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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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Alvord, John Watson (18 April 1807–14 January 1880), Congregational minister and antislavery reformer, was born in East Hampton, Connecticut, the son of James Hall Alvord, a saddle maker, and Lucy Cook. His father was an active Whig and a deacon in the local Congregational church; his mother was the daughter of Richard Cook, a revolutionary soldier. Alvord attended the common schools of Winsted, Connecticut, and upon leaving school in 1828 he worked for a prominent merchant in Hartford, Connecticut. He went to Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio, where his interest in the antislavery movement began. He left Lane in 1834 because of his participation in the Lane antislavery rebellion of that year, and he received his degree from Oberlin College in 1836. Upon his graduation Alvord continued his antislavery activism and also began training to be a missionary in Africa. An illness prevented his going, and instead he preached to slaves in Florida while recovering his health....

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Andrew, John Albion (31 May 1818–30 October 1867), reformer, antislavery advocate, and Civil War governor of Massachusetts, was born in Windham, Maine, the son of Jonathan Andrew, a farmer and general store owner, and Nancy Green Pierce, a schoolteacher. Educated at private academies and then at Bowdoin College, from which he graduated in 1837, Andrews learned early about the evils of slavery and the religious necessity to oppose it. One of his contemporaries at Bowdoin was ...

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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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Ballou, Adin (23 April 1803–05 August 1890), Universalist clergyman, reformer, and founder of Hopedale Community, was born in Cumberland, Rhode Island, the son of Ariel Ballou and Edilda Tower, farmers. A largely self-educated preacher, Ballou’s earliest religious experience was Calvinist in nature, and he later recalled the “very solemnizing effect” of the preaching he heard as a youth. At about age eleven, however, Ballou experienced a religious conversion, and a year later he was baptized into a Christian Connection church that emphasized a more enthusiastic and fundamentalist religiosity. Ballou developed a deep interest in religious matters over the next several years and eventually became a self-proclaimed preacher. At age eighteen, in the autumn of 1821, he was received into the fellowship of the Connecticut Christian Conference, a Christian Connection body. In 1822 he married Abigail Sayles; they had two children before Abigail died in 1829....

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Barbadoes, James G. (1796–22 June 1841), abolitionist and community activist., was an Nothing is known of the circumstances of his birth, early life, and education, although his surname may indicate West Indian origins.

Barbadoes emerged as an important figure in the small but influential African-American community in Boston’s West End by the mid-1820s; from 1821 to 1840 he operated a barbershop in Boston. He was a prominent member of the African Baptist church and of African Lodge #459, the preeminent black fraternal organization in the nation. An amateur musician applauded for both his vocal and instrumental talents, he performed regularly before local audiences. But he was best known as an “indefatigable political organizer.”...

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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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Beman, Amos Gerry (1812–1874), clergyman and abolitionist, was born in Colchester, Connecticut, the son of Jehiel C. Beman, a clergyman. Nothing is known of his mother. He grew up and received basic education in Middletown, Connecticut, where his father was pastor of the African church. A Wesleyan University student, L. P. Dole, volunteered to tutor Beman after the university refused his application for admission because he was an African American. Dole and Beman suffered ridicule and harassment from other students, and an anonymous threat of bodily harm from “Twelve of Us” caused Beman to give up the effort after six months. He went to Hartford, where he taught school for four years, and around 1836 he briefly attended Oneida Institute in New York....

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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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Bird, Francis William (22 October 1809–23 May 1894), radical reformer and antislavery politician, was born in Dedham, Massachusetts, the son of George Bird, a paper mill superintendent, and Martha C. Newell. Bird graduated from Brown College in 1831. He took an active interest in the welfare of his hometown of East Walpole, Massachusetts, where he continued the family paper manufacturing business. Bird lost his first wife and infant daughter to illness after one year of marriage. He married Abby Frances Newell in 1843; they had at least two children....

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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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Bloss, William Clough (19 January 1795–18 April 1863), abolitionist and reformer, was born in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts, the son of Joseph Bloss, a Connecticut farmer who served in the American Revolution, and Amy Wentworth Kennedy. Bloss obtained his education through the common schools prior to his family’s 1816 move to the town of Brighton, New York, on what was then the outskirts of Rochester. At some point between 1816 and 1823 Bloss taught briefly in Maryland and South Carolina where he acquired, he would later claim, his lifelong hatred for the institution of slavery. Returning to Rochester in 1823, he built a brick tavern on the edge of the Erie Canal and that same year married Mary Bangs Blossom, with whom he had six children....

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Bourne, George (13 June 1780–20 November 1845), clergyman and abolitionist, was born in Westbury, England, the son of Samuel Bourne, a cloth manufacturer, and Mary Rogers. Bourne attended Homerton College, located in a London suburb, to prepare for the ministry. He first visited the United States in 1802 and in 1804 emigrated to Baltimore, Maryland. Rather than enter the ministry, Bourne became a journalist and established the ...

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Bowditch, Henry Ingersoll (09 August 1808–14 January 1892), physician, public hygienist, and abolitionist, was born in Salem, Massachusetts, the son of Nathaniel Bowditch, a mathematician and astronomer, and Mary Ingersoll. Raised in a patrician family, Bowditch, who received his early education at the Salem Private Grammar School and Boston Public Latin School, graduated from Harvard College in 1828. He then studied at the Harvard Medical School and supplemented its didactic lectures by serving in 1831–1832 as house officer at the Massachusetts General Hospital....

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Brooke, Abraham (1806–08 March 1867), physician and radical reformer, was born at Sandy Spring, Maryland, the son of Samuel Brooke and Sarah Garrigues, farmers. The Brooke family had been leading Quakers in Maryland for several generations, and Abraham attended Quaker schools at Sandy Spring before entering medical college in Baltimore. In 1829 he married Elizabeth Lukens, a fellow Quaker from Sandy Spring; they had three children. When the Hicksite-Orthodox schism took place among Quakers, the Brookes, like most Maryland Friends, sided with the Hicksite group....

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John Brown Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-64979).

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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 ...