A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.
Images of the Antislavery Movement in Massachusetts
Highlights of the Portraits of American Abolitionists Collection

by Susan Martin, Finding Aid Conversion Specialist.

William Lloyd Garrison Theodore ParkerThe Portraits of American Abolitionists collection consists of 742 photographs, photomechanicals, engravings, lithographs, and other images of men and women involved in the abolition debate in the nineteenth century. Included are many renowned abolitionists and reformers from all walks of life, as well as proponents of slavery, colonization, the disunion of the United States, and other related issues.

The abolitionists in this collection held a wide range of views. William Lloyd Garrison, a leader in the movement, as a young man initially supported the emigration of American blacks to Africa but eventually spent the majority of his life advocating the principles of immediate emancipation and nonviolent resistance. Unitarian minister Theodore Parker advocated defiance of the infamous Fugitive Slave Law of 1850--the law, supported by Daniel Webster, that mandated the return of escaped slaves to their owners in the South.

William Still Harriet Tubman Frances Wright

Among the African-Americans represented in this collection are "conductors" of the Underground Railroad such as William Wells Brown, William C. Nell, William Still, and Harriet Tubman. Other African Americans include influential lecturers and activists like Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth. The collection contains images of many women, including Susan B. Anthony, Anna E. Dickinson, Lucretia Coffin Mott, Ernestine L. Rose, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Frances Wright, who played a vital role in the antislavery movement, writing and speaking in many venues not only about abolition, but also women's rights, temperance, and pacifism.

Charles BurleighOther highlights of the collection include portraits of most of the United States presidents between 1829 and 1869; Antoinette L. Brown Blackwell, the first U.S. woman ordained as a minister; Joseph Carpenter, a Quaker who assisted runaway slaves; Henry Clay, drafter of the Missouri Compromise; Robert Gould Shaw, commander of the all-black 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War; and the eccentric journalist Charles Calistus Burleigh, who reputedly refused to cut his hair until slavery was abolished.

The politicians, writers, escaped slaves, free blacks, abolitionists, and reformers in this collection represent many nuanced views on slavery, abolition, and the position of blacks in the United States. The ardent pro-slavery stance of John C. Calhon, John Jay's early support of gradual abolition, and John Brown's advocacy of violent insurrection and insistence on full equality between the races are just a few examples.

The collection includes more than one portrait of some individuals, including six portraits of Thomas Wentworth Higginson. (Please see a brief online biography of Thomas Wentworth Higginson.) Images of all individuals are available through the finding aid to the collection that includes an alphabetical list of subjects and a list of the individuals depicted by category (e.g. antislavery editors, fugitive slaves) compiled by Francis Jackson Garrison.