Massachusetts in Mourning
An 1854 sermon by abolitionist figure Thomas Wentworth Higginson, following the rendition of fugitive slave Anthony Burns. Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.
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Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823-1911) was a prominent US abolitionist, social reform advocate, and writer. His Army Life in a Black Regiment (Boston: Fields, Osgood and Co., 1870) was one of the best-known Civil War histories of the era. Higginson’s extensive published works include co-editorship with Mabel Loomis Todd of the first edition of Dickinson’s collected poems, Poems by Emily Dickinson (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1892).
Higginson was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, graduated Harvard in 1841, and became a Unitarian minister at Newburyport and then Worcester until 1858. He maintained continual involvement in antislavery work and allied with the American Anti-Slavery Society. In 1854 Higginson participated in the unsuccessful effort to break into Boston City Jail in order to free imprisoned fugitive slave Anthony Burns; he was indicted for murder together with other defendants, but charges were dropped.
During the Civil War, Higginson became an officer in both the Massachusetts 51st Volunteers and then the First South Carolina Volunteers, a unit composed of ex-slaves. In his post-war career, Higginson came to represent a model of an engaged intellectual and attained great prestige in American letters.
His novels include Malbone: An Oldport Romance (Boston: J.R. Osgood and Co., 1869) and Oldport Days (Boston: J.R. Osgood and Co., 1873), together with volumes of essays such as Out-Door Papers (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1863). He wrote extensively against slavery (Massachusetts in Mourning: A Sermon, 1854) and in support of women’s rights (Woman and Her Wishes, 1853).
For further reading, see The Magnificent Activist: The Writings of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Howard N. Meyer [ed.] (New York: Da Capo Press, 2000). Digital editions cited from the Gutenberg Project and the Making of America Collection, University of Michigan.
- Joe Lockard