”You're Fired!” The Dismissal of Abolitionist Minister Samuel Joseph May, 1820–42

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 4:10 PM
Maryland Suite B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Megan Scallan Melvin, Florida International University
With the ruling in 1783 by the Massachusetts Supreme Court in Commonwealth v. Jennison slavery was effectively abolished in Massachusetts. The ruling immediately freed all slaves in the state. In 1788, the state declared the slave trade illegal after six freed blacks from Massachusetts were kidnapped and sold into slavery in Martinique. The state became known world-wide as the center for the American antislavery movement. Despite strong antislavery sentiments throughout the years between the 1783 ruling and the eve of the Civil War, dozens of Protestant ministers were demised from Massachusetts congregations due to their antislavery sermons and abolitionist activities including Rev. Samuel Joseph May.

This paper examines Unitarian minister Samuel Joseph May and why he was demised in 1842 from his Scituate, MA parish. May served as William Lloyd Garrison’s right-hand man and the co-founder of the New England Anti-Slavery Society, the America Anti-Slavery Society, and the American Peace Society. His presence in print and action reverberate throughout American history but little is said about why he was dismissed from his beloved community nor about how he was asked repeatedly by friends not to return to their churches after giving zealous antislavery sermons in his early career. Using sermons, newsletters, family archival collections, private letters, and published memoirs, I aim to uncover why his abolitionism threatened his congregation in Scituate as well as his friends’ Boston area churches enough to ban him from preaching.

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