The Color of Abolition: How a Printer, a Prophet, and a Contessa Moved a Nation

Mariner: Houghton Harcourt. Feb. 2022. 352p. ISBN 9781328900241. $28. HIST
While the lives of Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison have been extensively covered in their own biographies, Hirshman (Reckoning; Sisters-in-Law) wanted to know more about their interracial alliance to end slavery and why it fell apart. What she discovered in her research for this book was a wealthy white woman at the center, Maria Weston Chapman, a largely forgotten figure in this story. Hirshman combed through the many thousands of letters abolitionists sent to and from Chapman, who supported and largely controlled Boston’s American Anti-Slavery Society, which funded Douglass’s and Garrison’s speaking careers and The Liberator, Garrison’s newspaper. Hirshman contends that Chapman drove a wedge between the two men by expressing her disdain to many members of the movement that Douglass dared to publish his memoir (to great acclaim) and strive for financial independence from his white benefactors. Douglass eventually left for Rochester, where he found refuge among abolitionists and started his own newspaper. The book includes black-and-white photographs of the central figures.
VERDICT Hirshman brings much-needed attention to the little-known triangulation between Garrison, Douglass, and Chapman, opening a new realm of inquiry for readers of the history of slavery and abolition.
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