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Allen, William G. (1820–?), abolitionist and educator, was born in Virginia, the son of a Welshman and a free mulatto mother. After the death of both parents when he was young, Allen was adopted by a free African-American family in Fortress Monroe, Virginia. Allen soon caught the eye of the Reverend William Hall, a New Yorker who conducted a black elementary school in Norfolk. Hall wrote ...

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Bell, James Madison (03 April 1826–1902), abolitionist, poet, and lecturer, was born in Gallipolis, Ohio. His parents’ identities are unknown. At age sixteen, in 1842, he moved to Cincinnati. While there, in 1848, he married Louisiana Sanderlin (or Sanderline), with whom he had several children, and also learned the plastering trade from his brother-in-law George Knight. Bell worked as a plasterer during the day and attended Cincinnati High School for Colored People at night. Founded in 1844 by Reverend Hiram S. Gilmore, the school had a connection to Oberlin College and was said to have given impetus to the sentiment found in ...

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Benezet, Anthony (31 January 1713–03 May 1784), abolitionist, educator, and reformer, was born in San Quentin, Picardy, France, to Jean Étienne Benezet and Judith de la Méjenelle, wealthy Huguenots. Because of increasing religious persecution, his family fled to Rotterdam in 1715, remaining there briefly before traveling to London where they spent the next sixteen years. It was here that Benezet may have attended a Quaker school and began his lifelong association with the Quakers. After emigrating with his family to Philadelphia in 1731, Benezet worked briefly as a merchant with his brothers and became a member of the Society of Friends. He married Joyce Marriott, a Quaker minister in 1736; neither of the couple’s two children survived to their first birthdays....

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Henry Walton Bibb. Lithograph on paper, 1847, by Unidentified Artist. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Bibb, Henry Walton (10 May 1815–1854), author, editor, and antislavery lecturer, was born into slavery on the plantation of David White of Shelby County, Kentucky, the son of James Bibb, a slaveholding planter and state senator, and Mildred Jackson. White began hiring Bibb out as a laborer on several neighboring plantations before the age of ten. The constant change in living situations throughout his childhood, combined with the inhumane treatment he often received at the hands of strangers, set a pattern for life that he would later refer to in his autobiography as “my manner of living on the road.” Bibb was sold more than six times between 1832 and 1840 and was forced to relocate to at least seven states throughout the South; later, as a free man, his campaign for abolition took him throughout eastern Canada and the northern United States. But such early instability also made the young Bibb both self-sufficient and resourceful, two characteristics that were useful against the day-to-day assault of slavery: “The only weapon of self defense that I could use successfully,” he wrote, “was that of deception.”...

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Brown, William Wells (1814?–06 November 1884), author and reformer, was born near Lexington, Kentucky, the son of George Higgins, a relative of his master, and Elizabeth, a slave. Dr. John Young, Brown’s master, migrated with his family from Kentucky to the Missouri Territory in 1816. Eleven years later the Youngs moved to St. Louis. Although Brown never experienced the hardship of plantation slavery, he was hired out regularly and separated from his family. He worked for a while in the printing office of abolitionist ...

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Burleigh, Charles Calistus (03 November 1810–13 June 1878), antislavery lecturer and reformer, was born in Plainfield, Connecticut, the son of Rinaldo Burleigh, a farmer and educator, and Lydia Bradford. Burleigh came from a family that was passionately committed to antislavery and other moral reforms. His father was the first president of the Windham County Antislavery Society, his sister taught at ...

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Clarke, Lewis G. (1815–1897), author and antislavery lecturer, was born into slavery on the plantation of his maternal grandfather, Samuel Campbell, in Madison County, Kentucky, the son of Campbell’s mixed-race slave daughter Letitia and her white, Scottish-immigrant husband, Daniel Clarke, a soldier in the American Revolution. Lewis Clarke’s middle name is variously recorded as either George or Garrand. Clarke’s family history, which he traced back to the founding of the nation, inspired his quest for freedom and his subsequent dedication to the abolition cause in the North....

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Craft, William (1824–28 January 1900), runaway slave and abolitionist lecturer, was born in Georgia, where he was a slave for the first twenty-four years of his life. In 1841 his owner, also named Craft, mortgaged William and his sister Sarah to a Macon bank. Later, when the slaveholder could not make the payments, the bank sold the slaves at an auction. Craft’s new owner permitted him to hire himself out as a carpenter, and Craft was allowed to keep earnings over $220 annually. In 1846 William married Ellen ( ...

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Fee, John Gregg (09 September 1816–11 January 1901), minister, abolitionist, and educational reformer, was born in Bracken County, Kentucky, the son of John Fee and Sarah Gregg, farmers and middle-class slaveholders. Fee’s parents inculcated in their son a belief in the value of education. After attending a subscription school, Fee pursued a classical education at both Augusta College in Bracken County and Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, eventually receiving his B.A. degree in 1840 from Augusta College. Having been converted to evangelical Christianity at age fourteen, he decided on the ministry as his profession. During 1842 and 1843 he studied at Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he embraced an egalitarian abolitionism that assumed the equality of races. In September 1844 Fee married one of his converts, Matilda Hamilton, convinced that she alone possessed the qualities needed to withstand the hostility he expected from the “Slave Power.” They had six children....

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Green, Beriah (24 March 1795–04 May 1874), abolitionist clergyman and educator, was born in Preston, Connecticut, the son of Beriah Green, a farmer and furniture maker, and Elizabeth Smith. He graduated from Middlebury College in 1819 and later attended Andover Seminary. In 1821 he married Marcia Deming; they had two children....

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Hildreth, Richard (28 June 1807–11 July 1865), journalist, antislavery activist, philosopher, and historian, was born in Deerfield, Massachusetts, the son of Hosea Hildreth, a Congregational (later Unitarian) minister and educator, and Sarah McLeod Hildreth. He attended Phillips Exeter Academy, where his father was professor of mathematics and natural philosophy. After graduating from Harvard in 1826, he spent a year teaching school in Concord, Massachusetts. This experience inspired his earliest historical writing, ...

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Langston, Charles Henry (1817–14 December 1892), abolitionist, temperance advocate, and educator, was born in Louisa County, Virginia, the son of Captain Ralph Quarles, a white plantation owner, and Lucy Langston, Quarles’s slave whom he manumitted and with whom he maintained an open relationship. Langston and his brothers were educated by Quarles in their youth. After the death of their parents in 1834 the Langston children were taken by William Gooch, a friend of Quarles and Lucy Langston, to Chillicothe, Ohio, where they were reunited with their half brother and two half sisters, the children of Lucy Langston who were born before her involvement with Quarles. Langston and his brothers took with them to Ohio considerable money bequeathed to them by Quarles. In 1835 Langston and his brother Gideon became the first African Americans enrolled in the preparatory department of Oberlin Collegiate Institute, then a hotbed of abolitionism. After leaving the preparatory department in 1836, Langston worked as a teacher at black schools in Chillicothe and Columbus, Ohio. He reenrolled in the Oberlin preparatory department in 1841 and studied there until the spring of 1843....

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Meigs, Return Jonathan (14 April 1801–19 October 1891), lawyer, abolitionist, and state librarian of Tennessee, was born near Winchester, Clark County, Kentucky, the son of John Meigs and Parthenia Clendinen. After the death of his father in 1807, he lived part of the time with his uncle James Lemme in Bourbon County, where he studied the classics under the tutelage of George Wilson. Subsequently he studied law and was admitted to the bar in Frankfort, Kentucky, in 1822....

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Nell, William Cooper (20 December 1816–25 May 1874), abolitionist and historian, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of William Guion Nell, a tailor, and Louisa (maiden name unknown). His father, a prominent figure in the small but influential African-American community in Boston’s West End during the 1820s, was a next-door neighbor and close associate of the controversial black abolitionist ...