In 1839, a group of white abolitionists formed the Neil's Creek Anti-Slavery Society in Lancaster, Ind., once a thriving town and now comprised of a few houses and two historic landmarks: The Hoyt House and Eleutherian College. Historical Eleutherian College Inc., led by a board of directors and President Jan Vetrhus, believes in promoting the idea that All Men – And Women – Are Created Equal. The College in the late 1840s until the brink of the Civil War in 1861, was devoted to education, and making sure education was available to all children and young people, regardless of race or gender. This article was published in 1904 about the start of this Jefferson County socieity:
The Indianapolis Journal
Sunday, June 14, 1903
MINUTES OF AN EARLY INDIANA ORGANIZATION
Valuable Document to be Presented to State Library by Mrs. Smith King, of This City
RECORD KEPT BY HER FATHER
SOCIETY WAS ORGANIZED IN 1839 IN JEFFERSON COUNTY
Names of the Charter Members, Many of Whose Descendants Now Live in Indiana
Twenty-two years before the first gun was fired on Fort Sumter, the anti-slavery sentiment had grown to such proportions in Indiana that the Indiana State Anti-Slavery Society had been organized, with branches or “auxiliaries,” as they were termed, in almost every county. Comparatively little is known, however, of the exact nature of the society and its auxiliaries, save that they fostered and disseminated the doctrines of abolition and that in time they conducted the famous “underground railway” that transported so many fugitive slaves to freedom.
In view of the lack of information concerning the work of the Anti-Slavery Society, a document that is soon to become the property of the Indiana State Library is of especial interest and historical value, being nothing more nor less than the secretary’s record covering the proceedings of one of the auxiliary societies from the date of its organization, Jan. 5, 1839, to May 3, 1845. This volume will be presented to the State Library by Mrs. Smith King, of 3110 North Meridian Street, this city, whose father, Benjamin Hoyt, was a member and secretary of the society which flourished in Jefferson County, Indiana, during the first six years of its organization. The minutes are in the handwriting of Mr. Hoyt.
The first entry in the book reads:
“Agreeably to notice a meeting was held in the public schoolhouse on Neil’s creek, Jefferson county, Indiana, on Saturday evening, Jan. 5, 1839, for the purpose of forming an anti-slavery society. Rev. Lewis Hicklin was called to the chair and J.C. Tibbets appointed secretary pro tem. The object of the meeting being stated by the chairman, a constitution was presented and read, which, after some discussion and a slight amendment, was adopted.”
The first three articles of the constitution, setting forth the purpose of the society, were as follows:
“This society shall be called the Niel’s [sic] Creek Anti-Slavery Society, auxiliary to the Indiana State Anti-Slavery Society.
“The object of this society shall be the entire abolition of slavery in the United States. While it admits that each State in which slavery exists has by the Constitution of the United States the exclusive right to legislate in regard to ins abolition in said State, it shall aim to convince all our fellow-citizens by arguments addressed to their understandings and consciences, that slave-holding is a heinous sin in the sight of God, and that the duty, safety and best interests of all concerned require its immediate abandonment without expatriation. The society will also endeavor in a constitutional way to influence Congress to put an end to the domestic slave trade, and to abolish slavery in all those portions of our common country which come under its control, especially in the District of Columbia, and likewise to prevent the extension of it to any State that may hereafter be admitted to the Union.
“The society shall aim to elevate the character and condition of the people of color by encouraging their intellectual, moral and religious improvement, but the society will never in any way countenance the oppressed in vindicating their rights by resorting to physical force.”
The society did not hold regular meetings, but the minutes show that an effort was made to get together about once a month. The sessions resolved themselves into more or less extended debates, with the question at issue always some variation of the proposition that slavery should be abolished. It seems that it was the custom to introduce resolutions denunciatory of slavery and then discuss them at length. At the first meeting of the organization the record shows that the following resolutions were unanimously adopted after a prolonged discussion:
“Resolved, That slavery is a great moral, political and social evil, destructive to the interest of the slaveholder and an entire prostration of the rights and happiness of the slave, a disgrace to the community in which it exists, and that justice, humanity and sound policy alike require its immediate abolition.
“Resolved, That we view American slavery as the vilest on earth. It tends to destroy the bodies and crush the souls of its victims, and is a dark stain on our national eschutcheon, which ought to be wiped away.
“Resolved, That the traffic in men, women and children in this Republic is a heinous crime, an entire subversion of all human rights, and a direct contradiction of the Declaration of Independence of our beloved country which declares that ‘All men are created free and equal, endowed with certain inalienable rights, such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’
“Resolved, That the spirit of slavery affects the North as well as the South, that its tendencies are to crush the Northern laborer as well as the Southern slave, and that it knows no limites but the extent of its own irresponsible power.
“Resolved, That we pledge ourselves as men, Christians and philantropists to use all consistent means in our power for the immediate abolition of slavery in the United States.
“Resolved, That free discussion, liberty of speech, liberty of the press and liberty of the conscience are rights sacred to the American people, and principles upon which the prosperity and perpetuity of our republic institutions depend, and so soon as these rights are subverted we must expect to see the luster of our institutions fade – our liberties tremble – and all of our hopes and prospects of national greatness and glory prostrated.
“Resolved, That as a society we will lay aside all sectarian and other prejudices and gladly receive as members all, whatever their creed or color, who esteem it as a duty and privilege to advocate the cause of the oppressed.
“Resolved, That it is the duty of the citizens of the free States, and that they are morally bound to interfere in the subject of slavery in any part of the United States, and especially in the District of Columbia.
“Resolved, That the use of harsh and opprobrious epithets against slaveowners by abolitionists is injurious to the cause of emancipation.”
Met With Little Favor
The members of the society did not look with favor on the movement to found a distinct abolition political party, as on Dec. 14, 1939, they adopted a resolution declaring that the organization of such a party would be injurious, if not fatal, to the cause in which abolitionists are engaged. At this same meeting, a resolution was rejected which bound the members of the society not to “vote for any man for any office of honor, trust or profit, either in church or state, who is not in favor of the immediate abolition of slavery.”
Occasionally the prgramme for a meeting would be varied with an address by one of the more eloquent of the abolitionists, and the minutes make several references to one “Doct. Bennet,” who evidently had the give of oragory in a marked degree, for it is frequently mentioned that he entertained the society with an address of two or three hours in length. It is also shown that Bennet was voted money in sums ranging from one to 10 dollars from time to time in payment of his services as a lecturer, and that on one occasion a subscription was taken up to pay his expenses on a trip to New York City to represent the society at a convention held there for the purpose of nominating a national ticket. The sum of $5,75 was secured in contributions and the society then voted to raise the amount to $10 from the treasury. Traveling expenses were evidently lighter sixty years ago than they are to-day, for $10 would not go ver far on a trip from Indiana to New York in this year of grace, 1903.
The members of the society were deeply interested in the abolitionist paper called the “Phianthropist,” published at Cincinnati, and when in 1841 a mob of Southerners and their sympathizers took possession of the establishment of the Philanthropist and threw it’s presses and type into the Ohio River, the indignation of the Jefferson county abolitionists knew no bounds. A special meeting of the Niel’s Creek Society was called and the following resolutions were adopted after a stirring debate:
“Whereas, There has been a disgraceful mob in the city of Cincinnati a few days since, which trampled underfoot the Constitution, law and order, outraging all the rights of their fellow-citizens, engabing in the most revolting violence, bloodshed and murder, and
“Whereas, One principal object of the mob was the distruction of the the printing press of the Philanthropist, which they effected, thus aiming a death blow at the freedom of the press and the liberty of our country; therefore,
“Resolved, first That the disgraceful scenes of Cincinnati have more than ever convinced us that there is a settled league between the slaveholders of the South and their aristocratic brethren of the North to crucify the freedom of the free [press?] in order to secure and perpetuate the slavery of the slave.
“Resolved, second, That two principles as antagonistic as those of liberty and slavery cannot long exist in the same governement;
“Resolved, third, That American freedom is no longer a question of geography or colr; that the principles of abolition must prevail or the great body of the American people must be slaves.
“Resolved, fourth, That there is no possible alternative between the emancipation of the slave and the subjugation of the free; that the common Father of all men never intended the liberties of a portion of His equal children should long be preserved while they neglected to claim the equal liberties of their brethren.
“Resolved, fifth, That all the violence, outrage, confusion, bloodshed, and murder in the city of Cincinnati during the late riots are no more than a fair exhibition of the true spirit of slavery proving to a demonstration that it cannot stand unless it be on the ruins of liberty and that this hydra-headed monster of iniquity cannot be touched without rousing all the bitterness and rage of the pit.
“Resolved, sixth, That notwithstanding the great excitement which now prevails, the unparalleled malevolence of our enemies, the destruction of our printing press, the outrage and murders committed in the city of Cincinnati by our opposers, we have the utmost confidence in the success of the anti-slavery enterprise, relying on Him who maketh the wrath of man to praise Him and the remainder He will restrain, we feel encouraged to redouble our diligence, renewed assurance that the day of deliverance to the captive is fast approaching.
“Resolved, seventh, That we appoint a committee of three to take subscriptions and receive donations to aid in the re-establishment of the printing press of the Philanthropist.
“Whereupon E.T. Tibbets, Isaiah Walton and Daniel R. Nelson were appointed said committee.”
Meetings in Old Schoolhouse
And so for over six years, the slave-hating, liberty-loving patriots of the Niel’s creek neighborhood, in Jefferson county, held their meetings month after month in the old schoolhouse, and debated and “resolved” upon the great question that was to be fought out twenty years later in the most momentous conflict of all history. Doubtless the society flourished until the very time of war, but the record kept by Benjamin Hoyt closes with May 3, 1845.
Aside from the historical value attaching to this unique volume, it is interesting in the manner in which it reflects the customs and primitive ways of those early days in Indiana. For instance, when the society adjourned to meet at night the next time, the minutes never gave the hour to which adjournment was taken, but invariably read, “The society then adjourned to meet at early candlelight” on such and such a date. In n
umerous ways the record is interesting and instructive, and when it passes into the possession of the State Library, a visit to the second floor of the Statehouse will be well repaid by a perusal of its time-stained pages and faded chirography.