David Walker

Frontispiece of David Walker's Appeal with a Black man climbing up a rock and reaching to the sky.
Frontispiece from David Walker's "Appeal."

Library of Congress

Quick Facts
: Abolitionist, Community Activist, Author of the Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World (1829)
Place of Birth:
Wilmington, North Carolina
Date of Birth:
Place of Death:
Boston, Massachusetts
Date of Death:
August 6, 1830

Born to a free mother and enslaved father around 1896, David Walker grew up free in Wilmington, North Carolina. Though never enslaved, Walker certainly witnessed the horrors of slavery and experienced racism in his hometown, as well as in his later travels throughout the country.1

By 1825, however, Walker had settled in Boston and soon married Eliza Butler. He quickly established himself as both a business leader and prominent community activist. He first resided on Southac (now Phillips) Street, then later moved to Belknap (now Joy) Street on the north slope of Beacon Hill. He operated a used clothing store on Brattle Street.

As a member of the Black community on Beacon Hill, Walker joined the Methodist May Street Church and became a close associate of its activist minister, Rev. Samuel Snowden. He also participated in the Prince Hall Masons, a Black fraternal order formed in Boston. Additionally, Walker served in the Massachusetts General Colored Association, considered to be the first Black abolitionist organization. This group dedicated itself to the abolition of slavery and an end to discrimination as well as promoted the intellectual and moral improvement of African Americans throughout the nation.2 Walker also became a principal agent for Freedom's Journal, the first Black newspaper published in the United States.

Walker realized the power of the written word to create change, whether through newspapers such as Freedom's Journal or through political pamphlets. This realization likely inspired him to write his Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World.3 Published in 1829, Walker's Appeal urged Black resistance to slavery and racism. He unsparingly attacked slavery's defenders, including the enslavers themselves, the government, and churches. Walker filled his Appeal with biblical, classical, and other historical references, which led some to question the authorship of this work.4

In his Appeal, Walker offered a scathing critique of American slavery and the racism that undergirded it. He criticized members of the founding generation, including Thomas Jefferson, for their hypocrisy and racist ideology and for failing to practice the principles they set forth in the Declaration of Independence. Walker also went after supporters of the Colonization movement, who wanted to rid the country of free Blacks by sending them to Africa. In this radical abolitionist pamphlet, Walker sought to claim Black people's place in the American Republic, not abandon or overthrow it.5 In one of the more controversial passages of his work, he urged militant resistance if all else had failed:

Remember Americans, that we must and shall be free and enlightened as you are, will you wait until we shall, under God, obtain our liberty by the crushing arm of power? Will it not be dreadful for you? I speak Americans for your good. We must and shall be free I say, in spite of you. You may do your best to keep us in wretchedness and misery, to enrich you and your children, but God will deliver us from under you. And wo, wo, will be to you if we have to obtain our freedom by fighting. Throw away your fears and prejudices then, and enlighten us and treat us like men, and we will like you more than we do now hate you, and tell us now no more about colonization, for America is as much our country, as it is yours.--Treat us like men, and there is no danger but we will all live in peace and happiness together. For we are not like you, hard hearted, unmerciful, and unforgiving. What a happy country this will be, if the whites will listen.6

Written to be read aloud to groups of both free and enslaved African Americans, Walker hoped to inspire people to action. His Appeal caused huge controversy and fear when copies began to appear in the South, carried there by sailors. Southern leaders worried of potential uprisings fomented by this pamphlet. For example, when confronted with copies of the Appeal in his city, the mayor of Savannah, Georgia, wrote Boston mayor Harrison Gray Otis asking him to investigate Walker. Though Otis found the pamphlet "'extremely bad and inflammatory,'" he told his counterpart in Savannah that he could not do anything about it.7

Abolitionists, on the other hand, took great inspiration from Walker's work. William Lloyd Garrison, who published several articles about the Appeal in the early editions of his paper, The Liberator, wrote that it "'breathes the most impassioned and determined spirit.'"8 Frederick Douglass later said that Walker's Appeal "'startled the land like a trump of coming judgement.'"9

Walker died shortly after the publication of his Appeal, leading some to speculate that he may have been killed. However, official records noted his cause of death as consumption, which also took the life of his daughter around the same time.10 His remains are buried in an unmarked grave in South Boston. The Boston Recorder simply reported his death as "David Walker, 33, the colored man who wrote the pamphlet on slavery, which caused such alarm in the slave holding states."11

His friends and admirers, however, remembered him more robustly. Activist and orator Maria Stewart referred to him as a "most noble, fearless, and undaunted" leader who "distinguished himself [the most] in these modern days by acting wholly in defence of African rights and liberty."12 Abolitionist Henry Highland Garnet wrote in 1848:

Before the Anti-Slavery Reformation had assumed a form, he was ardently engaged in the work. His hands were always open to contribute to the wants of the fugitive. His house was the shelter and the home of the poor and needy. Mr. Walker is known principally by his “Appeal,” but it was in his private walks, and by his unceasing labors in the cause of freedom, that he has made his memory sacred.13


  1. For a biography of Walker, please see Peter Hink's "To Awaken My Afflicted Brethren:" David Walker and the Problem of Antebellum Slave Resistance (University Park: Penn State University Press, 1996). See also Hink's "Introduction" in David Walker's Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World, edited, with an Introduction and Annotations by Peter P. Hinks (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2000), xi to xlv. Also see, Donald M. Jacobs, "David Walker and William Lloyd Garrison: Racial Cooperation and the Shaping of Boston Abolition," Courage and Conscience: Black and White Abolitionists in Boston, ed. Donald M. Jacobs (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1993), 9.
  2. Manisha Sinha, The Slave's Cause: A History of Aboliiton (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016), 204; Peter P. Hinks, ed., David Walker’s Appeal To The Colored Citizens of The World (University Park: University of Pennsylvania, 2000), xxiv.
  3. For a full transcript of Walker's Appeal, please see
  4. Boston Courier, March 22, 1830, 3.
  5. Stephen Kantrowitz, More Than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic, 1829-1889 (New York: Penguin, 2012), 29.
  6. David Walker, Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World, 79.
  7. Kantrowitz, More Than Freedom, 39.
  8. Kantrowitz, More Than Freedom, 52.
  9. Hinks, "Introduction," xlii.
  10. Kantrowitz, More Than Freedom, 39.
  11. "Deaths," Boston Recorder, August 11, 1830.

Boston African American National Historic Site

Last updated: March 2, 2023