How Abolitionists Taught Their Children About Slavery
Rebecca Onion highlights some pages from Lewis Tappan’s anti-slavery children’s magazine that he ran in the late 1830s.
Because the American Anti-Slavery Society favored complete and immediate emancipation, writes historian Christopher D. Geist, The Slave’s Friend was sometimes shockingly blunt in its depiction of slaveholding. “A frequent theme of The Slave’s Friend was the total cruelty of the slaveholders,” writes Geist. The magazine’s stories told of slaveholders who cropped enslaved people’s ears and chained them in attics or lashed them for the smallest of offenses.
Many pages of The Slave’s Friend equated cruelty to animals—imprisonment, physical torment—with enslavement of people, suggesting that Christian sympathy, when properly felt, would lead a person to be humane to both animals and the enslaved. This kind of imagery, writes historian Spencer D.C. Keralis, “is ubiquitous in abolitionist writing in general, but particularly prevalent in texts marketed to children.”
Issues of The Slave’s Friend were included in the society’s mailings of abolitionist publications to Southern states. In 1835, the magazine’s third issue reached the post office in Charleston, South Carolina, along with other abolitionist literature for adults. Pro-slavery citizens seized and burned the delivery, immolating The Slave’s Friend along with its more mature cousins.