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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....

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Cassius Marcellus Clay. Daguerreotype from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109862).

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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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Crandall, Prudence (03 September 1803–28 January 1890), abolitionist and teacher, was born in Hopkinton, Rhode Island, the daughter of Pardon Crandall, a Quaker farmer, and Esther Carpenter. When Crandall was ten her family moved to another farm in Canterbury, Connecticut. As a young woman she spent a few years (1825–1826, 1827–1830) at the New England Friends’ Boarding School in Providence and also taught school for a time in Plainfield, Connecticut....

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Dargan, Edmund S. (15 April 1805–24 November 1879), legislator and judge, was born near Wadesboro, in Montgomery County, North Carolina, the son of a Baptist minister, whose given name is unknown, and a woman whose maiden name was Lilly. Dargan’s full middle name is listed in a number of sources as either Strother or Spawn. His father died when Dargan was very young. There was no adequate estate, and to earn a livelihood he became an agricultural laborer. Dargan was a self-educated young man who studied the law in typical nineteenth-century fashion, in the law office of a local practitioner in Wadesboro. After a year of study he was admitted in 1829 to the North Carolina bar. The following year he walked to Alabama, where he settled in Washington in Autauga County. He was admitted to the Alabama bar and served as a justice of the peace in Autauga County for a number of years....

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Earle, Thomas ( April 1796–15 July 1849), lawyer and reformer, was born in Leicester, Massachusetts, the son of Pliny Earle, a manufacturer of machinery for textile factories, and Patience Buffum. Earle studied in the public schools and at the Leicester Academy. After he left school he worked briefly for a family business in nearby Worcester and in 1817 moved to Philadelphia. He worked as a commission merchant until 1824, when the company that he worked for failed. Earle then read law with ...

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Gibbons, Abigail Hopper (07 December 1801–16 January 1893), prison reformer and abolitionist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Isaac Tatem Hopper and Sarah Tatum, Quakers. Her father earned a moderate living as a tailor and later as a bookseller but devoted most of his time to aiding runaway slaves and free blacks. Her mother was a minister in the Society of Friends. Two years after her mother’s death in 1822, her father remarried, and in 1829 he moved with most of his family to New York City. Abigail joined them in 1830 and helped support the family by teaching at a Quaker school....

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Isaac T. Hopper. From the frontispiece to Lydia Maria Child, Isaac T. Hopper: A True Life, 1853. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-75190).

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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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Little, Sophia Louisa Robbins (1799–1893), writer and reformer, was born in Newport, Rhode Island, the daughter of U.S. senator Asher Robbins, an attorney, and Mary Ellery. Educated locally, she married William Little, Jr., of Boston in 1824; they had three children. Her first publication was a poem, “Thanksgiving,” included in a Boston gift book, ...

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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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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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Stewart, Alvan (01 September 1790–01 May 1849), lawyer and abolitionist, was born in South Granville, New York, the son of Uriel Stewart, a farmer. His mother’s name is unknown. In 1795 the family moved to Westford, Vermont, where Alvan attended common school and at age seventeen began studying anatomy and medicine. He then attended the University of Vermont, teaching school during the winters to support himself. In 1811 he went to Canada to teach, but when anti-American sentiment increased and the War of 1812 began, he returned to the United States. Stewart graduated from college in 1813, taught common school for a short period of time, and then began the private study of law in Cherry Valley, New York. After completing his studies, he practiced there for sixteen years....

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Sojourner Truth. From a carte de visite, possibly made in 1864, with an inscription below the picture: "I sell the shadow to support the substance." Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-119343).

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Truth, Sojourner (1799–26 November 1883), black abolitionist and women's rights advocate, black abolitionist and women’s rights advocate, was born in Hurley, Ulster County, New York, the daughter of James and Elizabeth Baumfree, who were slaves. Named Isabella by her parents, she took the name Sojourner Truth in 1843. As a child, Isabella belonged to a series of owners, the most memorable of whom were the John Dumont family of Esopus, Ulster County, to whom she belonged for approximately seventeen years and with whom she remained close until their migration to the West in 1849. About 1815 she married another of Dumont’s slaves, Thomas, who was much older than she; they had five children. Isabella left Thomas in Ulster County after their emancipation under New York state law in 1827, but she did not marry again....