Tag Archives: anti-slavery

- Commonwealth of Virginia versus Abolitionism


Bill of indictment, September 1849, found in the Commonwealth of Virginia versus Jarvis C. Bacon, 1849. Local government records collection, Grayson County Court Records, The Library of Virginia.

During the 1820s and 1830s, northern antislavery groups that demanded the immediate abolition of slavery began to emerge. Led by abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison, Arthur Tappan, and Theodore Weld, they instituted an aggressive print campaign against slavery. Abolitionist societies published newspapers and pamphlets that bitterly condemned slavery and called for its extinction. Needless to say, abolitionist literature was not well-received in slaveholding states, including Virginia.

In 1835, a Frederick County, Virginia, grand jury issued a criminal presentment against the Abolition Society of New York. In a lengthy and strongly worded indictment, the grand jury referred to the antislavery organization as an “evil of great magnitude” and accused it of disturbing the peace of the commonwealth and threatening the lives of its citizens by inciting slaves to rebel. The grand jury encouraged local law enforcement agencies throughout Virginia to adopt “increasing vigilance … in the detection of all fanatical emissaries, and in the suppression of their nefarious schemes and publications.” Furthermore, it called on the General Assembly to enforce present laws and enact stricter legislation against written or printed material that encouraged slave insurrection. The presentment also named Arthur Tappan, whom the grand jury considered to be the “prime mover” in the society. Tappan helped found the Abolition Society of New York in 1831, which two years later evolved into the American Anti-Slavery Societyread more »

- Following a Northern Star: Exploring Abolitionist Materials with Mapping Technologies

Here in Virginia, there are some pretty strong views on history.  It isn’t merely in the past, it is occurring in the present as well.  This can easily perpetuate the stereotype that Southerners are still fighting the Civil War, or as it is known to some of my relatives, the War of Northern Aggression.  However, this view of history in the present tense can be put to good use to dismantle assumptions, rethink the past, and keep cultural institutions relevant.


Still from The Abolitionists on PBS, A Powerful Partnership scene depicting the first meeting of Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison in Nantucket. Garrison asked Douglass, How did you first realize you were a slave?

The most recent episode of The Abolitionists on PBS focused heavily on Frederick Douglass.  Reading his 1845 memoir, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, in school years ago was my first encounter with the realities of slavery, as I imagine it may be for many people. Somehow, seeing the scene in which William Lloyd Garrison, a prominent abolitionist, and Frederick Douglass first meet brought to mind again how wonderful it is to see these events and documents geographically located on the Abolitionist Map of America.  Zoom in on Nantucket, Massachusetts, and you can view the video clip from the series as well as contemporary photographs and documents. Somehow, plotting things on a map makes them more concrete, more believable, not just backstory.


The Liberator, an abolitionist newspaper by William Lloyd Garrison, published in Boston. Virginia General Assembly, House of Delegates, Speaker, Executive communications, Correspondence and publications submitted by Governor John Floyd, 1831 Dec. 6. Accession 36912, State government records collection, The Library of Virginia.

As we continue this project, we are still uncovering relevant abolitionist materials at the Library … read more »

- Mapping John Brown: How one man’s failed rebellion expanded the abolitionist cause


This photograph shows a rather more dapper John Brown than the later images and drawings, in which he appears disheveled and heavily bearded. He moved his large family ten times between 1825 and 1855, during which he was a devoted abolitionist and member of the Underground Railroad. As a failed businessman, Brown worked odd jobs while advocating for the end of slavery. Photograph of John Brown, circa 1850. Portraits Collection, Prints and Photographs, Library of Virginia.

In some cases, failing extravagantly can work in favor of your cause.  Go big or go home, as it were.  John Brown was an American abolitionist who supported the use of violence to end slavery.  A descendant of 17th century Puritans, Brown’s strong Calvinist beliefs would provide the moral inspiration for his battle against slavery.  As we saw on The Abolitionists on PBS last Tuesday, Brown made a pledge in 1837 that would steer his actions in the coming decades: “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery!”

Unlike most white, well-educated, religiously-motivated abolitionists, Brown did not believe in solely non-violent means to end slavery.  After the Fugitive Slave Act passed in 1850, Brown founded a militant anti-slavery brigade with the Biblically-inspired name “League of Gileadites.”  Their mission was to prevent the recapture of escaped slaves by any means necessary.  Rising tensions in Kansas compelled Brown to go to the aid of the anti-slavery settlers there, including five of his adult sons.  Pro-slavery forces known as “Border Ruffians” interfered with voting, imprisoned abolitionists, harassed free settlers, and eventually seized the town of Lawrence.  On 24 May 1856, Brown led a small group of armed men against their pro-slavery neighbors at Pottawatomie Creek, killing five.  This catalyzed a civil war … read more »

- LVA Partners with American Experience to Populate the Abolitionist Map of America: Interactive Map Explores the Legacy of the Anti-Slavery Movement

How did views on slavery evolve in the decades leading up to the Civil War?  What different concerns did Quakers, soldiers, and revolutionaries express about the freedom of enslaved people?  Most importantly, what evidence can we find in the Library of Virginia’s collections about the anti-slavery movement in the early and mid-1800s?


The American Experience Abolitionist Map of America: dozens of cultural institutions have contributed historical images and documents

This unique challenge arose through the LVA’s early involvement in HistoryPin, an interactive website to which we upload geotagged photographs and other archival materials.  Each image is accompanied by descriptive metadata, but users can also add their own “stories,” allowing for multiple and personal interpretations of history.  Audio and video clips can also be pinned. Click here to see the Library’s  HistoryPin collections.

PBS’s trademark documentary series, American Experience, has partnered with HistoryPin to use this digital platform to tell the story of abolitionists.  The Library of Virginia was selected to contribute to this exploration of the anti-slavery movement in America—the Abolitionist Map of America.  Dozens of museums, libraries, and archives have contributed to populating the map.  PBS will also upload several video clips from their upcoming documentary series The Abolitionists, which will air on Tuesdays, January 8-22, 2013.  A mobile app and walking tours of Boston, Charleston, Cincinnati and Philadelphia allow users to explore the Abolitionist Map in multiple ways.


Above, one of the LVA’s most viewed pins, an anti-slavery broadside from 1859 in Lawrence, KS.

The abolitionist materials assembled by the … read more »

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