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Prudence Crandall’s Legacy

The Fight for Equality in the 1830s, Dred Scott, and Brown v. Board of Education

Donald E. Williams, Jr.

Publication Year: 2014

Prudence Crandall was a schoolteacher who fought to integrate her school in Canterbury, Connecticut, and educate black women in the early nineteenth century. When Crandall accepted a black woman as a student, she unleashed a storm of controversy that catapulted her to national notoriety, and drew the attention of the most significant pro- and anti-slavery activists of the day. The Connecticut state legislature passed its infamous Black Law in an attempt to close down her school. Arrested and jailed, Crandall’s legal legacy had a lasting impact—Crandall v. State was the first full-throated civil rights case in U.S. history. The arguments by attorneys in Crandall played a role in two of the most fateful Supreme Court decisions, Dred Scott v. Sandford, and the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education. In Prudence Crandall’s Legacy, author and lawyer Donald E. Williams Jr. marshals a wealth of detail concerning the life and work of Prudence Crandall, her unique role in the fight for civil rights, and her influence on legal arguments for equality in America.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press

Series: The Driftless Connecticut Series & Garnet Books

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

Since the founding of our country, many Americans have engaged in the legal and societal struggle to free the United States from the legacy of slavery, segregation, and racial prejudice. Prudence Crandall’s Legacy views that struggle from the perspective of a nineteenth-century Connecticut schoolteacher and her allies. ...

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1 Fire in the Night Sky

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pp. 1-21

Throughout her life, Prudence Crandall wanted to teach. Education offered the potential for opportunity, self-sufficiency, even freedom, especially for women, blacks, and the poor. Crandall discovered, however, that educating the oppressed involved risk and clashed with deep-rooted traditions in American society. ...

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2 Liberators

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pp. 22-43

In the fall of 1831 a young writer sought out William Lloyd Garrison at his Boston office of the Liberator. Maria W. Stewart sat patiently as Garrison read her essays. The first concerned religious faith and “devotional thoughts and aspirations.”1 ...

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3 Education for All

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pp. 44-64

Prudence Crandall told no one in Canterbury about her plans to teach black women at her school; she confided only in William Lloyd Garrison. “I do not dare tell any one of my neighbors anything about the contemplated change in my school,” she wrote to Garrison, “and I beg of you, sir, that you will not expose it to anyone; ...

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4 A Mountain of Prejudice

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pp. 65-80

Andrew Judson immediately launched a campaign to publicize the outcome of the Canterbury town meeting and to attack Crandall’s school. In letters to the local newspapers he praised the civility of Crandall’s opponents and criticized Crandall’s “foreign” supporters, who Judson said tried to intimidate the citizens of Canterbury. ...

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5 The Black Law

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pp. 81-97

As the month of April ended, Prudence Crandall had only three black students at her school. In addition to local opposition, Crandall now battled a dire fiscal situation and realized she could not rely on advertisements in the Liberator to increase enrollment. ...

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6 Sanctuary Denied

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pp. 98-112

The ongoing acts of vandalism against Prudence Crandall’s school took a more serious turn in July 1833. ...

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7 On Trial

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pp. 113-130

Using Arthur Tappan’s financial resources, Samuel May hired three of the best attorneys in Connecticut to defend Prudence Crandall: William Ellsworth, Calvin Goddard, and Henry Strong. Crandall’s attorneys expected to persuade the judge and jury that the Black Law violated the Constitution. ...

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8 Judge Daggett’s Decision

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pp. 131-147

As the long days of New England summer stretched into September, Maria Stewart carefully considered her future. For three years she had led a life filled with controversy. She had spoken out in public about politics, religion, equality among the races and sexes, and the evils of slavery and discrimination. ...

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9 Romantic Revolutionaries

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pp. 148-166

Newspapers throughout the United States and across the Atlantic in England reported on the progress of Prudence Crandall’s October trial.1 Fear of “amalgamation of the races” and the rights of free blacks—the subtexts of Crandall’s trial—made for sensational reading. One man took a personal interest. ...

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10 Race Riots

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pp. 167-190

The widening gap between rich and poor in the 1830s plunged a growing number of Americans into poverty. Wages for common workers remained stagnant, while agricultural prices rose 51 percent between 1829 and 1836.1 Bank profits soared.2 ...

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11 Appeal for Equality

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pp. 191-210

As Prudence Crandall’s allies in New York City suffered and retreated in the face of violence, she lost an important ally in the press. One year earlier Samuel May and Arthur Tappan had secured a local printing press in Brooklyn and commenced publication of the Unionist. ...

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12 The End of the Beginning

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pp. 211-225

William Penn had envisioned Philadelphia as a “city of brotherly love.” When Prudence and Calvin Philleo arrived in Philadelphia in late August 1834, they found a city torn apart by deadly interracial violence that had occurred just days earlier. ...

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13 Family Trials and Tragedies

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pp. 226-244

One of Prudence Crandall’s students, Julia Williams, refused to let go of her dream of obtaining an education.1 Originally from Charleston, South Carolina, Julia’s family lived in Boston and knew William Lloyd Garrison. After Crandall’s school closed, Julia traveled to Canaan, New Hampshire. ...

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14 Dred Scott and the Winds of Change

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pp. 245-267

During the years that Prudence Crandall and William Lloyd Garrison worked together to create her Canterbury school in the early 1830s, Garrison visited her school on only a handful of occasions— primarily because of the warrants for his arrest. ...

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15 The Civil War

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pp. 268-284

Shortly before the end of the 1850s, Prudence Crandall Philleo had moved from her farm in Troy Grove to a home in the newly developed town of Mendota, Illinois, where two Illinois railroad lines intersected.1 Prudence moved there to be closer to the shops, churches, and transportation and also to get away from her erratic husband. ...

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16 Reunions and Farewells

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pp. 285-306

After living in Mendota for the war years, in 1865 Prudence and Calvin Philleo moved to a 140-acre farm near Cordova, Illinois.1 In Cordova, Calvin enjoyed the peace and quiet he had long desired. The open farmland on the banks of the Mississippi River created an idyllic setting, and for a time Calvin was kind to Prudence and his daughter Emeline. ...

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17 Pursuit of Justice

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pp. 307-329

Prudence Crandall witnessed a remarkable transformation of the western United States during her years in Elks Falls, Kansas. The transcontinental railroad—completed in 1869—spawned rapid development. Settlers increasingly fenced and farmed the open plains. “How many changes we have passed through,” Crandall wrote.1 ...

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18 Prudence Crandall in the Twentieth Century

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pp. 330-345

Twenty-one years after Prudence Crandall’s death, three Connecticut legislators sought to honor her with an official memorial.1 In 1911 they introduced legislation to appropriate $1500 for the construction of a monument near the Packerville Baptist Church in Plainfield. The Appropriations Committee held the request over from one public hearing in February to another hearing in March.2 ...

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pp. 346-348

The story of Prudence Crandall’s life and legacy remains relevant to many challenges we face today. Crandall, William Lloyd Garrison, and their allies demonstrated that securing societal progress and enlightenment often requires great courage and perseverance; it is difficult yet essential. ...


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pp. 349-434

Illustration Credits

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pp. 435-438


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pp. 439-452

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About the Author

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p. 453-453

Donald E. Williams Jr. is president pro tempore of the Connecticut State Senate. He holds a J.D. from Washington and Lee University School of Law and a B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University. ...

About the Driftless Connecticut Series

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p. 454-454


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pp. 455-478

E-ISBN-13: 9780819574718
E-ISBN-10: 0819574716
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819574701

Page Count: 476
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: The Driftless Connecticut Series & Garnet Books

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Crandall, Prudence, 1803-1890.
  • Women teachers -- Connecticut -- Biography.
  • Women teachers -- Illinois -- Biography.
  • Discrimination in education -- Law and legislation -- Connecticut.
  • School integration -- Connecticut -- History.
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