Birney, James Gillespie
- Betty Fladeland
Birney, James Gillespie (04 February 1792–18 November 1857), lawyer and reformer, was born near Danville, Kentucky, the son of James Birney and Martha Reed (both of Irish extraction), owners of a prosperous plantation worked by slave labor. When James was three, his mother died, leaving him and an infant sister to be raised by a widowed aunt who came from Ireland. His aunt’s opposition to slavery was one of the early influences on James’s thinking, although he became a slave master himself at age six when he was given a slave his own age, Michael, as a birthday present. Michael remained with him until Birney’s mid-life conversion to the abolitionist cause; he was then freed, given back wages for his years of service, and set up in a livery stable business. When James was seven his father and grandfather Reed both backed an unsuccessful attempt to write an emancipation clause into the state constitution....