“Esteemed friend…” letters between Isaac T. Hopper and Samuel M. Janney

quaker man 19th century
Isaac Hopper (1771-1852) illustration by William Page for Wilbur Siebert’s, The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom (1898), Public Domain

Samuel M. Janney and Isaac Hopper were two men with different temperaments, but both driven by a passionate committment to end slavery. Quaker Isaac Hopper was one of the nation’s best known abolitionists and early civil rights’ campaigners. He was a northerner, active in Boston, Philadelphia and New York in high profile anti-slavery efforts. He held executive positions in the nation’s activist and controversial American Anti-Slavery Association. Hopper was a conscienctious religious man as well, willing to align his Quaker faith with a robust effort to end the sin of slavery.

Isaac Hopper knew anti-slavery advocate Samuel M. Janney of Goose Creek (now Lincoln) Virginia, and the two men corresponded or saw one another at Quaker meetings and conferences. Living in the south, Janney saw the reality of slavery, and the powerful culture, economy and legal framework that supported it. Samuel Janney was a academician and writer. In 1849, some of his anti-slavery essays published in local newspapers led to his arrest.

old quaker man signed picture lincoln virginia
samuel m. janney lincoln virginia

Janney also wrote books, focusing on Quaker religious thought, as well as biographies of leading figures in Quaker history. By 1829, Isaac Hopper was running a Quaker bookstore in New York City. That connection was one of the reasons the two men corresponded.

The two men had different personalities and methods of activism. Hopper was radical, prepared to take risks and break rules. On more than one occasion, he risked his life through his words and actions. Friend and fellow abolitionist, Lydia Marie Child, wrote a biography of Isaac Hopper, and saw him a being oblivious to personal danger.

Samuel Janney was a reasoned thinker, attempting to change minds through what he termed “moral persuasion.” Hopper was the more prominent abolitionist figure, driven by a consuming passion for civil reform. Both men were effective, logical and forceful.

Both men had occasional financial worries – Hopper in particular. Samuel Janney relied on his book sales and the need to be careful with expenses; these points come up in the letters below. Abolitionist efforts, slavery, books, and money, as well as gossip and chit-chat, are topics of the correspondence. Janney expresses an uneasiness with aggressive northern abolitionist actions. He knew too well how those actions were viewed by southerners and the southern press.

The original letters are shown here. The documents are from the Samuel M. Janney Papers (SW09-A0011071/72) and shown courtesy of Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA.

~~~~~~~~~~~~Janney to Hopper~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Springdale 9 mo 27th 1844.

I. T. Hopper,

Esteemed friend,

A few days since I recd. [received] a letter from thy daughter which she says was accompanied by a bundle of books from thee. I have not yet recd the books but suppose they are in the hands of one of my friends in Balt. It is now about a year (& perhaps a few days over) since I requested thee on behalf of some friends & myself to have the [Anti-Slavery] Standard sent to the address of Thos. Brown P.M. [post master] Circleville & I think he afterwards wants to have the address changed to my name. I requested thee to pay the subscription out of those books I left with thee for sale.

Those friends desired me to have the paper discontinued a few weeks ago but I had forgotten when the time was out & postponed it till now.

There are two copies sent to me one of which I suppose is gratis & that you may continue on the same terms if agreeable though it is not likely I shall write much if any for the paper as I prefer having my anti-slavery articles published in slave holding states when practicable. I have three on hand now which will probably be sent to Balt. or Richmond. I do not know that thou art now connected in any way with the A.S. Standard but thou will oblige us by attending to this commission. We do not like the paper so well since D.L. & M. [Marie] Child left it & the disunion doctrines are not agreeable here nor do I suppose they are acceptable to the great body of the abolitionists in the West -.

I think the [names] in which — the Standard & Liberator [corner torn out]–

–the liberty party is inexcusable. So far as I know that party it is composed of worthy men & yet the Boston clique speak of them as if they were a set of knaves.

This crowd does a great injury to the cause which both parties have sincerely at heart. Please let me hear from thee about the books, or any other matter that may come in thy way. That colored man in Leesburg jail concerning whom I wrote to thee was liberated without force through the exertions of Seth Smith a lawyer of this county & by means of information obtained from Mahlon Day.

Thy [sincere] friend,

S. M. J.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Hopper to Janney~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

New York 11 mo: 25th 1844.

Dear friend,
Samuel M. Janney,

Thy favor of 9 mo 27th last came duly to hand. I sent some books to Baltimore for thee directed to the care of Isaac Tyson. I made no account of them and wish thee to accept of them as a small token of my affectionate regard. I should [have] answered thy kind letter before, but truly I feel but little spirit to write to any body. I often mourn over the state of things in the religious society, in whose service I have spent a great portion of my life, and which I sincerely love, and whose prosperity I desire above all other considerations of a temporal nature. But really I am compelled to conclude that but little of that real christian love that shone so conspicuously in its predecessors, is now to be found within its borders in this city. And I perceive that a spirit of persecution and intollerance is not confined to this city, but is also rife in the yearly meeting of Indiana. Those persecuted Friends at Green plain have my very sincere sympathy. I heard of thy attending that yearly meeting last year and was glad to find thou had it in thy heart to do so. I have read thy excellent “epistle to the members of the Society of Friends in the State of Ohio.” But I fear it may be said of many of them ‘Their poison is like the poison of a serpent; they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear; which will not harken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely.” One would have hoped that the division and discord which so awfully prevailed, might have been a beacon to warn those of the present time. But the same spirit will always produce the same fruits, and it yet abounds in the Society of Friends in several places. In this city usury extortion and I may add mendacity go unrebuked, but antislavery cannot be tolerated. Among the books I sent thee is a narrative of the proceedings of the Society in my case I wish thee to give it an attentive perusal. Early last autumn I was taken ill with the influenza and was confined to my chamber six months, and have not been engaged in the Antislavery office since. the books thou placed in my charge were left in that office and I expect the present agent will account to thee for them. A line from thee will always meet with a cordial acceptance from, Thy affectionate friend, Isaac T Hopper N.B. I most intirely disapprove of the continual bickering of the antislavery people. I am perfectly satisfied that it is doing much harm. Please inform me whether the books I sent come to hand.

According to Lydia Marie Child, during Hopper’s lifetime he helped at least 1000 individuals escape slavery. He also devoted years to prison reform, opening the nation’s first halfway house for women ex-prisoners. Portrait by Theodora Thayer SW09-A0011490 Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Janney to Hopper~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

12th mo. 15th, 1844.


        “Esteemed Friend: – Thy acceptable letter of 25th ult. has been received, and the bundle of books also came to hand, for which please accept my thanks. I was sorry to hear of thy long confinement from indisposition, but hope thou art, before this, sufficiently recovered to resume thy labors in the cause of humanity. It has happened in all ages that those who make the greatest sacrifices for the oppressed are often the least rewarded by human approbation, but they have the reward of peace in their own bosoms, which is far better. When we consider how short is our pilgrimage in this state of existence, and how interminable the duration of that life which is to come, we are made willing to endure the afflictions that may be allotted to us, and consider them light in comparison with the riches of that inheritance which is reserved for the faithful servants of Christ. My interest in the cause which thou hast so much at heart continues to grow deeper and deeper, and I find it my duty at times to plead the cause of the down trodden slave in the assemblies of the people. This course brings peace to my own mind, and is, I think, satisfactory to my friends in this neighborhood; even the slaveholders who attend our meetings which are very larger, are, I think, mostly conscious that we have the truth on our side; one of them acknowledged meeting to day, that it was all true. Unhappily they have long been bolstered up by a set of ministers who cry peace, peace, when there is no peace, and thus set the people at ease in their sins.

        “I think public sentiment is advancing here in favor of emancipation, and am under the impression that there are many more opposed to slavery than is generally supposed, but they are afraid to avow their sentiments. There is a vast amount of prejudice to be removed before any thing effectual in the way of emancipation can he done. Public men do not generally lead in the work of reform; they only follow when their interest requires it.

        “It appears to me the time has come for the discussion of slavery in Virginia. I have begun it in earnest, and believe it will be my duty to pursue it with vigor.

        “In the Alexandria Gazette of 11th inst. thou wilt find an anti- slavery essay of mine signed ‘A Virginian,’ which some persons are surprised to see in that paper. I have sent a series of essays to another Virginia paper, but do not yet know their fate, and I have a Review of George Truman and John Jackson’s West Indies Narrative ready for the Baltimore Saturday Visitor, which the editor has promised to publish, and we intend to have one thousand copies struck off in pamphlet form.

        “People in the slave States are so prejudiced that few of them will read abolition tracts from the North, nor will our papers give them any useful information on the subject of slavery. It is therefore quite important, I think, to have such essays introduced into Southern papers, and if I had the means at command, I think it would be best to have a considerable number of papers containing such essays struck off on purpose for distribution. By this means we might, after awhile, gain over the editors to our side.

        “What dost thou think of the question of compensation to the masters? It appears to me to present the greatest difficulty, for they have the power in their hands, and will not listen to anything else; but there is no justice in it, unless our long acquiescence in the evil has made us all so far responsible that we ought to share the expense of its removal. If the domestic slave trade were abolished, which ought to be done instantly, the price of slaves in Virginia would soon fall so low that we could perhaps satisfy the demands of the owners without much difficulty.

        “Hast thou seen [Senator John C.] Calhoun’s letter to Walker, our minister to France? He not only justifies slavery, but endeavors to show that the West India experiment of Great Britain has been entirely disastrous, and that they wish to get rid of its effects by bringing us into the same condition. He pretends to draw his information from Blackwood’s Magazine for June, 1844. I have no doubt his statements are incorrect and his reasonings false, but it will be circulated all through the South without refutation, unless refuted by some one in the slave States, for the Southern papers seldom publish anything from the North against slavery.

Thy affectionate friend,

3 comments on ““Esteemed friend…” letters between Isaac T. Hopper and Samuel M. Janney

  1. Wonderful to read of their antislavery efforts, and all the strategizing and hand-wringing that it entailed. Thank you for transcribing and posting these letters. (Also I couldn’t help chuckling at Hopper’s assessment of New York City: “In this city usury extortion and I may add mendacity go unrebuked.” )


  2. Some things never change!


  3. Pingback: Isaac T. Hopper – “Father of the Underground Railroad”

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