A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.


The Massachusetts Historical Society holds many important manuscripts, photographs and artifacts that relate to the abolitionist movement in Boston. The first antislavery tract published in America, The Selling of Joseph by Samuel Sewall, was printed in New England in 1700. Throughout the 18th century, many individuals in Massachusetts—including founding father John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams—opposed slavery and helped to shape the consciousness of the region into the 19th century.

In the decades leading to the Civil War, Boston became a center of the national antislavery movement, and in 1831 William Lloyd Garrison, "all on fire" for the cause, began publication of The Liberator, the country's leading abolitionist newspaper. There was strong resistance to the radical movement, however, not only in the South, but among Northerners as well.

This website serves as a companion to the exhibit, "'Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land': Boston Abolitionists, 1831-1865," however this worthy commemoration of Boston abolitionism in the 19th century should not mask the 150-year history of slavery in the Bay Colony. The struggle for emancipation in Massachusetts culminated in the 1783 decision of Chief Justice William Cushing that under the new state constitution there could be “no such thing as perpetual servitude of a rational Creature...."

Several important early documents held by the MHS include a June 1774 petition for freedom to Gov. Thomas Gage; the legal notes by William Cushing; and a portrait of Elizabeth Freeman (aka "Mumbet"), the subject of the landmark 1783 decision to end slavery.

The Selling of Joseph: A Memorial
Samuel Sewall
Petition for freedom to Massachusetts Governor Thomas Gage, His Majesty's Council, ...
Legal notes by William Cushing about the Quock Walker case, [1783]
Elizabeth Freeman
Miniature portrait, watercolor on ivory by Susan Anne Livingston Ridley Sedgwick, 1811

All but one section of this website features banners that were originally displayed by William Lloyd Garrison at antislavery fairs and festivals held across Massachusetts. The addition of Biblical quotations across many of the banners underscored the moral convictions held by the abolitionists.

Proclaim Liberty throughout all The Land..., Garrison antislavery banner
Cotton, paint, silk fringe by unknown, Boston, 1843


Exhibition: 22 February - 24 May 2013

"'Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land': Boston Abolitionists, 1831-1865" displayed many important manuscripts, photographs, and artifacts from the Society's collections that relate to the Abolitionist movement in Boston. Visitors could view such items as the imposing table for The Liberator, which has not been on display in the Society's building for many years.

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