Abolitionist Biographies

BEECHER, Henry Ward

BEECHER, Henry Ward
Henry Ward Beecher

June 24, 1813, Lichfield, CT – March 8, 1887, Brooklyn, NY
Pastor, Newspaper Editor, Brooklyn Heights Resident.

Henry Ward Beecher was the son of Reverend Lyman Beecher and the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. A graduate of Amherst College and Lane Theological Seminary in Ohio, Beecher became the inaugural pastor of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights. The church was founded in 1847 by a group of Brooklyn Heights residents who held anti-slavery views.

By the 1850s, Beecher had gained a national reputation for his commitment to abolitionism, theatrical preaching style, and ability to fundraise for anti-slavery causes. He assisted in the emancipation of a number of young women and his congregation raised money for the purchase of rifles, called “Beecher’s Bibles,” intended to arm anti-slavery protestors in Kansas. In the lead-up the Civil War, Beecher edited the anti-slavery newspaper the Independent. At the end of the War, he was invited to speak at the raising of the flag at Fort Sumter based on his national reputation. His later life was overshadowed by the Beecher-Tilton scandal in which he was accused of infidelity.


Robert H. Cousins

Anti-Slavery Activist, homeowner, businessman, downtown Brooklyn resident.

Robert Cousins was born in Virginia around 1800 and moved to Brooklyn in 1840. There, he joined the AME Church and the Brooklyn African Tompkins Society, a mutual aid organization committed to the “improvement of the members in morals and literature, by forming a library and other appropriate means.”

By 1850, Cousins, his wife Sarah, and their children Emaly, Charles, and Joseph were living at 201 Jay Street. Cousins owned $1500 worth of property making him eligible to vote.
Cousins fundraised for various anti-slavery causes. When Williamsburg resident James Hamlet was kidnapped after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, Cousins stood on platform with other black abolitionists to raise money for his release. He also gave money to Pomona Brice, a Brooklyn resident, so that she could emancipate her family. In 1853, he was a delegate at the Rochester anti-slavery convention along with Joseph Holly, Charles B. Ray, James Pennington, William J. Wilson, Junius Morel, Lewis H. Nelson, James McCune Smith, and Frederick Douglass. The following year, Cousins led a meeting at City Hall in Albany to protest voting discrimination.

In 1854, when Reverend James Morris Williams led his congregation from Brooklyn’s AME Church on High Street to a new location on Bridge Street, Cousins marched in the procession. Today, Bridge Street AWME Church is the oldest black church in Brooklyn and is located in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

COX, Samuel H

COX, Samuel H(anson)
Samuel H(anson) Cox

August 25, 1793 – October 2, 1880
Presbyterian Pastor, Brooklyn resident.

Samuel Cox was born in Rahway, NJ and raised as a Quaker. He converted to the Presbyterianism at the age of twenty, studied theology in Newark and Philadelphia, and was ordained on July 1, 1817.

After his home and church were attacked during the anti-abolition riots in Manhattan in 1834, Cox left the city. In 1837, Cox became a key player in the split of the Presbyterian Church over slavery. Cox then moved to Brooklyn where he became pastor of First Presbyterian Church.

In 1854, Cox moved to Oswego, New York, and later retired and died in Bronxville.


Peter Croger

?, New York – 1848, ?
Presbyterian Pastor, Brooklyn resident.

Peter Croger birthed Brooklyn’s anti-slavery movement. He was born in New York and moved to Brooklyn sometime before 1810. With his brother Benjamin, he established the Brooklyn African Woolman Benevolent Society in 1810, a mutual aid society for African Americans. In 1815, he opened a school at his home on James Street to educate people of African descent during gradual emancipation. He was a church trustee and founder of Brooklyn’s AME Church. Peter Croger and his family later moved to Pearl Street, where his neighbors included his brother Benjamin Croger and Weeksville land investor Sylvanus Smith. Peter Croger died in 1848.

CROGER, Benjamin

CROGER, Benjamin
Benjamin Croger

1789, New York – 1853, Brooklyn, NY
Temperance Advocate, Whitewasher, Laborer, Brooklyn Village resident.

Benjamin Croger was born in New York in 1789 and moved to Brooklyn sometime before 1810. He was a pioneer and birthed Brooklyn’s anti-slavery movement. He and his brother Peter helped to found the Brooklyn African Woolman Benevolent Society, a mutual aid society and Brooklyn’s AME Church. They led Brooklyn’s first wave of anti-slavery activism during gradual emancipation. Benjamin Croger was also a temperance advocate and led the Brooklyn Temperance Association. Like many Brooklynites, the Crogers signed anti-slavery petitions to Congress.


FREEMAN, Amos N(oe)
Amos N(oe) Freeman

1809, Rahway, NJ – 1893, Brooklyn, NY
Pastor, Underground Railroad Agent, and president of the African Civilization Society, Downtown Brooklyn resident.

William J. Wilson described Amos N. Freeman as “efficient, clever and pious.” Freeman attended the Oneida Institute with New York abolitionist Alexander Crummell and began his career as pastor of Abyssinian Congregational Church in Portland, Maine.

In 1852, Freeman moved to Brooklyn, where he succeeded James N. Gloucester as pastor at Siloam Presbyterian Church. His tenure there lasted more than thirty years. established a flourishing Sabbath school at the church. In the 1860s, he led the African Civilization Society, in Weeksville, working to shift the organization’s focus from emigration to education. Amos Freeman was a friend and colleague to Lewis Tappan and James Pennington and delivered the eulogy at Tappan’s funeral.

Amos Freeman married Christiana Taylor Williams on December 24, 1839 in Newark, NJ. She was born on June 4, 1812 in Manhattan to Caribbean parents. Christiana worked closely with other women associated with Siloam Presbyterian – Elizabeth Gloucester and Mary Wilson –to raise funds for the church and the Colored Orphan Asylum. Christiana died on December 3, 1909.

GLOUCESTER, James N <br /> &

GLOUCESTER, James N(ewton)
James N(ewton) Gloucester

Philadelphia – ?
Clergyman, Abolitionist, Downtown Brooklyn resident.

Elizabeth Gloucester

ca. 1817, Virginia – August 9, 1883, Brooklyn, NY
Businesswoman, Abolitionist, Downtown Brooklyn resident.

James Gloucester was the son of John Gloucester, the founder of the first Black Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. In 1847, James became the founding pastor of Siloam Presbyterian Church, in Brooklyn. He also served as principal of the African School in Carsville and supported Lewis Tappan’s American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society.

James married Elizabeth Gloucester in 1838 and moved to Brooklyn in the late 1840s. The couple were close friends and colleagues with Frederick Douglass and John Brown, and offered financial support for Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. After Elizabeth died in 1883, James became a physician and moved to Long Island.

Elizabeth Gloucester was born in Virginia and moved to Philadelphia at age 6. She married Presbyterian minister James Gloucester and the couple moved to Brooklyn. Elizabeth was heavily involved in fundraising for Siloam Presbyterian Church, and the Colored Orphan Asylum in New York. During the Civil War and in its aftermath, she led fundraising efforts for freedmen and Union soldiers through the Ladies National Union Fair and the American Freedmen’s Friend Society.

Elizabeth was an astute businesswoman and owned several rental properties in Brooklyn as well as a boarding house on Remsen Street. When she died, on August 8, 1883, many prominent figures in Brooklyn and Manhattan, both black and white, attended her funeral. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle stated that she was one of the richest women in the country, worth around $2.25 million in today’s money.

HARNED, William

HARNED, William
William Harned

Publisher, Brooklyn resident.

William Harned spent his early years in Philadelphia’s Quaker community, where he was active in the temperance and anti-slavery movements. Around 1840, he moved to New York to work for the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. By 1847, Harned was a Brooklyn resident. He lived on Smith Street, then at 130 Bridge Street, and finally, Duffield Street.

In 1850, Harned published a pamphlet protesting the Fugitive Slave Law and the unjust arrest of New Yorker James Hamlet. He also served as treasurer for the New York State Vigilance Committee and assistant treasurer for the American Missionary Association. He worked closely with abolitionists Lewis Tappan and James Pennington.

HODGES, William

HODGES, William
William Hodges

1803? Princess Anne County, VA – ?
Pastor, entrepreneur, grocer, educator, land agent, Williamsburg resident.

William Hodges was born free in Virginia in a family of twelve children. He was the “pride of the family” and “mother’s son” according to his brother Willis, William was forced to leave Virginia after he was accused of forging free papers on behalf of others. He fled to Canada and later relocated to Manhattan, where his family had moved. In 1839, he bought several lots of land in the village of Williamsburg, and built a brick house on South 8th Street and Bedford.

William was an agent for the Colored American newspaper, founder and educator at Williamsburg’s African School, protested voting discrimination, and led the first recorded West India Emancipation Celebration in Williamsburg. After the Civil War, he returned to Virginia and became heavily involved in politics.

William was married to Mary Hodges, an Englishwoman listed in the census as white. When she died Brooklynite William E. Whiting, a well-known abolitionist in the American Anti-Slavery Society delivered her eulogy.

HODGES, Willis

HODGES, Willis
Willis Hodges

Feb. 12 1815, Princess Anne County, VA – Feb. 24, 1890, VA
Entrepreneur, Grocer, Williamsburg residents.

Willis Hodges followed his brother William to New York and then Williamsburg. Dissatisfied with the occupations available to African American men in antebellum New York, the two brothers opened their own temperance grocery store at William’s home on South 8th Street. Willis then bought a lot on South 7th Street, where he built his own home.

He co-founded the newspaper the Ram’s Horn with Manhattanite Thomas Van Rensellaer. He was introduced to John Brown through the newspaper and a decade-long friendship ensued. Together, the Hodges brothers established an African school in Williamsburg (later Colored School #3) and were early supporters of Lincoln’s Republican Party. During Reconstruction, Willis was active in Virginia politics and educational initiatives.


Simeon Jocelyn

1799, New Haven, CT – 1879
Pastor, engraver, Williamsburg resident.

Simeon Jocelyn led an African American congregational church in New Haven, CT before moving to Brooklyn. By the mid-1840s, he settled in Williamsburg, where he served as pastor of First Congregational Church. He attended the first annual black convention in Philadelphia in 1831, along with his white abolitionist colleagues, Arthur Tappan and William Lloyd Garrison. In 1846, he founded the American Missionary Association (AMA), along with Lewis Tappan and James Pennington. The AMA was created in response to the sensational Amistad trial. When Africans attempted to resist their enslavement by attempting to overthrow the Spanish crew on board the schooner Amistad, they crashed into Long Island. With abolitionist support, the Africans eventually returned to Sierra Leone. In the 1850 census, Jocelyn was listed as an engraver, living with his wife Harriet and six children. His brother Nathaniel was also an engraver and created portraits of the Amistad freedom fighters including Joseph Cinque.

Jocelyn’s funeral service was held at the New New-England Congregational Church on South 9th Street, Williamsburg. African American men and women attended his funeral. New York abolitionist Charles Ray called Jocelyn “one of the bravest advocates of the anti-slavery cause.”

MOREL, Junius

MOREL, Junius
Junius Morel

1801/ 1806 – 1874
Journalist, Lecturer, Political Activist, Weeksville resident.

North Carolina-born Junius Morel moved to Brooklyn from Philadelphia where became a journalist, lecturer, political activist, and prominent citizen of Weeksville. For more than 30 years, he served as principal of the black school there, called Colored School No. 2.

A prolific writer, Morel reported for The North Star, The Christian Recorder and other local and national abolitionist journals. He was a key Brooklyn member of the Committee of Thirteen, a New York organization dedicated to aiding freedom seekers and thwarting the colonization movement. Morel’s wife, Caroline Richards, was an abolitionist and activist in the local Underground Railroad. After Caroline died in 1838, Morel married a woman named Sarah (born in 1835). Sarah Morel worked with Elizabeth Gloucester and Mary Wilson to raise funds for various organizations that supported African Americans living in New York.


James W(illiam) C(harles) Pennington

1807, Maryland – 1870, Jacksonville, FL
Pastor, Educator, Blacksmith. Brooklyn Heights later South Brooklyn resident.

James W. C. Pennington was born James Pembroke, enslaved in Maryland in 1807. By 1829, he had changed his name and settled in Brooklyn. Pennington worked at the home of Adrian Van Sinderen, president of the Brooklyn Colonization Society, while he studied at the Sabbath school in Newtown, Long Island. His education inspired a lifelong commitment to political activism and a religious awakening that led to a life in the church. He recorded these insights in his autobiography, The Fugitive Blacksmith.

Pennington attended several of the National Black Conventions in the early 1830s and spoke at the 1831 anti-colonization protest in Brooklyn. He became central to the anti-slavery movement, gaining an international reputation for his work with the American Missionary Association and his public speaking engagements.

Pennington attended classes at Yale Divinity School but was denied admission due to discrimination. In 1848, he returned to New York and became pastor of Shiloh Presbyterian Church, Manhattan. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Heidelberg, Germany in 1849. As a civil rights activist in Brooklyn he tackled racial discrimination on the city’s public transportation.

During the Civil War he advocated for the inclusion of African American soldiers in the Union Army and was an outspoken opponent of emigration. He died in Jacksonville, FL while doing missionary work.

SMITH, Sylvanus

SMITH, Sylvanus
Sylvanus Smith

Described as a “hog driver” from Brooklyn according to the City Directory, Sylvanus Smith was one of the original land investors in Weeksville. He became a trustee for Colored School No. 1 in what is now Downtown Brooklyn and for the Citizens’ Union Cemetery, in Weeksville.

His daughter Susan Smith McKinney Steward became the first female African-American doctor in New York. Another daughter, Sarah Smith Tompkins Garnet (b. 31 Aug, 1831 – d. 17 Sep. 1911) worked as an educator and women’s suffrage activist.


MOREL, Junius
Maria W. Stewart

1803, Hartford, CT – Dec 17, 1879, Washington, D.C
Educator, public speaker, Williamsburg resident.

Maria Stewart was a pioneering activist in Boston, a colleague of David Walker and William Lloyd Garrison, and contributor to the Liberator. She was the first American woman to lecture in public on political themes and publish her work (Productions of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart, 1835). Between 1832 and 1833, Stewart delivered at least four public lectures in Boston. She gave her first speech at the Boston Afric-Female Intelligence Society. The recurrent themes in her speeches were community organization, self-determination, and equal rights. But she left New England disillusioned and arrived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where she taught at the African School. There is very little written evidence of her life in Williamsburg other than a notice in the Williamsburg Gazette stating that she was the lead educator at one of the school exhibitions. She died in 1879 in Washington, D.C. where she had relocated after the Civil War.

TAPPAN, Lewis <br /> & Arthur

Lewis Tappan

May 23, 1788, Northampton, MA – June 21, 1873, Brooklyn, NY

Arthur Tappan

May 22, 1786, Northampton, MA – July 23, 1865, Brooklyn, NY

Evangelical Reformers, Businessmen. Brooklyn Heights residents.

The Tappan Brothers were New England reformers spurred to action by an evangelical impulse. Like a number of merchants, they worked in Manhattan but lived in Brooklyn Heights. They originally favored colonization, and Arthur paid for a man named Abdul Rahman to travel to Liberia. But they modified their views after Rahman died and they saw waves of anti-colonization protests among African Americans. They began to call for an immediate end to slavery.

The brothers were executive officers of the American Anti-Slavery Society (AA-SS) and directed numerous anti-slavery petition drives. They financed the abolitionist newspaper the Emancipator and Oberlin College. In 1840, they broke with Garrison and the AA-SS over the issue of women serving on its Executive Committee and formed the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society.

Lewis founded Chatham Street Chapel in Manhattan, which had a mixed congregation. The church and his home in Manhattan were attacked during the Anti-Abolition Riots in 1834. Years later, Lewis moved to Brooklyn Heights and remained a resident there until his death. With fellow Brooklyn abolitionists Simeon Jocelyn James Pennington, he assisted the Amistad captives during their sensational trial. Lewis prayed at Siloam Presbyterian Church under Amos Freeman and then Plymouth Church under Henry Ward Beecher.

His wife and children were also involved in the anti-slavery movement. His daughter Julianna served as an officer in the Ladies New York Anti-Slavery Society and attended the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women. His second wife Sarah was integral in helping fugitive Ann Maria Weems escape to Canada. Lewis Tappan died in Brooklyn Heights in 1873.

TRUESDELL, Harriet <br /> & Thomas

MOREL, Junius
Harriet Truesdell

July 10, 1786 – June 29, 1862

Thomas Truesdell

July 10, 1789 – March 10, 1874

The Truesdells were prominent abolitionists in New England before moving to Brooklyn, where they lived on Duffield St. in what is now Downtown Brooklyn (1851-1863). Harriet Truesdell served on the organizing committee of the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women that convened in Philadelphia in 1838. She was also the treasurer of the Providence Ladies Anti-Slavery Society. Thomas Truesdell was a founding member of the Rhode Island Anti-Slavery Society and a colleague of Lewis Tappan.

The Truesdells were friends with William Lloyd Garrison. The couple attended the annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society in New York in 1840 when the abolitionists split. Garrison stayed with the couple in Brooklyn after the meeting ended and before he left for the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London.

WILSON, William J <br /> & Mary

WILSON, William J
William J(oseph) Wilson

1818, New Jersey – ?
Educator, Journalist, Community Organizer, Fort Greene Resident.

Mary Wilson

1822, New York – ?
Fundraiser, Businesswoman, Fort Greene resident.

William J. Wilson was born in New Jersey but dedicated his life’s work to the city of Brooklyn. He was the longest serving educator at the African School in Downtown Brooklyn (later Colored School #1), a strong advocate of investing in the city, and an anti-slavery activist. As a national correspondent for the Frederick Douglass’ Paper, writing under the pseudonym “Ethiop,” he examined life, culture, race, and politics in Brooklyn and reported from the black state and national conventions that met annually during the antebellum decades. His tone and style were typified by irreverence, humor and satire. He was a member of the Committee of Thirteen, a vigilance committee also opposed to emigration. The organization formed some time after 1850 and attracted other Brooklynites Junius C. Morel, John N. Still, and a number of other anti-slavery activists from New York. Towards the end of his life, Wilson died in poverty and relative obscurity.

Mary (née Marshall) married William on November 2, 1837 in New York. She owned her own crockery and clothing store on Atlantic and worked closely with Elizabeth Gloucester fundraising for the Colored Orphan Asylum in Manhattan. The Wilsons were active at Siloam Presbyterian Church where they were church elders. In 1863, William, Mary and their daughter Ann moved to Washington, D.C. where they taught in various freedmen schools.