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To Plead Our Own Cause

African Americans in Massachusetts and the Making of the Antislavery Movement

Christopher Cameron

Publication Year: 2014

The antislavery movement entered an important new phase when William Lloyd Garrison began publishing the Liberator in 1831—a phase marked by massive petition campaigns, the extraordinary mobilization of female activists, and the creation of organizations such as the American Anti-Slavery Society. While the period from 1831 to 1865 is known as the heyday of radical abolitionism, the work of Garrison’s predecessors in Massachusetts was critical in laying the foundation for antebellum abolitionism. To Plead Our Own Cause explores the significant contributions of African Americans in the Bay State to both local and nationwide antislavery activity before 1831 and demonstrates that their efforts represent nothing less than the beginning of organized abolitionist activity in America.

Fleshing out the important links between Reformed theology, the institution of slavery, and the rise of the antislavery movement, author Christopher Cameron argues that African Americans in Massachusetts initiated organized abolitionism in America and that their antislavery ideology had its origins in Puritan thought and the particular system of slavery that this religious ideology shaped in Massachusetts. The political activity of black abolitionists was central in effecting the abolition of slavery and the slave trade within the Bay State, and it was likewise key in building a national antislavery movement in the years of the early republic. Even while abolitionist strategies were evolving, much of the rhetoric and tactics that well-known abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass employed in the mid-nineteenth century had their origins among blacks in Massachusetts during the eighteenth century.

Published by: The Kent State University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

This book began nearly a decade ago as a ten-page paper on religion in the British and American abolitionist movements. My undergraduate adviser at Keene State College, Gregory Knouff, encouraged me to develop the paper into a larger project, and this study is the final result. I am indebted...

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pp. 1-7

In one of the most significant antislavery tracts published in antebellum America, Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World (1829), David Walker, a black activist residing in Boston, articulated many of the most prominent themes in American abolitionism, including a rejection of the colonization...

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1. Puritans and Slavery

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pp. 8-28

The history of Puritanism and African American life are two fields of inquiry that are not often tied together. Doing so, however, greatly enriches our understanding of African American religion and politics, including the origins of black abolitionist thought as well as the transatlantic influence...

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2. Black Abolitionist Writers in the Age of Revolution

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pp. 29-49

Three years before the Seacoast Revivals swept through Massachusetts and led to the conversion of slaves such as Phillis Cogswell in 1764, another enslaved girl named Phillis landed in Boston after her forced migration from Africa. This latter Phillis was also given her master’s surname...

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3. Black Petitioning and Organized Abolitionism in Revolutionary Massachusetts

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pp. 50-69

Around the same time that black writers in Massachusetts such as Phillis Wheatley, Caesar Sarter, and Lemuel Haynes were publicly critiquing the institution of slavery, groups of slaves began petitioning the colonial authorities for their freedom. Most students and scholars of early American...

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4. Abolition of Slavery and the Slave Trade

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pp. 70-83

In the same year that Paul Cuffe and his fellow activists presented their petition for relief from taxes to the Massachusetts General Court, the people of the Bay State ratified what is today the oldest functioning constitution in American history. Drafted by John Adams, Samuel Adams, and James...

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5. Massachusetts Blacks and the Growth of the Northern Antislavery Movement

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pp. 84-99

Even as they secured the abolition of the slave trade, African Americans in Boston still had to wage a struggle against racial discrimination. Indeed, the very law that abolished the slave trade in the state singled out blacks for “warning out.” The measure stated that...

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6. Black Emigration and Abolition in the Early Republic

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pp. 100-113

In June 1812, Paul Cuffe wrote a letter to British abolitionist William Allen stating that he “thinks well of Establishing mercantile intercourse on the Cours of Africa to Replace to the Africans a trade in Lawfull and Leagull terms in lue of the Slave trade for it seems hard to them to be deprived of...

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7. Abolitionism and the Politics of Slavery in Early Antebellum Massachusetts

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pp. 114-132

The period in which Haitian emigration flourished also saw a tremendous growth in the popularity of abolitionism in America and a commitment by many northerners to halt the spread of slavery. This commitment was sometimes based on moral principles and sometimes on political calculations...

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pp. 133-135

The work of abolitionists such as David Walker and Maria Stewart in the late 1820s and early 1830s helped keep the issue of slavery in the forefront of national politics. In 1833, activists from around the North, including Boston’s James Barbadoes, formed the American Anti-Slavery Society...


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pp. 136-154


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pp. 155-168


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pp. 169-172

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781612778341
E-ISBN-10: 1612778348
Print-ISBN-13: 9781606351949

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2014