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Theodore Weld

Theodore Dwight Weld
Born (1803-11-23)November 23, 1803
Died February 3, 1895(1895-02-03) (aged 91)
Nationality American
Occupation Abolitionist

Theodore Dwight Weld (November 23, 1803 – February 3, 1895), was one of the leading architects of the American abolitionist movement during its formative years, from 1830 through 1844.

Weld played a role as writer, editor, speaker, and organizer. He is best known for his co-authorship of the authoritative compendium, American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses, published in 1839. Harriet Beecher Stowe partly based Uncle Tom’s Cabin on Weld's text and it is regarded as second only to that work in its influence on the antislavery movement. Weld remained dedicated to the abolitionist movement until slavery was ended by the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1865.[1]

Early life

Weld, the son and grandson of Congregational ministers, at age 14 took over his father's 100-acre farm near Hartford, Connecticut, to earn money to study at Phillips Academy Andover. He attended from 1820 to 1822 until failing eyesight caused him to discontinue his studies. After a doctor urged him to travel, he started an itinerant lecture series on mnemonics, traveling for three years throughout the United States, including the South where he saw slavery firsthand. Weld then moved with his family to upstate New York and studied at Hamilton College, where he became the disciple of Charles Finney, the famous evangelist. He spent several years working with Finney as a member of his "holy band" before deciding to become a preacher and entering the Oneida Manual Labor Institute in Oneida, New York. While there, he would spend two weeks at a time traveling about lecturing on the virtues of manual labor, temperance, and moral reform. At age 28, he was hired by Lewis and Arthur Tappan, great moral reform philanthropists, as the general agent for the Society for Promoting Manual Labor in Literary Institutions. Weld’s report to the Tappan's as a manual labor agent reveals he "traveled 4,575 miles; 2,630 miles by boat and stagecoach; 1800 miles on horseback, 145 miles on foot. En route, he made 236 public addresses."[2]

Influenced by Charles Stuart, a retired British army officer, and others at Western Reserve College, Weld joined the cause of black emancipation. [3]

During his time as a manual labor agent, Weld scouted land and found the location for, the faculty for, and became a student at Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati in 1833.[4] There he became the leader of the so-called "Lane Rebels," a group of students who determined to engage in free discussion, including the topic of slavery. They held a series of slavery debates over 18 days in 1834, resulting in a decision to support abolitionism. The group also pledged to help the 1500 free blacks in Cincinnati. When the school's board of directors, including president Lyman Beecher, prohibited them from discussing slavery, about 80% of the students left Lane seminary, most of these enrolling at the new Oberlin Collegiate Institute (later renamed Oberlin College).[5] Weld, however, left for New York to head the new American Anti-Slavery Society's training session.


After 1830 Weld became one of the leaders of the antislavery movement working with Arthur and Lewis Tappan, New York philanthropists, James G. Birney, Gamaliel Bailey, and the Grimké sisters.

He discontinued lecturing when he lost his voice in 1836, and was appointed editor of its books and pamphlets by the American Anti-slavery Society.[4] From 1836 to 1840, Weld worked as the editor of The Emancipator. He also directed the national campaign for sending antislavery petitions to Congress and assisted John Quincy Adams when Congress tried Adams for reading petitions in violation of the gag rule, which stated that slavery could not be discussed in Congress.

Weld married Angelina Grimké, a strong abolitionist and women's rights advocate, in 1838. In 1839, he and the Grimké sisters co-wrote the pivotal book American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses. As Weld used pen names for all of his writings, he is not as well known as many other notable 19th century civil rights advocates.

According to the Columbia Encyclopedia:

Many historians regard Weld as the most important figure in the abolitionist movement, surpassing even Garrison, but his passion for anonymity long made him an unknown figure in American history.[1]

In 1854, Weld established a school of the Raritan Bay Union at Eagleswood in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. The school accepted students of all races and sexes. In 1864, he moved to Hyde Park, Massachusetts, where he helped open another school in Lexington dedicated to the same principles as his first academy. Here, Weld had "charge of Conversation, Composition, and English Literature,"[6] Among his pupils at this school for girls was Philadelphia poet, Florence Earle Coates–granddaughter of abolitionist Thomas Earle.


Main article: Weld Family

Weld was the son of Ludovicus Weld and Elizabeth Clark Weld. His brother Ezra Greenleaf Weld, a famous daguerreotype photographer, was also involved with abolitionism.

A member of the Weld Family of New England, Weld shares a common ancestry with William Weld, Tuesday Weld, and others. This branch of the family never achieved the wealth of their Boston-based kin.[7][8]

Weld lived in Hampton, Connecticut, until his family moved to Pompey, New York. He married Angelina Grimké in 1838.[1]


Weld was the author of many pamphlets, and in addition:[4]

  • The Power of Congress over the District of Columbia (New York, 1837)
  • The Bible Against Slavery (1837)
  • American Slavery as it Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses (with the Grimké sisters; 1839)
  • Slavery and the Internal Slave Trade in the United States (London, 1841)
  • In Memory: Angelina Grimké Weld (1880)




  • Letters of Theodore Dwight Weld, Angelina Grimké and Sarah Grimké, 1822-1844: Vols. 1 & 2. ISBN 0-8446-1055-0.
  • Robert H. Abzug, Passionate Liberator: Theodore Dwight Weld & the Dilemma of Reform. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. ISBN 0-19-503061-3.
  • Gilbert Hobbs Barnes. The Anti-Slavery Impulse, 1830-1844. With an Introduction by William G. McLoughlin. New York: Harcourt, 1964.
  • 37 (Spring 2004): 663-679.

External links

  • American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses. New York: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1839.
  • Columbia 2003 Encyclopedia Article
  • Theodore Weld: Crusader for Freedom
  • Theodore Weld

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