A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

Boston Becomes the Antislavery Hub

Between 1831 and 1865, as the population of Boston surged from 60,000 to more than 175,000, the African- American population remained relatively stable—increasing to about 2,400. The Boston abolitionist movement first emerged from this long-settled, free black population and fugitives from slave states who settled here. The interracial New England Anti-Slavery Society was founded at the African Meeting House in 1832, and during the first years of its publication, three quarters of the subscribers to The Liberator were black.

Through the pages of The Liberator, other local antislavery publications, and lecture tours by visiting American and English abolitionists, Boston became a hub of the national and international antislavery movement. The anniversary of emancipation in the British West Indies on 1 August 1834 became one date that was commemorated in Boston in the years that followed.  Antislavery societies also often held rallies or events on the Fourth of July in the 1830s and 1840s.

In additon to The Liberator, the words of abolitionists were printed on broadsides and sung as hymns in churches. While meetings took place around the city, the African Meeting House, which was built on Beacon Hill in 1806, provided a discrimination-free place for meetings and worship.  

This is the Lord's Doing
Cotton banner, [1840s]
Wendell Phillips
Portrait, oil on canvas by Charles V. Bond, 1849
Letter from Ellen "Nellie" Custis Lewis to Harrison Gray Otis, 17 October 1831 ...
The Dorchester Anti-Slavery Society's Celebration. July 4th, 1835
Broadside
Liberty's Song
Broadside
Great Massachusetts Petition
Broadside attributed to the Latimer Committee
Hymns, for the Rural Anti-Slavery Celebration, at Dedham, July 4, 1846
Broadside
African Meeting House, Boston, Massachusetts
Photograph, circa 1892

Introduction

Exhibition: 22 February - 24 May 2013

"'Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land': Boston Abolitionists, 1831-1865" displays many important manuscripts, photographs, and artifacts from the Society's collections that relate to the Abolitionist movement in Boston. Visitors can view such items as the imposing table for The Liberator, which has not been on display in the Society's building for many years. The exhibit is open Monday through Saturday, 10 AM to 4 PM.

Additional Online Resource

The Case for Ending Slavery features curricular resources and more than 50 primary sources from the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Library of Congress that reveal how slavery, and debates about slavery, contributed to the formation of the United States.