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William Lloyd Garrison

by Karen Board Moran

1833 Portrait, Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery

A zealous reformer, William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) launched an abolitionist newspaper from Boston on New Years Day, 1831. The Liberator was pledged to the immediate emancipa-tion of the nation’s slaves, but also educated its readers on a host of other reforms. Garrison founded the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1832 and the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833 to carry out this difficult task. A groundswell of dedicated reformers was required. Link to WLG biography.

To reach a larger audience, Garrison joined the lecture circuit after receiving a letter from Arnold Buffum, the first New England Anti-Slavery Society agent. Agents set up lectures around the area and distributed written materials to spread the anti-slavery message. At the time, there was no subscription agent for the newspaper in Worcester and many of the towns targeted by Buffum.

Buffum, a Quaker, was an importer and hat manufacturer. On Saturday, September 8, 1832, The Liberator printed a report on Buffum’s work in Rhode Island (Smithfield, North Providence, Pawtucket, Blackstone, Woonsocket Falls, Slaterville) and Massachusetts (Uxbridge, Grafton, Worcester, Leicester, Brookfield, Ware, Belchertown, Springfield, Amherst).

TOUR OF THE AGENT OF THE NEW-ENGLAND ANTI-SLAVERY SOCIETY

“All that seems to be necessary in New-England is, in the clearest manner possible to establish the fact, that the Colonization Society is not an Anti-Slavery Society, as has generally been supposed, but is in fact a scheme of slave- holders, devised expressly for the purpose of giving additional security and profit to the slave system….”

Worcester, 8 mo. 7, 1832 [August 7, 1832]

“…The Rev. J. N. Danforth has been holding forth here, and has, as afar as possible, barred every door against light and truth. Grieved that deception should have so prevailed, I left this town on Saturday evening, and went to Leicester…”

“…Yesterday morning, with revived spirits, I returned here, [to Worcester] determined to get a hearing. I have engaged the Town Hall for to-morrow evening. I find already some excitement on account of the ministers attempting to prevent the people from having an opportunity to hear me. I have had two interviews with our excellent Governor [Levi Lincoln, Jr. ]. He professed himself as great an enemy to slavery, and as warm a friend to universal emancipation, as any man.

WARE, 8 mo.13, 1832

The evening of my meeting at Worcester proved rainy, in consequence of which my audience was small—I should think about 300. I stated to them the cause and manner of my exclusion from the meeting-houses, and gave them my view of the Colonization scheme in full…”

In the Saturday, October 6, 1832 Liberator Garrison explained his mission to go out onto the lecture circuit and told of his visit to Worcester, which was jammed with delegates and spectators to the Anti-Masonic State Convention. Serving as a convention delegate for Suffolk County, he found lodging at Mr. Flagg’s private boarding house. An advocate of equality, temperance, and benevolence, Garrison seized the opportunity to speak before any group he could gather.

TOUR OF THE EDITOR. LETTER I.

Worcester, Sept. 7, 1832

“…It is time for the friends of bleeding humanity to make a demonstration of their strength. It is idle for them to sign over the degradation and misery of the slaves, while they neglect to coalesce. To effect [sic] this union, agents are indispens-able. There are thousands, and tens of thousands, who never peruse the Liberator, or any other anti-slavery publication, through ignorance of its exist-ence, or prejudice based upon a misconception of its principles. These will not hesitate to listen to public discourses on slavery. The same arguments and appeals will answer as will for a multitude as for a single individual; and it is much easier to convince a hundred men in a large audience, than half a dozen by detail. In this manner, I may be able to disarm whole communities of their antipathies, and rally them around the standard which has been lifted up in Boston, who else might remain indifferent or hostile to our cause…”

“…Last evening I gave an address on slavery in the Town Hall, which was well filled with ladies and gentlemen, although the notice of the meeting was a very limited one. I trust many hearts were softened in view of the deplorable situation of the slaves, and many judgments enlightened in relation to our duty as a people. Previous to my lecture I visited the Rev. Mr. M__, to solicit the use of his house. On learning my name, he was exceedingly dogmatical, repulsive and supercilious, uttering sweeping denunciations against abolitionists—…”

Abby was just one member of the audience touched by Garrison’s rhetoric. Many in the audience would help Worcester become a center of abolitionist activity by organizing local anti-slavery societies.

Educational Resource:

National Portrait Gallery. “A Brush with History”. Smithsonian Institution.

Related WWHP Pages

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