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Chapman, Maria Weston

CHAPMAN, Maria Weston

Born 25 July 1806, Weymouth, Massachusetts; died 12 July 1885, Weymouth, Massachusetts

Daughter of Warren and Anne Bates Weston; married HenryGrafton Chapman, 1830

The oldest of six children, Maria Weston Chapman grew up in Weymouth and spent several years in England with the family of her maternal uncle, a London banker. When she returned to Boston at twenty-two, she became "lady principal" of Ebenezer Bailey's Young Ladies' High School. She married a fellow Unitarian, Henry Chapman, and joined him and his parents as an ardent abolitionist and supporter of William Lloyd Garrison.

In 1832 Chapman joined 12 other women to found the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society. She became their leader and the editor of their annual report, Right and Wrong in Boston (1836-38). When the "blue-coat mob" threatened the meeting of the Society on 21 October 1835, Chapman said: "If this is the last bulwark of freedom, we may as well die here as anywhere."

Chapman was "of inestimable help in editing the Liberator, taking charge with Edmund Quincy during Garrison's absences and illnesses." Beginning in 1834, she and her sisters ran yearly abolitionist fundraising fairs in Boston. For these fairs, Chapman edited the annual gift book, The Liberty Bell, "to which better versifiers and poets than herself contributed." She also helped to edit the Non-Resistant, the periodical of Garrison's New England Non-Resistance Society, from 1839 to 1842.

After the 1840 split in the American Anti-Slavery Society, Chapman, as member of the executive committee of the national organization, helped establish and finance the National Anti-Slavery Standard in New York. Although she took her children to Europe in 1848 and spent the next eight years chiefly in Paris, she kept in touch with abolitionists in the U.S. and Great Britain, and continued to contribute to The Liberty Bell. She returned to Boston in 1855 and accepted Garrison's view that "with the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation and the enactment of the 13th Amendment, the time had come to disband the antislavery societies."

Believing that the crusade against slavery could be aided by music, Chapman edited Songs of the Free, and Hymns of Christian Freedom (1836), and contributed many songs and poems to this collection and to The Liberty Bell. Her hymns in Songs of the Free are frankly occasional and singable because they follow well-worn metrical and rhetorical paths. Chapman's poetic contributions to The Liberty Bell are also conventional, sincere but derivative examples of sentimental religious poetry.

Chapman's polemics far outshine her poetry. Her Right and Wrong in Boston for 1837, the annual report of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society, includes a long argument for sex equality. Her controversial pamphlet Right and Wrong in Massachusetts (1839) addressed the question of divisions within the antislavery movement and attributed the split to differences over women's rights. Chapman sketched the history of the movement in Massachusetts, pointing out that women had staunchly supported antislavery in 1835, when few had rallied to the cause.

Chapman contributed competent narratives and informational essays as they were needed by the cause, but her longest and most interesting prose work is her Memorials of Harriet Martineau (1877). Chapman met Martineau, the influential English writer who advocated unitarianism and abolition of slavery, when she visited America in 1835. The two became good friends, and in 1856 Martineau wrote to Chapman saying that her death was imminent, and asked Chapman to finish her autobiography and become her literary executor. Although Martineau lived until 1876, Chapman provided a 460-page supplement to Martineau's Autobiography. It is a well-organized, sensitive biography including judicious selections from Martineau's journals (1837-39) and letters.

Other Works:

Pinda (1840). Ten Years of Experience (1842). Trial and Imprisonment of Jonathan Walker, at Pensacola, for Aiding Slaves to Escape (1846). How Can I Help to Abolish Slavery? (1855).

Bibliography:

Filler, L., The Crusade Against Slavery (1960). Kraditor, A. S., Means and Ends in American Abolitionism (1969). Lader, The Bold Brahmins (1961). Pease, J. H. and W. H. Pease, Bound Them with Chains: A Biographical History of the Anti-Slavery Movement (1972).

Reference Works:

DAB, NCAB (1892 et seq.). NAW, 1607-1950 (1971). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).

Other reference:

New England Quarterly (March 1934).

—SUSAN SUTTON SMITH

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