Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Crusade against Slavery: Edward Coles, Pioneer of Freedom

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Crusade against Slavery: Edward Coles, Pioneer of Freedom

Article excerpt

By Kurt E. Leichtle and Bruce G. Carveth. (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2011. Pp. xi, 268, notes, bibliography, index. Cloth, $34.95.)

Crusade Against Slavery: Edward Coles, Pioneer of Freedom is a personal story of Coles' journey to fulfill his own beliefs about freedom in a world that rejected emancipation. Born into a slave society in Virginia, Coles ran in the circle of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Unlike the latter, Coles eventually rejected slave society as immoral and became what the authors call a "pioneer of freedom" when he freed his slaves and assisted them in becoming self-supporting individuals. The authors note that their book attempts to weave together black and white history by telling the story of Coles and the twenty slaves he freed. Limited by restrictive laws in his ability to free his slaves in Virginia, Coles headed west to the free territory of Illinois where he freed the slaves in dramatic fashion while floating down the Ohio River.

Two recent publications of Virginians who emancipated their slaves can serve as a comparison to Crusade Against Slavery. The first, Andrew Levy's The First Emancipator (2005) is the story of Virginian Robert Carter's emancipation of over four hundred slaves. While Carter left little indication why he turned toward emancipation, Coles provided countless letters and personal conversations about his motives. Coles' rejection of slavery came as a result of his liberal education under Anglican Bishop James Madison (cousin of the future President). Under Madison's tutelage, Coles came to see slavery as immoral and fundamentally opposed to the republican principles of individual natural rights. The strength of this book is Coles' vast correspondence which allows the reader to journey with him through his rejection of slavery. However, it is hard to see Coles as a "pioneer of freedom" except perhaps for the twenty slaves he freed. …

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