Abolition Lot 1 of Catalog 481
By Louise Harlow
Gerald Massey was a poet and writer on spiritualism. He was born to poor parents in England who forced him to work when he was a child in a silk factory where conditions were deplorable. His life in these early years were rendered gloomy by much distress and deprivation, against which the young man strove with increasing spirit and virility, educating himself in his spare time, and gradually cultivating his innate taste for literary work. This book is a collection of some of his best writing. He later got involved in Egyptology and wrote several controversial pieces that connected Egypt with Christianity.
Samuel Joseph May , whose signature at the front of the book, was born on September 12, 1797 into a well-connected Boston family, William Lloyd Garrison converted him to immediate abolitionism in 1830; they became lifelong friends. Rev. May assisted Garrison in founding the New England Anti-Slavery Society (NEASS) and was a founding member the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS). He championed Prudence Crandall’s quest to educate Black schoolgirls published the abolitionist newspaper The Unionist (1833), and helped with the organization of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society.
In 1834, Rev. May converted his internationally recognized mentor, Dr. William E. Channing, to abolitionism. Rev. May was hired as a General Agent and Corresponding Secretary for the NEASS (1835-36), hosted Sarah and Angelina E. Grimké when they spoke from his pulpit (1837) and praised the work of Abby Kelley Foster. Tolerance and civility were characteristics of Rev. May. He tried, unsuccessfully, to avert the 1840 AASS breakup. Theodore Dwight Weld commented that Rev. May was the only abolitionist who “had not been poisoned by this fierce feud.”
In 1845, after serving parishes in Connecticut and Massachusetts, Rev. May accepted what was to become his final ministry in Syracuse, NY. There he became acquainted with both Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman. His national prominence was acknowledged when the “Barn Burner Democratic/Conscience Whigs” asked him for an opening prayer at their 1848 Buffalo convention, where he supported Gerrit Smith for president. Rev. May, along with Gerrit Smith and Rev. Jermain Wesley Loguen, were instrumental in the 1851 rescue of the runaway slave William “Jerry” Henry, arrested under the Fugitive Slave Act. Thereafter, he staged annual “Jerry Celebrations,’’ portraying this rescue as another “Boston Tea Party.” Rev. May is depicted on the “Jerry Rescue” monument in downtown Syracuse, NY.
By 1830, Rev. May recognized that racial prejudice, not only financial self-interest, perpetuated slavery in the U.S., long after its prohibition elsewhere. He was dedicated to racial equality, not just abolition. He included African-Americans in his meetings (unlike many abolitionists), assisted hundreds of fugitive slaves in eastern Connecticut (1834) and Syracuse (from 1845), served as president of the Syracuse Fugitive Aid Society, toured settlements of former slaves in Canada for the AASS, founded one of the earliest Freedman’s Relief Associations (1862), and promoted Radical Reconstruction, especially suffrage, education and land distribution to former slaves.
He died on July 1, 1871, eulogized by Bishop Jermain Loguen, Gerrit Smith, and William Garrison who said “…without his encouraging words and zealous co-operation, I should have lost much of the inspiration….”
In addition to abolition, Reverend May championed women’s rights and suffrage, interracial and other educational reforms, pacifism, temperance, and the welfare of the under-privileged. He proposed a graduated income tax and assisted the Onondaga Nation. He was a moral giant ahead of his time.
Massey, Gerald. Poems and Ballads. 8vo, gilt-lettered publisher’s cloth stamp in blind; spine-ends frayed, generally clean and sound otherwise.
New York, 1854 [75/100]
SIGNED on the front free endpaper by noted Abolitionist and reformer, Samuel J. May.