Those early Anti-Slavery lecturers were a peculiar set. Since the days of the Apostles there have been no more earnest propagandists. They were both male and female. That they were, as a rule, financially poor, it is unnecessary to state. They lived largely on the country traversed. Sympathizers with their views, having received and entertained them—sometimes clandestinely—after a public talk or two, would carry them on to the next stations on their routes, occasionally contributing a few dollars to their purses. It made no particular difference to them whether they spoke in halls, in churches, or in the open air. Before beginning their addresses their usual course was to challenge their opponents to debate, and to taunt them with lack of courage or principle if they failed to respond. Of course, they were in constant danger from mobs. They were stoned, clubbed, shot at, and rotten-egged, and in a few extreme cases tarred and feathered; but they were never frightened from their work.
They were by no means policy-wise. That was one of their peculiarities. Their idea seemed to be that they could drive people easier than they could lead them. They used no buttered phrases. They told the plainest truths in the plainest way. They gave their audiences hard words, and often received hard knocks in return. They called the slaveholders robbers and man-stealers. They branded Northern politicians with Southern principles as “dough-faces.” But their hardest and sharpest expletives were reserved for those Northern clergymen who were either pro-slavery or non-committal. They blistered them all over with their lashings. In speaking of one of the most noted among them, Lowell describes him as
“A kind of maddened
John the Baptist
To whom the hardest word came aptest.”
The lecturer of whom I saw the most in those early trying days was Professor Hudson, of Oberlin College. While in that part of the field he made headquarters at my father’s house, radiating out and filling appointments in different directions. He was exceedingly sharp-tongued and very fearless. Nothing seemed to please him better than a “scrimmage” with his opponents. Often he conquered mobs by resolutely talking them down and making them ashamed of themselves. But on one occasion, looking through the window from the outside to see what awaited him in a room where he was to speak, he saw a pot of boiling tar on the stove that heated the room and a pillow-case full of feathers conveniently near, while a half-drunken crowd was in possession of the place, and concluded to run. He, however, had been seen and was pursued. There was a foot race, but as some of the pursuers were better sprinters than Hudson, and he was about to be captured, he dashed into the first house he came to and asked for protection. The proprietor was a kinsman of mine. He was an old man, but hearty and vigorous. He ordered his sons to take their guns and guard the other entrances, while he took his stand in the front door with an axe in his hand. When the mob came up and demanded the Abolitionist, he gave warning that he would brain the first man that attempted to enter his house without his consent. So evidently in earnest was he that the rowdies, after a little bluster, concluded to give up the hunt and left in disgust.