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Brown, John (09 May 1800–02 December 1859), abolitionist, also known as Old Brown of Osawatomie, was born in Torrington, Connecticut, the son of Owen Brown, a tanner and farmer, and Ruth Mills. Brown believed that the American republic was to be God’s instrument for the return of Christ to earth and that, as the “embodiment of all that is evil,” slavery alone stood in the way. That millennial vision was a legacy of Brown’s formative years in Hudson, Ohio, as the first surviving son of pious “Squire” Brown, an early settler, prominent landowner, and zealous reformer. The father of sixteen children by two wives, Owen Brown claimed descent from Peter Browne of the ...

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Chase, Salmon Portland (13 January 1808–07 May 1873), statesman, antislavery leader, and chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, was born in Cornish, New Hampshire, the son of Ithamar Chase, a glassmaker and tavernkeeper, and Janette Ralston. When Chase was nine years old, his father died. To ease the financial burden on his mother, Chase, the eighth of eleven children, moved to Ohio and lived with his uncle ...

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Clay, Cassius Marcellus (19 October 1810–22 July 1903), antislavery politician and diplomat, was born in White Hall, Kentucky, the son of Green Clay, a land speculator, and Sally Lewis. Green Clay was one of the wealthiest landowners and slaveholders in Kentucky, and young Cassius was raised in comfort and affluence. He attended Transylvania University (1829–1831) and Yale College (1831–1832), where he received his bachelor’s degree. After returning to Transylvania to study law in 1832–1833, Clay married Mary Jane Warfield in 1833. The marriage produced ten children....

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Douglass, Frederick ( February 1818–20 February 1895), 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 ...

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Equiano, Olaudah (1745–31 March 1797), sailor, abolitionist, and writer, also known as Gustavus Vassa, was born in eastern Nigeria, the son of an Ibo village chief. When he was eleven, people from another Ibo village captured Equiano and his sister, beginning a six-month period during which he was separated from his sister and sold from one master to another until he reached the coast. There Equiano’s African masters sold him to white slave traders headed for Barbados. From Barbados he traveled to Virginia, where he was bought by Henry Pascal, the captain of a British trading vessel. During the spring 1757 voyage to England, Pascal gave Equiano the name Gustavus Vassa, which he used throughout his life, yet Equiano still included his African name on the title page of his autobiography....

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Garrison, William Lloyd (10 December 1805–24 May 1879), editor, abolitionist leader, and religious reformer, was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, the son of Abijah Garrison, a seaman, and Frances “Fanny” Lloyd, a housekeeper. The poverty, instability, and religiosity of Garrison’s childhood exerted a profound, lifelong influence on him, for his career was always shaped by his strong needs for public recognition, for self-vindication, and for expressing his spiritual zeal....

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Giddings, Joshua Reed (06 October 1795–27 May 1864), antislavery congressman, was born in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, the son of Joshua Giddings and Elizabeth Pease, farmers. At the age of ten he moved with his parents to Ashtabula County in Ohio’s Western Reserve, where he lived for the rest of his life. In 1819 he married Laura Waters, with whom he had seven children, two of whom died in infancy. Lacking virtually all formal education, Giddings nonetheless studied law with Elisha Whittlesey, later a U.S. representative, and established a successful practice. After losing his considerable investments in western lands in the panic of 1837 and becoming estranged from his former law partner, future U.S. Senator ...

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Hale, Edward Everett (03 April 1822–10 June 1909), author, reformer, and Unitarian minister, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Nathan Hale, a journalist, and Sarah Preston Everett. His father was a nephew of revolutionary war hero Captain Nathan Hale, and his maternal uncle and namesake was the orator and statesman ...

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Hopkins, Samuel (17 September 1721–20 December 1803), theologian and reformer, was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, the son of Timothy Hopkins, a successful farmer and community leader in Waterbury, and Mary Judd. Timothy Hopkins served the town as a selectman, justice of the peace, and deputy to the Connecticut General Court. He also possessed the financial means to send Samuel to Yale College, from which he graduated in 1741....

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Hopper, Isaac Tatem (03 December 1771–07 May 1852), Quaker abolitionist and reformer, was born in Deptford township, near Woodbury, New Jersey, the son of Levi Hopper and Rachel Tatem, farmers. Educated in local schools, Isaac Hopper went to Philadelphia at sixteen to learn tailoring from an uncle, with whom he lived. He made his living there as a tailor and soon came to own his own shop....

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Jackson, James Caleb (28 March 1811–11 July 1895), abolitionist and physician, was born in Onondaga County, New York, the son of James Jackson, a physician, and Mary Ann Elderkin. Jackson studied at Manlius Academy, a preparatory school, until the death of his father in 1828. He then gave up plans for a college education and took up farming. Jackson married Lucretia E. Brewster in 1830; they had one child....

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Jenkins, David (1811–05 September 1877), editor and abolitionist, was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, the son of William Jenkins. It is not known whether his father was a white slaveholder or a free black, and his mother’s name is unknown. Jenkins received a sound education at the hands of a private tutor hired by his father. In 1837 he took up residence in Columbus, Ohio, employing himself as a house painter and glazier. Jenkins’s business acumen led to real estate investment and capital accumulation. The 1850 census for Franklin County, Ohio, records that Jenkins owned real estate valued at $1,500. The census also shows that he was married to Lucy Ann (maiden name unknown), a native of Virginia, and that they had one child....

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Lumry, Rufus (1799/1800–21 June 1862), abolitionist, circuit preacher, and church organizer, was born in Rensselaerville, New York. He was almost certainly the son of Andrew, a probably illiterate wagon driver whose patrilineal Huguenot ancestral surname was Lamoureux; his mother’s identity is unknown. The family moved to Albany around the time of the War of ...

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See M’Clintock, Mary Ann Wilson

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Mott, James (29 June 1788–26 January 1868), merchant and reformer, was born at Cowneck (later North Hempstead), New York, the son of Adam Mott, a farmer and miller, and Anne Mott (Mott was both her maiden and her married name). Both parents were descended from a seventeenth-century Quaker emigrant from England, and Mott was brought up in a close-knit community of Long Island Friends. He received his education at a Friends’ boarding school at Nine Partners in New York’s Dutchess County. He excelled at Nine Partners and, after ten years, was appointed an assistant teacher and then a teacher. At the school he met Lucretia Coffin ( ...

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Phillips, Wendell (29 November 1811–02 February 1884), orator, abolitionist, and women's rights and labor advocate, orator, abolitionist, and women’s rights and labor advocate, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of John Phillips, a well-to-do politician and philanthropist, and Sarah Walley. The youngest of eleven children, Wendell received strict and loving attention from both of his parents. From the first he was trained to see himself as a great leader, committed to addressing the great moral and political questions of his age. This drive for leadership was compounded by his early discovery that he possessed extraordinary gifts as an orator. Athletic, handsome, and intelligent, he impressed teachers and classmates alike with his unusual capacity to express himself and to influence others with eloquent speaking. After attending the Boston Latin School, he graduated from Harvard in 1831 and obtained a Harvard law degree in 1833. For the next three years Phillips resided in and around Boston as he attempted, halfheartedly, to establish a legal practice, a career for which he felt no great enthusiasm. Instead he yearned to pursue a vocation worthy of his august legacy. That vocation, finally, was the cause of abolitionism, which he discovered through the process of courtship and marriage....

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Smith, Gerrit (06 March 1797–28 December 1874), land speculator and abolitionist, was born in Utica, New York, the son of Peter Smith, a land speculator, and Elizabeth Livingston. Smith resided practically his entire life in Peterboro, Madison County, New York, where his father operated a land speculation business. A former partner of ...

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Sumner, Charles (06 January 1811–11 March 1874), politician and reformer, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Charles Pinckney Sumner, a lawyer and sheriff, and Relief Jacob. Raised in a middle-class family committed to humanitarian reform, at age fifteen Sumner entered Harvard, where he excelled in literature and history. Following graduation in 1830, he enrolled in the Harvard Law School, revealing his love of learning and study more than a desire to become a practicing attorney. In fact, he regarded a lawyer “as one of the veriest wretches in the world.”...

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Thompson, George (18 June 1804–07 October 1878), antislavery orator/activist and member of Parliament, was born George Donisthorpe Thompson in Liverpool, England, the third son of Thomas Thompson, a Wesleyan clerk, and Elizabeth Donisthorpe. Although Thompson received no formal preparation for his life as a professional activist, as a young man he began a course of self-improvement and self-education. At eighteen, he helped form a mutual improvement society and at twenty began attending public meetings concerning political and historical subjects. As a member of several prominent debating societies, Thompson quickly gained a reputation as an able orator. With the help of an elocution teacher, Thompson sought to hone the skills that would help him escape the counting house and the relative poverty he had experienced throughout his childhood. It is unclear when Thompson took note of slavery, but later in life he remembered listening to his father's stories concerning the horrors of the slave trade. As a captain's clerk aboard a slave trading vessel, the elder Thompson remembered and told his son of the "pestiferous hold in which the stolen Africans were stowed; the manacles and fetters with which they were confined[,] … the fearful mortality that ensued, and the troops of hungry sharks that followed the wake of the ship, waiting for their daily supply of human carcasses" ( ...