UU Minute #78

Unitarians and Slavery: Lydia Maria Francis Child

Lydia Maria Francis, born 1802, and her brother Convers Francis were raised by a strict Calvinist father, yet both of them became Unitarian. In 1819, Convers became the Unitarian minister serving our congregation in Watertown, Massachusetts. The next year, Lydia, age 18, joined the Unitarians.

Lydia was a writer and activist. Her first novel came out when she was 22. At age 26, she married David Lee Child.

In 1833, after having written about a dozen books – novels, histories, household management, poems – she wrote An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans. It was the first anti-slavery work printed in America in book form. It argued – as did William Lloyd Garrison -- for immediate emancipation of the enslaved people without compensation to their legal owners. Analyzing slavery from a variety of angles—historical, political, economic, legal, and moral – she showed that Africans were intellectually equal to Europeans and that emancipation was practicable.

Her book brought social ostracism, but she only expanded her anti-slavery efforts. She became an organizer in anti-slavery societies. In 1839, Child was elected to the executive committee of the American Anti-Slavery Society and became editor of the society's National Anti-Slavery Standard in 1840. Her editorship, including the columns she wrote, made the National Anti-Slavery Standard one of the most popular abolitionist newspapers in the US.

She was also writing a number of short stories, exploring, through fiction, the complex issues of slavery. Later, living in Wayland, Massachusetts, the Childs provided shelter for runaways from enslavement trying to escape the Fugitive Slave Law.

Unfortunately, not all Unitarians of the time were as abolitionist as Lydia Maria Francis Child.

NEXT: Unitarians and Slavery: William Ellery Channing

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