Longfellow's Abolitionist Network

After publishing Poems on Slavery in 1842, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) 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 freedom seekers. Richard Henry Dana Jr., Charles Sumner, James Russell Lowell, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Lydia Maria Child, Susan Hillard, Lunsford Lane, Josiah Henson and others shared Longfellow's anguish over the institution of slavery in the United States.

"Sumner at dinner. His letter accepting the nomination of the "Free Soil Party" as candidate for Congress is very good. Now he is submerged in politics. A strong swimmer, may he land safely!"
- H.W. Longfellow Journal, October 29, 1848

The Longfellows quietly supported their close friend Charles Sumner's legislative efforts to end slavery. After Sumner stepped onto the national political stage, he continued to come for weekly dinners at the Longfellow House whenever he was home from Washington, D.C.

"Give a dinner to Mr. and Mrs. Burlingame... Guests Mr. & Mrs. Burlingame, Palfrey, Sumner, and [Richard] Dana, the original Free Soilers."
- H.W. Longfellow Journal, October 30, 1865

Henry Longfellow regularly hosted friends from the Boston and Cambridge abolitionist network. Richard Henry Dana, Jr. who called his opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act the “one great act” of his life, lived near the Longfellows, and his son Richard Henry Dana III married Edith Longfellow, connecting the families. At Longfellow’s house the attorney and the poet must have shared their news and views on the abolition of slavery, as evidenced by Longfellow’s journal entry on January 2, 1863: “Beautiful as yesterday… R.H. Dana [Jr.] came in the evening, and talked of the president’s Proclamation, in his own clear way.” A Brattle Street neighbor, Cambridge native and editor, poet, and diplomat James Russell Lowell (1819-1891), remained a life-long friend of Henry Longfellow and often visited him at the House. From South Boston, Samuel Gridley Howe and Julia Ward Howe often visited the Longfellows and other friends in Cambridge.

"The slave-hunters are in Boston. I hope they will be imprisoned, as they deserve. What a disgrace this is to a republic of the nineteenth century!"
- H.W. Longfellow Journal, October 26, 1850

Longfellow reacted to the Fugitive Slave Act by financially supporting others' work on the Underground Railroad. He welcomed to his home Josiah Henson (1846) and Lunsford Lane (1855), both self-emancipated authors of slave narratives.

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.

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    Last updated: June 25, 2021

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