Documents, Manuscripts, Maps, & Photographs
Manuscript Group 187, Essex County Anti-Slavery Society, Newark, NJ
Minute book, 1839-1842, 0.3 linear feet / 2 items
Constitution, membership lists, and minutes.
Founded in 1839, the Essex County Anti-Slavery Society, an affiliate group of the larger New Jersey State Anti-Slavery Society, was centered in Newark, New Jersey. Its meetings, usually held once or twice per month, were almost exclusively conducted in Methodist or Presbyterian churches, and many of its members either were active clergymen or deeply religious laymen. John Lee of West Bloomfield was President of the society and its Vice Presidents were John Morehouse and the Rev. Samuel E. Cornish, both of Newark, and Jonathan Parkhurst, of Springfield.
A History of the City of Newark, Vol. 2. The Lewis Historical Publishing Co.: Newark, 1913.
Cunningham, John T. Newark. The New Jersey Historical Society: Newark, 1988.
The provenance of this collection is unknown.
The collection consists of two items, a minute book of the proceedings of every meeting of the Essex County Anti-Slavery Society from 1839 to 1842 and an undated letter written by the secretary of the society in which the relationship between abolitionism and the temperance movement is discussed.
For the most part, the minute book contains notes regarding the everyday administrative and logistical issues which concerned the society. The financial situation of the society is often discussed, as are the many procedural and organizational motions made. In addition, the writer of these minutes lists, on more than one occasion, every member in the society, along with their hometown and, if applicable, their position in the society.
Early on in the minutes is the constitution of the Essex County Anti-Slavery society. In this document, the members of the society criticize the "exercise of despotic power and the sanction of unrighteous law" by slaveholders and go on to call for the immediate, unequivocal abolition of slavery in America. Clearly a group of religious men (there were no female members), the society opposed slavery mostly on the grounds that they believed it to be an "unchristian abomination" and a blatant "sin against God." As one resolution passed by the society states, "the distance between the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of Slavery" is "vast."
Although the members of the society tended to view slavery as more of a religious, moral issue than a political one, they did not hesitate to make strong political statements, especially when, in 1841, President William Henry Harrison died and, to the dismay of the members of the society, was replaced by Vice President John Tyler, a slaveholder. In a series of strongly worded resolutions passed by the society in April of 1841, the members condemn Tyler, stating that "it is a disgrace for a nation to bestow its highest office upon any man who deprives a part of his country of the rights of suffrage…and citizenship." Other political resolutions passed by the society’s members include their vow not to support any politician at the local, state, or federal level who does not support immediate abolition and their statement of solidarity with former president John Quincy Adams with respect to his "sustaining the right of petition in the House of Representatives" in his crusade against slavery.
Besides being committed to the abolition of slavery, the Essex County Anti-Slavery Society was in favor of expanding the opportunities available to free black people, especially those residing in New Jersey. At one meeting, the society passed a resolution in which they pledged to give the "free colored population of our state…our sympathies, our assistance, and our prayers." Later on, the members agree "to labor for their political, intellectual, moral, and religious" freedom.
Processed by Scott Dixler, July 2001 as part of the "Farm to City" project funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
The New Jersey Historical Society