Were there any Southern Abolitionists?

Robert165

Ad Honorem
Jan 2010
4,266
North Georgia
I'm in a debate on another forum and the topic of slavery/abolitionists came up. I assumed form hearing my whole life that "there were people on both sides of civil war who agree with and disagreed with slavery.... but after spending 20 minutes on google I can find no examples of southern abolitionists. The closest I can find is that some people set their own slaves free.

Am I missing anything?
 
Aug 2015
263
Indianapolis
Abolitionists in the South had to be extremely clandestine. Their efforts had to be passive in nature so that they would go undetected. I have read that many Southern abolitionists simply moved north where they could join more organized and aggressive networks in relative safety.
 
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Salah

Forum Staff
Oct 2009
23,284
Maryland
Honestly, there is only one Civil War-era white Southerner I can think of, who seems to have vocally hated the slavery system - A.P. Hill. He went on to become one of Robert E. Lee's best subordinate generals, and he was killed just a week before Lee's surrender.

James Robertson's biography of Hill quotes a letter the General wrote to his sister. In the letter, Hill rants about the "sons of bitches" who had lynched a black aquaintance, and how he would like to hang them himself. I also recall an anecdote about Hill flying into a hysterical rage when he found out that soldiers under his command had been murdering Black Union soldiers that were trying to surrender.

After the War, Hill's widow claimed that her husband had never owned a slave in his life and had never approved of the peculiar institution.

Since he wasn't a friend of slavery or racist violence, one almost wonders what his motivation was to even fight for the South. I guess for him it really was a Virginian thing, heh.

The fact that I strained myself to think of even one individual example, however, should tell you something.
 
Mar 2011
1,367
Florida
Abolitionists in the South had to be extremely clandestine. Their efforts had to be passive in nature so that they would go undetected. I have read that many Southern abolitionists simply moved north where they could join more organized and aggressive networks in relative safety.
One who was not at all shy about his abolitionist beliefs was Cassius Marcellus Clay of Kentucky. He was very good at defending himself against physical attacks using his Bowie knife to great effect. Clay founded the Republican Party of Kentucky and was minister to Russia during the Lincoln administration.
 
Mar 2011
1,367
Florida
Honestly, there is only one Civil War-era white Southerner I can think of, who seems to have vocally hated the slavery system - A.P. Hill. He went on to become one of Robert E. Lee's best subordinate generals, and he was killed just a week before Lee's surrender.

James Robertson's biography of Hill quotes a letter the General wrote to his sister. In the letter, Hill rants about the "sons of bitches" who had lynched a black aquaintance, and how he would like to hang them himself. I also recall an anecdote about Hill flying into a hysterical rage when he found out that soldiers under his command had been murdering Black Union soldiers that were trying to surrender.

After the War, Hill's widow claimed that her husband had never owned a slave in his life and had never approved of the peculiar institution.

Since he wasn't a friend of slavery or racist violence, one almost wonders what his motivation was to even fight for the South. I guess for him it really was a Virginian thing, heh.

The fact that I strained myself to think of even one individual example, however, should tell you something.
James Longstreet would fall into the abolitionist category after the Civil War, IMO. With him becoming a Republican this became too much for Lost Causers like Jubal Early becoming the whipping boy for Lee's failure at Gettysburg.
 

Fiver

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
3,776
Elizabeth Van Lew. Freed her slaves and as many of her slaves relatives as she could purchase. When the Civil War came, she ran a Union spy ring.
 

oshron

Ad Honorem
Jun 2009
3,690
western Terranova
there were quite a few--a goodly portion of them were in eastern Tennessee, and iirc there was even a counter-secessionist movement to break off from that state and stay in the Union as the state of Franklin. i don't know much about the specifics, though. anyone who knows better about this, please correct me if i'm wrong (i may be misinterpreting pro-Union Southerners as being pro-abolition)
 
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betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,516
Longstreet became a Republican after the war and accepted appointments from his friend from the army Grant. Mountainous areas were primarily Unionist. I would not consider either abolitionist. Lincoln claimed he was not an abolitionist when he ran for President.
 
Aug 2015
263
Indianapolis
there were quite a few--a goodly portion of them were in eastern Tennessee, and iirc there was even a counter-secessionist movement to break off from that state and stay in the Union as the state of Franklin. i don't know much about the specifics, though. anyone who knows better about this, please correct me if i'm wrong (i may be misinterpreting pro-Union Southerners as being pro-abolition)

State of Franklin was in the 1790s. But we can't forget that West Virginia was created as a new state because they did not support the cause of the Confederacy. In general, Southern Appalachia was not a hotbed for Confederate sympathy and there were some mountain folks who fought for the Union.
 

Salah

Forum Staff
Oct 2009
23,284
Maryland
Being a unionist and being an abolitionist could be very different things.

A substantial chunk of the white South was unionist in sympathies - every southern state but South Carolina contributed at least one regiment to the Union war-effort; some stayed in the Union (Maryland, and Delaware could count here as well), and others effectively played for both teams (Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee).

Yet even out of the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Unionists in the South, there would have been many slave-owners, and not terribly many people who wanted to free the slaves. I recall that after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, the question of how to treat Unionist slaveholders became a headache for Union generals in the Western Theater.