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Bailey, Gamaliel (03 December 1807–05 June 1859), antislavery journalist and political organizer, was born in Mount Holly, New Jersey, the son of Gamaliel Bailey, Sr., a silversmith and Methodist minister, and Sarah Page. As the son of a minister, Bailey enjoyed educational advantages and an early association with evangelical Christianity. Following the relocation of his family to Philadelphia in 1816, Bailey joined with several other adolescents in forming a literary debating society, which stimulated his lifelong interest in literature. He graduated from Jefferson Medical College in 1828, but medicine was never his main interest, and he ceased to practice it by the early 1840s....

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Bell, Philip Alexander (1808–24 April 1889), abolitionist and journalist, was born in New York City (of unknown parents) and received his education there at the African Free School. He married Rebecca Elizabeth Fenwick, originally from Charleston, South Carolina, in 1832 (number of children unknown). Bell established his reputation as a civic leader in the early 1830s by participating in a wide range of activities in New York City’s African-American community. He was a member of the American Anti-Slavery Society, served as New York’s first subscription agent for ...

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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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Frederick Douglass Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-19288).

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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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William Lloyd Garrison. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-27876).

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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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Gay, Sydney Howard (22 May 1814–25 June 1888), journalist and abolitionist, was born in Hingham, Massachusetts, the son of Ebenezer Gay, a politician and banker, and Mary Alleyne Otis. He was taught respect for his New England heritage and had a sense of civic duty that he found both burdensome and inspiring in later life. Gay’s father—a prominent local figure who had great expectations of his children—announced to Gay while Gay was still young that he would enter the legal profession and set him on an appropriate course of study at Hingham’s Derby Academy....

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Goodell, William (25 October 1792–14 February 1878), religious reformer, was born in Coventry, New York, the son of Frederick Goodell and Rhoda Guernsey. Goodell’s parents were Connecticut natives who became pioneer settlers in upper New York State. During his childhood Goodell suffered a “crippling disease” that kept him bedridden for several years; this confinement resulted in his cultivating a lifelong interest in religious reading and writing. After the death of his parents, Goodell went to live in Pomfret, Connecticut, with his paternal grandmother, a convert of evangelist ...

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Haven, Gilbert (19 September 1821–03 January 1880), Methodist bishop, editor, and abolitionist, was born in Malden, Massachusetts, the son of “Squire” Gilbert Haven, a bookkeeper and clerk, and Hannah Burrill. Young Gilbert attended local schools and then Wesleyan Academy in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, for two terms in 1839. After he worked in Boston in clothing and carpet businesses, he did another term at Wilbraham to prepare for entering Wesleyan University in 1842....

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David Jenkins. Courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society.

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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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Leavitt, Joshua (08 September 1794–16 January 1873), reformer and newspaper editor, was born in Heath, Massachusetts, the son of Roger Leavitt, a businessman, and Chloe Maxwell. Joshua was raised in a Congregationalist and Federalist household. His father, the wealthiest resident of Heath, held numerous public offices and was active in various reform causes. Joshua attended Yale College between 1810 and 1814. He then taught school in Hartford until 1817, when he began to study law in Northampton, Massachusetts. From 1819 until 1823 Leavitt practiced law in Heath and in Putney, Vermont. In 1820 he married Sarah Williams; they had six children....

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Lovejoy, Elijah Parish (09 November 1802–07 November 1837), abolitionist editor and preacher, was born near Albion, Maine, the son of Daniel Lovejoy, a Congregational preacher and farmer, and Elizabeth Pattee. Lovejoy graduated from Waterville (now Colby) College in 1826 and a year later moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he conducted a private school and edited the ...

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Lundy, Benjamin (04 January 1789–22 August 1839), antislavery editor, was born in Sussex County, New Jersey, the son of Joseph Lundy and Elizabeth Shotwell, farmers. The Lundy family had been Quakers for many generations, and Lundy maintained close ties with other Quakers throughout his life....

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Murray, Orson S. (23 October 1806–14 June 1885), Baptist minister, editor, and radical reformer, was born in Orwell, Vermont, the son of Jonathan Murray and Rosalinda Bascom, farmers. Murray grew up impoverished on a hardscrabble farm in Orwell, obtaining only a few years of schooling. His parents were devout Free Will Baptists, and as a teenager Murray felt called to the Baptist ministry. In 1828 he married Catherine Maria Higgins; the couple had nine children. Determined to have a classical education, he returned to school at the Shoreham and Castleton academies, completing his studies in 1832....

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Potter, Ray (22 June 1795–01 March 1858), Baptist minister and businessman, was born in Cranston, Rhode Island, the son of Andrew Potter, a carpenter and revolutionary war veteran, and Minerva Remington. At the age of seventeen Potter experienced a dramatic conversion at the local Six Principle Baptist Church; that same year (1812) he married Minerva Bennett. They had nine children. In 1820 he and his family left the “closed communion” of the Six Principle Church and joined with Freewill Baptists who were then organizing a new church in Pawtucket, a prosperous mill village near the Massachusetts border. There Potter taught school to support his family, attended nightly meetings, and preached three times on Sunday. Converts into his new Freewill church came from rural families, who after moving into factory work were reluctant to attend the churches favored by mill owners and managers....

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Jane Grey Cannon Swisshelm. Albumen silver print, c. 1865, by Joel Emmons Whitney. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Swisshelm, Jane Grey Cannon (06 December 1815–22 July 1884), journalist and reformer, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Thomas Cannon, a merchant and real estate speculator, and Mary Scott. Reared in a strict Presbyterian family, she attended local schools and at age fourteen became a schoolteacher. In her spare time she painted....