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Boston Public Library Anti-Slavery Collection and transcribed Manuscripts

postcard showing slave auction block in Fredericksburg Virginia
Courtesy Boston Public Library, Anti-slavery collection

Above is a letter from New York abolitionist Arthur Tappan to British anti-slavery Member of Parliament, George Thompson. The letter was sent by American businessman and abolitionist Tappan on August 20, 1835. Can you imagine receiving this in the mail? The mock indictment letter, a “template,” was sent by Tappan to his friend and fellow abolitionist Thompson as part of planning a new campaign to highlight the cruelty of slavery through the post. The letter is from the Boston Public Library’s vast collection of anti-slavery letters and documents, which can be viewed online at the library’s website.

old abolitionist poster from Massachusetts
Abolitionist broadside, one of many images from the Boston Public Library’s Anti-Slavery Manuscripts website

An opportunity to view and read thousands of abolitionist and anti-slavery documents, letters, pamphlets and posters is online, thanks to the tremendous effort of the Boston Public Library and volunteer transcribers. The collection may be viewed at the Boston Public Library’s Anti-Slavery Manuscripts website. This is a valuable resource to anyone interested in our nation’s tumultuous racial history. Peter Drummey, Librarian at the Massachusetts Historical Society, describes the site:

“Through the participation of citizen historians, we now stand on the threshold of having available — free to all — the entire contents of the Boston Public Library’s extraordinary Anti-Slavery Manuscripts collection: the personal papers of women and men who joined together, across barriers of race and class, in the Abolitionist crusade.” Peter Drummey, Stephen T. Riley Librarian, Massachusetts Historical Society

online transcriptions of abolitionist writings from the 19th century
Home page for the Boston Public Library Anti-Slavery Manuscripts website

From this website, a reader may navigate onto various Boston Public Library digital pages and view the thousands of letters transcribed by “citizen historians.” The letters were written back and forth among leaders in the abolitionist movement, such as William Lloyd Garrison, Samuel May, Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, Lydia Child, and hundreds more. The collection also contains many thousands of digital photographs, postcards, posters, pamphlets and newspaper pages devoted to the topic race and anti-slavery efforts in America. The volume of work compliments the Library of Congress’ online database of anti-slavery/abolitionist material.

postcard showing slave auction block in Fredericksburg Virginia
One of the thousands of old postcards from the Boston Public Library Anti-Slavery Collection, viewable online.

Boston Public Library has a large archived Anti-Slavery Collection. It can be searched for a vast collection of materials, including copies of The Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper published from 1831-1866. Readers of Nest of Abolitionists website and blog will be familiar with Samuel M. Janney. His name, along with other Quakers active in the anti-slavery movement, is mentioned in documents on the Boston Public Library site.

19th century abolitionist newspaper
Samuel M. Janney mentioned in William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator Dec. 1, 1843, Courtesy of Boston Public Library, Anti-Slavery Manuscripts digital collection.

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