Category Archives: Antislavery Movement

1849: Darius Henry Starbuck to Gerrit Smith

This incredible letter was written by Darius Henry Starbuck (1818-1887), the son of Reuben Starbuck (1787-1880) and Mary Beeson (1789-1840) who raised him in a Quaker family in Guilford county, North Carolina. Darius was a graduate of New Garden College and was one of the earliest lawyers in Winston and helped in the formation of Forsyth county and the building of the first courthouse in 1849. He took up residence in the town of Salem in 1849 when this letter was penned.

Darius H. Starbuck, ca. 1880

He was a delegate to the North Carolina state constitutional conventions of 1861 and 1865. In December 1865, he was appointed to his position as US Attorney for the North Carolina federal district court by President Andrew Johnson. In 1870 he was reappointed to this same seat by President Ulysses S. Grant.

Darius was married in 1856 to Ellen Blickenderfer (1834-1920), a native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who came to love in Salem, North Carolina, when she was 10 years old. Darius and Ellen were members of the Moravian Church.

Starbuck’s letter was addressed to Gerrit Smith, the well-known abolitionist, social reformer, and philanthropist. The letter explains the circumstances of Starbuck’s having become the owners of seven slaves formerly the property of his friend Thomas Adams of Stokes county and having incurred a debt while settling Adams’ estate. He then asks Gerrit Smith if he would be willing to pay the debt so that he might honor his friend’s wish that the slaves be liberated.

Gerrit Smith

Incredible details of this transaction are provided in Wikipedia although Starbuck’s letter makes it clear that Syphax and Letty were siblings, not husband and wife as was presumed. That segment of Starbuck’s biography follows:

On February 24, 1840, Darius Starbuck was written into the will of his “friend” Thomas Adams of Stokes County; Starbuck was also named executor of this will. This was witnessed by Thomas J. Wilson. In the will, Starbuck was named heir to an enslaved family owned by Adams upon the death of his wife Lucy, on the condition that Starbuck would emancipate them “as soon as the law will allow.” They were named Syphax, Letty, and their children Syphax L., Mary Addine (Mary Magdeline), and Sarah Jane (Sally). The will was notarized on 15 July 1843. On June 22, 1844, however, Starbuck purchased the family for $85.20. Mr. and Mrs. Adams were to continue using Syphax and his family for labor until both of their deaths. Under the new terms Starbuck was to instead free the family after they had “worked out the consideration money and interest”. This mandated that the family work as Indentured servants for Starbuck until the price Starbuck had paid for them—with interest—was returned to him either through labor or by payment. This bill of sale also mentions two more children, Emeline (Nancy Adeline) and Lewis. At the time of purchase in 1844 Syphax was aged about 26 and his wife Letty was about 30. This deed of sale was witnessed by John Hasten, who had to confirm this in court in April 1845.[9] The estate files of Thomas Adams were probated in 1848.

According to the Slave Schedule of 1850, Darius owned one male slave who was reported to census takers as being 37 years old. This may have been Syphax Adams who appears by his fluctuating age in written records to have not known his exact age. As Starbuck’s home in Winston was built in 1851, it is possible that Syphax’s labor may have been used during the brick mansion’s construction. On March 15, 1857, Syphax’s daughter, Nancy Adaline Adams, requested to become a member of the Salem African Moravian Church, a month later she began receiving instruction, and by October 11 she was baptized by the church. The church register in October 1857 listed her as, “Nancy Adelia, a single woman, property of Darius Starbuck.”

By the time of the 1860 Census, before the abolition of slavery, Syphax and his family were living as freed citizens of the Broadbay Township in Forsyth County. By the time of Starbuck’s death in 1887 he owned 322 acres—an area referred to in his will as the “Bouer Place”—in the Broadbay township; it is unknown whether the Adams’ ever lived or worked on this property during their residence in Broadbay. On April 14, 1861, Syphax’s daughter, Mary Magdalene Adams (single), was baptized into the Moravian Church on the same day as Lewis Hege (also single). At this time Mary was employed by Traugott Frederick Crist, and Lewis was a servant of George Hege. Lewis also served as an elder of the African Moravian Church in Salem. At some point before 1862 Mary and Lewis were married. As there is no surviving record of the marriage in the church register, it is possible that the couple jumped the broom. On July 17, 1862, Lewis and Mary had a child named Arabella Hege who was baptized on November 30, 1862. On February 14, 1864, however, Mary died of typhoid fever. At the time of her death she was described as “a quasi free woman of color.” Lewis later remarried to Dinah Ann (Malone). Jane, a servant of Louisa Shober Crossland, died on June 26, 1864, at the age of 19; this may have been Syphax’s daughter Sarah Jane “Sally” Adams. On October 23, 1864, Nathan, “a boy in care of D. H. Starbuck,” was baptized by the Salem African Church. A girl by the name of Lucinda, who was a servant of Julius Edward Mickey, was also baptized this day.This Lucinda could be Syphax’s younger daughter Lucy Adams.

On August 29, 1887, Lewis Hege, widower of Mary Magdalene Adams, was named in the land divisions of Starbuck’s estate. A Daniel Hege also owed the estate a personal loan debt of $200 at the time of Starbucks death. The loan was originally lent on July 26, 1859.

Whether Gerrit Smith ever responded to Starbuck’s solicitation is unknown. A search of Smith’s correspondence among his papers housed at Syracuse University does not include any letters to or from Starbuck. Given that the slaves remained in Forsyth county for years to come suggests to me that Gerrit never provided the requested funds but it appears that the temptation to sell the family to pay off the debts incurred in settling Adams’ estate was resisted and that Starbuck partially recovered his costs by their continued labor to him as indentured servants until he eventually freed them.

The hiring of Slaves for twelve months from the estate of Thomas Adams. Document found in the Adams’ Probate Records, dated 12 March 1849


Addressed to Gerrit Smith, Esq., Petersborough, New York
Postmarked Salem, [Forsyth county] North Carolina

Salem, North Carolina
September 29th 1849


I trust you will excuse a stranger for calling your attention to a matter calculated to enlist the sympathy of every feeling heart. It is the freedom of eight slaves.

About six years past an elderly gentleman by the name of Thomas Adams willed to me his slaves (which were his only property) expressing a desire that I should emancipate them. At that time he was much involved in debt. Many of his creditors brought suit & pressed payment. His negroes being his only property were about to be sold to make payment. After applying to neighbor after neighbor to assist him & to no avail, he then applied to me & begged me to intercede in his behalf to prevent the negroes from being sold, promising me a bill of sale for them. I accordingly paid off most of the claims & he made me a bill of sale for the slaves, I not being able to lose the money paid out.

He died nearly two years ago and after a series of continued litigation from that time to the present with his heirs who were nephews and nieces living in Alabama and Mississippi, I succeeded in establishing my title to the negroes. In consequence of this litigation, the costs, together with the demands at present against the estate, with those I have paid off, amount to near a thousand dollars.

From the fact that the freedom of the slaves was a matter which Mr. Adams had very much at heart, I am desirous to get them free if I can have that amount refunded me. The negroes would bring at this moment more than ($3,000.) three thousand dollars if I would sell them but this is something I wish to avoid if possible. But I am not able to lose this amount of money. Hence I shall be under the necessity of continuing them in slavery, or selling part of them to refund me in order to free the balance. Their being all of one family would make this a painful duty to separate them. In order to avoid either of these unpleasant dilemmas, & from your character of unbounded munificence & exalted philanthropy, I have been induced to solicit your aid in their behalf.

If you should feel disposed to aid these slaves in obtaining their freedom, they will doubtless long cherish you as their benefactor, besides being willing to pay you by their labor or other means if thy should ever get able, and I will make you a bill of sale of them or pursue any other course you may suggest for the purpose of freeing them.

If you should desire to correspond with others on this subject, or for the purpose of reference as to myself, I will give you the names of Thomas J. Wilson, Esq., of this place, John A. Gilmer, 1 Esq., Greensboro, Dougan Clark sen. of New Garden—a minister of the gospel in Friends Church, or Thomas Hunt, superintendent of Friends Boarding School at New Garden, N. C. I hope to hear from you soon on this subject.

Yours truly, — D. H. Starbuck

[to] Gerrit Smith, Esq., Petersboro, New York

P. S. Perhaps a more minute description of these slaves may interest you. The two oldest, Syphax & Letty are brother & sister. Syphax is about 35 years old & a free woman of color for a wife who has three children by him. Letty is about 32 years old, has a slave husband and six children, the oldest of whom is about 15 years of age. — D. H. S.

1 Darius read law with John A. Gilmer, Sr. of Greensboro prior to being admitted to the bar in 1841.

1843: Romulus Barnes to Lucien Farnum

This letter was written by Rev. Romulus Barnes (1800-1846), the son of Daniel Giles Barnes (1752-1814) and Sarah Webster (1767-1830). Romulus was married to Olivia Denham (1807-1887).

Romulus was born in Bristol, Connecticut, and graduated from Yale College in 1828. After graduating from the Yale Theological Seminary in 1831, he moved to Illinois where he began to preach. His wife was from Conway, Massachusetts, and she attended Holyoke Seminary under the tutelage of Mary Lyons.

Olivia (Denham) Barnes in later years

Romulus and Olivia were partners in their ministry on the Illinois frontier. Under the auspices of the American Home Missionary Society, the couple faced danger together as they carried the message of anti-slavery into a land that was largely inhabited by pro-slavery (or at least anti-Black) settlers. They were ostracized by neighbors and by many of the churches. On one occasion Olivia was severely wounded by a stone thrown at her by a pro-slavery mob while her husband delivered an anti-slavery sermon. After the death of her husband in 1846 leaving her with eight children, Olivia carried on her work alone.

Romulus wrote the letter to his brother-in-law, Rev. Lucien Farnham (1799-1874), the first pastor of the Congregational Church in Batavia, Illinois, who was married to Louisa Denham (1804-1833). Louisa’s brother, Butler Denham (1805-1841) was married to a woman named Eunice Storrs (1809-1899). When Butler died in 1841, Eunice took Owen Lovejoy (1811-1864) as her second husband.

[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Roy Gallup and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]


Addressed to Rev. Lucien Farnum, Batavia, Kane county, Illinois

Washington, Tazewell county, Illinois
January 23, 1843

Dear Bro. Farnum,

Not long after you was here I made up my mind to leave this place. The church generally appear friendly to me & the Elders have frequently expressed the opinion that no more can be raised in this community without the sacrifice of principle, for any man that can be obtained, than for me. However this may be, one thing is certain—they do not do enough for me to justify me in continuing my labors under such a variety of discouragements.

What will be my duty, I know not. I cannot feel it to be my duty to go into a log cabin with my family as we did when our family was small. I cannot consider it to be duty to place my wife where her labors will be greater than they are at present. If you know of any place where we could be useful, please inform me. We should be glad to move early in the spring.

I am happy to inform you that we are at present in the midst of a very inter-revival in the neighborhood of Mr. [Moses] Morse‘s. For several weeks past, I have preached there every Sabbath & for the last three of four weeks. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the congregation has been very manifest. Some five or six have expressed hope in Christ & last evening ten or twelve new cases of seriousness were manifest—all youth from the age 12 to 23 or 24 years. Our prayer is may the work be carried on with great power.

Last week we received a letter from our friend in Conway [Mass.]. Their health was good as usual. They said that they wrote to you some time last summer but had received no answer. They were anxious to hear from you. My wife unites with me in love to you & yours. The children also wished to be remembered to their cousin Louisa. Please write soon.

Very affectionately yours, &c., — R. Barnes

1841: Isaac Dillon Cadwallader to Joel Wood

The signature on this letter has been partially destroyed but I believe it was written by Isaac Dillon Cadwallader (1825-1880) who would have been 16 at the time. Isaac’s parents were Rees Cadwalader (1790-1862) and Hannah Dillon (1787-1829) of Zanesville, Muskingham county, Ohio, but Reece relocated to Salem in Columbiana county sometimes in the 1830s. In the 1840s when this letter was written, Salem was an emerging antislavery community. The Anti-Slavery Bugle began publication in nearby New Lisbon (now Lisbon) in June 1845 but moved its press to Salem in September of that year. Their motto was “No Union with Slaveholders.” As Quakers, the Cadwallader family were staunch antislavery proponents.

The letter was addressed to Cadwallader’s friend, Joel Wood (1814-1892) of Martin’s Ferry, Belmont county, Ohio, to whom he sent his letter. Joel was married to Elizabeth McGrew (1819-1908) in 1837. He was described as an abolitionist, merchant, teacher, member of the school board, and the First President and Director of the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad. Joel and his wife became members of the Quaker Society in 1837.

Charles C. Burleigh, a leader in the Antislavery movement in the United States. He spoke in 1841 of The American Idea—“the idea of the perfectness and inalienability of human rights, that he receives all his rights from his creator and none from the government.”

Most of Cadwallader’s letter refers to the series of antislavery speeches that took place in Ohio by itinerant lecturers in the summer and fall of 1841. Arresting his attention in particular was Charles Calistus Burleigh, the “well-traveled Connecticut-born lecturer who edited the National Anti-Slavery Standard.” Burleigh would later contribute editorials for Salem’s, Anti-Slavery Bugle. Oliver Johnson, another agent of the American Antislavery Society, joined Dr. Erasmus D. Hudson and Burleigh for part of the 1841 tour. In a letter from October of that year, Hudson revealed that he and Burleigh had, “over the course of several weeks, spoken in a courthouse, a private home, a Methodist and Friends meeting houses, an Associate Reformed Church, , and a public hall, and had conducted multiple outdoor meetings.” [See: Race and Riots: Fighting Slavery and Prejudice in the Old Northwest by Dana Elizabeth Weiner]

We surmise from Cadwallader’s letter that he was, at the time, disappointed with his fellow Quakers who did not warmly embrace the abolitionist movement as much as himself. Though history has taught us that Quakers shared anti-slavery sentiments generally, there were also a large number that believed the abolitionists too radical in their actions which would lead most certainly to violence. In short, they valued “peace” more than equality. Cadwallader summed it best when he wrote, “Some of the Quakers here say the slaves are better off than they would if set at liberty; and unless they would go to someplace by themselves, they had better remain slaves as they are.”


First day afternoon
September 11, 1841

Dear friend,

I have just this minute finished reading thy letter and as I always do, feel as if I must answer it immediately—or at least begin. Thy last letter I did not get till after I wrote or, of course, I should have mentioned. We had 3/4 of a notion to start yesterday but on looking about, found we could not leave home yet. I have my corn to cut up & a house to build & plaster, & a well to dig and wall, &c. &c. before cold weather. But notwithstanding all this, I have not entirely given out going to Martinsville. That sets near my heart.

Taking thy letter in order, the next thing that needs attention is my estimate of Burleigh and Thomas. Nothing could be more literally true than thy description of the order of Thomas’ speaking, judging by all thee has to judge by. His [ ] speech such was most decidedly the character of that splendid speech. But if I were to judge him only by that speech, I should do him unpardonable injustice. Splendor and elegance, though ministers of his will, are by no means his stronghold. He is much more close  and logical in his reasoning than Burleigh & of statistical facts, he is the embodiment. I never heard any man who could in the same length of time present anything like the amount of facts & at the same time never utter one dry prosaic sentence. In this matter-of-fact business, I think Burleigh is deficient, though I cheerfully accord to him all you claim for him, only precedence of Thomas. I have heard each of them four  different times. Burleigh will merit the name given him by [William Lloyd] Garrison—“the antislavery Patrick Henry.” I watched him close by when with him, and if P. Henry was what writ described him, then there is a deep similitude between them. The same impatience of set rules, the same abhorrence of dry matters-of-fact, & of details, the same aversion to studied preparation and laborious arrangement, the same loose and  unbridled liberty of imagination.

First day evening 19th. Last fourth day I went to N[ew] Lisbon to hear Burleigh, &c., &c. We also nominated two persons to the legislature—one for the Senate and one for the lower House. The rest of the ticket we left blank. The Whigs derided, remonstrated, threatened, coaxed, and flattered, but all would  not do, we would nominate candidates. Last year the Locos [Democrats] had a majority of about 50, year before about 200, and [the] year before [that] 500. So you see the Whigs counted on carrying the ticket and I think they would if they had have shown any respect to abolitionists. But they rejected the persons they had formerly used partly because they were too antislavery. I was at the nomination meeting of the Whigs and was in the nomination committee and done all I could to get a good ticket—so did others—but they would not hear to  us, or heed us, but thought we would “go it” as we had been doing. They now see the error of their ways and find too late that we are not always going to be doe [dough] faces. As we stand now, neither ours nor theirs  can be elected, so you see we vote for ours as a matter of principle; they for theirs “for because.” We expect to get 200 perhaps. If we do, we can control them hereafter. I was urged by some to receive the  nomination on our ticket, but I was afraid it might hurt my prospects in future, and beside I hated to be bored as I know the candidates will be. And besides, I was on the committee and my name was published as going it to the death for that ticket.

Well I heard Burleigh four or five times at Lisbon and find it necessary to change my opinion of him somewhat. I find he is more of a thinker and a better reasoner than I had thought. He takes new and radical grounds, such as he has thought out himself, & they are no doubt correct. He defined democracy in a way new to the professed democrats. I’ll give an example or two. He said the majority, merely because they were a majority, had no right to rule even one man. And he translated the old democratic proverb into english (i.e.) “The greatest good to the greatest number,” and all being the “greatest number.” The  sentence should read The greatest good of all. This is the pure unadulterated democracy. But the  discourse I was most pleased with was not strictly—or at least not exclusively—antislavery. His text was, “Our country and its destiny.” This thee sees was a subject broad enough for his mighty intellect but not  too broad. Here he struck out into a new and (except himself) an untried and untrodden path and wrung out of the chaotic mass of ideas and theories that are worth years of intellectual grubbing to obtain the principle of which he called the “American idea.”

He took a rapid view of the geographical situation of our country in relation to others, showing it is not likely to be affected by other countries nor be interrupted  by them in carrying out any idea it might think fit. Then he showed its capabilities of living within itself, its diversity of climate and soil, &c., &c. Then that it was out from under the shadow of the thrones of  Europe and not ruled by its barbarous customs handed down from the dark ages. Then that the new  country was settled by a peculiar kind of people, or at least entertaining peculiar principles—the very principles that were intended to be carried out to perfection in this country—that is, “the individuality of man.” This, he says, is the destiny of our country. The idea that it is intended to work out—“The  American Idea”—the idea of the perfectness and inalienability of human rights, that he receives all his rights from his creator and none from the government. He says the Declaration of Independence was the first  political document that recognized this idea. He says all former governments recognized the doctrine that individual interests and even life and liberty might be sacrificed to the public good. This he calls false and dangerous doctrine, & at war with the foundation doctrine of the American government. The ancient republics were merely free republics, not as this is intended to be—a republic of free men.

I have given but the most imperfect sketch of his speech. Indeed it would be but a mere outline if I was to do all I could. I have some faint hopes of seeing thee face to face sometime this fall. I had expected it long before now but I now find it will not be in less time than one month if that soon. I have this confounded house on hand and can get no one to work at it and fifty other things to do beside. I wish you would come. It would suit my convenience much better and I think you could certainly leave home more easily than we can.

“Some of the Quakers here say the slaves are better off than they would if set at liberty; and unless they would go to some place by themselves, they had better remain slaves as they are.”

I. D. Cadwallader, 19 September 1841

29th. Yesterday I received a letter from I. B. Brook on the subject of your Quaker Antislavery Society asking for useful information &c. and that I should attend the neighboring meetings and give notice at the close that all who wish to form a Friends Antislavery Society will stop &c. I believe the most pertinent  information I have for him is that I have not the honor of belonging to that quiet, loving dead sea of a religious body & of course cannot perform the service he asks at my hands & if I was a member, it  would require the courage of a Bonaparte to beard the proslavery lion in his den. I am willing and anxious to do anything I can to forward your enterprise but I have my doubts whether you can effect anything in this society by that kind of action that you cannot effect in the ordinary societies. I know the true objection with Friends is not so much to the union with other folks as it is to the antislavery doctrine  itself, though it is nothing more nor less than Quaker doctrine. Some of the Quakers here say the slaves are better off than they would if set at liberty; and unless they would go to some place by themselves, they had better remain slaves as they are. This is called wholesome doctrine. By the way, who is this I. B. Brook?  If you will specify any kind of information, I will give it if I can.

If thee starts away East or West or any other direction, thee will be so good as to let me know so that I need not go there while thee is not home. This is only to provide [ ] but I am much  afraid we cannot get off till it is too cold to enjoy a visit and in that case we will not go till Spring.

Deb sends her usual compliments to [ ]

—   J. D. Ca…