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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, 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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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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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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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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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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Olaudah Equiano. From the frontispiece of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, 1794. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-54026).

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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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Everett, Robert (02 January 1791–25 February 1875), Congregational minister, publisher, and reformer, was born in Gronant, North Wales, the son of Lewis Everett and Jane Parry. The manager of a lead mine, Lewis Everett was also a Congregational lay preacher who raised his eleven children in a deeply religious atmosphere. Having decided at eighteen to enter the ministry, Robert studied theology at the Independent College at Wrexham and in 1815 was ordained pastor of the Swan Lane Welsh Congregational Church at Denbigh....

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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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Griffith Browne, Mattie (01 January 1825?–25 May 1906), antislavery writer and women's suffrage activist, was born in Owensboro, Kentucky, the daughter of Thomas and Catherine Griffith. Her father was a tavern-keeper and farmer. Various estimates have been made of her correct birth year, but no exact date has been established. Mattie and her older sister, Catherine, were orphaned in childhood, losing first their mother and then their father in 1830....

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Edward Everett Hale Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-99518).

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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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Hamilton, Thomas (26 April 1823–29 May 1865), journalist and antislavery activist, was born in New York City, the son of William Hamilton, a carpenter and community leader who participated in the rising abolitionist and black convention movements of the early 1830s. His mother’s name and occupation are not known. Although young Thomas gained a rudimentary education in the city’s African Free Schools and African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the primary influence on his career choice seems to have been growing up in the Hamilton household, where he was introduced to abolitionism and the reform press at an early age. A few months after his father’s death in 1836, he went to work as a carrier for the ...