Tuesday, June 09, 2009


Genealogy Gems: News from the Fort Wayne Library
No. 63, May 31, 2009
Steve Myers & Curt Witcher, co-editors

“The Liberator”: A Source for Researching Abolitionist and Fugitive Slave Ancestors by John D. Beatty

One of the most divisive national issues in the antebellum period was slavery. The question of whether enslaved African Americans should be freed not only divided large sections of the North from the South, but also created fissures within many northern communities. Some northerners were willing to leave slavery alone in the interest of national unity. Some advocated its continuance in the South, but opposed its extension to new western territories. Many others opposed slavery in principle, but were divided over how slaves should be manumitted, and once freed, whether they should be allowed to live in the North or colonized in Africa.

William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879), a newspaper editor, was uncompromising in his demand for the complete and immediate emancipation of all slaves, and in doing so became one of the most visible and outspoken leaders of the abolitionist movement. On January 1, 1831, he began publishing “The Liberator,” a weekly newspaper printed in Boston that garnered a national circulation. In the inaugural issue, he pledged: “I am aware that many object to the severity of my language, but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice.”

While the newspaper stressed non-violence and passive resistance, it became a catalyst for abolitionist activity because of the news and editorials it circulated. Garrison published letters from many sympathizers. He also issued commentaries, reprinted sermons, reported on court cases involving fugitive slaves, and published anti-slavery constitutions and other resolutions that were frequently signed by local abolitionist leaders. “The Liberator” also printed accounts of anti-slavery activities, speeches, and events held in various towns across the nation.

For example, in July, 1835, S. G. Wilson reported on his efforts to give an abolitionist speech at a Methodist church in Sandusky, Ohio, listing the names of several supporters and opponents that he encountered. Other issues contained copies of wills and other documents that either supported or helped stoke the fires of the anti-slavery cause. Garrison continued to publish until December 31, 1865, well after the conclusion of the Civil War.

The greatest value for the genealogist is this newspaper’s record of names and local accounts. If you have ancestors who belonged to abolitionist congregations, especially Quakers, Universalists, and Presbyterians, or if they were “free blacks” living in the North, you might find a reference in “The Liberator.” The Genealogy Center has a complete set of the newspaper on microfilm (cabinet 102-B-8). Some academic libraries subscribe to a fully digitized, online version of the newspaper, which can be searched through Gale’s “19th Century U.S. Newspapers” collection, but regrettably, the database is not available free on the Internet and the Allen County Public Library is not a subscriber.

To subscribe to “Genealogy Gems,” simply use your browser to go to the website: www.GenealogyCenter.Info. Scroll down toward the bottom of the first screen where it says, "Enter Your Email Address to Subscribe to "Genealogy Gems." Enter your email address in the yellow box and click on "Subscribe." You will be notified with a confirmation email.

Editor's Note: You can search Worldcat.org to find other libraries that own The Liberator, or own one of the book compilations of articles from The Liberator.

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