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Little Laura, the Kentucky Abolitionist


Based on the life of Laura Bailey (1846?-1856), Little Laura, the Kentucky Abolitionist is a rare example of a funds appeal directed at children. Published in Newcastle, England in 1859. Digitized and annotated by the Antislavery Literature Project.

Antislavery literature was a transatlantic Anglo-American literature, including prolific juvenile publications. Most antislavery juvenilia consists of fiction, poetry, or homilies. However, this text is a rare example of a funds appeal directed at children. It instances the political organizing strategy of involving children in social reform movements, a strategy that the antislavery and temperance movements probably originated.

The British author of Little Laura remains unknown, but was likely associated with the international peace movement and its Peace Society organized by US social reformer, peace advocate, and antislavery activist Elihu Burritt. Burritt was best-known as a prominent peace activist, was involved in establishing antiwar organizations, organizing international conferences, and promoting world government. Women’s peace organizations distributed Burritt’s tracts and journals, including The Herald of Peace (1819-1900s). These women’s organizations included Olive Leaf Societies and Olive Leaf Circles in the United States and Great Britain. The Herald of Peace published a children’s supplement entitled The Olive Leaf, or Peace Magazine for the Young (1844-1856) and the ‘olive leaf’ theme was employed frequently elsewhere. As mentioned on its first page, this appeal was published after the demise of The Olive Leaf. The appeal organizers probably employed its British subscription lists to reach donors, but they intended it for a much broader audience.

This sextodecimo pamphlet tells the story of Laura B., a young girl who helps her father in a Kentucky newspaper that publishes antislavery articles at great risk and personal sacrifice. In a style that mixes sentiment, realism, and epistolary form, the pamphlet relates Laura’s dedication to the antislavery cause, her death at age ten, and her family’s financial difficulties. The appeal concludes by soliciting British children for funds to assist Laura’s family.

‘Laura B.’ was almost certainly Laura Bailey, the daughter of William Shreve Bailey (1806-1886), a Kentucky mechanic and abolitionist. He published the Newport News (est. 1839), the Kentucky Weekly News (1851-1858), and The Free South (1858-1866). Bailey advocated immediate emancipation, encountered mob violence that destroyed his press in 1851 and 1859, and received support on several occasions from British abolitionist circles. US census records of 1850 for Campbell County, Kentucky, list a four year-old girl “L.V.” among the Bailey family, which grew to ten children by the 1860 census but does not include either “Laura” or “L.V.” Most of the Bailey family appears to have been engaged in presswork. Laura apparently was born in 1846 and died in 1856. Her family did have substantial financial difficulties as a result of their father’s antislavery publishing, and British supporters eventually arranged for Bailey to undertake a speaking tour beginning in 1860. Beyond the present pamphlet, little is known of Laura Bailey’s short life.

— Joe Lockard