Anti-Slavery in Lowell

An illustration of the Liberty Bell
An illustration of the Liberty Bell from an 1839 Massachusetts Anti-slavery Fair

New York Public Library

In the early-to-mid 1800s, Lowell’s textile-based economy was wholly dependent on the institution of slavery. To meet the demand for Lowell’s cotton mills, enslaved people collectively worked around 33 million hours per year. Yet some of the people whose livelihoods depended on this enslaved labor also fought against slavery by signing petitions, forming societies, and donating hard-earned money to individuals and court cases. Fugitives from slavery also came to Lowell to start new lives as free people. The Anti-slavery in Lowell online exhibit explores the tensions of a city where it was possible to listen to anti-slavery gospels one day and earn your pay weaving cloth made from the fruits of enslaved workers the next.

Lowell’s historic downtown is full of sites of anti-slavery activity frequented by activists, free people, operatives, and leaders. Follow their fight for freedom and equity—from factory floors, to church pews, and even old City Hall. Drawing on the work of local historians and community members, this exhibit will introduce you to sites where Lowellians spoke out against slavery. This online exhibit also highlights how elites in Lowell and the South maintained an “unholy alliance,” mutually benefiting off the “terrible trade.” As you learn about these eleven local sites, we encourage you to reflect on Lowell’s split history of abolitionism and support for slavery.

The fight for racial equity is not over. In reflecting on our past, we work to imagine a better future.
Want to explore these unique sites in person? Download the free NPS Lowell app from the Apple or Google Play store and take a walking tour of these sites in downtown Lowell.

Anti-Slavery in Lowell

Last updated: June 29, 2022

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Lowell, MA 01852


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