Stephen Symonds Foster

On this date in 1809, Stephen Symonds Foster was born in Canterbury, N.H. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1838 and went on to enroll in Union Theological Seminary, where he became disheartened with the pro-slavery views of many churches. The principal of Union Theological Seminary offered Foster a bribe to stop discussing his position on slavery, but Foster declined and left the seminary after only a year. Foster helped to organize the New Hampshire Young Men’s Anti-Slavery Society and was a member of the American Anti-Slavery Society, along with his wife, Abigail Kelley. Foster and Kelley were also strong supporters of women’s rights and the temperance movement. The family lived on a farm called Liberty Farm in Mass., which they used to help slaves escape on the Underground Railroad.

Foster was an outspoken abolitionist who critiqued churches for their support of slavery, often interrupting church services to speak out against slavery. In 1844 he published the pamphlet “The Brotherhood of Thieves; or, a True Picture of the American Church and Clergy,” an exposé of the anti-abolitionist views of churches and the clergy. In the introduction of the pamphlet, Foster describes it as a “testimony against the popular religion of our country.” D. 1881

During the 1844 New England Antislavery Convention, Foster held up a collar and manacles and declared, “Behold here a specimen of the religion of this land, the handiwork of the American church and clergy."

—Quoted in “The Puritan Origins of American Patriotism” by George McKenna, 2007.

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

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