, consistently with reason, religion, and the eternal and immutable principles of justice, be the property of man; that whoever retained his fellow-man in bondage was guilty of a grievous wrong; that difference of complexion was no reason why man should be deprived of his natural rights, or subjected to any political disability. “While we advance these opinions," so read the preamble, "as principles on which we intend to act, we declare that we will not operate on the existing relations of society by other than peaceful and lawful means, and that we will give no countenance to violence or insurrection." Its second article declared " that the objects of the society shall be to endeavor, by all means sanctioned by law, humanity, and religion, to effect the abolition of slavery in the United States, to improve the character and condition of free people of color, to inform and correct public opinion in relation to their situation and rights, and to obtain for them equal political rights and privileges with the whites."

The New England .Antislavery Society, beginning its career with the promulgation of the doctrine that immediate emancipation was the duty of the master and the right of the slave, held its first public meeting in Essex Street Church, in Boston, on the 29th of January, when a very able address was delivered by the Rev. Moses Thacher, then editor of the Boston " Telegraph," a Hopkinsian journal of that city. Other public addresses were made. Arnold Buffum and Oliver Johnson were appointed agents, and subsequently did much to arouse public attention by their labors. Eminent philanthropists, in the United States and England, were early chosen honorary members, and the society entered at once upon its work. It issued an address to the people, and voted that, with a copy of the constitution, it be sent to all the editors and clergymen of New England. This address from the pen of Mr. Thacher, chairman of the board of counsellors, was very significant of the spirit and purpose of the Abolitionists at that time, affirming that instead of violent they counselled only moral means. He declared the object of the society to be “neither war nor sedition”; that the only influence it could exert must be that· of " moral suasion," not " coercion “; that '' in the truth and the God of truth alone we trust for the success of our exertions; and with the truth and in the name of the God of truth we plead for the cause of humanity." The address asserted that the "fundamental principle upon which our constitution is based is our Saviour's Golden Rule: 'All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.' Hence the grand articles in our creed, that ' God hath made of one blood all the nations of men, for to dwell on all the face of the earth ‘; ' that all men are created equal ‘; that ' they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.' "

The address also declared that the whole American people · ought to be an antislavery society ; that the spirit of civil and religious liberty, the Declaration of Independence, the spirit and letter of the Constitution, required it; and that the spirit of the gospel of Christ and the voice of public, commutative, and retributive justice imperiously demanded it. The duty of immediate emancipation was unqualifiedly asserted and maintained. “We believe," said the address, “that slavery is an evil now; and, of course, the slaves ought to be now emancipated. If the thief is found in possession of stolen property, he is required immediately to relinquish it. The slaveholder and the man-stealer are in unlawful possession of the stolen sons and daughters of Africa; they ought, therefore, immediately to set them free. Every principle which proves slavery unjust, an evil, and a curse, equally demonstrates the duty of immediate emancipation.''

The number of slaves was then estimated to be two and a quarter millions. Without impugning the motives of persons who had, from feelings of the purest benevolence, advocated the policy of colonization, that scheme was declared to be radically wrong, tending to involve the country in remediless evils. It was contrary to justice, humanity, philanthropy, and the letter and the spirit of the Golden Rule. The right of the emancipated black man to reside in the United States was an inheritance earned by the sweat of his brow. It was affirmed that colored men had the right of protection in their native land, and a right to the· constitutional franchises of free citizens. The nation was earnestly called upon to be just, to avert the scenes of San Domingo. There was declared to be but one alternative: “The master must manumit his slave, or the slave will manumit himself. We have no doubt that the God of Heaven, who is a God of justice; is at this moment, in his Word and providence, setting before the Southern planter this very alternative; and this alternative embraces life and death, a blessing and a curse. To choose the first, and say to the slave, BE FREE, is to shut the floodgates of human war and of human blood. To choose the latter, and hold the colored man in vassalage, must erelong break up the fountains of the great deep, and have a direct tendency to unsheathe the sword of vengeance, revolution, carnage, and death."

This address, so earnest, temperate, and firm, appealing not to passion or prejudice, but to conscience and reason, invited the cooperation of every philanthropist and Christian to “show himself a friend to his country and a friend to the black man." Based upon such principles, guided by such maxims, holding such articles of faith, and inspired by a spirit thus pure, humane, and just, the New England Antislavery Society made its appeal and entered upon the work of immediate emancipation. It is a sad commentary on the philanthropy, patriotism, and piety of those days that an association avowing such principles and proposing such measures should have encountered so fierce a storm of obloquy and reproach, and been so long and so persistently opposed by the leading influences in church and state. That simple historical fact utters a language of sterner condemnation than pages of invective and indignant characterization. Still, amid all this opposition, many responded to the appeal, and the members rapidly increased.

On the 9th of January, 1833, its first annual meeting was holden in Boston. At this meeting Samuel E. Sewall introduced a resolution in favor of the abolition of slavery and the slave-trade in the District of Columbia, and earnestly exhorted the society to exert itself to put an end to that atrocious system tolerated at the seat of government. David Lee Child submitted a resolution declaring that free people of color and slaves had less liberty and were less protected by law in the United States than in any part of the world, In support of his resolution, Mr. Child demonstrated, in an elaborate and, exhaustive speech and by references to the CIVIL LAW, that the slaves were far better protected in their rights in the French,. Spanish, and Portuguese colonies than in the United States. Amasa Walker, then a merchant of Boston, submitted and ably supported a resolution proclaiming the objects of the New England Antislavery Society to be in strict accordance with the plainest principles of religion, philanthropy, and patriotism.

An elaborate report of the board of managers was read by Mr. Garrison. It fully explained the objects and vindicated the principles of the society. It pronounced immediate abolition a necessity. It sharply criticised the Colonization Society, because "it neither calls for any change of conduct toward people of color on the part of the nation, nor has in itself any principle of reform." It asserted that immediate abolition would remove the cause of bloodshed and insurrection; give protection to millions who are now at the mercy of irresponsible masters and drivers; annihilate the system of licentiousness, incest, blood, and cruelty; open an immense market to mechanics and manufacturers, and afford facilities for educating the slaves in morals, science, and literature ; extinguish the fires of division between the North and the South, and make the bonds of union stronger than chains of iron; permit every slave to be supplied with a Bible, and place a hundred thousand infants annually born of slave parents in primary and Sabbath schools. It conjured Abolitionists to maintain their ground firmly and confidently. It closed by proclaiming that the blood of millions who have perished unredressed in this guilty land, the sufferings and lamentations of the millions who yet remain in cruel servitude the groans and supplications of bleeding Africa, the cries of the suffering victims in the holds of slave-ships now wafted on the ocean, and the threatenings and the judgments of the God of all flesh, all demand the utter and immediate annihilation of slavery. At this annual meeting John Kenrick of Newton was chosen president, Samuel E. Sewall and Oliver Johnson were made corresponding and recording secretaries. On motion of Mr. Garrison, the board of managers were authorized to call a meeting of the friends of abolition, for the purpose of forming a national antislavery society, as being “essential to the complete regeneration of public sentiment on the subject of slavery and to the speedy overthrow of that iniquitous system."

Organized on the basis of the common rights of human nature and the laws of God, the New England Antislavery Society had proclaimed that the sin of slavery and the duty of repentance belonged to that generation. Its outspoken, clear, and distinct enunciation of the sin of oppression and the duty of immediate repentance had, during the first year of its existence, been welcomed with enthusiasm by thousands. During no previous year in the history of the country had the questions pertaining to the existence of slavery been so lifted up to the domain of reason and conscience.'' Never had the cause of the slave been so uncompromisingly held before the American people.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 1.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 223-230.



Chapter: “New England and New York City Antislavery Societies,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872:

The organization of the New England Antislavery Society and its appeal to the conscience and reason of the country evoked responses in several of the free States. Antislavery societies were organized; and many earnest, humane, and just men and women entered upon the work of emancipation. Nearly all who engaged in the formation of such societies were members of Christian churches, and were taking, at the same time, an active part in the religious, missionary, and philanthropic enterprises of that day. Indeed, during the first five years of the antislavery agitation, its promoters, regarding the effort as their religious work, looked with hope and confident expectation to the churches and benevolent organizations for hearty sympathy and co-operation. Unlike the great contest on the Missouri Compromise, which had a few years before so profoundly stirred the country, this was moral rather than political. Consequently, they who became members of these associations were accustomed to consider the questions at issue in their moral rather than in their civil bearings, and to look for aid to Christians, churches, and benevolent organizations, rather than to politicians, parties, and legislative bodies. Unaccustomed to public affairs and sharing in the general distrust of party politics, they seldom sought help from political action, and usually failed when they did.

Although the churches generally failed to respond promptly to these Christian appeals for immediate action on behalf of the oppressed, the Abolitionists, though disappointed, were not disheartened. The work went on. Many antislavery societies were formed. Several antislavery newspapers were established, and a general system of antislavery agitation, having been inaugurated, was continued. Among the papers established was the “Emancipator," commenced in New York in March, 1833, by the pecuniary aid of Arthur Tappan, and edited by Rev. Charles W. Denison.  The establishment of that journal in the commercial metropolis, in which the principles and policy of the friends of emancipation were clearly and boldly set forth, together with other influences, caused much excitement and aroused feelings of resentment and hostility. This was signally manifested by the proceedings on the evening of the 2d of October, 1833, and subsequently. The friends of immediate abolition were summoned by the call of a committee, of which Joshua Leavitt was chairman, to meet at Clii1ton Hall to form a New York City Antislavery Society. On the afternoon of that day large placards were posted in the streets, calling upon all persons from the South and al1 persons disposed to manifest the true feelings of the State to meet at the same time and place. A hostile demonstration was of course anticipated.

The trustees of Clinton Hall refusing to fulfil their contract, and an unsuccessful application having been made for other rooms, a few antislavery men met in the street near the City Hall, and consulted upon the possibility of holding the proposed meeting. At the suggestion of Lewis Tappan, a trustee of Chatham Street Chapel, it was determined to hold the meeting in the lecture-room of that building. At the hour of meeting, about fifty determined Abolitionists, who had been personally notified, assembled. Arthur and Lewis Tappan passed unrecognized through an immense concourse of men assembled in front of Tammany Hall, preparatory to the premeditated attack upon the proposed meeting. The sexton of the church, locking the iron gates in front of the building, placed the keys in the hands of Lewis Tappan, who informed the meeting that it would probably be assaulted, and that soon; and that they should promptly despatch the business for which they were assembled.

John Rankin, a merchant of that city and a devoted Abolitionist, was made chairman. Amid those threatening demonstrations the blessing of God was invoked. A committee, appointed at a previous meeting, reported a constitution, which was quickly adopted. Arthur Tappan was chosen president; Elizur Wright, Jr., and Charles W. Denison were chosen corresponding and recording secretaries. The board of managers consisted of Joshua Leavitt, Isaac T. Hopper, Abraham L. Cox, Lewis Tappan, and William Goodell. The meeting was adjourned, the keys were delivered to the sexton, and the members retired through the main audience room of the chapel into a rear street. They were followed by a man having a light in one hand and a dagger in the other. He was, however, discovered by the sexton, his light extinguished, and he was left to grope his way in the darkness as he best could. Mr. Hopper, a sturdy Quaker, whose life had been consecrated to works of beneficence and the cause of the oppressed, refused to retire, and boldly faced the mob, as with shouts and threats they rushed into the chapel. In their disappointment they seized a negro, called him Arthur Tappan, placed him in the chair, and forced him to make a speech; which he did very creditably to himself, though not very satisfactorily to his auditors. He said: “Gentlemen, I am not used to making speeches, and don't pretend to be qualified to do so. But one or two things I do know: one is, God hath made of one blood all nations; and another is, all men are created equal, and' are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Now - '' “That will do,'' exclaimed his impatient hearers.

Joshua Leavitt and Lewis Tappan devoted the night to preparing an account of the proceedings, and furnishing copies for the city press, whose readers the next morning were not a little surprised to find in the same journals both the statement that " the agitators had been put· down," and an authorized report of the doings of the meeting and the organization of the society. This society soon issued an address to the people of the city in explanation and defence of immediate emancipation, and the principles and policy it proposed in its attempts to secure it by the American people. Nor were their doctrines and policy all that were calculated to attract attention; the personnel of the new organization was not unworthy of its noble sentiments and benignant purposes. Arthur Tappan, its president, was a native of Massachusetts. He early became a distinguished and successful merchant of New York. An earnest Christian and philanthropist, his name was associated with nearly every missionary and reformatory enterprise of his day. Modest, quiet, and unassuming, without much facility in the use of tongue or pen, his life will be remembered rather as one of deeds than words. Surrounded by ledgers and invoices, clerks and customers, his ear and hand were alike open to the appeals for personal charity, the claims of an oppressed race or of a ruined world. Munificent as unostentatious in his gifts, his range of benevolence was wide and catholic. His brother, Lewis Tappan, though unlike him in many particulars, was no less earnest and devoted to the cause of reform and Christian benevolence. Like his brother, with whom he was so long associated in trade and beneficence, he was a man of remarkable business capacity, great courage, and a large-hearted philanthropy. Unlike him, he spoke and wrote with fluency, pungency, and vigor. Of the many enterprises with which he has been connected his rare versatility and energy have made him the life and soul. " He would," says a fellow-laborer, "oversee their immense mercantile business, go on 'Change, write two editorials, attend a meeting of the American Antislavery Society's executive committee, step into the noon prayer-meeting and pray or deliver an exhortation, and wind up by sitting in the church session, and addressing a temperance meeting composed of negroes in the evening, all in the same day; all the time would be in a hurry, but never flurried, and would seem perfectly at home in each of these vocations." He infused much of his own energy and system into the new society, besides contributing largely to its funds.

Another member of that meeting and board was William Goodell, a lifelong friend of the Tappans and of the slave. Among the earliest in the field, fond of abstract reasoning, speculation, and fundamental principles, he was, perhaps, too prone to adopt extreme opinions and impracticable theories. Though apt to be diffuse and prolix, he often condensed his thoughts and gave them most clear, tense, and forcible expression. Eminently conscientious and of undaunted courage and untiring industry, he rendered invaluable service to an unpopular but righteous cause in the days of its feebleness. For half a century he developed and brought to light by his indefatigable labors a mass of facts and reasonings on the subject, which have afforded rich materials for the more effective use by other men of more popular tact and talent. His “History of Slavery and Antislavery" is a magazine from which the speakers and writers of a generation drew their weapons of attack and defence in the great conflict.

Another of the veterans who was present at that meeting was Joshua Leavitt, a man of varied intelligence and of acknowledged ability, logical in his mode of thought, clear and forcible in his style of expression. From his long connection with the press and frequent residence in Washington, where he was on terms of intimacy with Adams, Giddings, Slade, and other men of similar character, his information upon the political relations and bearings of slavery came to be comprehensive, varied, and minute, and therefore of great practical service to the antislavery cause. He was a fertile and voluminous writer, and by his editorials, tracts, and other papers, did much to enlighten the people and prepare them for political action. A strong free-trader, his sympathies were more with the Democratic Party than with the Whigs, whom he manifestly disliked, and by whom his dislike was cordially reciprocated.

Such was the origin, material, and purpose of the New York society. It was able in men and means, and did much in those early days to bring and keep before the public eye the great truths of human fraternity and man's political rights. And yet, though it embraced so much of intellectual and moral worth, with sentiments so humane and Christian, and purposes so carefully and guardedly enunciated, it was at once denounced by mob and press, by truckling partisanship and religious conservatism. The Colonizationists, deeming this organization and its doctrines antagonistic to their own, joined in the general denunciation. At a meeting held a few days after its organization, immediate emancipation was bitterly denounced and Abolitionists sternly rebuked. Chancellor Walworth, whose name was for many years associated with religious and benevolent organizations, flippantly styled such generous, humane and Christian men as had founded the new society “visionary enthusiasts" and “reckless demagogues." David B. Ogden, one of the leaders of the New York bar, branded them as “fanatics," and declared their doctrines “opposed to the Constitution," and their organization “the poetry of philanthropy." Even Theodore Frelinghuysen, eminent among the men of his age for the purity of his public and private character, and for his zeal and activity in the cause of religion and benevolence, characterized the antislavery movement as “the very wildness of fanaticism." Such language from such men, in the then feverish condition of the public mind, clearly tended to deepen the prejudices of those who had confidence in their integrity, piety, and wisdom, and to arouse the brutal passions of the rough and reckless.

How much such language, uttered at that time, contributed to arouse the spirit of violence which was so fearfully developed in that city during the next year will never be known. If such men could so violate the sanctities of Christian character and confidence, was it strange that, the mob should invade the sanctities, no more sacred, of private dwellings and the house of God? In the light of to-day, was it less censurable in Chancellors Walworth and Frelinghuysen thus to arraign the public character and conduct of such men, and that in regard to purposes and plans so pure and benign, than for the unnamed and lawless ruffianism of New York to rifle the houses of Lewis Tappan and Dr. Cox, or break into and disperse the meeting at Chatham Street Chapel?

Notwithstanding, however, this violent and systematic opposition, the cause of immediate emancipation made rapid progress during the year. No less than twenty five periodicals and newspapers gave it their support. One hundred and twenty-four clergymen, mostly in New England, united in an address to the public, setting forth similar sentiments. During the year John G. Whittier published his “Justice and Expediency," an earnest, tender, and eloquent appeal to his countrymen in behalf of oppressed millions who were perishing as the brute perished and whose blood was upon the nation. About the same time, Mrs. Lydia Maria Child issued her “APPEAL IN FAVOR OF THAT CLASS OF AMERICANS CALLED AFRICANS." This volume, of more than two hundred pages, was a work of rare merit, and exerted, perhaps more than any other, a powerful influence upon thoughtful and cultivated minds. At the beginning of the same year, Rev. Amos A. Phelps published his "Lectures upon Slavery and its Remedy," in a volume of nearly three hundred pages. Of this work Mr. Garrison, many years afterward, said " that it elucidated the nature of slavery, the sin of making property in man, and the duty of immediate· emancipation, in a manner so masterly as never to have been surpassed by any writer since that time. It was an encyclopedia of fact, argument, illustration, and logic."

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 1.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 230-236.





NEWTON, Calvin, Thomaston, Maine, Waterville College, Maine, abolitionist.  Manager, 1833-1840, and founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society, December 1833.  Member, Executive Committee, American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society (AFASS), 1840-1844. 

(Abolitionist, Vol. I, No. XII, December, 1833)


NICHOLAS, John, 1756(?)-1819, jurist.  Democratic Member of U.S. Congress from Virginia, 1793-1801.  Opposed slavery as Member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

(Appletons’, 1888, Vol. IV, p. 511; Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1936, Vol. 7, Pt. 1, p. 483; Locke, 1901, pp. 93, 160; Annals of Congress)

Biography from Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography:

NICHOLAS, John, jurist, b. in Williamsburg, Va., 19 Jan., 1761; d. in Geneva, N. Y., 31 Dec., 1819, was elected to congress as a Democrat, serving from 2 Dec., 1793, till 3 March, 1801. He removed to Geneva, N. Y., in 1803, and devoted himself to agricultural pursuits. From 1806 till 1809 he was a state senator, and he was first judge of the court of common pleas in Ontario county from 1806 until his death.  Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. IV, pp. 511.



See also Frederick Douglass


NORTHUP, Solomon, b. 1808, free African American man, author.  Northup was kidnapped by slavers in Washington City in 1841 and illegally forced into slavery for 12 years.  In 1853, he was rescued by Northern abolitionists and returned to his family in Washington.  Northup wrote Twelve Years a Slave in that same year.  He worked as a member of the Underground Railroad to help escaped slaves to flee to Canada.  His book was published by Northern abolitionists, and was used prominently in the abolitionist cause.  The date of his death is unknown.  His book was made into a major motion picture by the same name in 2013.  It was nominated and awarded the Best Picture Oscar in 2014. 

(Northup, 1853; Rodriguez, 2007, pp. 47, 55)






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