Political, religious and humanistic opposition in England led to
the abolishment of slavery in England in the late 18th century.
However, that “peculiar institution,” as many called it, lingered in
America. Slave labor was considered essential to maintaining “the
wealth of the south.” Without slaves, the economy might collapse.
In the North, opposition to slavery arose early, during the birth
of our nation. However, it was accepted by most. George Washington and
Thomas Jefferson were among the great American figures who owned
slaves. Among the first serious movements to benefit African Americans
were successful efforts in 1811, 1816 and 1817 by Paul Cuffee, a
well-to-do New England ship-owner, who organized and helped finance
the journey of free former slaves to go to Sierra Leone, a British
colony in the continent of their or their forbears’ birth, to live in
freedom and establish themselves.
Cuffee died in 1817. Perhaps inspired by his efforts, in 1816 the
Society for the Colonization of Free People of Color of America,
popularly known as the American Colonization Society, was formed.
The group assisted with the establishment of the aptly named
Liberia on the Atlantic coast of Africa in 1821 and 1822, with its
capital named Monrovia, for President James Monroe. The thought was to
support free blacks and, if they desired to, to assist them in
returning to their native land. More than 10,000 free blacks emigrated
to Sierra Leone and Liberia over the next several decades.
Slavery endured in the South, as we all know. In the 1850s,
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped move the abolition
cause into wide public view as people read about how Eliza and her
family made their escape from slave owners. The defining moment was
Nov. 4, 1860, when Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected as
president. His firmly declared pro-abolition stance was unacceptable
to many Southern leaders. On Dec. 20, South Carolina withdrew from the
Union, followed quickly by others, who in January 1861 formed the
Confederate States of America.
In connection with slavery, many tokens and medals are found in
American numismatics, a wide selection of paper money (such as
depicting slaves picking cotton), and a few commemorative coins.
I illustrate two tokens from the early 19th century, one the very
famous AM I NOT A WOMAN & A SISTER token from 1838, and the other
a relatively unknown store card issued by W.W. Wilbur, an auctioneer
who sold blacks to the highest bidders in Charleston in 1846.
Q. David Bowers is chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers Galleries
and numismatic director of Whitman Publishing LLC. He can be reached
at his private email, firstname.lastname@example.org,
or at Q. David Bowers, LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.