The Abolition Movement

Timeline: 1830 - 1839

Djimon Hounsou In 'Amistad'
Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The abolition of slavery began in the North American colonies in 1688 when German and Dutch Quakers published a pamphlet denouncing the practice. For more than 150 years, the abolition movement continued to evolve.

By the 1830s, the abolition movement in Britain had captured the attention of African-Americans and whites who were fighting to end the institution of slavery in the United States. Evangelical Christian groups in New England became drawn to the cause of abolitionism. Radical in nature, these groups attempted to end enslavement by appealing to the conscience of its supporters by acknowledging its sinfulness in the Bible. In addition, these new abolitionists called for the immediate and complete emancipation of African-Americans—a deviation from previous abolitionist thought. 

Prominent U.S. abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison (1805–1879) said early in the 1830s, "I will not equivocate...and I will be heard." Garrison's words would set the tone for the transforming abolition movement, which would continue to build steam up until the Civil War.


August 17–22: Race riots in Cincinnati (white mobs against black residential areas) along with strong enforcement of Ohio's "Black Laws" encourages African-Americans to migrate to Canada and establish free colonies. These colonies become important on the Underground Railroad.


September 15: The first National Negro Convention is held in Philadelphia. The Convention brings together forty freed African-Americans. Its aim is to protect the rights of freed African-Americans in the United States.


January 1: Garrison publishes the first issue of "The Liberator," one of the most widely read antislavery publications.

August 21–October 30: The Nat Turner Rebellion takes places in Southampton County Virginia.


April 20: Freeborn African-American political activist Maria Stewart (1803–1879) begins her career as an abolitionist and feminist, by speaking before the African American Female Intelligence Society.


October: The Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society is formed.

December 6: Garrison establishes the American Antislavery Society in Philadelphia. Within five years, the organization has more than 1300 chapters and an estimated 250,000 members.

December 9: The Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society is founded by Quaker minister Lucretia Mott (1793–1880) and Grace Bustill Douglass (1782–1842), among others, because women were not allowed to be full members of the AAAS.


April 1: Great Britain's Slavery Abolition Act takes effect, abolishing slavery in its colonies, freeing more than 800,000 enslaved Africans in the Caribbean, South Africa, and Canada.


Antislavery petitions flood the offices of congressmen. These petitions are part of a campaign launched by abolitionists, and the House responds by passing the "Gag Rule," automatically tabling them without consideration. Anti-slavery members including former U.S. president John Quincy Adams (1767–1848, served 1825–1829) undertake efforts to repeal it, which nearly gets Adams censured.


Various abolitionist organizations rally together and sue in the Commonwealth v. Aves case about whether a slave who permanently moved to Boston with her mistress from New Orleans would be considered free. She was freed and became a ward of the court.

South Carolina sisters Angelina (1805–1879) and Sarah Grimke (1792–1873) begin their careers as abolitionists, publishing tracts arguing against slavery on Christian religious grounds.


May 9–12: The first Antislavery Convention of American Women gathers for the first time, in New York. This interracial association was comprised of various women's antislavery groups, and both the Grimke sisters spoke.

August: The Vigilant Committee is established by abolitionist and businessman Robert Purvis (1910–1898) to help runaway slaves.

November 7: Presbyterian minister and abolitionist Elijah Parish Lovejoy (1802–1837) establishes the antislavery publication, Alton Observer, after his press in St. Louis is destroyed by an angry mob.

The Institute for Colored Youth is founded in Philadelphia, on a bequest from Quaker philanthropist Richard Humphreys (1750–1832); the first building will open in 1852. It is one of the earliest black colleges in the United States and is eventually renamed Cheyney University.


February 21: Angelina Grimke addresses the Massachusetts legislature concerning not only the abolition movement but also the rights of women.

May 17: Philadelphia Hall is burned by an anti-abolitionist mob.

September 3: Future orator and writer Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) runs away from slavery and travels to New York City.


November 13: The formation of the Liberty Party is announced by abolitionists to use political action to fight against slavery.

Abolitionists Lewis Tappan, Simeon Joceyln, and Joshua Leavitt form the Friends of Amistad Africans Committee to fight for the rights of Africans involved in the Amistad case.