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Michigan State University

Resistance to Slavery, Abolition, and Anti-Abolition: Primary Sources in Special Collections


Our primary sources on resistance to slavery and the abolition movement are clustered in several areas, corresponding to some of our collection strengths.

African American autobiographies

The WPA Slave Narratives are an extremely well-known source on conditions for African Americans under slavery. However, there are many other narratives by former slaves, and these texts are less widely known. Examples in Special Collections:

An Autobiography: The Story of the Lord's Dealings with Mrs. Amanda Smith, the Colored Evangelist: Containing an Account of her Life Work of Faith, and her Travels in America, England, Ireland, Scotland, India, and Africa, as an Independent Missionary. Chicago: Meyer, 1893.

A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch. Mrs. Julia A.J. Foote. Cleveland: Printed for the author, 1879.

Father Henson's Story of His Own Life. Josiah Henson. Boston: J.P. Jewett, 1858.

From Slave Cabin to the Pulpit: The Autobiography of Rev. Peter Randolph: The Southern Question Illustrated and Sketches of Slave Life. Boston: J.H. Earle, 1893.

The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Narrated by Himself. London: Charles Gilpin, 1852.

The Narrative of Lunsford Lane: Formerly of Raleigh, N.C., Embracing an Account of His Early Life, Redemption by Purchase of Himself and Family from Slavery, and His Banishment from the Place of His Birth for the Crime of Wearing a Colored Skin. Boston: printed for the publisher, 1848.

Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, an American Slave: Written by Himself. New York: H. Bibb, 1850.

A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa: But Resident Above Sixty Years in the United States of America: Related by Himself. New London, CT: a descendant of Venture, 1835.

Narrative of the Life of John Quincy Adams, When in Slavery and Now as a Freeman. Harrisburg, PA: Sieg, 1872.

A Narrative of the Life of Rev. Noah Davis, a Colored Man, Written by Himself, at the Age of Fifty-four. Baltimore: J.F. Weishampel, Jr., 1859.

Narratives of the Sufferings of Lewis and Milton Clarke, Sons of a Soldier of the Revolution, During a Captivity of More Than Twenty Years Among the Slaveholders of Kentucky, One of the So-Called Christian States of North America, Dictated by Themselves. Boston: B. March, 1846.

The Rev. J.W. Loguen, as a Slave and as a Freeman, a Narrative of Real Life. Syracuse, NY: J.G.K. Truair, 1859.

"Uncle Tom's" Story of His Life. An Autobiography of the Rev. Josiah Henson (Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom") from 1789 to 1876. London: Christian Age Office, 1876.

African American-Authored History Texts

After Emancipation, African Americans began writing histories (including history textbooks for schools) to provide a positive view of Black achievements and resistance to slavery -- which were of course missing from most books by white authors. Examples of early works in this genre from Special Collections:

Also of interest: Travellers and Outlaws: Episodes in American History. Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1889. Higginson, a white American, was active in the abolition movement. Five of the eight chapters here concern slave rebellions.

Michigan-related sources

The Antislavery-Underground Railroad Movement in Lenawee County, Michigan, 1830-1860. Charles N. Lindquist. Adrian, MI: Lenawee County Historical Society, 1999.

Slavery in Early Detroit. Therese Agnes Kneip. (M.A. thesis, University of Detroit) 1938

Abolition movement

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe is the most famous work of the anti-slavery movement. But, the abolition of slavery was discussed for decades before Stowe's novel was published.

These examples from Special Collections represent several different genres, including arguments for and against slavery, reports of abuses and atrocities committed against slaves, and public entreaties by former slaves and by those working for abolition. 

The larger discourse also included discussions about political strategies for preventing new states and territories from allowing slavery.

The American Anti-Slavery Almanac, For [Year]. Boston: Webster and Southard. MSU has issues for 1836, 1837, 1838, 1839, 1840, and 1842.

American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses. New York: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1839.

Annual Report of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society, no. 2. Boston: the Society, [1836?]

Aunt Sally, Come Up! Or, the Nigger Sale. Horace Greeley. London: Ward and Lock, 1859.

Biographical Sketches and Interesting Anecdotes of Persons of Colour: To Which is Added, a Selection of Pieces of Poetry. A.J. Mott, ed. New York: M. Day, 1837.

Colonization and Abolition: an Address Delivered by John H.B. Latrobe of Maryland, at the Anniversary Meeting of the New York State Colonization Society, Held in Metropolitan Hall, May 13th, 1852. Baltimore: J.D. Toy, 1852.

A Condensed Anti-Slavery Bible Argument: By a Citizen of Virginia. New York: S.W. Benedict, 1856.

Emancipation. William E. Channing. Boston: E.P. Peabody, 1840.

Manuel Pereira: Or, the Sovereign Rule of South Carolina. With Views on Southern Life, Laws, and Hospitality. Francis Colburn Adams. Washington: Buell & Blanchard, 1853. 

Memoir on Slavery, Read Before the Society for the Advancement of Learning of South Carolina, at its Annual Meeting in Columbia, 1837. Columbia: J.S. Burges, 1838.

The New England Anti-Slavery Almanac for 1841. Boston: J.A. Collns, 1841.

One More Appeal to Ministers and Churches Who Are Not Enlisted in the Struggle Against Slavery. William Goodell. [No date, publisher, or place of publication.]

Resistance to Slavery Every Man's Duty: A Report on American Slavery, Read to the Worcester Central Association, March 2, 1847. Boston: W. Croxby, 1847.

The Right Way, the Safe Way; Proved by Emancipation in the British West Indies and Elsewhere. Lydia Maria Child. New York: for sale at 5 Beekman Street, 1860.

Slavery and Anti-Slavery: A History of the Great Struggle in Both Hemispheres, With a View of the Slavery Question in the United States. William Goodell. New York: W. Harned, 1852. 

Slavery Defended from Scripture, Against the Attacks of the Abolitionists: in a Speech Delivered Before the General Conference of the Methodist Protestant Church, in Baltimore, 1842. Baltimore: printed by W. Woody, 1842.

The South: a Letter from a Friend in the North, With Special Reference to the Effects of Disunion Upon Slavery. Stephen Colwell. New York: printed for the author, 1856.

A Treatise on the Patriarchal, or Co-operative, System of Society as it Exists in Some Governments, and Colonies of America, and in the United States, Under the Name of Slavery, With Its Necessity and Advantages. Z. Kingsleg, 1829.

A View of the Action of the Federal Government, On Behalf of Slavery. William Jay. New York: J.S. Taylor, 1839.

Why Work for the Slave? Addressed to the Treasurers and Collectors in the Anti-Slavery Cent-a-Week Societies. Nathaniel Southard. New York: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1838.

African American Spirituals

Resistance to slavery was encoded in many African American spirituals. An easy example is the song "Go Down, Moses," which refers to the Hebrew Bible account of the Lord delivering the people of Israel from slavery by drowning the vast Egyptian army in the sea. 

African American spirituals were popular among white audiences as well as the Black community, and some were appropriated by white publishers and issued as sheet music. Collections edited by African American historians or musicians may have a more authentic connection to the culture of resistance during slavery. Examples from Special Collections: