The Martyrdom of Abolitionist Charles Torrey
Publication Year: 2013
During his brief yet remarkable career, abolitionist Charles Torrey -- called the "father of the Underground Railroad" by his peers -- assisted almost four hundred slaves in gaining their freedom. A Yale graduate and an ordained minister, Torrey set up a well-organized route for escaped slaves traveling from Washington and Baltimore to Philadelphia and Albany. Arrested in Baltimore in 1844 for his activities, Torrey spent two years in prison before he succumbed to tuberculosis. By then, other abolitionists widely recognized and celebrated Torrey's exploits: running wagonloads of slaves northward in the night, dodging slave catchers and sheriffs, and involving members of Congress in his schemes. Nonetheless, the historiography of abolitionism has largely overlooked Torrey's fascinating and compelling story.
The Martyrdom of Abolitionist Charles Torrey presents the first comprehensive biography of one of America's most dedicated abolitionists. According to author E. Fuller Torrey, a distant relative, Charles Torrey pushed the abolitionist movement to become more political and active. He helped advance the faction that challenged the leadership of William Lloyd Garrison, provoking an irreversible schism in the movement and making Torrey and Garrison bitter enemies. Torrey played an important role in the formation of the Liberty Party and in the emergence of political abolitionism. Not satisfied with the slow pace of change, he also pioneered aggressive abolitionism by personally freeing slaves, likely liberating more than any other person. In doing so, he inspired many others, including John Brown, who cited Torrey as one of his role models.
E. Fuller Torrey's study not only fills a substantial gap in the history of abolitionism but restores Charles Torrey to his rightful place as one of the most dedicated and significant abolitionists in American history.
Published by: Louisiana State University Press
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Title Page, Copyright Page
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...“Martyr Charles Turner Torrey, the Abolitionist” was one of twelve names on the yellowing piece of paper to which my mother vainly tried to direct my attention. The paper was titled “Prominent Tor-reys,” but despite sharing a few genes, distant relatives held little in-terest for a teenage boy. Besides, our family was definitely not the ...
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Paternity of this book is attributable principally to two men. Stanley Harrold, professor of history at South Carolina State University, pub-lished the initial research on Charles Torrey, and without it this book would not have been conceived. Rand Dotson, an editor at Louisiana State University Press, saw promise in an earlier draft and persisted ...
1. An Abolitionist Schism
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Wednesday, January 23, 1839: It was, wrote Maria Chapman, “the largest anti-slavery gathering ever witnessed in Massachusetts, and a noble sight it was to look upon. . . . Bigotry and sectarism [sic] were pitted against religious liberty and Christian love. . . . It was a turn-ing point in the cause. A strong and mighty wind had come to win-...
2. Discovering God and Slaves
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The road Charles Torrey traveled to reach his 1839 confrontation with William Lloyd Garrison was not easy. He had been born on No-vember 21, 1813, in Scituate, a coastal town south of Boston. Later in life, Torrey recalled the “wide marshes, covered with short salt grass, through which curves for many a mile old North river.” The river, ...
3. Political Abolitionism
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The 1839 meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society would be a watershed for American abolitionism. In the early years of the gradualism—the belief that the emancipation of slaves could be brought about slowly in a series of graduated steps. These included the freeing or manumission of slaves by slaveholders, as George ...
4. The First Arrest
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Charles Torrey arrived in Washington in early December 1841. His ostensible job was to be a Washington reporter for the Boston Daily Mail, the New York Evangelist, and several other small abolitionist papers. Joshua Leavitt, the former editor of the Evangelist, may have helped Torrey get the assignments. As an accredited reporter, Tor-...
5. Aggressive Abolitionism
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It is unclear when Charles Torrey first formulated his plans to assist slaves to escape their bondage, but he had been considering it for many months. His experience with John Torrance, who failed in his attempt to free himself, showed Torrey that slaves often needed as-sistance if they were to be successful. The mutinies of slaves aboard ...
6. The Second Arrest
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In October , Charles Torrey moved from Washington to Albany, New York, where his family joined him, the first time he had lived with them in almost a year. He had accepted a position as editor of the Tocsin of Liberty, an abolitionist weekly whose name was subse-quently changed to the Albany Patriot. The paper had been started ...
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The Baltimore city jail to which Charles Torrey was taken on June , , was on Madison Street, immediately adjacent to the Maryland Penitentiary. It was, coincidentally, the same jail in which William Lloyd Garrison had been incarcerated for seven weeks in for having libeled a ship owner in the abolitionist newspaper he was co-...
8. Prison and Death
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Charles Torrey fully expected the guilty verdict handed down by the jury members on December , . In the weeks preceding his trial, time remained to him and had focused on two goals: first, to justify his past actions, and second, to raise funds to pay his lawyer’s fees, pursue additional legal options, and support his family. To achieve ...
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Charles Torrey’s influence did not end with his death on May , . Shortly after his body had been laid to rest in the Mount Auburn Cemetery, his spirit appeared to have been resurrected in the person Born in in Groton, Massachusetts, the son of a Congrega-tional minister, Chaplin had a distinguished pedigree that included ...
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What can be said regarding the life and abolitionist career of Charles Torrey? When he died at age thirty-two, he had been an abolition-ist for eleven years, from to , with one of those years hav-ing been spent recuperating from tuberculosis and two years spent in prison. By contrast, the careers of such abolitionists as William ...
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Charles Torrey’s wife, Mary, continued to live in West Medway, Mas-sachusetts, after her husband’s death. Her house, just west of her parents’ house on Main Street, was built for her in by the Mas-sachusetts Abolitionist Society, and it still stands. She lived through the Civil War, in which her son fought, and saw the liberation of ...
A Note on Sources
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The single best source of information on the abolitionist career of Charles Torrey is the work of historian Stanley Harrold, especially “On the Borders of Slavery and Race: Charles T. Torrey and the Un-derground Railroad” (), and Subversives: Antislavery Commu-nity in Washington, D.C., – (). Also useful is Joseph Love-...
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Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 1 map
Publication Year: 2013
Series Title: Antislavery, Abolition, and the Atlantic World