Another Friend of the Slave Gone.


Died, in Concord, on Thursday, June 14th. Miss HELEN THOREAU, aged 36 years.

  Our friend, Miss Thoreau, was an abolitionist. Endowed by nature with tender sensibilities, quick to feel for the woes of others, the cause of the slave met with a ready response in her heart. She had a mind of fine native powers, enlarged and matured by cultivation. She had the patience to investigate truth, the candor to acknowledge it when sufficient evidence was presented to her mind, and the moral courage to act in conformity with her convictions, however unpopular these convictions might be to the community around her. The cause of the slave did not come before her in its earliest beginnings; but as soon as it was presented, she set herself to inquire how it was, that a system which imbrutes man so cruelly, which tears asunder all the tenderest ties so ruthlessly, which puts out the life or the soul, by denying it the means of growth and progress so effectually, was supported. She saw the religious denominations with which she had been connected vehemently crying out against the Catholics for denying the Bible to the people, and yet one-sixth part of the people of the Protestant United States were legally deprived of the right to read God’s word, nay, worse than the Catholics, the right of learning to read. She ascertained that the actual number of slaveholders in the land was not more than two hundred and fifty or three hundred thousand. How, she said, can these keep three millions of people in bondage? Why do not the slaves rise, as did our fathers in the revolution, and demand their rights at the point of the bayonet? She ascertained that the bayonets or the North were pledged to unite with those of the Southern tyrants, in case of any attempt at insurrection, and put down the poor crushed bondmen, if, in his agony, he would strike down the oppressor. She saw that the nation had written in its Constitution the grievousness it had prescribed to turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of the people, that that widows might be its prey, and that it might rob the fatherless. This Constitution, every man, either by himself or his deputy, held up his hand to heaven, and swore, So help me God, I will sustain. She saw that in the same Constitution, they agreed, by the same solemn oath, if the poor victim of oppression should flee to any of the so-called free States, braving incredible dangers, facing death in its most terrible forms, to obtain deliverance from his oppressors, and appeal to Northern men for protection, being pursued by his enslaver, they must perjure themselves, or allow his being delivered up to his pursuers, and sent hack again to the most cruel bondage, without lifting a finger in his defence—thus stiffing the noblest feelings of their natures.

  In despair, she turned to the church. Surely, she said, the church of Christ is free from these abominations. But she found the church made up of men from all the political parties, alike pledged to the support of the accursed institution. In keeping with this, she saw the church, almost universally, giving to the slaveholder or his abettor, the right hand of Christian fellowship—calling him dear brother in Christ. She saw the pulpits of the North open to Southern divines, while the advocates of the slave knocked in vain for admission at the door of almost every church in the land. She said to herself, Is this the church of Christ, and has it come down so low? She repudiated such a church. Immediately did she turn her back upon its communion, and if she went to the house of prayer, as she occasionally did, she went to see if the spirit of Christ and humanity might not be rising among them. Again and again has she called upon the writer of this notice, when returning from church, and said, with strong emotion, it is all darkness and gloom. It was not eloquent declamation which led her from the church; but it was the long array of strong, incontrovertible facts, which impelled her to the course she felt called upon to pursue, and she knew that the eloquence of anti-slavery owed its source to these same facts, and endowed with eloquence the most ungifted tongues. To her, as to many others, it was pleasant to go to the church on the Sabbath, and worship with her friends; and nothing but an entire conviction of its wrongfulness, in her case, would have prevented her constant attendance upon the institutions of religion. But the call to her was imperative—‘Come out of her, that ye be not partaker of her plagues,’ and she obeyed. This obedience brought peace in health, and peace in sickness. Not an hour of gloom did she experience during her protracted illness. Though constitutionally timid, the gloom of death was all taken away, and the king of terrors became to her an angel of hope and joy, opening before her bright visions of beauty; to use her own expression. One day, in conversation, she expressed her gratitude for what anti-slavery had done for her, in opening new and juster views of God, and truth, and duty, and exclaimed—‘O how much has anti-slavery done for me, and how little have I done for it! I wanted health, that I might keep school, and in this way do something for the cause I so much love. But it is ordered otherwise.’

  She experienced in its fullest extent the fulfilment of the promise—‘Blessed is he that considereth the poor; the Lord shall be with him upon his bed of languishing, and make all his bed in his sickness. Her long continued illness made the suffering virtues, patience and resignation, to shine brightly, and smoothed away the sharp edges of her character, fitting her, we doubt not, for a polished stone in the great temple above.

  The abolitionists of Concord will mourn deeply her loss; for, few and feeble as they are, they can ill afford to lose one so intelligent and true. But they feel, that though no longer present with them in the flesh, she will still be a co-laborer with them in the great and good cause in which they have so long been associated.


The Liberator (22 June 1849) by William Lloyd Garrison.