Abolitionist Lit

Nate, Aparna, Bralen, Nelson

Frederick Douglass Introduction

1826 - When Frederick is eight years old, his mother dies.

1829-1830 - Frederick learns to read and write and later attempts to teach the other slaves.

1834 - Gets caught teaching other slaves and is rented to Edward Covey, the “slave breaker”. Covey abuses him but once Frederick fights back Covey never beats him again.

1835-1836 - Tries to escape from Covey, Lloyd, and Freeland, but is unsuccessful.

1837 - Met and fell in love with Anna Murray, which added fuel into his heart to become free.

September 3rd, 1838 - Escapes from slavery by boarding a train to Delaware.

1839 - Became a licensed preacher

1841 - Douglass spoke at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society's annual convention in Nantucket. He got over his nervousness and spoke of his rough slave life.

1845 - Douglass writes “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass”, which became extremely popular.

1848 - Was the only African American at the Seneca Falls Convention

July 5th, 1852 - Gives his “What to the slave is the 4th of July” speech

1850’s - Calls for integration of blacks into schools. Says this is a more pressing issue than the political issues for African Americans, such as suffrage.

Abolitionist Literature: Uncle Tom's Cabin

  1. Harriet Beecher Stowe was born to Lyman Beecher, outspoken leader of the Second Great Awakening and cofounder of the American Temperance Society, and Roxana Foote. Unlike her contemporaries, she received a formal education, which was usually reserved for males. At the age of 21, she joined the Semi-Colon Club, a literary salon, where she met her future husband, Calvin Ellis Stowe, who was a staunch critic of slavery. After they got married, the Stowes supported the Underground Railroad, and even supported fugitive slaves in their home. In 1950, Stowe had a vision of a dying slave, who later became the protagonist of her magnum opus, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Although her initial goal was to educate Northerners about the brutality of slavery in the South and to invoke empathy for slaves, her novel captured the nation’s attention and sparked a national debate over the abolition of slavery. Following the Civil War, she campaigned for the rights of married women.

  2. Uncle Tom’s Cabin begins with the unwelcome sale of the slaves, Uncle Tom and Harry, by the Shelby family to a slave trader because of economic troubles on their Kentucky farm. The novel follows the journeys of Uncle Tom and Harry from slavery to freedom.

  3. The novel was received favorably in the North and helped focus Northern anger at the inequity of slavery and the Fugitive Slave Act and helped fuel the abolition movement. On the other hand, it outraged the South and slavery supporters because of its quasi erroneous descriptions of Southern life. It also created an uproar in Great Britain because it showed how America was hypocritical, following its split from Britain; it promised liberty and democracy, yet, it had not yet abolished slavery. It contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War because it individualized slavery and put a human face on it’s impacts and how it tore families apart. Additionally, the novel critiques the existing patriarchal nature of slavery, and helped fuel the feminist movement.

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The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African.

Olaudah Equiano (c. 1745-1797), from Eboe(modern Nigeria) was kidnapped at age 11 and sold to traders who brought him to the West Indies. He spent a brief period in Virginia, before spending the majority of his years serving on ships such as vessels of the British navy. Aboard a British trading vessel, he was given the name Gustavas Vassa which he used most of his life, however; he published his autobiography as Olaudah, his African name. After serving a Quaker trader, he slowly earned enough wealth to purchase his freedom. Afterwards, he moved to England to study and assist a British scientist. He traveled abroad, going on expeditions with Dr.Charles Irving to find a northeast passage from Asia to Europe. He published his biography in 1789 and soon traveled Great Britain as an Abolitionist author and speaker before his death. Equiano is known as father of African literature due to him being one of the first ex-slaves to speak out about his experiences.

Equiano’s autobiography allows people to understand the hardship of slavery from a primary source. He describes not only the differences between slavery in Britain, West Africa, and the Americas, but also his experience in crossing the Atlantic in the slave trade. This gave a unique perspective to the abolitionist movement since the journey of the slave on slave ships had been scarcely documented. Readers could understand the difficulty of the voyage and have the realization that the trip was highly dangerous and unjust. In addition, Equiano draws parallels between his journey from slavery to freedom and heathenism to Christianity. This allows readers to understand his transformation from the injustices of slavery to the freedom of him being a devout Christian. Also, by depicting heathenism, he creates the imagery of slaves being treated as beasts, showing how slave masters treated their slaves.

Equiano was most likely inspired primarily by his desire to earn his own freedom from the bondages of slavery and driven by the separation from his sister. In his abolitionist ventures, he was motivated by his strong piety toward Christianity and his desires to tell his memoir to the people of Britain. He felt as though his story wasn’t exciting, but necessary for people to hear.

Equiano’s memoir describes unjust treatment of slaves and hardship firsthand. He illustrates slave life and the need for abolition. In politics, his story inspired the writing of abolitionist papers and bills for the protection of black rights in Britain. Also, his writing inspired and provided an example for many slave narratives in the near future. He showed the importance for freed slaves to share their stories and experiences and gave hope to Africans in bondage. He changed American Values by serving as a figurehead for slaves being able to free themselves. He was a self made man, coming from being kidnapped and sold into slavery to becoming a distinguished writer and abolitionist, changing his life for the better and embodying the American Dream.


Abolitionists and slave narratives influenced American values, politics, and society by publicizing the plight of slaves in the states, thus forcing the rest of the country to acknowledge slave injustice. Three years after escaping from a brutal “slave breaker,” Frederick Douglas had to fight against stage fright to speak about his experiences at the 1841 Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society's annual convention in Nantucket. Douglass would then become recognized as one of the most passionate and skilled (as well as infamous in the South) orators who promoted not only the abolition of black slaves, but also their education and integration into society. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin’s vivid depictions of the brutality of slavery captured the nation’s attention and sparked heated debate over the controversial institution. Northerners received the novel well and were even harder-pressed to push for abolition, while the South were outraged by Stowe’s apparently degrading descriptions of Southern life. Lastly, Olaudah Equiano’s narrative of his experience as a slave provided an unabridged primary document of the true hardships faced by black slaves and influenced the writing of future slave narratives. Equiano’s story showed the importance of slaves to share their stories of gaining freedom.