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Stiles' Emancipation Society

In 1790, Stiles agreed to serve as the first President of "The Connecticut Society for the Promotion of Freedom and for the relief of persons unlawfully holden in Bondage." Over the next four years, the annual sermons preached before this society would become some of the most popular anti-slavery literature from this time period (42). By 1792, however, Ezra Stiles was no longer listed as an active part of the society.

The society's mission was practical and straightforward: "to inforce [sic] the Statutes of Connecticut relative to the gradual abolition of slavery" (43). This society did not advocate against slavery per se, but only against "unlawful" slavery, namely that which violated Connecticut's recently passed "gradual emancipation" laws. While Stiles presided, a vote was passed in which the members of the society pledged:

To enroll the names, ages and possessors of such persons as have been borne since the 1st of March, 1784, and who by law will be entitled to their freedom at the age of 25 years [and] ... to enquire whether any persons are illegally holden in bondage-also whether the other laws of the State relative to the gradual abolition of slavery are duly observed. (44)

Upon reading of this society and its initial proposals, one Connecticut minister wrote, "It does not appear that the Society is of much importance as it respects its influence in this State, as there is here scarcely a claim for exertions" (45).

Describing anti-slavery activity around this time, historian David Brion Davis observes "that in New Haven the organizational activity was weak and short-lived" (46). James Essig describes contemporary anti-slavery activity in other states and concludes, "By comparison, Connecticut's antislavery figures look like relaxed members of an exclusive club" (47).

In the years that followed, James Hillhouse from Yale became a strong abolitionist voice in the early U.S. Congress, and in the 1830s New Haven became a place where more militant abolitionists tried to expand education for African-Americans.



Ezra Stiles' slave

Stiles' Emancipation Society


Numbers in parentheses refer to notes. See the notes page.