A noble soul

Daily Reading for September 3 • Prudence Crandall, Teacher and Prophetic Witness, 1890

Everybody is an Abolitionist now. There is not, probably, in any part of Europe or the United States a single human being who would now defend slavery as an institution. But it is only twenty-six years since it was abolished in the United States of America. The time is well within the memory of many persons now living when to be an Abolitionist, even in the New England States, was to be hated and reviled, to render one’s self the object of the bitterest persecution, to risk comfort, happiness, and even life. . . . Anti-slavery opinions were at that time in deep disrepute in the United States; they were “vulgar,” and those who held them were not noticed in society, and were insulted and injured as often as possible by genteeler people and more complaisant republicans.

In 1833, William Lloyd Garrison, the leader of the American Abolitionists, received a letter from a young Quaker lady, Miss Prudence Crandall, who asked his advice under the following circumstances: Two years previously she had bought a large house at Canterbury, in the State of Connecticut, and had started there a boarding school for girls. She wrote to Garrison and asked his advice about changing her white scholars for coloured ones. She says in her letter, very simply, not giving herself any airs of martyrdom, “I have been for some months past determined, if possible, during the remainder of my life to benefit the people of colour.” Under these quiet words lay a firmness of purpose that would have supported her to the stake if need be. . . .

The people of Canterbury opposed the school with great vigour, for they feared it would bring disgrace and ruin on the whole town. But the hazard was not so much to the town of Canterbury as to the young woman, who was the object for two years of the most relentless persecution. She all the while maintained her quiet dignity, causing Garrison to exclaim in a letter to a friend, “Wonderful woman! as undaunted as if she had the whole world on her side! She has opened her school and is resolved to persevere.” One of her friends wrote to Garrison: “We shall have a rough time, probably, before the year is out. The struggle will be great, no doubt, but God will redeem the captives. . . . We are all determined to sustain Miss Crandall if there is a law in the land enough to protect her. She is a noble soul!”

From Some Eminent Women of Our Times: Short Biographical Sketches by Millicent Garrett Fawcett (New York: Macmillan, 1889).

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