Anne Royall

On this date in 1769, Anne Royall (née Newport) was born in Baltimore. A wealthy Revolutionary War soldier, Major William Royall, who had hired her mother as a servant, married Anne at age 28 when he was more than 20 years older in 1797. She embraced freethought and the Age of Reason, repudiating dogma and hell. By some accounts, she was the first professional woman journalist in the U.S.

Left a widow when her husband died in 1813, she spent the next decade in Alabama. Royall’s relatives contested the will and broke it in 1823, forcing her to earn her income by pen. She set off on a series of nomadic adventures, writing a number of travel books, including her series of “Black Books.” According to biographer Jeff Biggers, the popular volumes were “informative but sardonic portraits of the elite and their denizens from Mississippi to Maine.” 

Royall reviled missionaries and piety, fought evangelicals in Congress and destroyed the tracts of the Sunday School Union wherever she found them, including in the Library of Congress, on steamboats and in hotel rooms. She drove missionaries from the halls of Congress, wielding an old green umbrella. In 1827, when Rev. Ezra Stiles Ely announced plans for “a Christian Party” to elect only Christians, she called it treasonous.

She tried to stop Sabbatarians from halting Sunday mail distribution, championed public schools free from religious bias and feuded with a neighboring evangelical church, which harassed her and got her arrested as a public nuisance and “common scold.” She was convicted and was fined $10, an amount paid by two journalists in Washington, D.C.

At 62 she launched a weekly newspaper out of her home (1831-36), followed by The Huntress (1836-54), to educate people about government. She knew and interviewed every president from John Adams to Franklin Pierce. She was cheated out of a war pension, which it had taken John Quincy Adams 25 years to win for her, dying almost penniless at 85. D. 1854.

Freedom From Religion Foundation