Longfellow's Abolitionist Network
After publishing Poems on Slavery in 1842, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) supported Senator Charles Sumner's legislative efforts to end slavery, communicated with like-minded friends and colleagues through his correspondence, clubs, and other social gatherings, and used his growing influence and financial resources to quietly assist abolitionists and slaves seeking freedom. Richard Henry Dana, Jr., Charles Sumner, James Russell Lowell, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Lydia Marie Child, Susan Hillard, Lunsford Lane, Josiah Henson and others shared Longfellow's anguish about ending slavery in the United States.
Click on the names or images of the people below to learn more about some of the people who were involved in the abolition movement and were acquainted with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Harriet Beecher Stowe was best known as the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, first published weekly as a serial in The National Era in 1851. Her best-seller infuriated Southerners by focusing on the cruelties of slavery, particularly the separation of families.
Born into slavery in 1789 in Maryland, Josiah Henson fled to Canada where he founded the Dawn Institute, a settlement house which taught trades to fugitive slaves.
A Cambridge native and Brattle Street neighbor of the Longfellows, editor, poet, and diplomat James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) remained a life-long friend of Henry Longfellow and often visited him at the House.
Most famous for writing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910) was a reformer and writer and the wife of Samuel Gridley Howe. Both spent much time at the House and were good friends with the Longfellows.
Longfellow’s journals reveal that he received at least one visit from Lunsford Lane (1803-?), a successful business man and outspoken author who had been born a slave in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Richard Henry Dana Jr., an attorney and author of the novel Two Years Before the Mast, defended many African Americans who fought their return to slavery under the Fugitive Slave Law. He also defended those who helped these African Americans.
Charles Sumner grew up and lived for many years on the “back side” of Beacon Hill, home to many former and fugitive slaves and free blacks, who formed a supportive community. Sumner knew this community well and became close friends with a number of the leading black abolitionists in Boston.
Did You Know?
Henry W. Longfellow grew his beard to hide scars received as a result of a fire in 1861 that killed his wife Fanny and burned his neck and face.