The Roberts Case, the Easton Family,
& the Dynamics of the Abolitionist Movement in Massachusetts, 1776–1870

AS ONE OF BOSTON’S most militant “black” abolitionists, Benjamin Roberts surprised no one when he filed a desegregation lawsuit against the city school committee in 1848. This familiar and important story ultimately set formidable precedents in the struggle for racial equality and in the history of American law. The plaintiff in Roberts v. the Boston School Committee sought admission of his five-year-old daughter, Sarah Roberts, into the city’s all-“white” public school system and an end to the grossly inferior facility reserved exclusively for “colored” Americans (as these Bostonians preferred to call themselves). By demanding the integration of all Boston public schools—and six hundred dollars in damages—Roberts’s suit began a seven-year battle that led first to stinging defeat and then to unexpected victory. After Massachusetts Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw issued his infamous decision against Roberts that enunciated the doctrine of “separate but equal,” the controversy moved into the streets. Demonstrations, boycotts, and petitions mobilized the state’s abolitionist community and antislavery-minded politicians. In 1855, the state legislature finally passed a law forbidding segregated education within the Commonwealth. Benjamin Roberts and his allies deserved the credit for this unprecedented victory for equal school rights. Segregationists ultimately triumphed on the national level, however, when, in 1896, the United States Supreme Court cited Shaw’s “separate but equal” doctrine as its leading precedent in its Plessey vs. Ferguson decision that legalized segregation throughout the country. Not until 1954, of course, did the Supreme Court overturn that doctrine in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, a historic decision that helped mark the emergence of the modern Civil Rights movement.[1]

Embedded in the early portion of this important narrative lie revealing but heretofore unexplored issues concerning the social construction of “race” and identity in nineteenth-century New England. Roberts’s story compels us to investigate his life and character in greater detail, including how his words and deeds reflected his self-perceptions; the values, traditions, and imperatives he saw himself upholding; and why he chose to express his equalitarian commitments through the education of his five-year-old daughter. By considering Roberts’s career, we may also achieve a deeper understanding of the personal motives and frameworks of identity that supported a “colored” (or if one prefers, African) American’s commitment to abolitionism. To be sure, a significant body of writings already exists about the personal meaning of activism for uniquely situated and richly self-documented fugitives-turned-activists, such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs, and about activism as a source of civic values within free African American communities.[2] Nevertheless, historians have largely settled for the obvious regarding New England abolitionists of color, concluding that a personal hatred of discrimination and slavery alone drove their commitment to abolitionism.

As their many sophisticated studies amply testify, biographers and historians working in this field recognized long ago that the brute facts of racial exploitation, in and of themselves, do not sufficiently explain the commitments of “white” activists. As many recent studies have emphasized, the vast majority of Northern “whites” had little but contempt for African Americans and abolitionists, and they harbored few reservations about slavery’s continued existence. Likewise (as African American activists repeatedly lamented), most free people of color grew demoralized and distracted, not energized and politicized, by the terrible toll exacted by racial bigotry.[3] If abolitionism drew public attention to one’s dark complexion, then incessant personal risk and concerns for the safety of one’s family and community complicated individual challenges enormously. Being an abolitionist, “black” or “white,” could be a dangerous way to live. With so many forces against them, one might well marvel that so many northern “blacks” accepted a public abolitionist role.

Clearly, we must learn more about what motivated these exceptional free people of color to venture so far from the safety of conventional norms and how their commitments differed from those of their “white” associates. This inquiry into the life of Benjamin Roberts offers such an opportunity. It also invites a fuller understanding of the dynamics of color consciousness within New England abolitionism. Approached in this manner, the material allows several broad but tentative hypotheses to take shape. Specifically, Roberts’s biography has convinced us that the abolitionist commitment for African Americans and “whites” involved differing psychological and historical dynamics and produced contrasting constructions of color-consciousness. Abolitionism, in this case, allowed Benjamin Roberts to embrace the family legacy of activism established by his formidable grandfather, James Easton, during and immediately after the American Revolution. Through and for abolitionism, Roberts internalized powerful historical continuities. Moreover, the Roberts family history would not permit the “white” practice of classifying humanity by pigmentation. Long before 1776, as Roberts acutely understood, his forebears had created a family tree without rigid categories of “race,” one that mingled the bloodlines of Indians, English, and Africans. Roberts acted decisively on the realization that his family and his ancestors shared a long history of Revolutionary struggle and a multicultural lineage that confounded the accepted “reality” of “black” and “white” “races.”

“White” abolitionists could forge a commitment to “the cause” without questioning the reality of their own “race.” Instead, New Englanders such as Wendell Phillips and William Lloyd Garrison saw in abolitionism a disjunctive opportunity to be “reborn.” Rather than questioning the “fact” of “race” or defending their “raced” selves in a hostile community, “white” abolitionists remade their identities around the radical insight that two sharply distinguished “races”—a reputedly degraded “black” one and a supposedly superior “white” one—were, in truth, equal. Furthermore, “white” abolitionists rebelled against the legacy of the founding fathers, whom they deemed hypocritical for upholding slavery while espousing equality.[4] By contrast, most “black” abolitionists staked their claim for equal rights firmly in the heritage of the Revolution. These differing frameworks, however, changed significantly over time as the abolitionist movement in New England itself evolved. By the 1840s and 1850s, “black” and “white” abolitionists drew powerful inspiration from New England’s Revolutionary past in order to challenge “white” supremacy in Massachusetts and to create the nation’s first civil rights movement.

Let us begin with Roberts’s own 1870 reflections on Massachusetts’s long struggle for equality, “Our Progress in the Old Bay State,” published in the nationally circulated New Era, a newspaper edited by lifelong abolitionists. Quite likely, Roberts wrote the article to mark ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, which secured national voting rights for African American men. Many abolitionists considered this final constitutional amendment of Reconstruction as the culminating triumph of their long crusade. From this heady perspective, Roberts felt moved to present his own triumphant history to a national audience as he recounted the trials and victories of three generations of African Americans in Massachusetts. The piece opens with a celebration of the egalitarian achievements of the illustrious “colored” patriots who rallied as equal citizens of Massachusetts in the American Revolution, fighting “side by side with white soldiers.” In the spirit of Crispus Attucks, “their ashes … mingled with the slain who fell defending the right.” The narrative then chronicles Massachusetts’s post-Revolution declension into six decades of racial tyranny, during which a brutal “white” majority subverted the struggle for equality at every turn. “Colorphobia deprived us of common schools and many other privileges: we were assailed and hooted at in the streets … and it was a dark day for all of us,” Roberts emphasized. To document this dispiriting trend, he referred briefly to the futile efforts of “a black man named James Easton born in Middleboro,” a “Revolutionary soldier” whose ambitious manual labor school for African American youth was undermined in the 1820s by “white” prejudice and “black” apathy. This passing reference to Easton, Roberts’s grandfather, as it turns out, is the key for appreciating fully the significance of this published account.[5]

The tide turned in Massachusetts, in Roberts’s account, in the 1840s. The state’s regeneration, according to Roberts, began in Boston as a result of the protracted struggle, waged against the “old fogies of that day, both black and white,” to end segregation in the schools—a struggle initiated by an unidentified “young man” (as Roberts obliquely referred to himself) who had filed a lawsuit on behalf of his young daughter. Years of collective abolitionist effort secured the victory over segregation in 1855, at long last redeeming the promise of the Revolution. From the perspective of 1870, racial tyranny in Massachusetts had been shouldered aside. The 1855 success appeared as a glorious prelude to the destruction of “white” oppression following the Civil War, when the federal government enacted emancipation and constitutional guarantees of African American citizenship. In Roberts’s final estimation, the democratic regeneration of Massachusetts foretold that of the United States itself:
Our children do not feel as their predecessors felt a thousand times when passing the schoolhouse as inferiors and outcasts. To them, new ideas are opened … and it will not be many years ere the full results will find our successors in the full possession of positions of honor and emolument and amply competent to cope with the most distinguished citizens of our community…. The man of yesterday, borne down by servile oppression, a stranger in the land of his nativity, his limbs galled by chains and fetters and naught but black despair settled upon his troubled mind … now wrested by the powerful arm of justice from his tormentors and placed on the moral platform untrammeled, free and supplied with all that is necessary to a fully developed member of the brotherhood of man…. Who among us can refrain from giving vent to highest exultation over these remarkable events?[6]Thus, Roberts closed his history on a high note, exhorting his readers to continued success with a renewed awareness of the obstacles already overcome and the inspirational legacy of “black” activism.

On a first reading of Roberts’s narrative, one might not sense in it any motive other than a desire to secure for the abolitionists an exalted place in history and to memorialize the school desegregation crusade. A second reading, however, especially one informed by certain historical facts, can shed light on the complex, personal motives that inspired Roberts to write. The clue that opens up Roberts’s essay is his sketchy characterization of James Easton, the “Revolutionary soldier … born in Middleboro” and the brief description of Easton’s ambitious project to educate African American youth, and its defeat. To Roberts’s contemporaries, who knew that Easton was his grandfather, his essay voiced (for all its apparent modesty) an eloquent justification of his own activism and that of three generations of his forebears. They could see the ideological and genealogical continuity over time. Between 1776 and 1870, Revolutionary promise had given way to a desperate conflict with racial tyranny, which in turn developed into a broad struggle for legislated equality. To historians today, to whom the personal connection has become invisible, only the general meaning remains: the essay documents how African American abolitionists in New England lived out their crusade in the midst of evolving racial politics.

The more we know about Easton, the more we will understand how the counterpoint between individual history and activism shaped Roberts’s commitments to abolitionism. His sense of the movement’s historical development, fundamentally different from that of any white abolitionalist, grew out of his personal inheritance from James Easton; Easton’s predecessors from England, Africa, and North America; and Easton’s children, who continued in various ways to demand an end to discrimination in New England.[7] Furthermore, the inheritance was not a distant one: James Easton lived long enough for Benjamin Roberts to know him and his career intimately. By making James Easton’s educational venture the historical prelude to his own victory over segregation, Roberts explained how he had upheld Easton family honor, vindicated his grandfather’s work, and set an example for future generations.

When we examine James Easton’s origins, we enter a New England without “races”—at least as we have come to understand that term. Although from the first, Anglo-Americans perceived Africans as “black” and therefore markedly “different,” social conditions in colonial New England greatly complicated the consequences of this understanding. Before the Revolution, as historians Lois Horton and Joanne Melish have explained, American Indians and people of African descent often shared common conditions of enslavement and intermarriage. The results defy our modern understandings of terms such as “Negro,” “colored,” “black,” “mulatto,” and “Indian.” “Whites,” in fact, invented these terms when seeking to categorize and control dark-complected people in New England, regardless of ancestry. English settlers, for example, generally considered all slaves “black” and of African descent, and from their perspective “black,” “African” and “enslaved” were closely overlapping terms that described a system of coerced labor. Indigenous and African people, by contrast, customarily regarded each other not by skin color but by group or tribal names—”Wampanoag,” “Narragansett,” “Gambian,” “Ibo,” and so forth. The resulting struggle over conflicting identifications created ambiguous situations in which “whites” regarded some “Indians” as “black,” others as “red,” and indigenous groups with African members as “Negro Indians.” Religious practices also reflected these ambiguities. Before the Revolution and for several decades afterward, some New England churches served “colored”—whether African or Native American—parishioners as well as “white,” sometimes by allowing integrated worship and sometimes by demanding segregated seating.[8]

Still more perplexing terminology arose once European-descended settlers began referring to “mixed” individuals as “mustees,” “mullatos,” and “colored,” terms that could indicate the presence of a “white” lineage, as well as “black” or “red.” Further confounding the racial terrain, some emancipated slaves of African descent made their way into “white” New England, usually by becoming farmers, artisans, sailors, or semi-skilled laborers. Others retreated into isolated indigenous communities, gaining kin support and personal security by creating or joining mixed families. Other native or indigenous people, meanwhile, represented themselves as “Negroes” in order to claim legal advantages and political rights—a situation that remained true through the Civil War. For our understanding of Benjamin Roberts, all this confusion documents one crucial point: the rigid categories of “red,” “black,” and “white” that Euro-Americans enforced so ruthlessly during Roberts’s antebellum days would have seemed wholly irrational, oppressive, and unprecedented to dark-skinned New Englanders of James Easton’s generation. Although we cannot know fully what Easton meant when he described himself as “colored,” he most certainly meant it as a repudiation of the hardening “white” definitions of his era.[9]

The Easton family can trace its roots to Newport, Rhode Island, during the 1670s, when Quakers Peter and Nicholas Easton began manumitting their slaves. By 1690, the “white” Eastons had freed eight slaves, or “servants”; two they designated as “negroes,” two as “Indian,” and four received no racial designation. By the mid eighteenth century, local records were littered with mentions of “black,” “colored,” “indian,” or “mulatto” Eastons or Easons—none enslaved. Two of these early emancipated slaves, Richard and Mary Eas(t)on, lived in a small village near the town of Middleborough, where in 1754 Mary gave birth to James Easton. After 1754, the family disappears temporarily from the historical record, suggesting that the Eastons moved to one of the several small Indian communities just outside Middleborough; since 1694, the town had banned Indians from living within its boarders. When James Easton married Sarah Dunbar, a woman of possibly similar mixed-“race” heritage, the Easton name returned to visibility.

The tradition of Indian-African intermarriage continued as well. John Wainer, a Wampanoag and the nephew of the famous international commercial trader Paul Cuffe of New Bedford, married Mary Easton, one of James’s daughters, thereby beginning a long and complex connection between the two families. Caleb, one of Easton’s sons, married Chloe Packard, a “white” woman from a leading North Bridgewater, Massachusetts; three of their six children would be classified as “white” in the 1880 census. Thus, to insist that James Easton and his family belonged to a “separate (let alone inferior) race,” whether “black” or “red,” would simply scorn reality. Such a characterization meant that the Eastons would be forced into an “uninhabitable category” (historian Joanne Melish’s telling description), constructed for them by prejudiced “whites.” Yet this precise tragic predicament awaited James Easton and all dark-complected people living in New England at the close of the Revolution.[10]

When James Easton joined the patriot cause, however, his quest for better prospects outran his equalitarian principles. Like many other dark-skinned New Englanders who enlisted into the military, he declined to identify himself as African American, Indian, or as anything else in the “white” vocabulary for designating color distinctions. It was a choice that he and thousands of others, Indian and African-descended alike, made for practical reasons. Heavy legal sanctions against Indians’ rights to assemble, bear arms, and trade freely would have completely nullified their prospects for Revolutionary citizenship and relegated them to isolated enclaves. Seeking to destroy these barriers, numerous Wampanoags and Narragansetts, groups from whom James Easton descended, rallied unannounced to the patriot cause. At the same time, African-descended individuals not classified as Indians suffered no such disabilities in Massachusetts. For them, the Revolution likewise offered promises of civic participation and expanding opportunity—certainly James Easton’s hopes.

After digging breastworks for George Washington on Boston’s Dorchester Heights in 1776, Easton campaigned as a foot soldier in the regiment of Gamaliel Bradford, a veteran of the French and Indian War also from Middleborough. Bradford’s regiment occupied various towns in the Hudson River Valley before participating in the fall of Fort Ticonderoga the following year. Easton’s next three years remain undocumented, but we know that he mustered out of service and in 1780 moved to North Bridgewater (now Brockton), his family home for the rest of his busy life. [11]

What did Easton believe he had fought for? What new kind of world did he think the Revolution should bring to him and his growing family? Nothing in his own words survives to instruct us, but two closely related sources provide reliable answers. Easton’s son Hosea published the first of these, his Treatise, in 1837, and his views on exactly these questions most likely expressed the opinions of his deeply revered father, who had died only seven years earlier. The scattered records that document James Easton’s remarkable career constitute the second.

According to Hosea Easton, the Revolution made all Americans equal—without exceptions. “When the country belonged to Great Britain, the colored people were slaves,” he granted. But once the Declaration of Independence had been promulgated, slaves “were no longer held by any legal power.” As a result, Easton argued, the Revolution had proceeded as a massive exercise in mandating racial equality. Nothing, he insisted, had restricted the “color of the attendants” in Revolutionary town meetings, “not a word was said about color” when “convoking the Continental Congress,” and there was “not a public document of the [Federal] government,” he claimed, “which recognized the colored man as a slave.” In light of all this compelling evidence, Hosea Easton wondered, how “can it be said that the colored people are not recognized as citizens?” Thus any “civil and political disabilities of the colored people are the effect of usurpation,” gross transgressions against the nation’s founding values that summoned his palpable rage:
A highwayman or an assassin acts on principles far superior in comparison with those under which the administrators of the laws of church and state act … [when] withholding the inalienable rights of one part of the subjects of this government…. Were I capable of dipping my pen in the deepest dye of crime, and of understanding the science of the bottomless pit, I should then fail in presenting … the true nature of American deception.[12]Much of Hosea Easton’s bitter tone registers the terrible personal costs exacted by his own unavailing struggles against racial bigotry. His words also project the convictions of his equally angry father, a war veteran who had staked his family’s future on the promise of multicultural democracy, whose personal lineage mixed people of differing complexions, and who, as a result, wholly loathed racial bigotry.

Figure 1
An illustration honoring African Americans in the Revolutionary War. From William C. Nell’s The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution (Boston, 1855). Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Although James Easton left no written tract of his opinions, his public actions, captured in other records, express his determination no less eloquently. In 1800, James Easton led his family in its first public stand against segregation. The event took place at Bridgewater’s Fourth Church of Christ. The controversy began with the construction of a “Negro gallery,” in which the “white” congregation forced the Eastons and all other dark-complected members to sit. This galling change represented a sudden departure from the earlier policy of integrated pew benches and thus marked the increasing racial bigotry of “white” New Englanders. James Easton refused to submit; church records mention “a disturbance in time of public worship,” deceptive language for the Easton family’s act of defiance. Rather than sit in the “Negro gallery,” Easton bought a family pew from a sympathetic “white” member and occupied it until exasperated “white” congregants ejected them by force.

More of this incident emerges from an 1855 account by African American historian William C. Nell, who lived near the Roberts family residence in Boston and who became a leading force in the struggles against school segregation. There can be no question that Nell repeated what Benjamin Roberts had told him when he recounted the incident:
The family were victims … to the spirit of colorphobia … and were persecuted even to the dragging out of some of the family from the Orthodox Church … in which, on its enlargement, a porch had been erected, exclusively for colored people. After this disgraceful occurrence, the Easton’s left the church.[13]Thus concluded the first of six clearly documented Easton family protests between 1800 and 1827—and it is likely even more took place. Most appear only briefly in the church records.

One truly extraordinary series of events offers a stunning glimpse of Easton family tenacity. Again, we have William C. Nell to thank for preserving Benjamin Roberts’s account of his grandfather’s actions:
They afterward purchased a pew in a Baptist Church in Stoughton Corner, which excited a great deal of indignation. Not succeeding in having the bargain canceled, the people tarred the pew. The next week the family carried [their own] seats in the waggon. The pew was then pulled down: but the family sat in the aisle. These indignities were continued until the separation of the family [from the church].[14]Every Sunday morning until the membership expelled them, the Easton family (doggedly? angrily? fearfully? sadly?) returned to their church, set up their own chairs, and defied the Christian bigots of Stoughton. These epic moments forged searing memories, potent family stories, and lifelong recollections for James Easton. Surely, we can now understand why Benjamin Roberts took up the challenge of defending his young daughter against the segregationists and why he paid such heartfelt homage to his grandfather.

As monumental as his public stand against segregation was, it constituted neither the whole of his life nor of his work for social change. Self-educated, Easton mastered the arts of commercial iron-working—which explains his choice of North Bridgewater as his home. Practically no people of color other than the Eastons lived in the area, which meant the family lacked social as well as financial capital. Nevertheless, the location possessed clear professional advantages: it had plentiful raw materials for smelting and casting, and its proximity to Boston—twenty-six miles away—insured Easton access to clients, markets, and the city’s activist community. Soon after setting up house in the town, he established his own shop, which specialized in the manufacture of edge tools (plows, axes, and so forth), anchors, sea chains, and other seafaring gear, and schooled his sons in the business. The Eastons also made special-order items, such as grillwork for Boston’s new Tremont Theater and track for the new Marine Railway (upon which workers wheeled newly constructed vessels from shipyards to launching berths). As a contractor and skilled artisan, he possessed the dignified bearing of a gentleman at ease in Boston’s blossoming commercial culture. “He was welcomed in the business circles of Boston as a man of strict integrity,” wrote William Nell, “and the many who sought his advice on complicated matters styled him ‘the black lawyer.'”[15]

James Easton’s success did not, however, single him out as a unique figure. His imposing leadership and unimpeachable reputation, rather, identified him as a member of a “colored” elite that rose to prominence soon after the Revolution in cities across the eastern seaboard. A civic-minded group of businessmen, clergymen, and educators, these accomplished individuals preached the values they emphatically practiced of “self-improvement, piety and personal rectitude.” They founded the churches, schools, fraternal groups, and voluntary associations that solidified communities of color throughout New England. From the close of the Revolution through the 1820s, men such as Easton exhorted all people of color to “uplift” themselves by embracing the “respectable” values of temperance, thrift, religiosity, and, above all, education. Well suited to the challenges of James Easton’s era, this ideology of moral rectitude and self-improvement underpinned the rising “colored” communities of the North. Through it, Easton and his peers sought to guarantee realization of the Revolution’s egalitarian promises, even as “white” racial prejudice deepened throughout New England. Capitalist in economic spirit and republican in social vision, this ideology personally empowered Easton as it expressed so well his fervent American nationalism, forged in the Revolution by “whites” and dark-skinned patriots like himself.[16]

Subscribing to these beliefs came at a price. Easton’s claims for republican equality and his rise to leadership in the affairs of “colored Americans” necessitated that he suppress his “Indian” (non-citizen) heritage. One might speculate that his searing hatred of racial bigotry arose in part from having been driven to so painful a choice. Whatever his deeper uncertainties, Easton’s commitment to “uplift” inspired the extraordinary project he undertook in the mid 1810s. His decision to incorporate a manual labor school for promising “colored youth” into his family-run foundry represented a visionary experiment unprecedented for its time. It also projected influence five decades into the future, becoming a touchstone in his grandson’s own path-breaking struggles against segregation.

Easton designed the school to combat illiteracy and unemployment among young “men of color.” As Easton’s eldest son, James, Jr., explained to his wealthy merchant relative, Paul Cuffe, when seeking to borrow $1,000 for the school in 1816, “for Wount [want] of Sufficient Education we fail of accomplishing Eny Cind [any kind] of bisnis of a Publick nature. Besides, ignorance Produces a great Deel of jealousy.” (James, Jr., would improve his spelling before he achieved distinction as one of the nation’s first African American practitioners of homeopathic medicine.) The enterprise underwrote the education of twenty young scholars who divided their days between academics and apprenticing as smiths, farmers, and shoemakers. The Eastons and their fellow teachers fostered “uplift” by insisting on hard study and respectable comportment. Hosea Easton, whose writings confirm his own participation (Benjamin Roberts was old enough at the time to have visited), described the enterprise’s directors as insisting on principles of “rigid economy” and “rules of morality” that they “supported with surprising assiduity.” Dedicated “colored men of master spirits and great minds” instructed the students. Along with Easton and other benefactors, they all invested “many thousands of dollars” into the school. Nothing in the development of education in the United States to that point approached the originality and ambition of Easton’s school.[17]

For approximately fourteen years, until 1829 or 1830, Easton conducted the school with success. Then, the school’s finances collapsed. Shortly after, James Easton died. Roberts’s uncle Hosea likely spoke for the entire family when he concluded that the shock of the school’s closing had hastened his father’s death:
The enterprise ended in total failure…. By reason of the repeated surges of the tide of prejudice the establishment, like a ship in a boisterous hurricane at sea went beneath its waves, richly laden, well manned and well managed, and all sunk to rise no more…. It fell, and with it fell the hearts of several of its undertakers in despair, and their bodies into their graves.
The Easton school’s collapse, no isolated event, symbolized the many disasters that people of color endured in the 1820s and 1830s.[18]

In the final years of Easton’s life and beyond, African Americans across the North found hopes for full citizenship overborne by “the tide of prejudice” that Hosea Easton described. The racial tyranny that arose in the 1820s originated immediately after the Revolution, when African Americans freed by gradual emancipation had started to create their own communities. Fearful and suspicious of the growth of what they perceived to be an unruly and degraded class, “white” New Englanders intensified segregation—the very kind directed by “white” congregants at James Easton and his family. In the 1820s, spreading industrialization and unprecedented British immigration reshaped Northern cities. As a consequence, troubling new class divisions, competition for employment, and public debates over the meaning of skin color intensified “white” racial bigotry.[19]

When first encountering the stresses of industrial wage labor, ordinary “white” workers began to see their dark-complected neighbors as unwelcome competitors in the labor market and as visual symbols of their own diminishing status and prospects. Resenting the African American elites for their forthright assertions of citizenship and threatened by urban communities of color that engaged aggressively in “uplift,” lower-class “whites” began harassing African Americans’ Sabbath observances and school day activities. Harassment soon turned to street corner bullying and then to invasions of “black” neighborhoods by outraged “white” rioters in several Northern cities, Boston included. The worst example took place in Cincinnati in 1829, when a “white” mob all but destroyed the city’s community of color and drove out several hundred residents. Handbills filled with vicious cartoon stereotypes grew ever more popular. Politicians revised Northern state constitutions to deny African Americans’ civil rights (Massachusetts almost did so in 1821). They also created two mass parties—Whigs and Democrats—that catered heavily to “white” voters’ racial prejudices. Beginning in 1816, the popular American Colonization Society advocated “returning” free people of color to their “homeland” in west Africa since, its leaders claimed, prejudice against them within the United States was too deep to overcome.[20]

Responding to these multiplying threats, members of the “black” elite from cities across the North convened the first annual National Convention of Free People of Color in Philadelphia in 1831. Hosea Easton attended, representing Boston, along with his brother-in-law Robert Roberts (Benjamin Roberts’s father), Samuel Snowden, and James Barbadoes. The delegates agreed on an unprecedented new measure to advance the cause of “uplift” by collecting funds to establish a truly distinguished manual labor school for young men of color in New Haven, Connecticut, in partnership, they hoped, with Yale University. Two wealthy “white” businessmen from New York City, abolitionists Arthur and Lewis Tappan, pledged to help underwrite the project by matching all funds raised by the convention, to a maximum of $10,000. The Tappans’ close associate, Boston editor William Lloyd Garrison, issued glowing endorsements of the plan in his militant new abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, and announced that he would visit England in search of further funding.[21]

To Hosea Easton, this proposal revived the vision of his just-deceased father, but more grandly and boldly than even he could have imagined. On a still larger scale, the proposed school offered a promising way for the National Convention to join with sympathetic “whites” in resisting the rising tide of bigotry. In either case, the imperatives of “uplift” and “respectable” equality that the Eastons had always lived by sprang back to life. Hosea returned to Boston soon after the convention adjourned and began soliciting donations. His brother Joshua, brother-in-law Robert Roberts, sister Sarah, and her sixteen-year-old son, Benjamin Roberts, all quite likely shared his excitement and perhaps in his fundraising efforts as well.

Figure 2
Diogenes, Hys Lantern, 1852.
Courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

The involvement of William Lloyd Garrison and the Tappan brothers in the work of the Colored Convention marked the appearance of an unprecedented moral crusade for “immediate abolition.” After 1831, Garrison and other “white” crusaders demanded that slavery be obliterated in an instant—a position that reflected a new consciousness of the institution’s vicious nature and as an abomination in the eyes of a just and angry God. Since “immediatists” held that God had created all humanity “in one blood,” they argued further that people of color living in the North should be “elevated” to civic and social equality. This radical ideology goes far to explain the sudden interest among these “white” reformers in the welfare of Northern “blacks” and their eager support for the New Haven school. Never before had so many “black” and “white” activists collaborated so extensively in pursuit of such egalitarian projects aimed at racial “uplift.” Sabbath schools, debating and literary societies, private academies, and temperance organizations sprang up in towns and cities across the free states. So did militant antislavery societies that daringly “mixed” women with men and African Americans with “whites,” all condemning slavery and demanding racial equality. For the Tappan brothers, the Easton family, and abolitionists everywhere, the early 1830s promised truly revolutionary developments, exactly what most Northern “whites” feared beyond all else.[22]

Throughout the free states during the 1820s, “whites” had responded to the mounting economic stress of industrialization and personal insecurities with ever more frequent acts of racial hostility. As the 1830s opened, they united across class lines to crush the threat of racial and gender “amalgamation” they saw in the new abolitionist movement. Building on the mob violence that already marked the previous decade, angry crowds in towns and cities across the North disrupted abolitionists’ meetings and, far more ominously, terrorized free African American communities. All hopes that James Easton’s descendents might have entertained for furthering his educational vision disintegrated in 1831 when Yale’s administrators scorned cooperation with the Colored Convention and leading ministers denounced the idea of the school. When New Haven’s “white” working class learned of the project, they attacked Lewis Tappan’s home, threatened African American churches, and invaded any business that catered to people of color. Mob violence again erupted in a succession of major cities—Boston, Philadelphia, Hartford, Pittsburgh, and New York—as well as in the countryside at Dover, New Hampshire; Canterbury, Connecticut; Granville, Ohio; and Alton, Illinois. Although the abolitionist movement slowly grew over the next two decades, “whites” succeeded in crushing its initial crusade for racial “uplift” and “immediate emancipation.” As Benjamin Roberts recalled decades later, “Colorphobia deprived us of our common schools and many other priveleges. We were assailed and hooted at in the streets … and it was a dark day for all of us.”[23]

Besieged and their hopes blasted, abolitionists responded in varying, sometimes desperate, and often conflicting ways. To a large measure, their reactions depended upon the nature of their original commitment. “White” abolitionists, largely rebellious and religiously orthodox young men and women, sought to break free of established identities through the wrenching “born again” evangelical experience. Even those of Quaker or Unitarian backgrounds approached abolitionism as a test of religious faith. In all cases, their antislavery inspiration, extremely individualistic and nascent, had just begun to solidify when riot and repression suddenly engulfed them. For these reasons, the cumulative impact of violent and relentless racial tyranny proved profoundly unsettling. With few well established precedents to guide them, reformers disagreed bitterly over the direction of their movement. Some who followed William Lloyd Garrison embraced nonresistance, anticlericalism, women’s rights, and religious perfectionism. Only by rejecting all “godless” authority, they argued, could the nation wipe away the sin of slavery. Some abolitionists who opposed Garrison, such as the Massachusetts Quaker John Greenleaf Whittier, proposed the founding of a third political party. Still others, agreeing with Lewis Tappan, attempted to keep the movement faithful to its original antislavery principles. Whatever their positions, the new crisis drove “white” abolitionists to revisit their initial motives and assumptions, a process that often resulted in radically new approaches and discord.[24]

The first generation of African American activists, which included the Eastons, endured no such agonizing reassessments or unbridgeable divisions in the later 1830s. Seasoned by decades of struggle against racial tyranny and personally anchored in a keen sense of the past, the violence of the 1830s caused deep discouragement but not surprise. When, for example, Hosea Easton endured disillusioning attacks in the mid 1830s, he suffered no fundamental questioning of himself as an abolitionist. Widely recognized as a compelling thinker and sermonizer, Hosea Easton filled the pulpit of an African American church in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1836. He struggled to protect his congregation against violent “whites” as local harassment turned into rioting, exchanges of gunfire, the sacking of parishioners’ homes, and, ultimately, the burning of his church. After this experience, Easton discarded his lifelong belief that African Americans could “raise” themselves to equality by their own efforts. In 1837, he published an angry and pessimistic inquiry into the origins, development, and nature of “white” racial prejudice and its devastating impact on people of color. Although “uplift” remained his central creed, Easton now believed that repentant “white” oppressors must be the guarantors of “elevation.” It was a shift in emphasis, but still Hosea Easton held tenaciously to his father’s legacy, drawing on the intergenerational continuities of New England’s “black” abolitionists.[25]

Sarah Easton, Benjamin Roberts’s mother, also embodied these enduring intergenerational ties. After moving to Boston, Sarah married a man in 1813 who bore uncanny similarities to her father, James Easton. Like Easton, the self-educated Robert Roberts moved with confidence among Boston’s moneyed elite: during the 1820s, he managed the households of Nathaniel Appleton and Christopher Gore, scions of the Commonwealth’s most opulent families. Roberts’s first wife, like Sarah Easton, had been the daughter of a famous “colored” Revolutionary war veteran equal in prominence to Easton. Soon after Roberts arrived in Boston from Charleston, South Carolina, in 1805, he formed numerous attachments with the Easton family. After his marriage to Sarah, he grew close to the influential Cuffe family, longtime Easton kin and business associates. In the late 1820s and early 1830s, he joined his brothers-in-law, Hosea and Joshua Easton, in opposing the American Colonization Society and supporting the ill-fated New Haven manual labor school. Moreover, much like James Easton, Roberts promoted activism within his church, Boston’s First Independent (African) Baptist Church, which welcomed “white” abolitionists such as Garrison. James Easton and Robert Roberts undoubtedly profoundly influenced the entire extended family during their seventeen years together as father- and son-in-law. That much became clear when Sarah and Robert Roberts named their first-born son James Easton Roberts, to honor the family patriarch, and their second child Benjamin Franklin Roberts, to symbolize James Easton’s antiracist Revolutionary ideology and ideals of personal independence. These imposing paternal figures placed powerful examples of activism before young Benjamin Roberts.[26]

Robert and Sarah Roberts also encouraged their children to master practical skills, and Benjamin became an accomplished printer and editor. Other siblings, for whatever reasons, either chose not to follow the family path into activism or did so in ways that have escaped documentation. Thus, Benjamin Roberts emerged as the sole heir to his grandfather’s role as a reformer. At the age of twenty-three, Roberts formally took up the role of the family’s next “James Easton” and in 1837 announced his intention to publish a new abolitionist newspaper, The Anti-Slavery Herald. Perhaps prompted emotionally by the near-simultaneous deaths of his mother and uncle Hosea, Roberts embarked on a course fraught with danger. His decision to publish an abolitionist journal, financially questionable under the best of circumstances, came at the very moment when the abolitionist movement was crumbling from internecine strife. Whatever the need, the timing proved inauspicious.

Figure 3
First Independent (African) Baptist Chruch, Boston. Boston Almanac, 1843. Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

The only African American newspapers previously published in the United States, the chronically undersubscribed Freedom’s Journal and its successor, Rights of All, had struggled for three years before collapsing in 1830. The following year, Garrison set up his Liberator only a stone’s throw from the Roberts family home and immediately secured a loyal “black” readership by opening its columns to African American issues and writers. Indeed the paper depended upon “blacks” from across the North for subscriptions and financial contributions. Garrison’s rank as the nation’s most controversial abolitionist made him a still more formidable competitor. Additionally, the New York Colored American began publishing in 1837, putting even more pressure on the scarce resources of Northern “blacks.” As the national economy faltered into recession and mob violence persisted in the later 1830s, abolitionists divided over “Garrisonian” doctrines and tensions increased between “black” and “white” activists. Some African Americans, for example, questioned the relevance of Garrisonian religious perfectionism and women’s rights to their primary goals: abolishing slavery and facing down racial bigotry. Some “whites,” in turn, resented the independent-mindedness of their African American critics.

To surmount these adversities, Roberts tried to incorporate the idea of James Easton’s manual labor school into his paper, announcing that subscribers to the Anti-Slavery Herald would also be supporting apprenticeships for young African American printers and compositors. By adding the value of “uplift” to his appeals for subscribers, Roberts evidently expected to attract the attention of affluent abolitionists. Toward that end, he solicited personal endorsements from leading “white” immediatists.[27]

Details of the ensuing disaster remain unclear, but a disaster it surely was. Since no copies of the paper have survived, one can safely assume that it had a limited circulation and an extremely brief life. Judging from the response of one of Roberts’s endorsers, the prominent immediatist abolitionist Amos A. Phelps, it appears that “white” abolitionists deemed Roberts an overtly bigoted and brazen self-promoter. After reading the paper, Phelps demanded that Roberts return his letter of endorsement. Roberts’s extraordinary response to Phelps’s request captures vividly the frustration, anger, humiliation, and disappointment that engulfed him as his dreams crumbled. Roberts’s words also provide deep insight into the pride, determination, and conviction that had underpinned the Easton family’s struggles against racial bigotry for three generations. He wrote:
I am aware that there has been and now is, a combined effort on the part of certain professed abolitionists to muzzle, exterminate and put down the efforts of certain colored individuals effecting the welfare of the colored brethren. The truth is respecting myself, my whole soul is engaged in the cause of humanity. I am for the improvement among this class of people, mental and physical. The arts and sciences have never been introduced to any extent among us—therefore they are of the utmost importance. If our anti-slavery men will not subscribe to the advancement of these principles, but rail out and protest against them, why, we will go to the heathen. The principle upon which the anti-slavery cause is said to be founded (and boasting are not a few) are the elevation of the free colored people here. Now it is altogether useless to pretend to affect the welfare of the blacks in this country, unless the chains of prejudice are broken. It is of no use [to] say with the mouth we are friends of the slave and not try to encourage and assist the free colored people in raising themselves. Here is sir the first effort of the colored men in this country of this kind, vis. the paper published, printed and edited by colored persons in Massachusetts. Shall this be defeated? But it is contended that the individual [Roberts] who started the enterprise has not taken it up from principle—he don’t intend what he pretends. Base misrepresentations! False accusations!—I was not aware that so many hypocrites existed in the anti-slavery society. According to what I have seen of the conduct of some, a black man would be as unsafe in their hands as those of Southern slaveholders.[28]

After this bitter remonstrance, Benjamin Roberts retreated from visible leadership for a decade. As a professional printer, however, his career continued. During this “quiet” period, one finds his printer’s imprimatur on a variety of books and pamphlets, many by African American authors, documenting his unassuming but ongoing and important role in his community. His apparent quiescence in the antislavery movement raises the speculative question, in retrospect, if the Easton legacy represented a recipe for disaster. After all, James had seen his dreams shattered with the bankruptcy of his school and Hosea had lived in despair after the mob burned his church. From this perspective, Roberts’s own defeat could be seen as extending a family tradition of high-minded struggle that led to abject failure.

Roberts, nonetheless, invested far too much of himself in the Easton family past to succumb to demoralization. In 1848, he again reached for family leadership through activism by more fully embracing his grandfather’s example. Indeed, his desegregation suit against the Boston school committee echoed with stories his mother had surely told him about his grandfather’s defiance of “white” bigots who sought to relegate him and his family to a separate pew. The story of the Eastons carrying their own chairs into the house of God was an irresistible example and spur to action. At the time of the first church protest, Sarah Easton was eleven years old. Now, Benjamin Roberts’s daughter, also named Sarah, was barely five and had just begun school when her father initiated his lawsuit. In both cases, outraged fathers distinguished themselves in heroic public efforts to protect their children from soul-destroying segregation and racism.

Acutely sensitive to these parallels in family history, Benjamin Roberts’s justification for his lawsuit evoked the same profound anger at racial bigotry that Hosea Easton had expressed in all of his writings, that tumbled from the lips of James Easton, and that Roberts himself displayed in his reply to Amos A. Phelps. Racial segregation, wrote Roberts, was a system run by “monsters,” one that bred “shame and humiliation” among the most vulnerable, causing its young victims to regard themselves as “inferiors and outcast” and burdening them with “naught but black despair and troubled mind.”[29] These, Roberts proclaimed, were the torments that descended upon his daughter each day as she walked past nicely appointed “white” schools to attend a distant, inferior facility reserved for those without “white” skin. Like his grandfather, and like so many African American activists in New England after 1776, Benjamin Roberts positioned himself as his family’s shield against racial bigotry.

While Roberts drew on these forces of historical continuity and family memory as powerful reservoirs of personal motivation, the strategies and tactics of New England’s “black” abolitionist movement had changed during his decade of quiescence. By 1848, the incremental approaches to “elevation” familiar to James Easton had evolved into something resembling a modern movement for unqualified legal and political equality. Beginning in the late 1830s, African American activists had detached themselves from the rapidly factionalizing “white”-led movement to explore new approaches under “black” leadership. In 1843, after an eight-year hiatus, the National Negro Convention resumed its meetings to debate demands for racial integration and plans for strengthening independent African American institutions. Nothing better reflected these transformed circumstances than did Roberts’s decision to file his lawsuit. His attempt to outlaw institutionalized bigotry in the Boston school system through the courts constituted a project vastly different in scope and substance from his grandfather’s struggles to sustain a single manual labor school, or his own earlier attempt to institute apprenticeships.[30]

Roberts’s team of attorneys, Robert Morris and Charles Sumner, also reflected changing times. The former, only the second licensed African American attorney in Massachusetts, bore witness to the new militancy and sophistication that had reshaped “black” abolitionism into a broad-based social movement. The latter, the famed antislavery politician, embodied a deepening Yankee opposition to Southern political demands for access to western territories and the unlimited power to recapture fugitive slaves. Together, Morris and Sumner embodied the emergence of a powerful new alliance between groups of “black” and “white” activists, not as philanthropists sponsoring projects of “uplift” but as a coalition of insurgents bent on ridding the “Old Bay State” of “southern influences” and legal oppression.

The state’s new political culture took shape under this new coalition in the 1830s and 1840s. “White” abolitionists had joined African American militants—led by Bostonian Lewis Hayden—in sit-ins, boycotts, and lawsuits that challenged discrimination in public transportation. Daring leaders such as Wendell Phillips and Frederick Douglass habitually invaded segregated train cars, either on their own, with African American companions, or in the company of other “whites,” thus resisting segregation on a day-to-day basis all but inconceivable in James Easton’s time. Well before Benjamin Roberts filed his lawsuit, many smaller towns and cities in Massachusetts had integrated their public school systems, thanks to abolitionists’ persistence. Despite the court’s ruling against Roberts in 1848, the power of interracial coalition only grew stronger in the years following. Its leaders mobilized supporters across the state, and the Commonwealth’s representatives in Congress publicly challenged the slave power during the 1840s and 1850s.

In particular, the new Fugitive Slave Law passed by Congress in 1850 prompted intense, even violent resistance especially in Boston. The law empowered federal marshals to enforce provisions that so manifestly trampled upon the legal rights of African American citizens that all “blacks” rightly feared false accusations and enslavement. The same coalition of activists that flooded the Massachusetts legislature with antisegregation petitions formed vigilance committees to protect “black” refugees, resist federal authorities, and harass would-be slave catchers. At election time, “black” and “white” activists could be found stirring up support for candidates pledged to overturning school segregation and the Fugitive Slave Law. Perhaps for the first time in the nation’s history, politicians incorporated racial egalitarianism into their larger strategies for achieving electoral success, a trend that demonstrated the effectiveness of this Massachusetts insurgency.[31]

Powerful ties of memory that linked the struggles of the 1840s and 1850s to the “spirit of 1776” also accompanied these changes. The “white” abolitionists and antislavery politicians who defended fugitives and endorsed antisegregation petitions insisted that their actions upheld the same sacred principles of freedom established by their Revolutionary forbears. The claim marked a critical convergence of “white” and “black” abolitionist ideology. Abolitionists such as Phillips, Edmund Quincy, and Samuel Joseph May, who had initially condemned the founding fathers as compromisers with slavery, held fervently to that belief. Simultaneously, they embraced the insurgent traditions of Lexington and Concord that they could trace to their own parents and grandparents. During the 1850s, a younger generation of “white” militants such as Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Theodore Parker, Charles Sumner, and John Gorham Palfrey joined the movement, men who constantly and on good authority referred to their forebears’ patriotic acts of resistance. For prominent female abolitionists such as the Weston sisters—Deborah, Caroline, and Ann Weston and Maria Weston Chapman—and Ann Greene Phillips, activism meshed with roles established by female forebears who had participated as “liberty’s daughters” during the Revolution. When the magnificent orator Wendell Phillips joined William C. Nell in fundraising efforts to honor the “colored patriot” Crispus Attucks with a heroic statue, their collaboration perfectly captured how deeply “black” and “white” abolitionists now shared an empowering view of New England’s Revolutionary past. Having launched and then sustained their movement by attacking the legacy of the founding fathers, “white” abolitionists in Massachusetts now embraced the same history that resonated powerfully within Easton family traditions. “One lived in the atmosphere of the Stamp Act, the Tea Act and the Boston Massacre,” Henry Adams recalled of the 1840s and 1850s. “Within Boston a boy was first an eighteenth century politician.”[32]

In the final analysis, this ideological shift in the “white” abolitionists’ understanding of New England’s history allowed abolitionists of both “races” to come to together in the “spirit of ’76.” As we have seen, African American abolitionists such as the Easton and Roberts families and William C. Nell always had understood the Revolution as a struggle for racial justice. By the 1850s, many “white” abolitionists had come to similar conclusions. This portentous development goes farthest to explain how abolitionists of both “races” managed to work together with such unique effectiveness in Massachusetts during the 1840s and 1850s and why the legislature voted Benjamin Roberts so stunning a victory. To be sure, “white” abolitionists in Massachusetts had forgotten the system of Northern slavery that once oppressed the Eastons and countless other families. They also failed to recognize what the Eastons always had known, that rigid categorization of humanity into “races” based on skin pigmentation were pernicious human inventions, not facts of nature. These limitations would have ominous implications for the future.

But by re-imagining the legacies of the Revolution in racially egalitarian terms, the Sumners, Phillipses, Westons, and Garrisons could respond constructively to the tireless demands for justice from leaders like Benjamin Roberts and William C. Nell. Consequently, for his own part, Roberts realized the goal he had held uppermost and found so terribly difficult to achieve. Through his allegiance to the legacy of his forebears, Roberts expanded the boundaries of equality within the Commonwealth. The legislative ban on segregated schools, he believed, was “the greatest boon ever bestowed upon our people.” Now we can appreciate more fully the deep satisfaction Roberts felt when publishing his triumphal recollections in the New Era, and why he chose to title them “Our Progress in the Old Bay State.” We also understand why Roberts was so careful to include in his reflections a passing yet crucial reference to “James Easton, a black man, born in Middleboro.”[33]

GEORGE R. PRICE teaches in the Native American Studies and African American Studies departments at the University of Montana and is currently working on a multigenerational biography of activists in the Easton family. JAMES BREWER STEWART is the James Wallace Professor of History at Macalaster College. His most recent book, edited with George R. Price, is To Heal the Scourge of Prejudice: The Life and Writings of Hosea Easton (1999).


We are deeply indebted to two unusually talented editors, Donald Yacovone and Ondine Le Blanc of the Massachusetts Historical Society, who have improved this essay immeasurably at practically every turn.

1. Carleton Mabee, Black Freedom: The Nonviolent Abolitionists from 1830 through the Civil War (New York, 1970), 91–127; Sarah C. Roberts vs. the City of Boston, Supreme Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk, 59 Mass. 198, 59 Cush.19; Donald M. Jacobs, “The Nineteenth Century Struggle over School Segregation in Boston,” Journal of Negro Education 39 (1970): 76–85; Leonard W. Levy and Harlan B. Philips, “The Roberts Case: Source of the ‘Separate But Equal Doctrine,'” American Historical Review 56 (1950): 510–518; Liberator, Aug. 6, 1849, Apr. 4, 1851.

2. See, for example, David Blight, Frederick Douglass’ Civil War: Keeping Faith in Jubilee (Baton Rouge, La., 1989); and Jean Fagin Yellin, Women and Sisters: The Antislavery Feminists and American Culture (New Haven, Conn., 1989), 77–99.

3. Joanne Pope Melish, Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and Race in New England, 1780–1860 (Ithaca, N.Y., 1998); Leon Litwack, North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free States (New York, 1961); James Oliver Horton and Lois Horton, In Hope of Liberty: Culture, Community and Protest among Northern Free Blacks (New York, 1996).

4. The fullest recent explanation of this process is Robert B. Abzug, Cosmos Crumbling: American Reform and the Religious Imagination (New York, 1994), esp. 129–229.

5. Benjamin F. Roberts, “Our Progress in the Old Bay State,” The New Era, Mar. 31, 1870.

6. Roberts, “Our Progress in the Old Bay State.”

7. For James Easton’s biography and a history of the Easton family, see George R. Price and James Brewer Stewart, eds., To Heal the Scourge of Prejudice: The Life and Writings of Hosea Easton (Amherst, Mass., 1999), 1–47.

8. See Melish, Disowning Slavery, and Joanne Pope Melish, “The Narragansett Indians: A Nineteenth Century History of Racial Extinction,” unpublished paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Historians of the Early Republic, 2000; Horton and Horton, In Hope of Liberty, chaps. 3–5.

9. Melish, “The Narragansett Indians”; Dickson D. Bruce, The Origins of African American Literature, 1680–1865 (Charlottesville, Va., 2001), 1–92.

10. For a detailed presentation of the Easton family genealogy, see Price and Stewart, To Heal the Scourge of Prejudice, 3–6.

11. Price and Stewart, To Heal the Scourge of Prejudice; William C. Nell, Colored Patriots of the American Revolution (Boston, 1855), 32–33; “Memoir of Gamaliel Bradford,” Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 3d ser., vol. 1 (1825): 203–204. Bradford later served in the state legislature as the representative from Plymouth County.

12. Hosea Easton, A Treatise on the Intellectual Character, and the Civil and Political Condition of the Colored People of the U. States and the Prejudice Exercised Toward Them: With a Sermon on the Duty of the Church Toward Them, reprinted in Price and Stewart, To Heal the Scourge of Prejudice, 90–98.

13. Nell, Colored Patriots, 33.

14. Nell, Colored Patriots, 33.

15. Nell, Colored Patriots, 33. For parallel developments in Philadelphia, see Julie Winch, A Gentleman of Color: The Life of James Forten (New York, 2002).

16. Gary B. Nash, Forging Freedom: Emancipation in Pennsylvania and Its Aftermath (Cambridge, Mass., 1988), 101–279; Patrick Rael, “African American Elites and the Language of Respectability in the Antebellum North,” unpublished paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians, 1997; Patrick Rael, Black Identity and Black Protest in the Antebellum North (Chapel Hill, N.C., 2002).

17. Roberts, “Our Progress in the Old Bay State”; Nell, Colored Patriots, 34; Hosea Easton, A Treatise, in Price and Stewart, To Heal the Scourge of Prejudice, 110–111; James Easton, Jr., to Paul Cuffe, Oct. 8, 1816 in Captain Paul Cuffees’ Logs and Letters, 1808–1817, ed. Rosalind Cobb Wiggins (Washington, D.C., 1996), 468–469.

18. For a discussion of the dates during which the school operated, see Price and Stewart, To Heal the Scourge of Prejudice, 42, note 9; Easton, A Treatise, in Price and Stewart, To Heal the Scourge of Prejudice, 110–111.

19. For a detailed analysis of these trends, see James Brewer Stewart, “The Emergence of Racial Modernity and the Rise of the White North, 1776–1840,” Journal of the Early Republic 18 (1998): 181–236.

20. See David Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (New York, 1991); Paul J. Gilje, The Road to Mobocracy: Popular Disorder in New York City, 1763–1834 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1987); Melish, Disowning Slavery; Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White (Cambridge, Mass., 1994); Leonard L. Richards, “Gentlemen of Property and Standing”: Antiabolitionist Mobs in Jacksonian America (New York, 1971).

21. Howard Holman Bell, ed., Minutes of the Proceedings of the National Negro Conventions, 1830–1864 (New York, 1969), 6; Howard Holman Bell, A Survey of the Negro Convention Movement, 1830–1861 (New York, 1969), 20–26; James Brewer Stewart, William Lloyd Garrison and the Challenge of Emancipation (Arlington Heights, Ill., 1992), 60–61.

22. James Brewer Stewart, Holy Warriors: The Abolitionists and American Slavery (New York, 1997), 51–74; Paul Goodman, “Of One Blood”: Abolitionism and the Origins of Racial Equality (Berkeley, Calif., 1998), 1–54.

23. Richards, “Gentlemen of Property and Standing”; Robert Austin Warner, New Haven Negroes: A Social History (New Haven, Conn., 1940), 1–68: Roberts, “Our Progress in the Old Bay State.”

24. Abzug, Cosmos Crumbling, 124–229; Aileen Kraditor, Means and Ends in American Abolitionism: Garrison and His Critics on Strategy and Tactics, 1834–1854 (New York, 1969); James Brewer Stewart, “Peaceful Hopes and Violent Experiences: The Evolution of Conservative and Radical Abolitionism, 1831–1837,” Civil War History 17 (1971): 293–309.

25. Price and Stewart, To Heal the Scourge of Prejudice, 1–47.

26. The history of the Roberts family, its connections to the Eastons, and its place in Boston’s “black” community is treated in the introduction to Robert Roberts, The House Servant’s Directory, or a Monitor for Private Families: Hints on the Arrangement and Performance of Servant’s Work, ed. Graham Russell Hodges (Armonk, N.Y., and London, Eng., 1998), xi–xlii.

27. A brief biography of Benjamin Roberts that sheds light on his efforts to publish the Anti-Slavery Herald is to be found in The Black Abolitionist Papers, ed. C. Peter Ripley et al. (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1985–1992), 3:269–271.

28. Benjamin F. Roberts to Amos Phelps, June 19, 1838, ms.#2.0499, Antislavery Collection, Boston Public Library. This letter is also reprinted in Black Abolitionist Papers, 3:271.

29. Benjamin Roberts, “Report of the Proceedings of the Colored Citizens of Boston, on the Subject of Equal School Privileges,” Liberator, Apr. 4, 1851; Roberts, “Our Progress in the Old Bay State.”

30. For two good overall surveys of this shift in free African American approaches to activism, see Donald Yacovone, “The Transformation of the Black Temperance Movement, 1827–1854,” Journal of the Early Republic 8 (1988): 282–297; and C. Peter Ripley, Roy E. Finkenbine, Michael F. Hembree, and Donald Yacovone, eds., Witnesses for Freedom: African American Voices on Race, Slavery and Emancipation (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1993), 1–17.

31. Mabee, Black Freedom; Dorothy Porter Wesley, “Integration versus Separatism: William Cooper Nell’s Role in the Struggle for Equality,” in Courage and Conscience: Black and White Abolitionists in Boston, ed. Donald M. Jacobs (Bloomington, Ind., 1993), 207–224.

32. James Brewer Stewart, “Boston, Abolition and the Atlantic World, 1820–1860,” and James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton “Affirmations of Manhood: Black Garrisonians in Antebellum Boston,” both in Courage and Conscience, 101–155; Bruce, Origins of African American Literature, 211–300; William H. and Jane H. Pease, “Abolitionism and Confrontation in the 1850s,” Journal of American History 17 (1972): 117–128.

33. Pease and Pease, “Abolitionism and Confrontation”; James Brewer Stewart, Wendell Phillips: Liberty’s Hero (Baton Rouge, La., 1986), 146–208; Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams (Boston, 1918), 29, 43; Frank O. Gatell, John Gorham Palfrey and the New England Conscience (Cambridge, Mass., 1963), 236–288; Wendell Phillips, “Crispus Attucks,” in his Speeches, Lectures, and Letters, 2d ser. (Boston, 1891), 69–76; Carol Williams, “Active Vigilance is the Price of Liberty: Black Self–Defense against Fugitive Slave Recapture and Kidnapping of Free Blacks,” in Antislavery Violence: Sectional, Racial and Cultural Conflict in Antebellum America, ed. John R. McKivigan and Stanley Harrold (Knoxville, Tenn., 1999), 108–127; Ann-Marie Taylor, Young Charles Sumner and the Legacy of the American Enlightenment (Amherst and Boston, 2002), 284–335; Donald Yacovone, Samuel Joseph May and the Dilemmas of the Liberal Persuasion, 1797–1871 (Philadelphia, 1991), 105–115, 155–168; Lawrence J. Friedman, Gregarious Saints: Self and Community in American Abolitionism (New York and London, 1982), 196–222; Nell, Colored Patriots.