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Abby (Abigail) Kelley Foster (January 15,1811-January 14,1887) born in Pelham, Massachusetts, was the daughter of Wing Kelley, a farmer of Irish ancestry, and his second wife, Diana Daniels Kelley, whose ancestors were English. Abby was thought to be delicate as a child and was encouraged to spend long hours out of doors, where she helped her father with farm chores, climbed trees, scrambled over fences, and explored the land about the Worcester, Massachusetts, farm where she grew up. She was reared as a Quaker, learning the Bible, saying thee and thy , calling days and months by numbers, and speaking of people by first names to avoid such titles as Mr. and Mrs. In 1826 she was sent to the New England Friends Boarding School for an education (Sterling 14-20). Then she worked for a time as a teacher. Through reading Garrison's Liberator, she developed a strong interest in abolition and became secretary of the Lynn Female Anti-Slavery Society. In 1838 she was one of the founders of the New England Non-Resistant Society (Merrill III 27; V 130).
While she has been described as lady-like and prepossessing, dexterous in debate, and possessed of an unusually fine intellect, she shocked many by lecturing before audiences made up of both men and woman (Mabee 213). At that time such audiences were referred to as "promiscuous audiences." In 1839 she also began her career as a lecturer and promoter of women's rights, a movement with which she became more involved after the Civil War. Through the influence of her lectures, many women became both abolitionists and feminists. In addition she supported the temperance movement (Frost 415; Merrill V 130).
In 1840 Abby was appointed to the executive board of the American Anti-Slavery Society, an appointment that caused the society to split on the issue of a woman's holding such a position (Sterling 104-105).
In a February 27, 1858, letter from Sallie Erwin, one of Milo Townsend's young relatives, Sallie objected to the prejudice against women speaking in public:
I should have liked to have heard Grace Greenwood's lectures. We are totally deprived of the benefits of lecturers. They scorn a woman who would dare to speak in public here in this "dark old Egypt." Oh the corrupting influence of prejudice and ignorance!
Interestingly, Sallie did not believe that anything she wrote could be worth preserving for the future. She stated:
Thee says thee will send some paper and ink, too, by Charlie and Evan. I can get good ink here, and even though the ink should fade out in time, what is the difference? I should prefer it so. They are not worth preserving-- such foolish, school-girl letters.
At times Abby and Frederick Douglass worked together on the antislavery lecture tours, providing her firsthand experience of the prejudice against him. Douglass wrote of her that she "was perhaps the most successful of us. Her youth and simple Quaker beauty, combined with her wonderful earnestness, her large knowledge and great logical power bore down all opposition wherever she spoke, though she was pelted with foul eggs and no less foul words from the noisy mobs which attended us" (Sterling 142).
Sojourner Truth toured with Abby in 1851 and again many times in later years to lecture against slavery (142). Abby wanted to have black speakers with her who could describe the horrors of slavery from personal experience.
Even those opposed to abolition of slavery often spoke glowingly of her beauty and lecturing powers. In May of 1845, for example, the New York Herald , an anti-reform paper, printed a favorable account of her talk at the American Anti-Slavery Society meeting, describing her as "the lovely, intellectual, enchanting, fascinating Abby Kelley" (212).
As a Garrisonian abolitionist, she believed that as the problem of slavery was a moral one, only moral weapons would succeed in freeing the slaves (Mabee 226). She also predicted that if the slaves were freed for the sole purpose of keeping the Union safe, hatred of the black race would continue; and the poison of it would eventually destroy the nation (336).
In 1845 she married Stephen Symonds Foster (November 17, 1809- September 8, 1881) of Canterbury, New Hampshire. Stephen was the son of Sarah and Asa Foster, decendents of English colonists who had lived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1630s. His father, a member of the Congregational Church, was treasurer of the local antislavery society. After elementary school, Stephen was apprenticed to a carpenter. When twenty-two years of age he entered Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, taking a classical course and studying rhetoric for four years, a course that emphasized public speaking. In 1838 he was graduated third in his class. From there he went to Union Theological Seminary in New York, but left it in the spring of 1839 when he was not permitted to do abolitionist proselytizing. In the same year he became a nonresistant (an extreme pacifist). Soon thereafter he was appointed a lecturing agent for the New Hampshire Anti-Slavery Society. Stephen was tall, thin and possessed of rugged features. His hands were rough like those of a practicing farmer, which he was much of the time.. He was a very compelling speaker, much like a wrathful Old Testament prophet, frequently stirring up serious opposition. In private, on the other hand, he was warm, friendly, and gentle (Sterling 130,131, 375; Kraditor 32n).
He was closely associated with Garrison and, like Garrison, was, as previously stated, an advocate of nonresistance.
Both Stephen and Abby attended church services to make uninvited speeches on the subject of slavery. In the summer of 1845 Abby attended a Quaker yearly meeting at Mount Pleasant, Ohio. These were not abolitionist Friends, but those known as Orthodox. Abby waited for most of the day before speaking, intending to remind the meeting of the Friends' commitment to the antislavery movement. Then she had hardly begun to speak when she was ordered to stop disturbing the meeting. She tried to go on, appealing to the precedent of George Fox, founder of the Friends, but was finally carried out, for which operation she became completely limp, a technique that she had learned from Stephen, who had entered church services to speak for antislavery many times. Some of the men carried her from the building and set her on the ground. (Mabee 213-214; Sterling 136,224).
Again, on a Sunday in July, 1846, a constable came to the house where Abby and Stephen were staying, bringing a warrant for their arrest because they had sold antislavery books at a meeting on Sunday. They refused to go, so he got two deputies to help him. Abby put her arms around Stephen when he was seized, and both Abby and Stephen became limp. The constable and deputies carried them out and put them feet first into a buggy. Antislavery neighbors followed. Arriving at a tavern where they intended to keep them over night, the three men had to drag the Fosters out of the buggy and carry them into the building and to the bedroom where they were to stay.
Abby and Stephen were aquitted, a lawyer (not an abolitionist) having stated that books were commonly sold on Sunday and that the presiding magistrate had done so frequently (Sterling 224-225).
In addition to his antislavery stance, Stephen also advocated not only women's suffrage but also temperance, world peace, and reform in labor conditions (Webster 364).
In the early spring of 1845 Abby and Jane Elizabeth Hitchcock (who was born at Vernon, Oneida County, New York March 13, 1813, and died in the same city on January 13, 1896) received a letter from the Ohio American Anti-slavery Society asking them to be at the annual meeting of the society and to present the American Anti-Slavery Society's program at conventions throughout Ohio during the summer. Abby wrote to Wendell Phillips to tell him that she and Jane Elizabeth felt "a concern, as the Quakers say, to go into Ohio next summer" (Sterling 211).
Abby arrived for the June 5, 1845, annual meeting, which was held in the New Lisbon (now Lisbon) Disciples' Church. She lectured to an audience of five hundred people, mostly Quakers and a few black people, who filled the church to overflowing. Many people had to content themselves with sitting on benches outside. She persuaded the society to publish an antislavery paper, for papers from the East arrived about two weeks too late to announce meetings in Ohio towns. Before she had been in Ohio three weeks, the first issue of the Anti-Slavery Bugle was out. It was only four poorly printed pages and had neither editor nor its own press and type. Abby sent letters East to urge Oliver Johnson or Parker Pillsbury to become the Bugle's editor. Neither was available (214-215).
But before they could reply, she had persuaded Jane Elizabeth Hitchcock and Benjamin Smith Jones (Benjamin was born in Philadelphia, February 13, 1812 and died at Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, October 7, 1862) (Ruchames IV 564), both in Ohio to lecture for the summer, to take over editorship of the Bugle . Except for the first few issues, the paper was published in Salem, Ohio, until May 4, 1861 (Sterling 330; Salem News "Yesteryears" 26 January 1993 2).
It was in the midst of her search for an editor that she wrote her first extant letter to Milo Adams Townsend of New Brighton. The contents of the letter indicate that she and Milo had recently been in communication. "Thine by thy father was truly acceptable," may refer to a letter from Milo delivered by his father, Talbot Townsend. Abby's letter is postmarked Warren, Ohio, July 2. On a small stamp on the outside of the letter is the following quote, which expresses the views of those engaged in the free store movement, mentioned earlier under Gamaliel Bailey (chapter 2) and Joseph Dugdale (chapter 9):
"One of the best, if not the very best means of spreading at the North a just sense of the wickedness and horrors of American slavery is abstinence from the products of slave labor." Garret Smith
from Abby Kelley
Warren [Ohio] July 1, 1845
My dear friend -
Thine by thy father was truly acceptable. I should have written immediately on my arrival in this place but C. Tomlinson had not arrived and therefore I waited late this evening-- He has just now come in and I proceed to write tho' no mail leaves this place until tomorrow p.m.--
Wednesday A.M. 2nd -
I was called from my writing last evening by company and as I have several letters to write before the mail leaves today I shall have to write briefly- As J.E. Hitchcock1 is sick and therefore there can be but one series of meetings for the present, Benj2, Giles and myself will have to attend all- There will be a sufficient number of us, therefore, to attend to all the matters that would devolve on a general agent-- Hence, Carver will mainly go from this place to those places where we are to hold meetings and see that arrangements are made for houses, notifying me and then will go home again and remain till he shall be needed-- Three of us in one communication can collect all the money and get all the subscribers that can be obtained on the reserve, which I fear will be but trifling in numbers. Had we two series of meetings, a general agent would be needed-
I have not yet recd an answer from Phillips3 tho I am expecting one daily-- I yet hope Johnson4 will come if it be for two or three weeks only-- I am rejoiced that the Herald5 is to be continued-- 'Tis better to save an old post especially when so insidious an enemy as Rogers has become, is in its vicinity, than it is to establish half a dozen new ones-- yet a new post can be established here, even should we fail all aid from experienced editors - I have been talking with Benj about taking the "Bugle" in case Johnson fails us and getting thee to fill his place till the paper gets a little under way - He says it would take his flesh all off to have so heavy a responsibility on him, for he knows how difficult a post it will be-- Nevertheless, he could, I think, be prevailed on to take it in case J.E. Hitchcock would assist him-- They could then spend a part of the week in lecturing in the vicinity of New Lisbon, holding meetings on all the Sundays and other days as they could find the time-- thus making the county of Columbiana an anti-slavery garden-- What say thee to this?-- Will thee fill Benj place while he establishes the Bugle - Thee knows Benj is a quick and ready writer and has some experience while J.E. is as clear sighted as an eagle-- This, of course, is only my suggestion-- I have mentioned it only to Wm. and Lydia. I wish-- But I write to Geo. Garretson today on the same subject--
I will ask Benj when he comes in to write in this the places and dates of our meetings till the 1st of Aug. so that thee can write us whether thee will take Benj's place and what thee thinks of my other suggestion-- I will write thee immediately on the reception of an answer from Phillips--
My love to thy wife-- Trust we shall meet very soon-- Have not time to make any critiques on the Bugle -
Thine most truly and affect.
The following meetings commence at 2 o'clock P.M.
Windsor July 10th, 11th, and 12th
Parkman 14 15 16
Garrettsville 17 18 19
Palmyra 21 22 23
Deerfield 24 25 26
Atwater 28 29 30
These are all the appointments we have as yet made.
1J. E. Hitchcock. Jane Elizabeth Hitchcock was an antislavery and women's rights lecturer. Earlier in 1845 she, Abby, and Benjamin had lectured in southeastern Pennsylvania. It was there that Jane Elizabeth had begun to feel affection for Benjamin. In that area there had been threats to ride Abby and Jane Elizabeth out of the neighborhood on a rail (Sterling 198, 200).
After the arrival of Abby, Jane Elizabeth, Benjamin, and others, Salem, Ohio, became a "hotbed of abolitionism" (Frost 419). Jane Elizabeth Hitchcock and Benjamin Jones served as coeditors of the Anti-Slavery Bugle from September, 1845, until June, 1849 (Frost 419; Ruchames IV 564; Sterling 215). By April, 1846, the Bugle had a thousand subscribers and was becoming self-sustaining. Abby remained in Ohio for a year and a half, lecturing and collecting subscriptions for the paper. In the years after that until publication ceased, she returned to Ohio any time the paper needed her. The Jonses continued to live in Ohio after they ceased to edit the newspaper (Sterling 215).
Several months after becoming coeditors of the Bugle , Jane Elizabeth and Benjamin, who had been planning a long engagement, changed their minds and were instead married in New Brighton, Pennsylvania, as it would be "more convenient" for the work of editing the paper if they were to marry at once (Sterling 222). Since Jane Elizabeth and Benjamin had earlier accompanied Abby Kelley and Stephen S. Foster to New Brighton to be married in the home of Milo and Elizabeth Walker Townsend, it is probable that Jane Elizabeth and Benjamin were also married at the Townsend home, although no documentary evidence has yet been found. Jane Elizabeth operated an antislavery book agency in Salem (Ruchames IV 564) and published a children's book, The Young Abolitionists (1848). She was a member of the Ohio Woman's Rights Association and was influential in obtaining a property rights law for married women in the same state (Frost 419).
2 Benj. Benjamin Smith Jones.
3 Phillips. Wendell Phillips. For further information see chapter 20.
4 Johnson. Oliver Johnson became editor of the Bugle when the Joneses turned to other work. According to Ruchames, Johnson was succeeded by Marius Robinson. He provides no beginning date for Robinson's editorship, but states that he published the paper until 1861. The total years for publication were July, 1845, to May, 1861. The Bugle belonged to the Ohio American Anti-Slavery Society (Merrill III 210; Rhchames IV 241; Sterling 330). For the last issue of the Bugle, Jane Elizabeth wrote an article in which she called Abby "this dear friend of all down-trodden humanity" (Sterling 303)
5Herald. The Herald of Freedom , an antislavery paper published in Concord, New Hampshire, was founded in 1836 (Merrill III 197). For more on this paper and an explanation of the problem generated by Rogers, see Mary T. Stickney's letter and the footnote in chapter 12.
It is not known whether Milo took Benjamin Jones' place as lecturer in Ohio while the Bugle was being established; but his name does appear in a list of Salem, Ohio, abolitionists for the years 1845-1850, which may indicate that he did so (Salem News "Yesteryears" 26 January1993 3).
In the next letter Abby, who plans soon to marry Stephen, asks whether Milo and Elizabeth would be willing to have the wedding in their home.
The original place chosen for their wedding had been Kennett in Chester County, Pennsylvania. While they were in southeastern Pennsylvania during the spring, rumors that they would marry flew about among abolitionists (Sterling 210). It was in May that Mary Stickney wrote to Milo of the rumor (see Stickney's letter in chapter 12).
However, as Abby explains in her letter, going to Kennett for the wedding will no longer be possible.
from Abby Kelly
[Ohio] Oct. 25 - 1845
Springboro, Warren Co.
Milo and Elizabeth Townsend -
My dear friends-- Milo's letter dated at Mt. Pleasant was duly received and would have been answered long ago, but that we have been hoping, day by day, to be able to decide upon the course we ought to pursue this winter - It has been a severe struggle between our long anticipated pleasures and duty to the slave, our country and a world-wide humanity - We have, as you may have heard, for a long time anticipated consummating our marriage in Chester Co., Pa., and at that time I had intended enjoying two month's rest, which my failing energies absolutely demand, and Stephen with his brother (a reformed lawyer) was in the mean time to look about and select a little grassy spot which we might know by the sacred name of home-- Stephen's health as well as my own absolutely requires a few months' rest-- Then, again, in Chester Co. we could meet many of our friends, whose presence is so desirable on the occasion, to us and them of so much moment-- But Ohio and the rest of the great west is before us, wrapped in death slumbers so deep that the millions of groans and agonizing cries which fill the blue vault are unable to awaken or disturb them-- Nay, verily, the shrieks of their own children, as they are conveyed to Southern dungeons are all unheard and they slumber on -- We are trying with our feeble efforts to establish a citadel here which shall sound the alarm and awaken the slumbers and hence we must stay a little longer as all hands combined are necessary to the accomplishment of our purposes--
Milo may recollect that when we were in Mt. Pleasant we talked of going to Chester Co. and returning-- This we have decided we can afford neither the time nor the expense to do-- And therefore we are looking to Western instead of eastern Pa. for our bridal. In writing now I answer not only Milo's heart-cheering letter-- such letters are to me "like the shadow of a great rock in a weary land"-- but I am about to confer with you as to whether you are willing that Stephen and I, in a very quiet way, inviting only Benj. and Elizabeth and Saml. Brook1 and the friend who may be my companion at the time, should set the seal to our marriage, in the eye of the world, within the circle of your own little fireside-- We purpose to be there sometime in Dec. probably near the first-- That we can't tell exactly as we have not yet decided how many places we shall visit in south-eastern Ohio and we also desire to visit Pittsburg first-- We don't want to make you any more trouble than a day's visit from four of your own family friends would occasion, and the loss of the reputation you may have still left you from entertaining and witnessing the marriage of "Infidels and no-marriage people"2-- But no, we don't want to trouble you by taking away your reputation but I only forewarn you of the result-- I pray you be entirely frank with us and if you have any hesitation on account of inconvenience or otherwise, tell us plainly and we will write to some other friends to whom it may be convenient-- We should have preferred Ohio but for the fact that we cannot conform to its legal requisitions and should we not do so the slanderous courts make use of it to impede our usefulness-- were we not engaged as we are, in publick duties we should rejoice at the opportunity of trampling such iniquitous usurpations under foot.
But I forgot to say we desire to hold meetings in your place also before our marriage-- we regret that we cannot be there before the cold weather that we might have a grove-- Perhaps you will think it best for us to hold our meetings in some neighboring village where we can have a larger house-- you will of course use your own discretion in this matter--
I can deeply sympathize with you in the opposition you meet from your friends-- I have passed through that fiery ordeal and have come out unscathed-- My family friends are now almost entirely with me and some are my warmest supporters-- So may you be blessed in due time if you faint not--
We are doing a pretty good work in this section considering the terrible opposition from Church and Liberty party3, its ablest ally-- 'Tis a hard sail and my strength is not half equal to what I had last summer-- hence I cannot help as I did then, therefore my end of the yoke drags-- This prevents our doing so much as we desired and anticipated--
But I am more than half sick tonight and I fear I have taxed you too heavily with my dullness--
My love to all friends-- Good night
Yours most affectionately
You will consider this from Stephen also-- He wishes to be remembered affectionately to you-- Our post office address will be at the places notified in the Bugle-- We shall reach Cincinnati on the15th and remain there a week--
An early answer will gratify me-- A.K.
1Samuel Brooke (1808-1889) was born of a strongly antislavery family in Maryland. In 1842 he moved to Alliance, Ohio, later becoming general agent for the Ohio American Anti-Slavery Society, which later changed its name to the Western Anti-Slavery Society (Merrill III 514).
2The sort of unjustified accusation frequently made against them by those who supported slavery or disapproved of Abby's lecturing.
3Liberty Party. As stated in the above letter, Abby Kelley and Stephen S. Foster suffered from the Liberty Party's opposition. On the other hand, Sara Jane Clarke in July of the same year wrote to Milo Townsend stating that she hoped she could defend the Liberty Party when she and Milo next met. At the same time Clarke expressed both a desire to see Abby Kelley and fear of an encounter with her.
For more on the Liberty Party see chapter 4.
The following letter, postmarked Belmont, Ohio, Dec. 2, is addressed to Milo A. Townsend, New Brighton, Fallston P.O., Beaver Co., Pa. Abby now has a definite date for the wedding.
from Abby Kelley
Belmont [Ohio] Dec. 1st 1845
My dear friend
When I recollected this morning that it is but three weeks to the time we have fixed on for our marriage, and that you are not yet informed of it I was startled to borrow or beg rather, a crumpled sheet of paper and scribble the word-- But to explain-- We received thine at Cincinnati more than two weeks since and then decided on the day, but we were so entirely occupied while there, and as I was quite unable a part of the time, we had no leisure to write-- Soon after leaving I wrote, and decided to mail the letter at Wheeling as we were coming directly up the river, but at that place we lost some of our luggage among which was my portfolio which contained the letter. Since then I have had no leisure moments when I was not too fatigued to lift a pen-- This is my excuse and I pray you accept it.
The day we selected for our marriage is Dec. 21st Sunday evening-- We hope that will suit your convenience-- If it should not it can be changed even now, I think, without much trouble.
Only Benj and Elizabeth Hitchcock would need to be informed-- We have written to our relatives of the appointed time but there is but the faintest prospect of any of them being there-- My sister and her husband who live in Columbus have engagements which will prevent their attendance, tho' it is possible that a brother of Stephen's who resides in Erie, Pa-- a reformed lawyer, through the power of non-resistance-- may come-- He intends to go to farming in the spring in company with Stephen, and they will lecture on Sundays and at other times when they can leave their ploughs and spades.
But I presume you will not be particular about the time as it will not be necessary to go to any extra trouble-- Please tell Elizabeth that we have a testimony against rich cakes and all such pernicious stuff-- Hence her usual plain table-- I take it for granted that it is usually plain-- will be our choice-- I think I can give her an idea of the inelegance of our bridal, when I tell her that my dress is to be a year old and plain and other things to match-- She will see from this how homely her part of the affair must be in order to correspond.
We hold meetings in Sumerton tomorrow and the day following at Cadiz or Green-- whichever place C. McNealy has chosen-- on Saturday and Sunday next-- thence to Pittsburg where we purpose to remain a week, commencing on the 10th-- from this place to New Brighton where we design to be on the 17th and have the first meeting commence on the 18th either forenoon or afternoon as you think best-- It had not better be notified to continue more than two days and then if there should be sufficient interest to warrant it, it can be continued longer. We have found that when a notice is given for a three or four day's meeting, people put off coming frequently till the second or third day and thereby lose all the first of the discussion-- But when they come out at first they get interested and are profited by a longer meeting.
We are thankful for so good a room as you have obtained in your place for the meetings-- Truth, in her struggle with falsehood, has always been driven to upper chambers, desert places, and the gibbet. But in her omnipotency her voice has reached the uttermost parts of the earth, and startled her foes in the sumptuous palaces and synagogues-- She is immortal and therefore not susceptible of crucifixion. But no more "coals to New Castle"-- I have not time to say any thing about our meetings at Cincinnati or the Southwestern society formed there-- We will tell all when we come--
Do you know any one at Pittsburg who will give us the right hand or the left even?-- We are entirely strangers and it is soon.
Have the kindness to write us at Cadiz if there should be time after receiving this - if not then at Pittsburg--
I have recd no letter from Sarah Jane Clarke-- I hope to find her open to the examination of all questions--
But we must leave for Sumerton through the snow --
My love to Lizzie and a kiss for the baby- -
P.S. Since writing the above, we have looked over the matter of going to Pittsburg, and as we are entirely unacquainted there we have concluded that if we should not receive a letter from you at Cadiz informing us that there are persons or a person there on whom we can rely to give us a home and aid us in getting up our meetings, we had better not go there till we get ready to return east in the spring. Perhaps however Cyrus McNealy can give us some information that will favor us-- In this case we may go--
Should we not go to Pittsburg we shall probably rest at C. McNealy's till it is time to visit your place. We need this rest for we are too much worn to do good service in any of our meetings.
Dorothy Sterling, reporting the wedding in Ahead of her Time: Abby Kelley and the Politics of Antislavery , states that Abby and Stephen accompanied by Jane Elizabeth Hitchcock, Benjamin Jones, and Samuel Brooke arrived at the home of Milo Townsend, "a fellow abolitionist," for their wedding on December 21, 1845. Following Quaker tradition, "they had drawn up their own wedding certificate" (220). There were approximately fifty people present for the ceremony. Most of these were friends of Milo and Elizabeth Townsend. A guest at the wedding noted, "Stephen gave them his views relating to marriage, Abby spoke of her anti-slavery life -- its toil and sacrifice. The assembly was more like a funeral than a wedding-- not a dry eye present -- the only refreshments -- cold water!" (Sterling 221).
Surely Elizabeth Walker Townsend provided some food. Perhaps the wedding guest expected tea or coffee, while Elizabeth, knowing Abby's dietary preferences, served water. When in her letter Abby had referred to a "plain table," she had meant it very seriously, for she had early begun to follow a diet propounded by Sylvester Graham and continued to do so throughout her life. Graham opposed commercially baked white bread, insisting that people should eat whole wheat bread baked at home. He also opposed the use of coffee, tea, whiskey, and tobacco. Meat was to be eaten sparingly (29,30).
The following from Milo's archives is a copy of their beautifully handwritten Marriage Certificate:
To all whom it may concern. This is to certify that we Stephen S. Foster Son of Asa and Sarah M. Foster of the town of Cantebury [sic.]1 and State of New Hampshire, and Abby Kelley, Daughter of the late Wing and Dianna Kelley of Millburg and State of Massachusetts have this day (December 21st, 1845) consummated a matrimonial connection in accordance with the divine law of Marriage, by a public declaration of our mutual affection and covenant of perpetual love and fidelity, and of our purpose to perform faithfully all the relative duties of husband and wife.
In testimony whereof we hereunto affix our respective names. Signed at New Brighton, Beaver County, Penn.- December 21, 1845.
Stephen S. Foster.
Abby Kelley Foster.
Milo A. Townsend,
Elizabeth W. Townsend.,
and 35 others. --
1In the copy of this certificate included in Sterling's book, the town is correctly spelled Canterbury (220).
Abby and Stephen went back to lecturing in Ohio. Their marriage was announced in the Bugle . Ohio newspapers reported it mockingly. One editor exclaimed, "None too soon!" while another wrote that he hoped Abby would now stop trying to overturn the U.S. government and stay at home caring for babies. On the other hand, Parker Pillsbury urged her to be faithful to the antislavery cause (221).
The Fosters did not always agree on tactics to be used in the antislavery movement, but this did not seem to trouble their relationship, and their marriage was very long and happy. They often worked together for the cause, but when needed, went to separate parts of the country to lecture, keeping in touch by letter. When they moved to the farm that Stephen bought in Worcester, Massachusetts, their home became a station on the underground railroad (Sterling 3).
Abby had planned to stay in Ohio for a summer only, but the need was so great that she remained for eighteen months. At the request of antislavery people in Ohio, she had sent for Stephen to join her in lecturing. During 1845 and 1846 she, Stephen, and other speakers that she had obtained for the work visited every major city in the state (215, 217).
Accommodations for the lecturers were primitive, for Ohio homes at that time consisted mainly of one-room log cabins. It was truly a pioneer society, but Abby loved and admired the people (216).
However, her health suffered somewhat from constant speaking and journeying from place to place for lectures with little time to rest (219). This was a recurring problem. She was so overwhelmed with the urgency and need of the enslaved to be free that she drove herself unmercifully.
When at last she and Stephen were about to leave Ohio, she was astounded to discover that she was pregnant; for she believed that this would be impossible when she was working so hard, lecturing during the days and traveling to another town by night for the next day's lecture (232). Upon the discovery, the couple left for the East. The farm that Stephen bought in Worcester needed a great amount of work, but this pleased him, for he loved working with his hands. He had grown up on a farm and had been apprenticed to a carpenter, so had the knowledge and skills he needed for the run down fields and equally run down (but very large) farmhouse that he had purchased. The house had been built in 1797 and was lovely when Stephen had finished working on it but an appalling place when he bought it. He set to work joyfully, and within a rather short time the house was more than merely habitable while the fertility of the land increased steadily. By the 1870s the fields were so very productive, and the fruit trees were providing crops of such outstanding quality that Stephen was busy selling vegetables, milk, and fruit and winning prizes for his produce at county fairs (241, 359-360)).
The Fosters' only child, Paulina Wright, always called Alla, was born May 19, 1847. Abby, who was slow to recover from the birth, loved her daughter dearly and took delight in all of her doings (Ruchames IV 520; Sterling 242-244).
Alla was eight months old when Abby wrote the next letter to Milo, this time from her Worcester home. As the letter shows, the Fosters were still very active in the antislavery movement.
from Abby Kelley Foster
Worcester, Jan. 30- '48
My very, very dear friend--
Did thee but know half the amount of cares and responsibilities that have been laid on me since the receipt of thy first kind letter, and many especially since thy last came to hand, I should not make a word of explanation for so long delay to answer thee--Nor would thy last so almost unkindly have hinted that thy correspondence was or might not be gratifying to me for the reason that I had been silent so long-- when I (tell) thee that I did not write a letter for some three months in the middle of last year, and since that have scarcely written once to my dearest friends, except in business, and that tonight there is lying before me a large pile of unanswered letters, some of business, others from dear friends, thy gentle heart will pity rather than condemn me-- Ask thy dearest Lizzie how much writing she could do if her present domestic cares were multiplied by three, and she had a heavy weight of anti-slavery business on her shoulders besides-- But I will make no more explanation-- You are reasonable people--
But O how much I want to see you and how much I want again to see New Brighton, the place with which so many tender recollections are associated-- It contains many charming pictures, also, which are framed and "hung up in the chamber of my memory"-- And they will never fade or get dusty, but the clear sunlight of my midday, which was my love's morning, shall ever shed its brightest radiance upon them--
Thy last letter, which reminded me that there were so few tried and true in your place, made me quite sad--yes, it makes me sad always, when the fact comes up afresh before me, that there is but one to the thousand and two to the ten thousand-- yet why should it? Do I not know the history, and have I not learned the philosophy of the reform. The scripture of every age tells us it has always been thus, and our reason answers that it always will be thus, while reforms are needed-- Let us thank God that we have the great happiness of being clothed with sufficient strength for this great purpose--strength to resist the mighty tide which slavery and its kindred enormities bears onward to ruin and devastation-- I mingle much pity with my censures of the votaries of crime. How poor, how mean and despicable is their course. How paltry, how terrible, rather, is their reward. But how beautiful, how sublime, even, is the career of that soul which lives to combat the wrong and to succeed the right-- And his reward 'tis always in his hand-- And yet other rewards lie about him and before him-- The good act tells not in the present and the here alone-- Its results are in the uncounted years of the future and run into eternity, while the vilest intelligence of the universe feels its benign influence-- Yes, tis no sacrifice to be truly virtuous- 'Tis a small matter to be denounced and ridiculed, mobbed or killed even, by the groveling herd, who are thus, by our being laid on the altar, brought to a somewhat higher position-- But no more coals to New Castle-- I thank God that New Brighton is safe for my bridal host and hostess are within its borders--
Will you not come to New England some day and see us in our coarse and shabby home-- 'Tis a happy place, I can assure you-- and a palace to us, for our baby is here. It was her birthplace, and she has consecrated it these eight months-- And her father blesses it with his overflowing affections as often as he can steal away from the smoke and dust of the battlefield, even tho' it be only for an hour. Will you not come sometime and make our hearts glad by the sunlight of your face? I am always delighted with letters from my friends-- They would write more frequently, even though they never get a reply, did they knew how much good my soul derives from them-- yet letters are but poor substitutes for the real, bona fide, warm presence-- I will hope some time to grasp the hand of Milo and Elizabeth and their little one at our own threshold.
Where our path will lie next year, I know not-- I expect to accompany Stephen a great part of the time when he goes out, tho' his health requires that his summers be passed mainly on the soil in farmer's guise--
Pray do not laugh at this poor, very poor sheet-- I am very dull this evening, and Stephen is at home because he is not well enough to lecture-- He has a bad cold-- He does not know I am writing to you or he would send heaps of love-- He loves you most truly and often speaks of you-- Were he able, he would help write, but he's asleep and must not be awakened--
Remember me most cordially to all my old acquaintances in your place--
With warmest affection to thee and thine,
I am ever Abby K. F.
The Fosters' daughter, Alla, a very amiable, intelligent, and responsible girl, suffered from spinal curvature. When she was eleven years old the condition became so severe that the previously very active and busy child became an invalid. However, with surgical corsets and other care, she improved slowly. During the months of recuperation required, Abby nursed her, never leaving her side (Sterling 316-317).
At twenty-one years of age, Alla was ready for college. She was quite sturdy and had a pretty face, but her body remained bent. First she studied at Vassar in New York state, a college that had opened in 1865, offering both a classical and a scientific education. From Vassar Alla was graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1872. She continued her education at Cornell University for a year, studying history. She was one of the first women at the school, which had opened in 1868 and first admitted women in 1872. While completing her dissertation, she taught high school students back home and in 1876 received her Master of Arts degree from the university, after which she continued to teach in high schools. In addition she represented her parents at suffrage meetings and other events (Sterling 316-317; 350, 359, 374-375).
During part of the summer and fall of 1849 Abby and Stephen worked as a team in Dutchess and Ulster counties in New York, lecturing turn about and selling books and subscriptions to the National Anti-Slavery Standard . Abby especially admired the people of Dutchess County, who were of New England stock and both intelligent and enterprising. (Sterling 250-251).
It was while on this lecture tour that Abby next wrote to Milo.
from Abby Kelley Foster
Pleasant Valley Duchess Co., N.Y.
October 11, '49
My dear friend--
Thy tremendous letter-- not tremendous in size alone-- has upbraided me every time I have sat down to my portfolio to answer letters for some four months past, and no sprained ankle or detention in my journeys has bidden me answer it-- with me there is worse, 'tis unceasing toil-- "even Sunday shines no sabbath day to me" No! the peoples' rest is my toil peculiarly, And, to speak the truth, thee is the only person to whom I write purely friendship letters. For several years I have said to all my friends they must expect nothing but business notes from me-- So if I answer thee very briefly don't be surprised-- It should on the contrary be matter of surprise that I write at all. "Tis no easy matter to write while on the wing. From what bird did we ever require so much-- But the storm is heavy today, very heavy, and my wings are too heavy to pursue my way and so I am perched by Hetchum's fireside-- I am glad there are Hetchums, else we might fall in the fields--
But as I see a streak of light sky in the northwest I must hasten as my resting must not be prolonged--
In relation to the main topic of thy letter-- the new spiritual philosophy-- I have a long time been interested in it and given it so much attention as I could snatch from immediate and pressing duties. I received a present of "Davis' Revelations" nearly two years since and had several copies [?] of the Univercoelum which was taken by several of my friends-- Stephen, as well as myself, has had but little time to investigate this great question, unfathomable to the deepest research that thus far has been bestowed on it. We should be very glad to pay this, as well as many other important questions, more special attention, but we have so much actual labor to do-- there is so much before us which is known and fully understood & must be done, that we have little time to speculate in matters of vast importance and which, in their full development will open up uncounted blessings to the race-- Whether this new philosophy will prove, when explored, to be altogether what it is believed to be, by its most sanguine admirers is doubtful. But I can have no doubt that "There are many things in earth and heaven that have not been dreamed of in the philosophy" of the wise and prudent of this age. Heaven speed the investigations of those who can devote themselves to this work and to every other which commends itself to the understandings of those who would prove all things.
I have not read the Revelations or the Univercoelum with that scrutiny which is necessary to any just criticism. The general impression I have is, that there is a great truth at the foundation of these views and I long to be initiated into its sanctum sanctorum. I feel that I am better and wiser for the little attention I have given them, and I am hoping to find time to get my book home that I may read it thoroughly-- It is so interesting. I have had it at home but a very little time since I got it-- my friends have been benefited by it much more than myself--
To the questions in thy last I need not reply as time has done it for me-- you have Oliver Johnson's life-giving presence among you and I see the necessary results. Your A.S. Society is up and doing-- 'Tis delightful to feel the responsive beating of your western hearts to our own. We know our cause is steadily onward-- Stephen and myself are plodding gradually along, breaking up the fallow soil of Eastern N.Y. but it is a slow and wearisome, indeed almost discouraging work-- But we feel that it must be done and so we bend ourselves to the toil.
I presume thyself and Lizzie were at the Young Men's and Women's Convention-- I am looking very impatiently for the proceedings which are to come in this week's Standard - I hope you have laid out work to be done-- We are needing Parker P's1 services here tho' we cannot grudge him to you-- Go on and in proportion to our efforts shall the world be raised to a higher and higher tone of Spiritual elevation and physical comfort--
I had the high satisfaction of a personal acquaintance with Sarah Tayler last summer-- She is a beautiful spirit-- Charles is indeed a most fortunate man and he is worthy to be so.
You will have heard before this reaches thee of Fredreka Brewer's arrival in this country-- Some of our anti-slavery friends are endeavoring to bring her into connection with such of our abolitionists as shall give her a true idea of slavery before she shall have been perverted by the corrupting influences which will every where surround her-- When she goes to Philadelphia we hope she may be invited to make James Mott's her home. I fear she will not be able to withstand the blighting curse of this country no matter what influences may be thrown about her--
Stephen has just come in from the day's labor of getting a house in which to hold a series of meetings in this place to which the rain has confined us. By digging through mountains of prejudice and bigotry he has won a vestry of an Episcopal Church so we remain here longer-- Stephen says give my love to Milo & Lizzie and tell them to come and see us-- I answer him that I don't approve of useless forms and so I shall say nothing about it. True friends need no invitation.
Give my love to your father's family and others who may feel any interest in us. With most earnest love to Lizzie and thyself I remain
1Parker P. The Parker P. of this letter is Parker Pillsbury (1809-1898), who was born in Massachusetts but lived in New Hampshire for the greater part of his life. He was a Congregational minister until he lost his license to preach after a clash over the slavery issue. Thereafter he became a full-time lecture agent, first for the New Hampshire Anti-Slavery Society and then for the Massachusetts and American societies (Merrill III 16; Mabee 223). A Garrisonian abolitionist, i.e., a supporter of nonresistance, he toured with Stephen Symonds Foster. Pillsbury believed that their safe deliverance from a Derry, New Hampshire, mob was due to their offering no resistance when the mob held back the wheels of the carriage in which he and Foster were riding (Mabee 206, 221).
For a time in the 1840s he was editor of the Herald of Freedom in Concord, New Hampshire, and later of the National Anti-Slavery Standard in New York City. His writings included the 1883 Acts of the Anti-Slavery Apostles (Merrill V 114).
Milo Townsend defended Abby Kelley Foster in an article from which the following excerpt is taken:
...In the case of Abby K. Foster, I did not like your allusions to her. They exhibited too much bitterness and impatience. I know Abby well. She has most noble traits, a beautiful spirit of self-sacrifice and devotion to what she conceives to be truth, a gifted mind, a feeling heart, and an eloquent tongue. When I say this, I do not mean that she is faultless. Who is? I would not apologize for any unkind thing she may have said of you. She has been long in the field of anti-slavery reform, and as it is the tendency of the human mind to give undue prominence to any subject upon which it dwells exclusively, and thereby becomes less capable of harmonious action; so I think in her case, having directed her mind so long and exclusively upon one subject, and that a dark, hateful, and forbidding one, she has become imbued somewhat with a spirit of acrimony and discord, to the injury of her mental equilibrium and symmetry. And yet, for a successful conflict with wrong, these combative elements seem to be needed, still their undue exercise prtverts [sic] and renders discordant. The true man or woman must be the product of a harmonious exercise of all the organs and faculties of the human being. None such are on the earth, though some approximate to it.
Mrs. Foster and those who co-operate with her, have done a good work in various directions.... They have, to a great extent, conquered the mob spirit, and rendered it "tolerable" for you and your wife and
others, to enunciate such radical truths as a few years ago would have subjected you to the fiery fury of implacable mobocracy. You may thank them for helping to develop and prepare numerous minds for the reception of your more searching and radical sentiments, and, instead of denouncing Garrison and Mrs. Foster, should be ready to hail them as pioneers in a movement which was a necessary antecedent or forerunner to the cause you advocate, and whose labors have hurled many an old dead log, and a great deal of brush, out of the track of your progress....
I enclose a scrap of poetry (a capital thing), "The Bigot and the Shaker," which might profitably find a place in your brave and "wide-awake" Journal.
With the kind regards of my wife and self to Mrs. Nichols,
I am faithfully yours.
(Scrapbook IV 46-47)
In 1855 in a Sunday sermon, Theodore Parker praised Abby as one who had traveled throughout the North to promote the cause of women. She had, he said, endured "the burden and heat of the day." Society treated her as an outcast, "Other women hated her; men insulted her. Every vulgar editor threw a stone at her...." Despite all of this, she "bore it with no complaint; only now and then in private, the great heart of Abby Kelley would fill her eyes with tears at the thought of this injustice, but she never allowed her tears to blind her eyes, or quench the light which was shedding its radiance down her steep and rugged path." And now, he declared, when woman's cause had gained a degree of respect, those in charge of a great convention of women meeting in Boston had not considered Abby Kelley, the greatest champion of women, worthy to sit on the platform. However, there is actually no proof that Abby was so mistreated at the time of the convention. The only indication of it is Parker's sermon. (Sterling 300).
Another newspaper clipping from one of Milo's scrapbooks mentions Abby Kelley's and Stephen S. Foster's wedding, as well as giving a brief picture of Pittsburgh. P.P. is lightly penciled at the end of the article, probably indicating the author, whose name is presently unknown. It seems doubtful from other evidence that it could have been Parker Pillsbury, who does not appear to have been in the area at that time; indeed Sterling states that it was after the wedding was announced in the Bugle , Pillsbury congratulated Stephen but urged Abby "'to remain faithful to the cause'" (221). The article follows:
A little after noon, we reached New Brighton, Pa., and found a joyous welcome at the house of Milo A. Townsend. I would say a word of this family had I time. It is one of those strange, unaccountable families that is always forgetting to ask at the ark of public opinion, what they must say and do. It is a case of most incurable, incorrigible heresy. It was a desperate step to open their doors to the sans ceremony marriage of Stephen S. Foster and Abby Kelly [sic.], which came off with no town clerk to publish, no priest to profane, nor grocer's wine to baptize it.... In the evening we had a lecture at Brighton that was well attended, and the people said, well sustained.
The following morning, I took passage on board the steamer Comet for Pittsburgh, the grand black-smith shop of the Nation-- a volcano of fires and forges that Vulcan himself might covet. I endeavored to find out some Anti-Slavery salamanders, but somehow these fires do not breed them, and as I could spend but a single night there, I made no effort for a meeting. (Scrapbook IV 60)
In a letter to the New England Spiritualist from H.F.M. Brown, who wrote from New Brighton, Pennsylvania, June 25, 1855, the writer mentions the Foster wedding and adds, "Milo and Lizzie opened to them their doors, and the good citizens of the town came in to hear the parties read their own marriage contract" (Scrapbook IV 59).
Abby returned to Ohio in June of 1850 and set to work at once speaking and getting subscriptions for the Bugle . She toured Ohio for three months at that time, generally speaking outdoors or in a huge tent that was hauled from place to place by a team of three horses. This tent seated over three thousand people. When Parker Pillsbury and another lecturer joined her in August, she had more time to visit abolitionists in their homes to discuss issues and obtain more subscriptions for the Bugle . Amazingly, she made more than one thousand such visits.
In September the tent was put up in Salem, Ohio, for the annual Western Anti-Slavery Society meeting. By that time Abby had raised $870, and the Bugle had 1270 subscribers (Sterling 260-261).
In 1860 she was again in Ohio for the annual meeting. That time she left the state after six months, absolutely exhausted (328, 330).
In 1872 the Fosters decided to refuse to pay property taxes until Abby was permitted to vote at the town meetings at which tax rates were set. Their slogan, "Taxation without representation is tyranny," was very timely, as the one hundredth anniversary celebration of the Boston Tea Party was then being planned for 1873 and the hundredth anniversary of the nation would occur in three years (367, 372).
A clipping in the Milo Townsend archives contains the following statement of her stance:
"Indeed, she was so serious about her stand for women's rights that she permitted her property to be sold and her farm seized for taxes because as a woman she could neither vote nor hold office
Stephen and Abby organized a Convention on Taxation without Representation for the day before their property was to be sold at auction for taxes. They received much support.
On the day of the auction, only one man bid on the estate. He reniged on his purchase, however, when Stephen said that he and Abby would have to be forcibly evicted from the place. The property reverted to the city, and the Fosters continued to live in their home (369-370). In ensuing years Stephen bid in the property at each sale, and the city took the taxes out of the money he paid (371).
To satisfy personal property taxes, a deputy sheriff seized one of their cows in 1874 and another in 1875 to satisfy these taxes (371).
In 1880, the year before Stephen died, they paid the tax bill and again held the deed to their property. They did this because Stephen was too ill to go on with the protest, having had a paralytic stroke from which he had only partially recovered (372).
Abby Kelley Foster died at Worcester, Massachusetts, on January 14, 1887, the day before her seventy-sixth birthday (Sterling 386)