How the Antislavery Movement Used the Print Media
Virtually all the facets of the print world were brought to bear as both a means of disseminating their message and generating sources of funding. The examples include pamphlets, book-length fugitive-slave narratives, letters associated with Frederick Douglasss newspaper (the North Star), and a first edition of Uncle Toms Cabin, as well as correspondence that is directly related to the creation and marketing of these published pieces.
Letter from James C. Fuller to Gerrit Smith, 15 October 1841. Fuller describes in this letter some of the early settlements in Ontario that became refuges for escaped slaves. His mention of Austin Seward taking up residence in the area known as the Queens Bush is not exactly correct; it was actually the Wilberforce Settlement. Stewards own account appears in the book Twenty-Two Years a Slave, and Forty Years a Freeman, and this volume is included and described in this case. In this same letter, he alludes to a whip and handcuffs from a Mississippi plantation that he wanted to secure as artifacts (and of which he did not want Smith to be aware) to be used in his antislavery lectures. The Sam who is mentioned is the head of the household that was liberated by Fuller on Smiths behalf.
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Letter from Frederick Douglass to Gerrit Smith, 16 December 1856. Douglass thanks Smith for his continued support of his paper, the North Star, and refers to the Jerry Rescue Resolutions that were prompted by the annual celebrations surrounding this event:
Twenty-Two Years a Slave, and Forty Years a Freeman by Austin Steward (Canandaigua, N.Y.: published by the author, 1867). This volume was published to help raise funds after the Civil War for Stewards benefit and displays an engraving of a fugitive slave who has just cut his own throat on a ship on the Hudson River rather than be returned to slavery in the South. The caption reads I walked hastily forward and turned round, when, Oh, my God! what a sight was there! He still held the dripping knife with which he had cut his throat.
Read the full text of this work in the "Documenting the American South" digital collection at the University of North Carolina.
The masthead from the North Star of 11 February 1848 (volume one, number seven), the abolitionist newspaper edited by Frederick Douglass in Rochester, New York. Its motto affirms that RIGHT OF OF NO SEXTRUTH IS OF NO COLORGOD IS THE FATHER OF US ALL, AND WE ARE ALL BRETHERN. In the letter to the left from 16 December 1856, Douglass thanks Gerrit Smith for a donation directed to support of his paper: Please accept my thanks for your generous donation of twenty dollarsI am happy to know by this expressive Sign, that you still desire to See my paper Afloat. You ought to, for you have watched over it with Almost Paternal Interest.
Letter from James C. Fuller to Gerrit Smith, 19 January 1847. Fuller explains that he is continuing to send antislavery pamphlets to slaveholders in North Carolina. The tract that he has been using is Alvan Stewarts A Legal Argument before the Supreme Court of the State of New Jersey at the May Term, 1845, at Trenton, for the Deliverance of Four Thousand Persons from Bondage (New York: Finch and Weed, 1845). He is even advocating that it be reprinted from its stereotype plates:
Letter from Samuel J. May to an unidentified recipient, 26 July 1851. May directs a box of clothing to Oswego that is intended for fugitive slaves in Canada. While this reference could conceivably have been used as code for actual fugitive slaves, this letter seems deliberately focused on the basic supplies required by blacks in their new Canadian environment. The allusion to publishing a series of articles in Douglass Paper respecting the condition and prospects of the fugitives in Canada doubtless refers to the North Star published by Frederick Douglass.
The first edition of Uncle Toms Cabin (Boston: John P. Jewett and Co., 1852). The volume in this case is volume one from the set that is described in the circular as the edition in 2 vols., bound in cloth, best library edition to be sold at a retail cost of one dollar and fifty cents.
Letter from John P. Jewett to Gerrit Smith, 27 November 1852. Jewett, the publisher of Uncle Toms Cabin, announces to Gerrit Smith that he is about to publish the volume in an edition of one million copies. His letter is, in fact, written on the back of the circular that publicizes this and other editions of the work. At the conclusion of the letter, Jewett also congratulates Smith on his election to Congress:
The circular explains that millions will now read it, and own it, and drink in its heavenly principles, and the living generations of men will imbibe its noble sentiments, and generations yet unborn will rise up and bless its author, and thank the God of Heaven for inspiring a noble woman to utter such glowing, burning truths, for the redemption of the oppressed millions of our race.
Letter from Harriet Beecher Stowe to Gerrit Smith, 25 October 1852. Stowe, the author of Uncle Toms Cabin, appeals to Gerrit Smith, out of all the antislavery activists of her acquaintance, as the person who may be best positioned to supply facts & statistics to counter the suggestion that she has exaggerated the evils of slavery in her book:
The supplementary material that Stowe is seeking would ultimately become The Key to Uncle Toms Cabin, which according to the circular (see above) sent to Gerrit Smith by John P. Jewett, the publisher of the book, was a complete refutation of some charges which have been made against her on account of alleged overstatements of facts in Uncle Tom. It will make a pamphlet of about 100 pages, double columns, and will present original facts and documents, most thoroughly establishing the truth of every statement in her book. The cost of this was to be twenty-five cents. Of course, the original facts and documents were precisely the ones Harriet Beecher Stowe was soliciting from Gerrit Smith.
Letter from Frederick Douglass to Gerrit Smith, 24 March 1852. A fund-raising project of the Rochester Ladies Anti-Slavery Society was a festival held in the spring of 1852, and Gerrit Smiths participation in it was keenly appreciated, as this letter demonstrates:
Autographs for Freedom edited by Julia Griffiths (Auburn, N.Y.: Alden, Beardsley, and Co., 1854). This compendium of short abolitionist pieces was published as another fund-raising enterprise by the Rochester Ladiess Anti-Slavery Society, of which Griffiths was the secretary. In the preface to the work, Griffiths thanks the assemblage of authors who have contributed of the wealth of their genius; the strength of their convictions; the ripeness of their judgment; their earnestness of purpose; their generous sympathies; to the completeness and excellence of the work; and we shall hope to meet many of them, if not all, in other numbers of The Autograph, which may be called forth ere the chains of the Slave shall be broken, and this country redeemed from the sin and the curse of Slavery. Frederick Douglass also takes this impassioned stance in this volume: We plead for our rights, in the name of the immortal declaration of independence, and of the written constitution of government, and we are answered with imprecations and curses. In the sacred name of Jesus we beg for mercy, and the slavewhip, red with blood, cracks over us in mockery.
Letter from Frederick Douglass to Gerrit Smith, 14 August 1855. Douglass discusses the effusive dedication of his book entitled My Bondage and My Freedom (New York and Auburn: Miller, Orton and Mulligan, 1855) to Gerrit Smith:
Letter from Jermain Loguen to Gerrit Smith, 23 March 1859. Loguen comments on the character of a fugitive slave who has apparently appealed to Smith for assistance but also informs Smith of his intention to publish what would become The Reverend J. W. Loguen, as a Slave and as a Freeman: A Narrative of Real Life (Syracuse: J. G. K. Truair and Co., 1859). Loguen is clearly hoping that Smith will help subsidize such a publication, just as he had done for many others in the antislavery movement:
Letter from Samuel J. May to Gerrit Smith, 10 June 1869. May conveys in this communication the plans for publishing Some Recollections of Our Antislavery Conflict (Boston: Fields, Osgood, and Co., 1869):
He also commented that there were specific topics on which he wanted to confer with Smith: I wish very much, to read to you some portions of what I am now writing about the conduct of the Churches [with respect to the antislavery movement]. This copy of the volume was presented to a previous owner of it by the daughter of Samuel J. May.
A wholesale receipt issued by the Wesleyan Book Concern, 60 South Salina Street, Syracuse, 14 July 1856. One hundred copies each are being ordered of titles that are being abbreviated as Slavery a Sin, Sanctuary of Sin, Nations Peril, and Sumners Speech. The last item mentioned is probably The Crime against Kansas. Speech of Hon. Charles Sumner, of Massachusetts (New York: Greeley and McElrath, 1856). Sumners oration was delivered on 19 May of 1856, and it was the one that occasioned the brutal beating he received on the floor of the Senate two days after its delivery. Partly because of the notoriety of this attack, a million copies of the speech were printed within weeks of its delivery.
Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman (Auburn: W. J. Moses, 1869). This wonderful local tribute to one of the heroes of the Underground Railroad was written by Sarah H. Bradford of Geneva, printed by W. J. Moses in Auburn, and the frontispiece of Tubman in her outfit as a scout during the Civil War as its frontispiece was engraved by J. C. Darby of Auburn. In the introduction, we learn that subscriptions were raised for the publication of the volume and for Tubmans benefit, and that Gerrit Smith made one of the most substantial of these. William H. Seward also facilitated the purchase of a home for Tubman in Auburn. A letter from Frederick Douglass in the book juxtaposed his own antislavery role with that of Tubmans:
The Underground Railroad (Philadelphia: Porter and Coates, 1872) by William Still. According to an account in this classic volume, a party of six men and women fled from slavery in Loudon County, Virginia, in a carriage and by horseback on Christmas Eve in 1855. The group was confronted by six white men and a boy near the Cheat River in Maryland, having traveled about one hundred miles from their starting point. The fugitives revealed that they had pistols and convinced their assailants that they were quite prepared to spill blood, kill, or die. The engraving by C. H. Reed to which this volume is opened depicts this dramatic scene. Those four individuals in the carriage were able to proceed, but the ones on horseback were probably captured. Upon their arrival in Syracuse, Frank Wanzer, the leader of the group, was married to Emily Foster, another member of the party, by the Reverend Jermain Loguen. These four ultimately made their way to freedom in Toronto according to family traditions. This book was published after the Civil War in order to raise funds for William Still, the leader of the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia.
Circular of the African Aid Society, Organized in Syracuse, Sept. 8, 1857. The Reverend Samuel J. May initially hired William Brown, the author of this circular, as an agent to assist with fund-raising for the Fugitive Slave Society in Syracuse. Upon investigating his background, however, it became clear that Brown was merely an opportunist, and he was dismissed. In an extraordinarily bold way, however, Brown created his own fictitious African Aid Society and had this piece printed in order to promote it. This is the only known copy of this document. The members of the legitimate Fugitive Slave Society led by the Reverend Samuel J. May were ultimately obliged to advertise in local papers that Brown was soliciting money fraudulently.
Syracuse University Library
Syracuse, NY 13244
Last modified: June 09, 2012 12:35 PM
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