The Young Abolitionists; or, Conversations on Slavery
Boston: The Anti-Slavery Office, 1848.
Boston: The Anti-Slavery Office, 1848. First edition. A delicate survivor in original printed wraps, complete in 131 pages and measuring 150 x 100mm. Spine rolled and partially perished; chipping to front corners, closed tears along rear joint, and light dampstaining to lower front wrap and front endpapers. Upper quarter of front endpaper neatly excised; contemporary ownership signatures of Mrs. Lish of Pembroke, MA to recto and verso of front endpaper. Occasional light marginal soiling but overall clean and unmarked. An anti-slavery narrative for young adults, it sought to educate juvenile readers about the evils of slavery, the dignity and rights of enslaved people, and methods for urging abolition. Scarce institutionally and in trade, OCLC reports 20 physical copies at libraries, and the present is the only copy on the market.
"What is an abolitionist?" "What is a slave?" These are the key questions that initiate Jones' narrative, in which the children Charlie and Jenie Selden question their mother about her attendance at anti-slavery meetings and the related conversations they hear among adult neighbors and family members. With patience and care, Mrs. Selden addresses the children's questions; and as the chapters progress, her son and daughter, along with the reader, gain an increasingly nuanced understanding of hereditary chattel slavery as it existed in the US at the time. Drawing distinctions among free domestic servants, children required to obey parents, and employees working for a wage, Mrs. Selden urges them not to conflate categories or take privilege for granted. She explains that the condition of enslavement is one of "being deprived of freedom" -- of someone legally denying another of their natural rights to liberty across every facet of bodily, familial, economic, and social autonomy. And she never shies from reminding them that it is white people who place themselves above other races, imposing these evils on Black people.
Notably, not everyone around Mrs. Selden agrees with her views -- on racial equality or on education. When questioned by the children, several neighbors adamantly declare that they are not abolitionists, for example; and even Mr. Selden wonders if it is too early for the couple's children to be introduced to harsh realities that might "check the joyousness of their young spirits." Yet Mrs. Selden wins her points. She argues that already the children are learning about temperance and suffrage through them; and that it is better that their parents take them in hand and tell the truth about slavery "that they might have a just abohorrence of wrong." After all, their children will be surrounded at school by others who may espouse hateful and racist views learned from their own parents; and Charlie and Jenie must be prepared with the truth so they are not swayed to harm others. Surely enough, the next several chapters see Charlie encountering a classmate Ned, who mimics the bigotry he clearly hears at home; meanwhile, Charlie and Jenie seek out formerly enslaved people, abolitionists, and even textual research to better inform themselves to be vocal anti-racists.
Authored by prominent abolitionist and women's rights lecturer Jane Elizabeth Jones, the present is a testament to honestly educating children about racism and inequality -- past and present -- in order that they may contribute to social progress.
Notable American Women 1.285. Sabin 36538. (Item #5851)