: Dante vivo || White Silence






I. Abolitionistws in the 'English' Cemetery

'Edmonia Lewis and the Boston of Italy'. Marilyn Richardson, Independent Scholar
'Theodore Parker's Graves'. Sally Mitchell, Temple University
'Villino Trollope, Piazza dell'Independenza: Incubator for the Independence of the African-American'. Brenda Ayres, Liberty University
'Social Criticism in Richard Hildreth's The White Slave, 1852'. Sirpa Salenius, Universty of New Haven in Florence
Professor Marilyn Richardson has a most impressive vita, having been a scholar at Harvard and having family connections with its Divinity School. She is responsible for finding the lost 'Cleopatra', so that it could become the powerful centrepiece of the Smithsonian's American Art Museum. When she visited the Cemetery on Wednesday she made a bee-line to Theodore Parker's tomb, the same bee-line Frederick Douglass had made.

Edmonia Lewis and the Boston of Italy
Marilyn Richardson, Independent Scholar. Paper.

Edmonia Lewis (c. 1842 – c. 1911), the first black American to gain an international reputation as a sculptor is famous again. Her marble sculpture sells for higher and higher prices each time a newly discovered piece comes on the market. Her name and images of her artwork appear in reference works on the history of American art. She is represented in major collections and exhibitions, and there is a reasonable amount of information available for the study of her life and her career. Or, in the latter case, so it would appear.

A close look at the hundreds of 19th- and early 20th-century newspaper and journal articles about her reveals a bewildering tangle of contradictions concerning even the most basic facts: where and when was she born? Minnesota, New York State, and Maine claim her as a native daughter. She gave her birth year on official documents as 1842, 1844, and even 1854, and her birthday as the 4th of July (a common practice well into the past century for Americans who did not know their date of birth.) No certificate of birth or baptism has been found in her name. And what was her name? Wildfire, as she claimed her mother’s Ojibway people called her? Mary Edmonia? Edmonia? The woman we know as Edmonia Lewis, as famous as she was, lived and died a mystery - - and she wanted it that way.

The child of a black father and an Indian mother, Wildfire and her brother Sunrise were orphaned early in life, left to be raised in the wilds of upstate New York by their Ojibway relatives. But most of the Ojibway had long since been relocated north and west.

A supposedly uneducated waif, Lewis somehow enrolled at Oberlin College just before the Civil War began.  A few years later she appeared in Boston with a letter of introduction to William Lloyd Garrison, and by late 1866, she was setting up her studio in Rome. There she made her name and her living creating works of sculpture which embraced the conventions of the late neoclassical style, but also others which strained against those aesthetic strictures embracing realism and naturalism. But before Rome, there was Florence.


Edmonia Lewis, late 1860s.

In January of 1865, Lewis was at work of a bust of Maria Weston Chapman.

M. W. Chapman by Edmonia Lewis, 1865

Lewis’s Chapman, in plaster, is instantly recognizable as the woman called in her day the “workhorse of the abolitionist movement.” A co-founder of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society, she became a heroine of the cause when a mob attacked the Society’s 1835 meeting. “If this is the last bulwark of freedom, we may as well die here,” Chapman declared, and through force of will led a column of black and white women unscathed through a parting sea of rioters. In her later years, Chapman displayed two portrait busts by Lewis in her drawing room; one of Colonel Shaw, and one of herself.

During this time, Lewis was suffering recurrent illness. The weather had been extremely cold, although not quite '[Irish] shanty-baby freezing' as Harriet Hosmer put it. Still, Lewis told her colleague at the Studio Building in Boston, Anne Whitney, that she had been so sick she thought she would die, and that her doctor had advised her not to spend another winter in Boston; she said she was thinking of going abroad.  Copies of her bust of Robert Gould Shaw were selling nicely; with funds from sales, some new commissions, and with the momentum of a growing reputation, Lewis made plans for a trip to Europe.

The New York Tribune reported in late July that 'Miss Edmonia Lewis, the colored sculptress, who so beautifully executed the busts of Col. Shaw, 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry, and John Brown . . . leaves for Florence, Italy, by the steamer from New York on the 19th inst., intending abroad to complete her education, at the same time chiseling busts of Abraham Lincoln, Horace Mann and others, for which she holds orders.'

Before leaving for Europe, Lewis, whose progress as an artist was recorded in the inaugural issue of the Freedman’s Journal, joined one of the newly formed organizations sending teachers South to staff fledgling schools for freed slaves. The stories of white women, New England 'school marms' - who went south to teach former slaves are known.  Black women, too, made that journey, some for the first time, others, as in the case of Harriet Jacobs, returned to a universe of personal trauma committed to the welfare of those who had endured the cataclysmic war.

Edmonia Lewis and her friend Addie Howard, a young black Bostonian, offered their services to the Freedman’s cause. They spent July of 1865 teaching in the former capitol of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia. The guns were barely stilled when they arrived there. Only two months earlier on April 4th, Abraham Lincoln had made an unannounced visit to see with his own eyes Richmond, newly abandoned by the Confederates. With a guard of only ten Marines, he entered the devastated city on foot. Newly freed blacks were able to see and even approach the President at an unimagined proximity. There was no martial music, there were no billowing banners; only the shouts, prayers and joyous weeping of the former slaves marked the President’s progression through the ravaged cityscape. After such an intimate and emotionally charged appearance by the Great Liberator, the freed men and women of Richmond were among the most stricken of mourners when, less than two weeks later, the entire nation and much of the world endured the paroxysm of shock and grief at the news of Lincoln’s assassination.

Toward the end of their stay in a city where all the necessities of daily life, including food and clothing were still in uncertain supply, someone broke into their boarding house rooms and stole their trunks full of clothing. The New York Tribune reported that Lewis lost “a large and elegant wardrobe, and although suspicion points to the thief, nothing definite can be proven; the loss has been a heavy one. The Liberator added that 'the trunks were found in a vacant lot . . . rifled of their contents. The young ladies were left without a change.'

In Richmond, Lewis both observed and experienced first-hand the complex physical, emotional and psychological conditions of life for people whose most cherished dreams of freedom had been realized in an apocalyptic nightmare of bombardment, terror, dispossession and loss. Present in one Southern city at the earliest moments of Reconstruction, she gained insight into the minds and spirits of her students there as a sensitive teacher can, and would soon incorporate that understanding into the creative conception of two pieces of sculpture - - 'The Freedwoman and Her Child' and 'Forever Free.'

Back in Boston and newly outfitted, Lewis filled out a passport application:

I, M. Edmonia Lewis of Boston in the state of Mass. do solemnly swear that I am a native and loyal citizen of the United States of America and about to travel abroad.
That I was born in Greenbush, New York on or about the 4th day of July 1844.
[signed] M. Edmonia Lewis

Residence, Boston

Age, 20
Stature, 4 feet  [sic]
Forehead, High
Eyes, Black
Nose, Small
Mouth, Medium
Chin, Small
Hair, Black
Complexion, Black
Face, Oval
Passport to be sent to George F. Baker New York

Someone, perhaps the clerk who processed the form, wrote along the left hand margin “M. Edmonia Lewis is a black girl sent by subscription to Italy having displayed great talent as a Sculptor. “ On August 26th 1865, Edmonia Lewis sailed for Europe.

Florence, as the wags had it, was the Boston of Italy; not only for the infusion of New England artists and writers who enjoyed extended stays there, but also for a quite Bostonian conviction within old Florentine families of intellectual and aesthetic superiority. That was coupled with an emphasis on family position and social hierarchy comfortably familiar to New Englanders of similar ilk who qualified for admission to the charmed circle.  Florentine history, a living force in the daily life of the city, beckoned an endless surge of tourists.  It enthralled artists and poets who settled there with their families and chose to be buried in Tuscan soil.  Religious, cultural, and intimate personal dramas were played out under the bemused and briskly discriminating scrutiny of the city’s social arbiters aloft in their ancestral seats of privilege and authority.

Joining the band of expatriates there arrived one day in the late summer of 1865 a singular oddity, a black American sculptor; not of Black Brahmin stock as were the Remond Family, or the Philadelphia Fortens, but by way of her Boston patrons and sponsors quite well-connected indeed. Edmonia Lewis arrived both exhilarated and exhausted. In the first great rush of excitement, freedom, anticipation and possibility that she felt in setting foot on every American sculptor’s 'Promised Land,' Lewis was warmly welcomed by major American artists in Florence, in particular Hiram Powers and Thomas Ball who supplied her with tools and helped her find living and working space.

Powers was a force within the Florentine Anglo-American community. He and his family were 'fixtures, as essential a sight for visiting celebrities as the Pitti Palace or the Uffizi.' The touring elite made sure to attend Mrs. Powers’ 'Wednesdays' and to visit the sculptor in his studio. He gave Lewis instruction in the arcane skills of constructing armatures equal to the task of supporting heavy, wet clay precisely in place while it was being worked over time. The building of such structures, upon which the success or failure of a work literally depends, is a complex balance of physics and brute force incorporating a mastery of the anatomy of figures yet to be translated from sketches to statues in the round.

By October Lewis was settled and working in her own studio. Profoundly moved and influenced by the painting, sculpture and architecture she studied in museums, churches, historic buildings and colleagues’ studios, Lewis set to work, apparently recovered from the lingering illness that had worried her Boston doctors. Her American friends and patrons awaited news of her journey and arrival.

Given the time it took for letters to cross the ocean, modest misunderstandings could grow to the point where accusations were hurled before matters were resolved. There was both delight and dismay in Lewis’s first letters from Florence, and Boston pens in turn were soon busy. 'I had a letter from Edmonia Lewis, dated Florence, the other day,' Lydia Maria Child wrote to publisher James T. Fields concerning his wife and his sister-in-law. 'She writes' Child quoted, 'Mrs. Fields was very kind to me in Boston, and gave me a letter to her sister, Miss Adams. She wished me to call on her sister before I did on anyone else in Florence; and I did so. Mr. Marsh, the U. S. Minister, told me I had better call on her for some advice, as I was a stranger in a strange land, and he sent his man with me. I sent in Mrs. Field’s (sic) letter, and when she had kept it long enough to read it, she sent it back to me without one word. When I told Mr. Marsh, he said, "Never mind! You will find good friends here."'  Child then sharpened a terse barb of righteous indignation to conclude her letter: 'Is this Miss Adams your sister-in-law? If so, you must tell her she is lagging behind the age. Yours cordially, L.M. Child.'

James Fields quickly dropped that hot potato into his wife’s lap. Annie wrote to Child who in turn had to quickly mend fences but remained staunch in her support for Lewis; she replied in November 1865 that she was

. . . sorry you thought my note to Mr. Fields 'cold.'
  There has been an unpleasant misunderstanding; and Edmonia is evidently much excited; but that is not to be wondered at, considering the trying position in which she is placed by her complexion . . . .I hope the artists in general will be able to so far divest themselves of  American prejudice as to give Edmonia a fair chance to make for herself such a position as she may prove herself entitled to. . . .  Assuredly all obstruction ought to be removed. Considering her antecedents, I think she has done wonderfully well, thus far; and I sympathize, as you do, in her energetic efforts to rise above depressing circumstances

The potential scandal had leaked to the press and Child, who was a frequent contributor to all the progressive papers rushed to disassociate herself from the story: 'I never mentioned the subject to any other person, and never shall. Mrs. Drexel told me there had been something about it in the Commonwealth, It was not derived from me' she assured Mrs. Fields. But word of the presumed slight had made its way into print and readers were kept informed through editorial notes and letter to editors.       

MISS EDMONIA LEWIS AT FLORENCE. Our readers will be pleased to learn that, through the kind offices of Mr. M. Perry Kennard, of this city, (who attended to her finances, secured her a stateroom, gave her written directions for travelling on the continent &c.) this young lady reached Florence after a very agreeable passage across the Atlantic and through Paris. At Florence, Mr. Marsh, our Minister, and his lady, showed her many attentions; our townsman, Mr. Thomas Ball, the sculptor, furnished her with several tools; Mr. Powers a moulding-block; and other friends were equally kind. In contrast with this generosity should be mentioned the conduct of a Boston Lady there residing, who, when Edmonia sent in a letter of introduction given by her own sister in this city, returned it to her, and declined to receive her --because she was 'colored'! (Boston Commonwealth)

THE LIBERATOR 3 November 1865

Followed in the next issue by:


Mr. Garrison -- in a recent number of the LIBERATOR, a paragraph was copied from the COMMONWEALTH, which stated that a lady residing in Florence, an artist and a Bostonian, had refused to receive Miss Edmonia Lewis, and returned the letter of introduction which had been sent by the lady's sister. The explanation is as follows. There are two houses on Lung'Arno of the same number; the letter was sent to the wrong place, and unceremoniously returned to Miss Lewis. The lady addressed was entirely unaware of the whole matter until she received a letter from Boston requesting an explanation of the report circulated here. A most kind and generous note was instantly written by the lady to Miss Lewis, explaining the mistake, and assuring her that the letter of introduction had never reached its destination, offering Miss Lewis every attention, artistic and social, and welcoming her cordially.

Tempest calmed; tea served. That this choice bit of gossip among the Boston liberals made such a flurry in the papers further confirms that Lewis had made quite a name for herself before leaving for Europe and was considered eminently newsworthy. It also establishes that she had access to the art circles of the moment and the attention and support of elements of the American expatriate community.     
A visit to Florence’s church of Santa Croce gave the French writer Henri-Marie Beyle who went by the single name Stendhal a medical syndrome of his own, a condition brought about by the experience of sensory and emotional overload in the presence of an unanticipated encounter with such an abundance of sublime artistic achievement that it can scarcely be taken in, let alone intellectually processed entered the diagnostic literature as the 'Stendhal Syndrome'. Although there is no record of Edmonia Lewis gripped by the dizziness, shortness of breath or random hallucinations of the 'Stendhal Syndrome' at the same church, it’s clear she too was deeply moved and influenced by one of the most visually and intellectually overwhelming spaces in the world. Within the confines of the magnificent Franciscan basilica she could see the course of centuries of aesthetic, theological and intellectual history, embodied at every turn, in every niche, along every passageway.

From its origins in 1294 to the very year of her arrival in Florence, Santa Croce bore living witness to unfolding Tuscan religious and political imbroglios and even more turbulent and spectacular manifestations of artistic genius. Santa Croce was itself an artist’s university. Within the complex of the church, the cloisters, the smaller chapels, the refectory, the campanile, and the public square surrounding it all, Lewis encountered examples of the finest work of such Florentine masters as Giotto, the Gaddis, Brunelleschi and Donatello. She could lose herself in endless thought at the tomb of Michelangelo or of Galileo within the church, or at the newly erected monument to Dante Alighieri outside in the square. Of course Lewis found exceptional resources and inspiration in the secular studios of her friends and mentors in Florence. Her Roman Catholicism, however, would have lent an added dimension of personal connection to the religious sites, a bond more tentative among the generally Protestant and politically anti-Papist majority of the American community there.                

Edmonia Lewis was not the only well-known black American woman in Florence at the time. Historian Karen Jean Hunt identifies three goals that anti- slavery lecturer Sarah Parker Remond had in mind when she first sailed from Boston for Liverpool in September of 1858. One was to remove herself from the daily toxicity of American racism. Another was to do all she could to consolidate anti-slavery sentiment on the eve of the Civil War by arguing the ethical and economic advantages of British support for the Union during the War. The third was to secure for herself an education superior to any available to her at home. Her speaking schedule, before groups up to two thousand strong, kept her on the road and often near exhaustion. Still, she wrote to Maria Weston Chapman that, 'on the 12th of this month [October 1859] I go to London to attend the lectures at the Ladies College.' She continued both her lectures and her studies at Bedford College for Ladies, later a part of the University of London. Although there was steady demand for her services following the war as a speaker on behalf of the freedmen, Remond had her eye on Italy.

Sarah Remond’s political connections in England introduced her to reformers and revolutionaries from the Continent. With her friends Harriet Martineau, Mary Estlin and Clementia Taylor, she was a founding member of the Ladies’ London Emancipation Society which supported causes beyond the abolition of slavery in the United States. The Society had two male members, one active, and one honorary. The active member was Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini whom Remond had met in her early days abroad. He was a close friend of the Taylors with whom she stayed in London. Remond, as did Margaret Fuller before her, became a supporter of the Italian reunification struggle. She won Mazzini’s confidence as an effective speaker and fund-raiser for his cause during his visits with the Taylors. The honorary member was the great Garibaldi himself.


Sarah Parker Remond, undated photographs, collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

At the age of forty she moved to Florence where she embarked on medical studies at Santa Maria Nuova, the hospital founded in the thirteenth century by Dante's Beatrice's father and which later served as Florence Nightingale's model of medical care and training.

The black publication, The Christian Recorder, reported on what was probably one stage of her medical education with the notice that, 'Miss Sarah Remond, a gifted colored lady, who studied medicine with Dr. Appleton --the friend and physician of Theodore Parker, during the latter portion of his life at Rome and Florence, has been regularly admitted as a practitioner of midwifery in Florence, where she is now residing, with excellent prospects of employment and success. Her merit has won her friends on the continent of Europe, as it did in England. On going to Italy, she had excellent letters of introduction from Mazzini, among others. With this satisfactory passport, Dr. Appleton went with her to call on Garibaldi, and, though many others were waiting for an interview, they were instantly admitted. Miss Remond is not only well received everywhere in Florence, but she has friends among the very best people there.' Remond and Lewis were both at work in the city in 1866.

A few years later, Sarah Remond’s sister, Caroline Putnam, an Oberlin College graduate and founder of a school for freed men and women in Lottsburg, Virginia, lived with her for a while in Florence. Putnam’s school was supported by Louisa May Alcott (senior) and Ellen Emerson. Elizabeth Buffum Chace, human rights activist and former conductor on the Underground Railroad, visited Remond in Florence in 1873 and wrote that: 'Sarah Remond is a remarkable woman and by indomitable energy and perseverance is winning a fine position in Florence as a physician and also socially; although she says Americans have used their influence to prevent her by bringing their hateful prejudices over here. If one tenth of the American women who travel in Europe were as noble and elegant as she is we shouldn’t have to blush for our country women as often as we do.'  

Lewis and Remond certainly aroused curiosity and comment in Florence, but the city had a particular sophistication about race unusual on the Continent. After all, the fabled dynasty of the Medici displayed the honey-colored likeness of Alessandro, the first Duke of Florence, born of a union between a slave of African origin named Simonetta, and, it appears, the future Pope Clement VII. Alessandro lies buried in the tomb of Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino sculpted by Michelangelo, with its spectacular figures of Dusk and Dawn.

Jacopo Pontormo, Alessandro de Medici, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Decades after Lewis’s arrival, Frederick Douglass and his second wife, Helen, visited Florence 10 May 1887. Douglass went straight from breakfast to the 'English' Cemetery to stand, lost in reverie, at the grave of the abolitionist clergyman Theodore Parker. Parker, during his final illness, refused to die, if die he must, in Papal Rome. He longed for Boston but knew he would never survive the journey home and so, announcing that 'I will not die on this accursed soil, I will not leave my bones in this detested soil,' insisted on being lifted from his deathbed and transported by carriage to Florence. The real Theodore Parker, he told his friends, was in America; this was just a dying man they saw before them. The remarks of his final day included the wish to walk once more on Boston Common. If he could not die in Boston, Florence was his chosen resting place.

At the close of America’s Civil War, Lewis discovered in Florence an unexpected nexus of race and politics, both historical and contemporary. Some of the most prominent artists and writers in Florence had placed their work at the service of their outrage at slavery in America and political oppression in Europe. Among them, Elizabeth Barrett Browning who died in 1861 while Lewis was still at Oberlin and Remond in England. Robert and Elizabeth Browning were quite explicit in their speculation about black “blood” in their own families. Elizabeth, a friend of Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote passionately against slavery. Lewis had numerous opportunities to discover Browning’s poetry - as a student of the poet and scholar George Vashon at New York Central College at McGrawville, certainly at Oberlin and again in Boston where Child and many others held in their hearts the bond of friendship that had encouraged both Browning and Margaret Fuller. It’s a reasonable assumption that she and Remond visited Elizabeth Browning’s tomb in the English Cemetery with its sculpture by Frederic Lord Leighton showing a poet’s lyre draped with flower garlands and broken slave chains. The poetry and indeed the spirit of the Brownings, close friends of Lewis’ colleague Harriet Hosmer, offered one among many incentives for a young black woman, schooled in the Humanities, to comfortably immerse herself for many months in Florentine life and art.

Powers’ Greek Slave would have shown how shaped with 'Art’s fiery finger,' Lewis’s own work in marble might speak beyond the quintessentially European limitations of sculptural aesthetic and practice. Furthermore, a case may be made for the influence of the work of Hiram Powers and the anti-slavery poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning upon certain of the thematic and design decisions Lewis made first in her Florentine sculpture, The Freedwoman and Her Child, and then in the transition of that unlocated work to her ambitious early Roman project, the abolition group, Forever Free.

In Florence Lewis began a two-figure composition that immediately attracted critical attention. It was written about as The Freedwoman and Her Child, or, The Freedwoman on First hearing of Her Liberty. According to one journalist's description, the female figure 'has thrown herself on her knees and with clasped hands and uplifted eyes, she blesses God for her redemption. Her boy, ignorant of the cause of her agitation, hangs over her knees and clings to her waist. She wears the turban which was used when at work. Around her wrists are half-broken manacles, and the chain lies on the ground still attached to a large ball.' Another wrote that 'The head of the woman is very strong in character and expression, - the brave daughter of toil; and the child is sweet and lovely in infantile unconsciousness.'

Lewis, who, in this instance spoke of herself as black, is quoted as saying that 'Yes, so was my race treated in the market and elsewhere,' the writer adds that the work 'tells with much eloquence a painful story.' Whether this piece ever went from clay to plaster we do not know, although she sent photographs of the work in progress to two white friends who were among the first volunteers to go south with the New England Freedman’s Aid Association to care for the black refugees pouring across the Union lines. Certainly the newspaper stories, complete with vivid descriptions of a two-foot high work in its earliest stages were unusual for a young artist at such an early stage of her career. Newspapers in England, on the Continent and across the United States could be counted on to reprint the story; anything from a line or two in an Art Notes section to a multi-column interview with such an improbable celebrity was always good copy. For the next two decades, her colleagues competing for studio visits, commissions and sales would make acerbic pronouncements on the press coverage Lewis so cannily manipulated.         

The likely prototype for the abolition group is an illustration from the 1864 tract Slavery: Its Sin, Moral Effects, and Certain Death, by Justus Keefer.

The figure of liberty, stern and imposing brandishes aloft the long sword of justice with which she has severed the chain she holds in her other hand. The Stars and Stripes ripple and wave in the strong wind that swirls the woman warrior’s robes. The crouching black woman, in a posture still reminiscent of the 'woman and sister' pose used in abolitionist iconography, is all but overcome by emotion. She raises one hand skyward, while with the other she clasps her young child to her to her breast. The child looks questioningly into the mother's eyes. The mother looks both heavenward and in the direction of the figure of Liberty which is shown facing the viewer but with her head turned just a bit beyond a frontal gaze so that she stares fiercely off into the distance, prepared to defend the freedwoman and child with her upraised weapon. In the background looms a singularly phallic rendition of the capitol building from which radiate strong beams of light illuminating the middle distance of the scene. It's a fine bit of 19th-century illustration of a moral and political message; all the more engaging for the dramatic tension emanating from each of the women.

 The Freedman’s Record reported that “Miss Lewis is anxious to put her work in marble, and Mr. Waterston has kindly offered to receive and transmit to her any contributions on the part of her friends to enable her to do so. She proposes to dedicate her work to Miss H. E. Stevenson and Mrs. E. D. Chaney, 'as an expression of gratitude for their labors in behalf of the education of her father’s race.' Upon her move to Rome a few months later, references to that work disappear completely. In their stead are reports of a new group of two newly emancipated figures. This pair, a man and a woman are generally said to be two adults, although in at least one account, they are referred to as a man and his daughter.

Forever Free by Edmonia Lewis completed in 1867. Collection of Howard University, Washington, DC

The emancipation group Forever Free is Lewis's best known and most frequently illustrated work. Begun in 1865, the year of the passage of the thirteenth amendment, and originally called The Morning of Liberty, the two figures suggest the first exclamations of triumph and of prayerful thanksgiving for their barely realized freedom. The viewer confronts both the man's nascent recognition of new and abundant possibilities and the woman's gratitude for being a living witness to the end of the long night of generations of slavery. Their gaze, upward and toward a distant horizon might well, in the convention of literary sculpture of the day, invite the viewer to interpolate a bright sun rising from below that horizon.  Metaphors of morning were certainly to be expected in characterizing the early days of emancipation, and Lewis might well have read one of the most lyrical of such statements in an editorial by Frederick Douglass written in anticipation of the formal announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation as the January, 1863, issue of the Douglass Monthly was being set in type. Under the heading 'The Glorious Morning of Liberty,' Douglass avowed:

MY FRIENDS: -- This is scarcely a day for prose. It is a day for poetry and song. These cloudless skies, this balmy air this brilliant sunshine, (making December as pleasant as May,) are in harmony with the glorious morning of Liberty about to dawn upon us.. . . We stand today in the presence of a glorious prospect. . . It surpasses our most enthusiastic hopes that we live at such a time and are likely to witness . . . at least the legal downfall of slavery in America. It is a moment for joy. thanksgiving and Praise.

As likely a description of the spirit infusing Lewis's figures as she could ever wish.

Forever Free, the title she ultimately inscribed on the base of the statue, is of course taken from the Proclamation itself: “… all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State . . . in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free . . .” In the context of the period of Reconstruction in which she completed the statue, the two strong declarative words acquire the timbre of an echoing cry of reiteration and renewed resolve in the face of increasing black disillusionment, racist terror, and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan which was fully organized by 1866. By then the sunrise had given way to the scorching heat of the day.

The relative positions of the figures inevitably raise questions of symbolic hierarchy. Does the woman on her knees, even in prayer, suggest the social, political, and economic constraints faced by all women, but most especially black women, of that era? Is the man's hand upon her shoulder simultaneously protective and patronizing, even subtly keeping her 'in her place' at a time when black men were given, however briefly, the right to vote and to hold elected and appointed office?

There is an inherent ambiguity in the kneeling woman’s position which Lewis recognized and exploited. In terms of images of blacks most familiar to the general public in 19th-century America, this woman maintains a famous posture while her male companion, no longer strictly her counterpart, has broken free of the stereotype they long shared, a submissive posture sustained in other emancipation sculpture. Thomas Ball, for instance, famously placed a kneeling freedman at Lincoln’s feet. Although the head of the emancipated slave in Ball’s group is modeled on a portrait of Archer Alexander, the last man officially captured under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, and the body is that of the sculptor himself, modeled with the use of an elaborate arrangement of mirrors as he worked in a kneeling position, the man's still subservient posture so rankled black viewers of the original work, unveiled in Washington, D.C. in 1874 and the copy in Boston’s Park Square five years later, that it quickly became known sotto voce as the 'shoeshine memorial.' Further insult was found in the inscription on the base of the Boston monument. 'A Race Set Free/ And The Country At Peace/ Lincoln/ Rests From His Labors' ignores and thereby negates the experience of slavery and of black soldiers in the Civil War, rendering the kneeling man the passive recipient of Lincoln's and white America's exertion, sacrifice, and largesse.


            Ball’s Emancipation Group, Park Square, Boston

The female version of the supplicant slave, showing a kneeling black woman often nude above the waist, bearing the motto 'Am I Not A Woman And A Sister?' seems to have first appeared in the 1820s - again a British export, this time from the Ladies Negro's Friend Society of Birmingham, England, who used the image on their first report issued in 1826. Variations on the emblem show the kneeling Africans, alone or together, addressing various fully clothed white women who bear the symbolic attributes of Justice (scales, of course) or Liberty (helmet and spear), including in one French version what seems to be the spirit of Noblesse Oblige in crown and ermine. Intended to encourage public opinion in favor of abolition, the kneeling man and woman in chains were stark reminders of the suffering and degradation of the enslaved. Given their wildly successful dissemination these emblems, for all their champions’ good intentions, also became default, almost subconscious, indicators of perpetual black inferiority, impressing an uneasy and ambiguous iconographic message on both black and white memory for generations to come. 


Forever Free provides a commentary on these ubiquitous ante-bellum images. The man, still nude above the waist, stands tall. The woman, modest in a simple shift caught at the waist with a sash, has not escaped the kneeling posture, but hers is a genuflection of thanksgiving with undertones of supplication. Man and woman, freed from the carved low relief and stylized profile of the images of petition, are presented in the complete sculptural dimensions of their humanity; both squarely face the viewer, and yet cast their eyes and their thoughts above and beyond any human witness to their victory. The imploring question of their very membership in the human race is here replaced by a ringing declaration. Whatever their relationship to the white world, as man and brother, woman and sister, it is superseded by their union as a free couple, in principle answerable only to themselves, in principle free to travel to that horizon upon which they gaze.

If the female figure suggests a compromised, or perhaps incomplete, vindication of generations of appeal to the conscience of the nation, Lewis performed the significant feat of getting the black man emphatically off of his knees in American art. Thomas Ball showed his freedman all but groveling with thanks at Lincoln’s feet. The curve of his back and thigh has settled into a kneeling position. With his eyes fixed on a distant point, he does not seem dynamically poised to pull himself to his feet, especially not with Lincoln’s steadying hand there counseling gradualism and attention to the paragraph of the Emancipation Proclamation that reads: 'And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all case when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.'  The two men solidly inhabit the same physical space but for all the implied connection between them they could be on separate pedestals.

John Quincy Adams Ward’s bronze Freedman (1862-63) modeled on the very cusp of emancipation, offers a pensive heroic figure taut with the power of his own agency, shown at the moment of transition from subjugation to free-standing manhood. Ward fashioned actual barrel locks and keys that fit the shackles of the original work and the many copies that were made, suggestive tokens of the demands of autonomy. Francesco Pezzicar’s statue of the jubilant freed slave holding aloft a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation was actually an Austrian entry in the art display at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. That bronze work so disconcerted William Dean Howells that he declared it 'a most offensively Frenchy negro . . . one longs to clap him back into hopeless bondage.'


It fell to Edmonia Lewis to be the first American sculptor to show a newly freed slave standing astride his broken shackles holding aloft the dangling links of a severed chain.

Working from classical sources and in gleaming Carrara marble, Lewis established a field of dissonance between her image and its audience. Rather than cast Forever Free in bronze as did most sculptors of emancipation scenes, Lewis placed these gleaming white African American figures on public display in Boston. She presented dramatic whiteface images in contrast to prevailing blackface minstrel shows. Literary sculpture, in its static representation of a narrative scene fit comfortably into an era of the theatrical tableaux vivants. This was a literary and theatrical presentation. She put costumed black figures in whites masks. It is through the script, gesture, and narrative impact that she defines their blackness; through their physical presentation, not their literal color. Their color is stylized, thrown back centuries to a Graeco-Roman ideal which is made to incorporate black suffering, nobility, and monumentality of form and spirit into the western tradition through a propitiously opened door of Victorian sensibility she first entered during her stay in Florence.

 Another level of symbolic import, specific to Lewis among the visual chroniclers of Emancipation, presents itself in Forever Free. In considering the work of African American artists, viewers today are familiar with a spectrum of religious and biblical references, metaphors, scenes, and even individuals as elements of the cultural vocabulary of Africans in America. Certainly the strong identification of the African American experience with that of the Old Testament Jews held captive in Egypt is well documented through the centuries and remains strong today in story, sermon, and song. Christ in the New Testament is invoked in the black church as both a powerful source of strength in time of crisis and as the bearer of the promise of personal salvation and rescue. With the exception of those in Louisiana, the work of the Oblate Sisters in Baltimore, and some other scattered communities and parishes of black Catholics, blacks in America have been historically affiliated primarily with Protestant denominations, Baptist and Methodist in the largest numbers, fewer professing Congregationalist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Unitarian and even Quaker doctrines.

There is no precedent however, for looking at the work of a 19th-century black American artist through the lens of Roman Catholicism even though, for a sculptor of Lewis's period, the study of the European masterworks would be greatly enhanced by a familiarity with the religious, political and philosophical history behind the centuries of European art both religious and secular. Lewis spoke of her Catholic faith, acted upon it, modeled work in celebration of it, and addressed specific doctrinal distinctions which separated her from white and black Protestants alike, in particular her avowed reverence for the cult of the Virgin Mary. In an 1871 interview in the journal, The Revolution, with the editor, Laura Curtis Bullard, Lewis, in discussing her eloquent life-size figure of Hagar declared  “I have a strong sympathy for all women who have struggled and suffered. For this reason the Virgin Mary is very dear to me." As a devout Roman Catholic, Lewis would have appreciated analogies between the redemption of mankind through the suffering and resurrection of Christ, and the redemption of enslaved blacks through the blood bath of the Civil War and the liberation granted by the Emancipation Proclamation. These New Testament images, which would be familiar to all who knew something of the history of European art and particularly Italian painting and sculpture, might spring less readily to mind in the context of American and African American Protestantism. Edmonia Lewis posited an emblematic counterpart to the historical resurrection and transfiguration of blacks in America even as those events were taking place.

For blacks and their white champions, the Emancipation Proclamation was a document of quasi-religious dimensions. Her status utterly transformed by a pronouncement from the political equivalent of 'on high,' the kneeling woman is indeed the recipient of an announcement unlike any previously delivered in this nation. Her posture echoes some medieval and renaissance depictions of the Annunciation to the Virgin in which Mary is sometimes shown surprised at prayer, half-seated or kneeling.

Mary's response is not one of supplication, of course, but of fear and questioning in a swirling suspension of all that had theretofore grounded her in a familiar psychological and physical reality. She becomes the embodiment of a cataclysmic shift in the meaning and perception of historical time in the Western world. Lewis's contemplation of the relevance of the Marian experience to that of African American women would have been heightened by the promulgation of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary in 1854 by Pope Pius IX. This is the doctrine that Mary herself was born without original sin - she was in effect, and canonically described as, the New Eve. In a secular America, this couple, at a moment of national transformation, is the configuration of a meridian, the gnomon of a political sundial, which, by the time Lewis was well into the work of constructing the statue, had clearly begun to indicate the menacing shadows of Reconstruction a threat to that Morning of Liberty which had seemed a secular Resurrection for black Americans.

As for the male figure’s stance, in the Biblical accounts, early in the morning, when those assigned watch have given in to asleep, Christ, risen from the tomb, emerges time and again - in fresco, portal, marble and on canvas - his right hand uplifted in a gesture of benediction and triumph while his left hand, at the lower end of a diagonal sweep, rests in a position similar to the freedman's, between waist and thigh, often holding the stanchion of a wind-whipped banner of victory. Although Lewis, incorporating two figures into her composition, chooses to reverse the traditional position of the arms, her composition echoes many such depictions readily available to her. Bronzino’s effusively Mannerist Resurrection of Christ at Florence's Church of the Annunziata, to give one example, is a virtual template for her freedman emerging from the symbolic death and entombment of slavery.

Detail, Bronzino, Resurrection of Christ, Florence, Church of the Santissima Annunziata

Numerous scenes of the Transfiguration of Christ show the central figure in a similar pose, often with a kneeling woman in the foreground, certainly an apt metaphor for the falling away of all that was past and the reinvention of the self in the dawning of the new order. Conflating these symbolic transformations within the two figures, Lewis incorporates supplication, thanksgiving, and an intimation of the awe-inspiring transcendence of that defining moment which she underscores by revising her title from The Morning of Liberty to Forever Free  - - morning after all, passes, night descends; but even amid the dashed hopes and growing horrors of reconstruction and its aftermath, forever abides.

Other sources for this work by a Catholic artist impressed throughout her travels in Italy by endless repetitions of the story of the Passion of Christ and finding there an emblematic counterpart to the historical resurrection and transfiguration of blacks in America even as those events were taking place would include scenes of the harrowing of hell where locks, chains and prison doors are broken to free the captives of sin. Again an apt corollary for the emancipation of the slaves whose lives as autonomous individuals had been viciously suppressed for generations. Lewis's broken chains, and the ardent gratitude of her kneeling woman are central to most such depictions in which Christ ushers the thankful captives into the light while crushing underfoot the devil and his instruments of torture and restraint.

A final integral scene in the tableaux of events surrounding the resurrection, the poignant ritual of recognition, longing, and refusal, known as the Noli Me Tangere, includes a woman in a posture much like that of the freedwoman in Forever Free.  At first mistaking the risen Christ for a gardener - a laborer and tiller of the soil - Mary Magdalene recognizes him only when he calls her by name, and yet, through all the centuries of Christian art, she is forever denied her strongest wish and impulse which is merely to touch him. Lewis, in an intriguing resolution of that tension between the mortal and the divine, draws together her two figures, clearly designating them both mortal; the freedman in a tender laying on of hands, seems to proffer both a benediction and a vow of protection.     

It is impossible to overstate the impact and influence that the churches, museums, galleries and private collections of Florence would have had on Lewis, or for that matter any other American artist for the first time surrounded by such a concentrated abundance of art in every form and medium known at that era. Stendhal arrived from art-rich France after all, and still faltered under the sensory overload. Dostoyevsky knew the great religious iconography and ornament of the Russian Orthodox tradition, but ecstasy or epilepsy set the neurons in his brain firing wildly under the Florentine influence nonetheless. Nothing in America could have prepared Lewis for the initial shock of the physical scale, historical depth and stylistic range of the artwork both religious and secular she encountered at every turn in Florence. Edmonia Lewis visited Paris on her way to Italy; she returned there for visits and decades later for an extended stay. She moved on from Florence to build a life and career for herself in Rome. But it was in Florence that the world of art and the life of the artist were first revealed to her in all their endless possibility.

©  Marilyn Richardson, 2008.  All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced without permission.


Carte de Visite photograph of Edmonia Lewis by H. Rocher.
Henry Steele Commager. Theodore Parker: Yankee Crusader. Boston: Skinner House, Unitarian Universalist Association, 1947.
Rita K. Gollin. Annie Adams Fields: Woman of Letters. U of Massachusetts P, 2002.
The Liberator.
Russell Lynes. The Art-Makers: An Informal History of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Dover, 1982.
The New York Tribune.
Robert W. Rydell. All The World’s a Fair: Vision of Empire at American International Expositions, 1876-1916. U. of Chicago P, 1984.
Dorothy Sterling. We Are Your Sisters. New York: Norton, 1984.
Lillie Buffum Chace Wyman and Arthur Crawford Wyman. Elizabeth Buffum Chace, 1806-1899, vol. II. Boston: 1914.

Recommended Viewing: http://images.google.it/imgres?imgurl=http://farm1.static.flickr.com/130/422647549_7793752cf5.jpg%3Fv%3D0&imgrefurl=http://www.flickr.com/photos/cbustapeck/422647549/&h=500&w=375&sz=87&hl=en&start=20&usg=__WZE3tyyV-RKVK_eKWMnIX3uHWWI=&tbnid=SPZo3k3wmIP0SM:&tbnh=130&tbnw=98&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dedmonia%2Blewis%26gbv%3D2%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG

Professor Sally Mitchell of Temple University on the Victoria Discussion List is the most informed member concerning many of the figures connected with the English Cemetery.

Theodore Parker’s Graves
Sally Mitchell, Temple University. Paper.

Theodore Parker, who had been, according to the Springfield Daily Republican, “for ten years the greatest preacher in America, and had gathered in Boston what was then its largest congregation,”  was buried in Florence’s “English” Cemetery on 13 May 1860, three days after his death from tuberculosis. Almost at once the modest grave with Joel Tanner Hart’s simple headstone became a place of pilgrimage for American tourists. By the 1880s, however, some were complaining about the dark cypresses, the overgrown shrubbery, and the “rude tombstone.” A plan to restore the site and commission a “worthy monument” aroused  public debate  (if only a subdued echo of the controversies in Parker’s lifetime) but ultimately a new monument of white marble by William Wetmore Story was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day in 1891.

Frances Power Cobbe owned a copy of this lithograph, signed 'Saulini, Rome, 1859,' and used it as the frontispiece of the first volume in her edition of Parker's collected works

Born in 1810 on his family’s farm in Lexington, Theodore Parker was a rebel by inheritance: his will, quoted in the New York Times on 4 July 1860, presented to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts two firearms belonging to his grandfather, John Parker, who had been captain of the militia at Lexington green on the 19th of April, 1775. One was “the large musket or king’s arm, which was by him captured from the British . . . and which is the first firearm taken from the enemy in the war of Independence”;  the other “was used by him in that battle while fighting in ‘the sacred cause of God and his country.’” As a young man, Parker supported himself by teaching in local schools while  mastering the Harvard curriculum on his own. He then enrolled in Harvard Divinity School, graduating in 1836. He was also attending meetings of the Transcendental Club and reading in the new German higher criticism. Under the  influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1838 Divinity School Address, Parker began, while serving as pastor to a Unitarian congregation in West Roxbury, to make a wide-ranging study of critical exegesis, historical theology, and non-Christian religious traditions. In the words of a reminiscence published in the New York Times on 2 June 1860:

By gradual steps, he discarded what he considered the fundamental errors of the orthodox faith, building up for himself a belief founded on certain incontrovertible principles of truth and banishing sectarian dogmas as unworthy of the civilization of the age. As  summed up by himself, he preached these three doctrines – first, the infinite perfection of God; second, the adequacy of Man for all his functions; third, absolute or natural religion. “For these three great doctrines – of God, of Man, of Religion – (he writes) – I have depended on no Church and no Scripture; yet have I found things to serve me in every Church. I have sought my authority in the Nature of Man . . .”

Parker’s A Discourse of Matters Pertaining to Religion, published in 1842, helped readers in many countries who were then conducting their own agonized battles with the strictures of organized Christianity. One of them wrote many years later that Parker “infused into the religious life of England and America an element hardly present before, of natural confidence in the absolute goodness of God independent of theologies. No man did more than he to awaken the Protestant nations from the hideous nightmare of an Eternal Hell, which (within my own recollection) hovered over the piety of England. As he was wont himself to say, laughingly, he had ‘knocked the bottom out of hell!’” (Cobbe, Life, 2:10).

By the mid-1840s  his theology was too radical for most Unitarian clergy and he began to preach independently in Boston. Within a few years his sermons could fill the massive Boston Music Hall, built in 1852 to house what was then the world’s largest organ. 

The Boston Music Hall illustrated in volume I of John Weiss, Life and Correspondence of Theodore Parker (1864)

“In all his preaching,” according to the 2 June reminiscence, “social problems bore a prominent relation to his discourse. He inveighed against intemperance, against covetousness;  labored for education and for the elevation of woman; preached against war, and denounced Slavery as a concrete wrong; . . . bore testimony against men high in office, and did not hesitate to apply the sharpest caustic to sins national or sins personal.” People were drawn to his sermons, said the New York Times obituary of 29 May 1860, by its “eloquence, power, and novelty”:

he agitated every popular and unpopular subject, with a vigor and fearlessness that carried his auditors along with him . . . and almost forced them to agree with his conclusions, even against their will. But, most of all, he dwelt on the Slavery question . . . promulgating the extreme views in relation to it . . . He lectured in nearly all the cities of the Free States, drawing immense crowds wherever he appeared, and scarcely provoking opposition from his most earnest dissentients, who were for the time silenced and carried away by the rolling torrent of his speech.

Parker’s abolitionist zeal made enemies and brought personal risks. He openly called for citizens  to disobey the 1850 fugitive slave act, helped establish the Boston Vigilance Committee, concealed fugitives in his house, put them on ships bound for England. After speaking to a large crowd at Faneuil Hall on May 26th 1854 he was indicted and arrested (although ultimately not tried) on the grounds that he “did knowingly and wilfully obstruct, resist, and oppose” a U.S. marshall “in the due and lawful execution” of his duty to apprehend one Anthony Burns for return to his owner in Virginia. He was, in addition, one of the silent backers who supplied John Brown with weapons and money for the raid on Harper’s Ferry.

Although no longer considered the greatest intellect among New England Transcendentalists, Theodore Parker may be the only one noted for personal charisma. Louisa May Alcott at age 24 was living in an attic room in a Boston boardinghouse and looking for work (sewing, childminding, any work at all). In November 1856 she wrote in her journal “Go to hear Parker, and he does me good . . . He is like a great fire where all can come and be warmed and comforted.” (She later used him as model for the radical clergyman Thomas Power in her 1873 novel Work.) Alcott was thrilled by Of the Public Function of Woman, which asserted that a woman “has the same natural rights as man . . . – to vote, to hold office, to make and administer laws” and by his conception of the divine. “Parker’s prayers were one of the strongest attraction of his church,” she wrote in her preface to Prayers by Theodore Parker (1882), “the phrase, ‘Our Father and our Mother God,’ was inexpressibly sweet and beautiful .”

A decade earlier his writing had sustained another young woman across the Atlantic. Frances Power Cobbe in 1846 (also 24 years old, in despair over her loss of faith and afraid to reveal it to anyone she knew) saw an advertisement for  Parker's Discourse of Religion, ordered a copy from her bookseller, and found it virtually lifesaving.  Two years later, deeply lonely after her mother’s death and the trauma of  telling her father that she was no longer a Christian, she gathered her courage and wrote a letter to Boston. Parker’s generous response, dated May 5, 1848, began "I rejoice exceedingly at being able to smooth the difficulties away which have been thrown in the way of religion . . . Your history lends additional interest to it all. I know how you must have suffered under that bewildering orthodox theology . . .” and opened a correspondence that lasted until his death.  In 1855 she was able to send him her own first book, published anonymously as An Essay on Intuitive Morals. Part I, Theory of Morals  (her father was still alive). Thanking her for it, Parker wrote that it was a "noble book" and added that "your learning also surprizes me." Over the next two years he promoted publication of Cobbe’s work in the United States and secured reviews in reputable American journals.  His letter of August 1857, however, reported that he had been ill for nearly six months. In 1859 he said farewell to his congregation and set out for warmer climates. By the end of the year he had settled for the winter in Rome.

The portrait of Theodore Parker published as frontispiece to volume I of John Weiss, Life and Correspondence of Theodore Parker (1864)

Frances Power Cobbe was also in Italy by late December 1859, sharing an apartment in Villa Brichieri on Bellosguardo with her friend (and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s) Isa Blagden.  As spring drew on, invalids who had wintered in Rome made their way towards the healthier air of Florence. On April 28th,  Cobbe saw Theodore Parker for the first time, "lying in bed his back to the light . . . He took my hand tenderly . . . I kissed his hand and I daresay he felt a tear on it." The notebooks she kept at the time record daily visits, although she was not always admitted to the room.  A letter written on April 29th to someone who passed it on to John Weiss, Parker’s first biographer, expands on the phrases jotted in her notebook:

    He lies quite quietly on his bed, with his back to the light . . . I do not think he sees anything, except vaguely. They say he must have made a great effort to be as collected as he was with me yesterday; to-day it was nearly all wandering, about what he would do in America, how he would lie still in his house, and be very comfortable and happy.
    He received me yesterday when I went to his bedside very tenderly, saying “After all our wishes to meet, how strange it should be thus at last! You are not to think or say you have seen me – this is only the memory  of me. Those who love me most can only wish me a speedy passage to the other world. Of course I am not afraid to die” (he said this with what I could have supposed his old fire), “but there was so much to do.” (Weiss, 2:438)

By early May he was generally dozing, and on May 10th Dr. Appleton told her the end was very near. The next day Cobbe wrote a letter to her friend Francis Newman (younger brother of Cardinal Newman, but himself well known as a non-denominational  theist), who supplied it to London newspapers; it was reprinted on the front page of the New York Times for 31 May 1860:

I have sad news to communicate. Our dear suffering friend, Theodore Parker, died yesterday evening. Yet there never was an easier end to a life but lately full of vigor. I saw him about three hours before he died, lying calmly, while life was ebbing away unconsciously to himself. He left written directions for his funeral, limiting to five persons the attending him to the grave, of whom I am one. Many Americans here are expressing their wish to appear as mourners; but it is thought right to abide by his instructions. He desired the eleven first verses of the Sermon on the Mount (the blessings of Jesus) to be read over his grave; and then a plain grey stone, with his name and age and nothing farther of inscription. Mr. Cunningham, a Boston Unitarian minister, will read the passage. He is a sincere friend and admirer of Parker’s.  

As she recorded in the autobiography written more than thirty years later:

The funeral took place on Sunday, the 13th May, at the beautiful old Campo Santo Inglese . . . It was the first funeral I had ever attended. The coffin when I arrived, was already lying in the mortuary chapel. My companions placed a wreath of laurels on it, and I added a large bunch of the lily-of-the-valley which he had loved. . . . The burial ground is exquisitely lovely, a very wilderness of flowers and perfume. Only a few cypresses give it grandeur, not gloom. All Florence was decorated with flags in honor of the anniversary of the Piedmontese Constitution. We said to one another:  “It is a festival for us also – the solemn feast of an Ascension.”  (2:12)

Joel Tanner Hart was commissioned to select the plain grey stone and carve the simple inscription Parker had requested:


Born at Lexington, Mass.
United States of America,
Aug. 24, 1810
Died at Florence May 10,

By summer’s end American travelers were already visiting Parker’s grave and clipping a few blades of grass or a flower for remembrance. “The Tomb of Theodore Parker,” from the 5 September New York Times, is datelined Florence, Friday Aug. 17, 1860:

The Swiss Protestant Cemetery, under the shade of Cypress trees and the grey old walls of Florence, is interesting to Americans as well as to pilgrims from other countries where the religion of Luther and other Reformers prevails. . . . The body of Theodore Parker lies in that hallowed inclosure. . . . I remember to have heard a foreigner – who knows our country well – say, when Theodore Parker died, “It seems to me, that in his death, America has lost her most brilliant intellect.”

The column concludes by wondering why Parker’s body had not been returned to Boston and suggesting that he might not have wanted to rest in ground tainted by slavery: “Here he will rest peacefully and well until, perhaps, when the great warfare of which he was one of the grandest champions, is ended, the city which he loved so will claim his dust, and give it no unworthy burial.” A letter from the Reverend Gilbert Haven published in the New Hampshire Sentinel on 18 December 1862 (two weeks before the Emancipation Proclamation took effect) has a similar conclusion:

Pass up the path to the central cross, and turn to the right. Go a few feet toward the wall. The path is lined with young cypresses. Close to it, on the left or north side, under the cypresses, in a cool and perpetual shadow, is a large, thick, gray sandstone slab, with [a] simple inscription . . . The thick grass about it was wet with dew at that after midday hour. The grave was overrun with ivy and myrtle. Two yew bushes were flourishing near the head stone, and a small evergreen shrub was growing near his feet. The tall cypresses covered it with their dense shade. From under their boughs you could look out eastward and see the hills of Fiesole across the valley, with their bright villas – the tall grey tower of its ancient cathedral, and the lofty seat where Lorenzo De Medici and his friends held high converse on Plato. The spot was very inviting, from the coolness, shade, and silence. . . . Why Mr. Parker was left here is to me a mystery. Pleasant and retired as is the spot, soft and grand as is the scenery, the graveyard at Lexington is preferable. Perhaps, his friends may say, it was that, dreading the downfall of America before the dragon of slavery, he gave commandment concerning his bones, that they should not rest in such recreant soil. Thus the agitation which his life produced revives over his grave.

The simple monument and inscription, from John Weiss, Life and Correspondence of Theodore Parker (1864), vol. II.

Visitors continued to seek out the spot in the decades after the Civil War. Dr. Holland, whose letter was  published in the Springfield Weekly Republican on 24 July 1870, saw “a little group of Americans around the grave of Theodore Parker . . . when they left . . . we found the offering of affection which they had deposited there – a magnificent bouquet of flowers. There was something very touching in this tribute to one greatly loved at home, who had laid down his  burden in a foreign land. It made me think better of the dead who could command such homage, and the living who were moved to leave the path of pleasure to render it.” Louisa May Alcott came  in 1871:

Standing by his grave in Florence, it seemed at first a lonely and forlorn spot for such honored dust to lie in; but as we looked we found that many pilgrims had worn a path to this shrine, that other hands had brought fresh offerings, and, in the myrtle that spread its green coverlet over the low bed, a little bird had built its nest, as if sure of a refuge there, although the hospitable heart lay still below. Finding comfort in these signs and symbols, we dropped our flowers, poor gifts for the greatest help one human soul can give another, and went away, feeling that in neither Florence nor Rome should we find any thing more beautiful or grand than the life of one who loved his neighbor better than himself, and prayed for all men as his brothers. (Preface, vii)

A correspondent describing a European tour for the San Francisco Evening Bulletin reported in the installment published on 30 January 1873:

One day we visited the grave of Theodore Parker, which is the “mecca” of many pilgrims. It is a really delightful spot, this cemetery. It used to be away on the outskirts, but now the growing city has taken it in, leveled the grounds around it, bounded it by splendid boulevards, and left a beautiful knoll thickly studded with monumental and memorial marbles, and overhung by cypress trees and a few pines. . . . The plain stone at the head of Parker’s grave is of some kind of dark granite, and as some one has said, “that and the little stone pine over it are fit emblems of the strong and sturdy characteristics of the man.”

Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in September 1873 published a 6-page article by O.M. Spencer, “The Protestant Cemetery at Florence,” which includes a drawing of Theodore Parker’s gravestone and a long tribute but nevertheless reflects Spencer’s religious hesitation: “Whatever views we may entertain of Theodore as the champion of that liberal Christianity . . . it is difficult to stand over his grave and read the simple inscription upon his tombstone without adding a passing tribute to his memory as a man and a philanthropist. . . . few, if any, entertain a doubt as to the value of his services in the temperance, antislavery, and other humanitarian causes. He proclaimed a revolution when it required the courage of a martyr to do it.”

Another sketch of the monument by Joel Tanner Hart, from 'The Protestant Cemetery at Florence,' Harper's New Monthly Magazine 47 (September 1873)

Hesitation was also arising, as the years passed, about the “forlorn spot” (in Alcott’s words) and the “tangled flower bed” (in Spencer’s). When Frances Power Cobbe, who had in the interim edited the 14-volume Collected Works of Theodore Parker, returned to Florence in the winter of 1878-79, she found that the “cypresses had grown large and dark and somewhat shadowed it.” (Life 2:12). A “Letter from Italy” in the Worcester Daily Spy on 4 February 1879 described “only a flat stone half hidden beneath the lower branches of a fir tree.” When Parker’s wife died in April 1881, the Springfield Daily Republican reported that mourners at her funeral “thought of that Italian grave as often as of this American one “ and that although a “wreath of Italian myrtle from Parker’s grave in Florence lay on the coffin of his wife” they hoped that someday “his bones will be brought over to lie beside those of his well-beloved wife at Mount Auburn.”

In 1883, Theodore Stanton (Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s son, a journalist living in Paris) visited Florence and found that the graves of English and American writers “were generally marked by memorials worthy of the literature their occupants enriched and of the land in which they died” but that Theodore Parker’s “rude tombstone . . . did scant credit either to American Taste or national gratitude.” Resolving “to do what I could to change this state of things,” (“Theodore Parker’s Grave”) he wrote to a number of people he believed would be interested, including Frances Power Cobbe. She replied on January 3rd [1886]:

Dear Mr Stanton
Thank you for yr kind letter . . . Thank you also very much for telling me of your intended restoration of Theodore Parker’s tomb. I should have been sorry not to have shared in the work. I visited the spot again . . . about five years ago & then paid the custode to renew the violets & otherwise set it in order – But the cypresses – (ugly ones they are) – had grown so as to shadow it sadly –, & it is, as you say, far too humble & neglected. I hope the fund raised will suffice to erect a worthy monument – Something I think of a canopy or a bust – or a white marble headstone with a medallion & his head in intaglio-rilevato, would perhaps be best. Some one really qualified ought to be asked to compose a suitable epitaph – or to select a passage from his own writings to serve as such.

She at once sent a contribution and followed two weeks later with the names and addresses of friends in England who she believed “would certainly be pleased to be invited” to contribute to the “Parker Fund.”

Stanton’s Paris occupation in 1886-1889 as publisher of The European Correspondent, a syndicated service providing information (and gossip) to be used by American newspaper editors, gave him a vehicle to make sure that news about the fund, its subscribers, and its plans were printed in a wide variety of papers. The Christian Recorder, for example, on 11 August 1887, mentioned that Elizabeth Cady Stanton was in Paris sitting for the sculptor Paul Bartlett of Boston, and added, “Mr. Bartlett will probably execute the medallion of Theodore Parker which will be placed on the reformer’s grave in Florence.” (If there ever was such a plan, nothing came of it.)

But just as Theodore Parker alive had been the focus of strong feelings, Theodore Stanton’s plan to replace the headstone aroused its own controversy. “The Grave of Theodore Parker,” printed in the Worcester Daily Spy on 28 July 1886 included one heated response:

It having been stated that Theodore Parker’s grave in Florence is neglected, the Rev. W.J. Potter sends . . . a note from Miss Hannah E. Stevenson regarding the choice of his burial place and the simple marking of it, which has been criticised as rude. Miss Stevenson, Mr. Potter recalls, was a member of Mr. Parker’s family, went abroad with him and his wife on that last fruitless journey in search of health, and saw him buried, and none of his surviving friends has more right to speak for his intimate wish than she. Miss Stevenson writes: “Mr Parker was averse to monumental display in burial places. He so expressed himself at home, and at Santa Cruz, and afterward in Rome. ‘Let the tree lie where it falls,’ was his injunction, and his congregation so respected his wish that they refrained from transporting the remains to America, which they earnestly desired to do. ‘When I die, let a plain headstone, with name and place and dates, mark my place of burial.’ This was said repeatedly. In reverent regard for his wishes, a place was selected in the Protestant cemetery of Florence; the services of Mr. Hart, the American sculptor, were accepted to select the proper stone for the purpose, slate not belonging there, and the desired inscription was made, fair and legible and durable. The turf with violets filled the surrounding curb, and a stone pine was planted outside. A Swiss gentleman, who had the supervising care of the cemetery, informed us that by the payment then of $100 the grave would be kept in perpetual repair, and he received the required sum. Afterward he sent some photographs of the spot which represented it exactly as it had been designed to be. From time to time pressed flowers and slips of the ivy planted there by Samuel Johnson and Samuel Longfellow have been sent to Mrs. Parker and me, by friends who said nothing of the appearance of ‘neglect.’ Even to this year the gifts are received.”

Challenged  by further objections and questions from Mr. Potter, who argued that “the design of the grave should be preserved,” (although he left a small opening by suggesting that “perhaps a more durable stone may be needed”) Stanton wrote soothingly in The Open Court for 12 May 1887 that “my own wishes would be satisfied if a good bronze bust or medallion of Parker were placed on his tomb . . . a common practice in European cemeteries [which] would be a source of pleasure to those who visit the grave.” When the subscriptions had been collected, “plans might be suggested as to how the fund should be employed so as to meet with the approbation of the majority of the subscribers.” He then continued:

Now a word about interfering with the original design of the grave. Although I fail to discover in this original design any artistic or architectural claims for its preservation, still if the near friends of Mr. Parker cling to it on sentimental grounds, I see no reason for unnecessarily wounding their feelings by changing it. But if we should finally decide to place a bust or medallion over his grave, and if we should then find that the present design must be modified in order to conform to the artistic requirements of the new situation, I suppose that the friends of Mr. Parker will then yield gracefully, provided nothing is done to destroy the simplicity that Theodore Parker himself desired should characterize his last resting place.

After that somewhat slippery response to an uncompromising statement by the last remaining person who had lived in Theodore Parker’s household (Parker and his wife had no children) Stanton evidently wanted equally telling support for his own plan and sent to the New York Tribune a letter from Frederick Douglass. (The letter was subsequently reprinted in Stanton’s “Frederick Douglass in Europe”):

Florence, May 10th, 1887
We arrived here after an all-night ride from Rome, this morning, and our first move outward after coffee was to visit the grave of Theodore Parker. We found it in the old Protestant cemetery, in the shade of a friendly cedar, and adorned, as it should be, with violets, iris and roses. The stone which commemorates him is, as you know, of dark brown and of the plainest workmanship. I am not an advocate of costly monuments over the decaying bodies of the dead, but if such may be properly employed to preserve the memory of great men and to show the appreciation of them who knew their worth, no monument could hardly be too costly to place over the dust of Theodore Parker. No man, according to his space in the world, did more than he to enlighten the minds of men, to quicken conscience, to exalt the idea of the character of God, to break the chains of mental and physical slavery. The stone at such a man’s grave should be a sermon, and should speak not only the language of the illustrious departed, but of them who knew him and loved him. Of these, no one has a better reason to wish his name honored than I and those I represent. His was the hammer and the fire that did their part in sundering the chains of slavery and covering long enslaved millions with the mantle of liberty. He was great in heart, great in mind and great in all the attributes which elevate and ennoble mankind. Let us see to it that at least in our day and generation no shadow shall fall upon his grave less friendly than that of the stately cedar which now stands like a faithful sentinel to guard his dust. I was glad to observe that the sexton, tho he spoke no English, readily knew to what grave I wished to be shown. His promptness told us that he had often led the way to that sacred spot.

Theodore Stanton’s article in The Open Court  for May 12th was followed by more than a hundred names of people who had already contributed to the Parker Tomb Fund. Frederick Douglass was among them;  so were a dozen religious radicals or members of women’s suffrage committees from England who were friends of Frances Power Cobbe, as well as Albert Reville and Ernest Renan of Paris, and Americans including Matilda Goddard of Boston (whose $25 subscription was a very large sum in the mid-1880s), Edna Dow Cheney (biographer of Louisa May Alcott), Abigail Williams May (a trustee of Tuskegee University and the first woman elected to the Boston School Committee), and Theodore Tilton (the man who brought John Brown’s body to New York after his execution).

The public controversy – at least so far as it can be traced in available newspapers – seems to have lost its energy soon thereafter. (Hannah Stevenson, herself a sturdy activist who had nursed in Washington D.C. hospitals during the Civil War and subsequently established schools under the Freedmen’s Bureau, evidently died in either 1887 or 1889.) The Worcester Daily Spy for 3 February 1889 reported that the “pastor of one of the prominent churches of this city . . . seemed to think that Mr. Parker was forgotten, and that his remains are resting in his lonely grave in Florence almost unknown and uncared for,” but asserted

it is not true that he is forgotten, or that the largeness of his charity has not been felt . . . in giving to men a broader view of Christianity . . . While some of us may not be in sympathy with his theological views and dogmas, or his want of them, as the case may be, yet we can but admire his nobleness of character, his loving heart for the oppressed, and his great love for all mankind. His unbelief in certain generally accepted statements of theology was, as some of us look at it, a great misfortune. But his heart was much larger than his theology, and his Christianity was of the loving type, that saw in every man a brother to be loved, and helped, whenever help was needed.

By summer 1891 a new headstone had been completed although, according to a brief notice in the New York Times for 23 August, its placing and dedication had been delayed “by the strict regulations of Italy concerning the removal or renovation of monuments to the dead.” Finally, on November 27th, nearly identical reports were published in several US newspapers (one has to wonder if the text was supplied by Theodore Stanton’s news bureau). This one is from the Worcester Daily Spy:

Theodore Parker’s Monument
Honors to One of America’s Greatest Divines
Florence, Italy, Nov. 26. – this afternoon there was unveiled in the old Protestant cemetery in this city, in the presence of a select body of American and English residents and United States Consul Long, the new headstone at the grave of Rev. Theodore Parker, which was erected with subscriptions collected by Theodore Stanton, among the distinguished European and American admirers of the celebrated Boston divine. The monument and medallion of Mr. Parker, by W.W. Story of Rome, are of white marble. The inscription is by Moncure D. Conway. The headstone, covered by the American flag, was unveiled by Miss Grace Ellery Channing, grand-daughter of Dr. Channing, who read a sonnet in honor of Mr. Parker, written for the occasion by Mr. Story. The orator of the day, Hon. Charles K. Tuckerman, formerly United States minister to Greece, delivered an admirable address.

One last Open Court essay by Theodore Stanton in December 1891 gave thanks to the “generosity of the distinguished sculptor . . . who would accept of no compensation for the modelling of the excellent medallion of Parker” and to the “efforts of Mr. Moncure D. Conway.”  A Virginian who fell under Parker’s influence soon after arriving at Harvard in 1852, Conway helped  thirty-three of his father’s escaped slaves settle in Ohio in 1862 and then departed for  England to lecture on the evils of slavery in order to discourage British sympathy for the Confederates. Remaining in London as minister of the South Place Chapel (which later became the South Place Ethical Society), Conway wrote in Fortnightly Review that Theodore Parker had transformed the liberal church from “a Boston school to an American faith . . . whenever Unitarianism is planted in the prairies or on the Mississippi, it comes up Parkerism . . . no dogmatic formula, but a spirit of reverent free thought.”  The inscription he wrote succinctly encompassed both key aspects of the man whose influence it honored:

AUGUST 24 1810
MAY 10 1860



Alcott, Louisa May. Preface to Prayers by Theodore Parker. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1882.
Alcott, Louisa May. Work: A Story of Experience.  Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1873.
The Christian Recorder, 20 January 1881 (Accessible Archives database).
The Christian Recorder, 11 August 1887 (Accessible Archives database).
Cobbe, Frances Power. Letters to Theodore Stanton. E.C. Stanton Papers, Theodore Stanton Collection. Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries, New Brunswick.
Cobbe, Frances Power.  Life of Frances Power Cobbe, by Herself. 2nd ed. 2 vols. London: Richard Bentley, 1894.
Cobbe, Frances Power. Note-Books, 1846-1863, vol. 3. National Library of Wales Department of Archives.
Conway, Moncure D. “Theodore Parker,” Fortnightly Review 2 (August 1867): 143-52.
 “Death of Theodore Parker,” New York Times, 29 May 1860 (ProQuest Historical Newspapers).
“European Gossip,” The European Correspondent [specimen issue], 26 May 1886.
Garrison, W.P. “The Isms of Forty Years Ago,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine 60 (January 1880): 182-93 (Making of America, Cornell).
“The Grave of Theodore Parker,” Worcester Daily Spy, 28 July 1886 (America’s Historical Newspapers).
Grodzins, Dean. American Heretic: Theodore Parker and Transcendentalism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.
Haven, Gilbert, “The Graves of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Theodore Parker,” New Hampshire Sentinel, 18 December 1862. (America’s Historical Newspapers).
Holland, Dr., “Letter from Dr. Holland,” Springfield Weekly Republican, 24 July1869 (America’s Historical Newspapers).
“In Memory of Theodore Parker,” New York Times, 27 November 1891 (ProQuest Historical Newspapers).
“Letter from Italy. The Beauties of Florence,” Worcester Daily Spy, 4 February1879 (America’s Historical Newspapers).
“Letter from Italy.  Wandering About Florence,” Worcester Daily Spy, 30 April 1881 (America’s Historical Newspapers).
The Macon Telegraph, 31 July 1886 (America’s Historical Newspapers).
Myerson, Joel, and Daniel Shealy, eds. The Journals of Louisa May Alcott. Boston: Little, Brown, 1989.
Parker, Theodore. Letters to Frances Power Cobbe. Cobbe Collection, Huntington Library, San Marino, California. She supplied copies to Theodore Weiss, who reproduced them in his Life and Correspondence of Theodore Parker.
Parker, Theodore. Of the Public Function of Woman. London: Chapman, 1853.
Parker, Theodore. Prayers. Boston: Walker, Wise and Company, 1863.
Parker, Theodore. The Trial of Theodore Parker, for the “Misdemeanor” of a Speech in Faneuil Hall against Kidnapping. Boston: Published for the Author, 1855.
Pomeroy, Rachel. “Florence,” The Independent, 17 March 1870 (APS Online).
“The Protestant Graveyard at Florence,” San Francisco Evening Bulletin, 30 January1873 (America’s Historical Newspapers).
Spencer, O.M. “The Protestant Cemetery at Florence,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine 47 (September 1873): 507-13 (Making of America, Cornell).
Stanton, Theodore.  “Frederick Douglas in Europe,” The Independent, 23 May 1895 (APS Online).
Stanton, Theodore. “The Parker Tomb Fund,” The Open Court, 17 February 1887 (APS Online).
Stanton, Theodore. “The Parker Tomb Fund,” The Open Court, 12 May 1887 (APS online).
Stanton, Theodore. “Theodore Parker’s Grave,” The Open Court, 24 December1891 (APS Online).
“Theodore Parker,” Worcester Daily Spy, 3 February 1889 (America’s Historical Newspapers).
“Theodore Parker. Private Life and Opinions of Mr. Parker – Reminiscences,” New York Times, 2 June 1860 (ProQuest Historical Newspapers).
“Theodore Parker’s Monument,” Worcester Daily Spy, 27 November 1891 (America’s Historical Newspapers).
“Theodore Parker’s Monuments,” New York Times, 23 August 1891 (ProQuest Historical Newspapers).
“The Tomb of Theodore Parker,” New York Times, 5 September 1860 (ProQuest Historical Newspapers).
Weiss, John. Life and Correspondence of Theodore Parker. 2 vols. New York: Appleton, 1864.
“Wendell Phillips on Theodore Parker,” New York Times, 2 June 1860 (ProQuest Historical Newspapers).
“The Wife of Theodore Parker,” Springfield Daily Republican, 13 April 1881 (America’s Historical Newspapers).
“The Will of Theodore Parker,” New York Times, 4 July 1860 (ProQuest Historical Newspapers).

Professor Brenda Ayres of Liberty University has a strong Web presence concerning anti-slavery novelists. She is editing these for Pickering.

Villino Trollope, Piazza Independenza, Florence; The Birthplace of the American Civil War: The Fanny Trollope and Harriet Beecher Stowe Connections

Brenda Ayres, Liberty University. Paper.

Ever since President Lincoln reportedly said to Harriet Beecher Stowe, "So you're the little woman that started this great war!" Uncle Tom's Cabin has been considered the juggernaut to end slavery in America. It did indeed trigger an upheaval, but the novel itself did not suddenly appear out of vacuity. There were many artists who preceded Stowe, who, if they had not been faithful to the call of their hearts to use their skills and talent to alleviate the suffering of their black brothers and sisters, Uncle Tom's Cabin might not have been written and might not have had the impact that it did.

This paper will recognize the contributions of a handful of English and Americans who significantly advanced the Abolition Movement, moved to Florence, and there continued their work until they were laid to rest in the 'English' Cemetery.

Frances Trollope (1779–1863) was persuaded by her friend, Frances Wright, to pursue a dream of racial, class, and gender equality among God's people in the wilds of Tennessee in a community called Nashoba, populated mostly by emancipated slaves. With her two daughters, youngest son, and a young artist by the name of Auguste Hervieu, Fanny Trollope set sail on the 4th of November 1827, leaving behind her ailing and insolvent husband in England. The anticipated utopia proved a delusion: The people in the commune were sick, no one was working, adequate food and housing were scarce, and there was no school in which Hervieu was to teach. Fanny and her troop left as quickly as they could for the nearest metropolis booming at that time, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Cincinnati was situated across from Kentucky with only the Ohio River separating free from slave states. As slaves escaped into Cincinnati, Fanny heard their horror stories and saw their scars, and from these, she spun the first anti-slavery novel in English literature, The Life and Adventures of Jonathan Jefferson Whitlaw.

But she would not write it until she had gathered more knowledge about that new great experiment in democracy called America.

Before then, she had her hands full with what Lafayette called the "Queen City of the West" (Van Thal 15). The Midwestern town itself did not embrace the ebullient and often haughty British lady, nor did Fanny take to its streets crowded with hogs. Cincinnatians were not interested in being told what was wrong with them and their town and what they needed to do to become cultured, but Fanny was very interested in enlightening them. They were proud that their city was nicknamed Porkopolis, that they marketed more than five million pounds of pork products that first year of Fanny's sojourn (William Hildreth 41). Besides her mission to civilize this part of the American wilderness, Fanny was determined to raise money not only to care for her family in America but also to pay for the education in England of her two oldest boys, Tom and Anthony, and to pay her family's debts. Toward those ends, she built an elaborate, exotic bazaar. Her husband invested $4,000, in what Trollope derided as "trumpery goods," merchandise that no one in a Midwestern town would want to or could afford to buy (Heineman 66). Known as 'Trollope's Folly', the bazaar turned out to be a financial disaster, but its failure would become a great boon to the Trollope family and to the abolition cause.

One unforeseen benefit occurred during the American Civil War when Fanny's bazaar was converted into the Soldier's Home by the Sanity Commission. Located centrally near the corner of Third and Main streets, after its debacle as a cultural center and emporium, it had been turned into a large boarding house and hotel, complete with cooking ranges, laundry facilities, store rooms, and dining hall. Later, on 15 May 1862, it was reopened to care for 150 sick and wounded soldiers. It was in operation for three-and-a-half years (Newberry 344–46).

Thirty-some years later, this worthy utilization would have been very gratifying to Fanny, but in 1830, she was facing bankruptcy on two continents. Distressed, more likely indignant and frustrated, but not defeated, never defeated, Fanny hastened away from creditors and traveled through West Virginia; Maryland; Washington, D.C.; Virginia; Pennsylvania; and New York before returning to England (Ransom 63–70). The disaster in Ohio forced her to contemplate another scheme to recoup financially. Through her travels, she saw very little freedom, especially for women and people of color. As I wrote in my introduction to The Social Problems of Frances Trollope, "Propelled by the struggles she saw and compelled by financial necessity, she turned to writing and produced a book that challenged America's claim to be the land of the free. Written at the age of 52, Domestic Manners of the Americans became an overnight sensation" (viii–ix).  Fanny wrote her son, Tom, who was in school, that like her friend Byron, "I woke one morning and found myself famous" (Frances Eleanor Trollope, 1: 152). According to one of her biographers, "Domestic Manners achieved a success almost unheard of for a first attempt by an unknown author. In 1832 alone it went through four English and four American editions. In 1838 there was a fifth American edition, and in 1839 a fifth English edition" (Heineman 100). It has never been out of print and has been translated into five languages. Most scholars and students of American history are familiar with its realistic, stark exposé of early nineteenth-century America, unique among other accounts that romanticized it instead.

Americans were none too happy with Trollope's unfavorable portrait of their country. However, on both sides of the Atlantic, the book sold, the critics condemned it, and people talked about it. But Fanny was not finished with taking America to task. Outraged by American slavery, she commuted her wrath for satire and sarcasm and poured it into Jonathan Jefferson Whitlaw. An instant bestseller in 1836, it went through three editions in the first year alone, fanning the flames of popular sentiment to press Parliament to pass the Abolition of Slavery Act in 1838 which prohibited slavery throughout its colonies. An earlier act of 1833 was meant to abolish slavery in the colonies, but to ease the burden that would inevitably befall white slave owners, Parliament failed to bring about emancipation. Instead, slaves were forced to serve periods of indentured apprenticeships stipulated by their masters. Slave children were free, which was some consolation and hope for the future, but who would take care of their children while the parents remained as slaves? In addition to its effect on the 1838 act, Fanny's novel inspired the formation of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society to induce other countries, especially America, to make slavery illegal. Trollope's novel was immediately a success in Britain, going through three editions within the year. Judging from the plethora of reviews (largely shocked that a woman vilified the gentlemanly, American South and wrote with such vulgarity on subjects not suitable to her sex), one can deduce that the book was of consequence.

As with Domestic Manners, the book was not well received in the States, but it had influence in a significant quarter, and that was on Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Before Fanny departed from Cincinnati, leaving them with plenty to talk about, Lyman Beecher moved there to become the first president of Lane Theological Seminary, recently completed in 1830. Beecher, a Congregationalist minister and one of the leaders of the Second Great Awakening or Christian revival, brought with him his children who would become some of the most famous people in America in their leadership of the woman's movement and abolition.

Arriving in 1832, his daughter Harriet would have just missed the notorious Mrs. Trollope who would have already returned to England, but Fanny's vinegar would have still been in their mouths, and her two books—because they both mentioned Cincinnati and because their authoress was now the town's most famous personality—would certainly have come to Harriet Beecher's attention as she acclimated to her new home. Later she would correspond with Fanny about her books and would visit her in Florence in 1859 (Neville-Sington 343) and in 1860 (Kissel 128).

Uncle Tom's Cabin
was published fifteen years after Jonathan Jefferson Whitlaw. Harold Scudder has recognized eleven major parallels between the two books. Susan Kissel identifies much more of Trollope in Stowe's book. Helen Heineman also provides a detailed comparison between the two novels in her biography, Mrs. Trollope: The Triumphant Feminine in the Nineteenth Century (144–45). Therefore, it is no stretch of the imagination to deduce that Stowe's novel was modeled after Trollope's and that Jonathan Jefferson Whitlaw paved the way for Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Nevertheless, Fanny did not write in a vacuum either. While she was creating JJW, Richard Hildreth was working on his first anti-slavery novel, The Slave: or Memoirs of Archy Moore, which was published six months after Trollope's novel.

Hildreth (1807–1865) was born in Deerfield, Massachusetts. Like Stowe, his father was a  Congregational minister. After graduating from Harvard and traveling through the southern part of the United States, he wrote and published The Slave anonymously. It so realistically depicted violence that masters inflicted upon slaves and their slaves' retaliation, that most people believed it to be an actual slave narrative. Even though the novel went through seven editions over the next couple of decades, it did not sell well. Hildreth later revised it, adding more chapters that culminate with the burning alive of a slave who had killed his master. The novel came out as The White Slave in 1852, after Uncle Tom's Cabin first appeared in serialized form in the June 1851 issue of National Era. In 1840 Hildreth published another anti-slavery book, Despotism in America. Between 1857 and 1860 he wrote several anti-slavery tracts. Although his works were not as popular or politically provocative as were Fanny's, he did come under a lot of critical attack—as did Fanny—for writing with a perspective that tended to alienate instead of ingratiate. While his wife supported him and their family (as Fanny worked to support her husband and family), he spent eight years writing his six-volume History of the United States, published between 1849 and 1852. Nor was it well because since he attacked the puritanical elements of America, and unlike other American histories, failed to instil nationalism. He was as vinegary as Trollope in all that he penned, avoiding the "tinsel and gingerbread" (to use a common nineteenth-century phrase) that characterized much of the writing of his day. As Martha Pingel put it, he "was one of the earliest American thinkers to treat history as a scientific account of man's actual achievements rather than as an embellishment of his hopes" (ix). Hildreth suffered as many disappointments as did Fanny Trollope in his personal and professional life, such as failing to secure a much desired history appointment at Harvard. Abraham Lincoln sent him as consul to Trieste, Italy, during the Civil War. There he became ill and had to resign the post. He died in poverty on the 11th of July 1865. His simple tombstone in Florence was erected by the publishing house of Harper Brothers which had handled many of his works.

Not far from Hildreth's grave in the English Cemetery lies Theodore Parker (1810–1860), who had been a Unitarian minister in Boston. He not only preached against slavery (Cobbe), and encouraged, justified, and openly defied the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act by abetting runaways on their way to Canada; he even often preached with a loaded gun next to him in the pulpit to be used against any slave catchers. With much mutual respect for each other, Parker and Hildreth worked together in Massachusetts to legally challenge the Fugitive Slave Law. Both of them attended Harvard (but not at the same time), and both suffered from substantial social criticism for their controversial views. Parker had a sizable following, though, with a congregation that included fellow abolitionists Louisa May Alcott, William Lloyd Garrison, Julia Ward Howe, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, plus enough followers during his services to fill the Boston Music Hall. He was the first to use the phrase "of all the people, by all the people, for all the people" (Parker 105), which Abraham Lincoln later borrowed for his famous Gettysburg Address. Parker wrote "A Letter to a Southern Slaveholder"in 1848 which became very familiar to Southern clergy. In that year he also published A Letter to the People of the United States Touching the Matter of Slavery. Finally convinced that slavery would not end without violence, he became one of the infamous "Secret Six," who helped finance John Brown's raid (Merrill 7). When stricken with tuberculosis, he went to milder climates for his health, ending in Florence where he was buried before the issue of slavery came to a head at Ft. Sumter. His second tombstone, by William Wetmore Story, reads:






AUGUST 24 1810


It is decorated with his portrait in bas relief. The first tombstone had been raised by Joel Tanner Hart (1810–1877), an American from Kentucky who also lived his last years in Florence and was a regular visitor at Villino Trollope.

The first thing Frederick Douglass did when he arrived in Florence in 1887 was to visit Parker's and then Barrett Browning's gravesites to pay his respects. About the two, Douglass wrote in his autobiography, 'The preacher and the poet lie near each other. The soul of each was devoted to liberty. The brave stand taken by Theodore Parker during the anti-slavery conflict endeared him to my heart, and naturally enough the spot made sacred by his ashes was the first to draw me to its side. He had a voice for the slave when nearly all the pulpits of the land were dumb'. (1015)

A few months after Parker's death, Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861) also found peace in the English Cemetery, followed by Hiram Powers (1805–1873). Their fellowship with each other and with Fanny Trollope and kinship in their fight for freedom of the oppressed have been documented in biographies and are evident in their works. While the Trollopes lived in Cincinnati, they met Powers, of whom Thomas Adolphus said was the "most remarkable acquaintance" during their sojourn in Ohio (59). At the age of twelve, Powers moved there with his family from Woodstock, Vermont (Burke 5). He earned money and learned mechanical engineering while working in Watson's Clock Factory. In 1826 he began to study sculpturing from Frederick Eckstein, a German immigrant who opened the Cincinnati Academy of Fine Arts in 1828 where Powers would be both student and teacher (Wunder 45–47). Powers soon began working in the Western Museum of Cincinnati, combining his knowledge of mechanics and sculpturing to create statues of wax. That is when Fanny met him and enlisted his skills to construct scenes for shows that she produced. He created and operated all of the characters in a recreation of Dante's Commedia, a great success that continued thirty-three years later, long after Fanny had given up on America. (Newstedt 39–40). While in Cincinnati, Powers became friends with Harriet Beecher Stowe, he also read her book, and Powers' biographer Richard Wunder credits the book for influencing Power to fashion the 'Greek Slave', a statue of a young Grecian woman being displayed in a Turkish slave auction (59).

For three years, Powers and his growing family lived in Washington, D.C. where he become the premier sculptor of busts for politicians. His clients included such famous Americans as John Adams, Andrew Jackson, John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster, and Martin Van Buren. He also designed a fountain for the Capitol, all of which gleaned him fame but very little money. Regardless, Powers established himself as the patriotic sculptor of the American greats, currency that would boost his contribution to the American Abolition Movement.

The friendship between Powers and Trollope continued after he moved to Florence in 1837. Frances Trollope called him the "truth-inspired sculptor of Ohio" and said that he was to sculpture what Shakespeare was to poetry ("American Sculptor"). A glowing review of his 'Eve' can be found in her 1842 A Visit to Italy (1:141–45). Three years later he sculpted the statue, 'Greek Slave', that would make him internationally famous. A tour throughout America from 1847–48, a total of 447 days, drew over one hundred thousand people who paid to see it (Wunder 242). After that the statue was exhibited at the center of the Crystal Palace in 1851 in London and then in the New York City Crystal Palace in 1853. Copies appeared in most of the government buildings in the North, as it came to be regarded as an icon for the abolition of slavery.

His statue moved Elizabeth Barrett Browning to write a sonnet, "Hiram Power's 'Greek Slave,'" in which she appeals to art to "break up ere long / The serfdom of this world." In the poem, she clearly cries out against slavery not only in the East, but also in the West.

Also inspired by "The Greek Slave," Mary Irving wrote a poem that appeared in The Independent (11 September 1851). The last two stanzas are

Calm in the "Crystal Hall" it stands
To crown a nation's fame;
'Tis well the world should read the type
That tells a nation's shame.

Messenger to her mother-land—
Gem for her gorgeous nave—
What hath the home of Slavery
More fitting than a slave?

She ended with this note: "You are aware that it is the chief ornament of the American exhibit in the 'Palace of Industry.'" With similar sentiment, Henry T. Tuckerman (1813–1871) published his "A Greek Slave" in the New York Daily Tribune (9 September 1847), which includes these prophetic lines:

Light as air may be the fetter
That Earth's tyranny doth weave,
And her slaves by wisest courage
Shall their destiny retrieve.

Besides these and several other poems as well as essays and laudatory reviews, the National Era articulated the statue's message to America:

As this eloquent statue traverses the land, may many a mother and daughter of the Republic be awakened to a sense of the enormity of slavery, as it exists in our midst! Thus may Art, indeed, fulfill its high and holy mission! Let the solemn lesson sink deep into the hearts of the fair women of the North and of the South! Waste not your sympathies on the senseless marble, but reserve some tears for the helpless humanity which lies quivering beneath the lash of American freemen. (2 Sept. 1847).

Powers denied being an abolitionist; however, nearly at the end of the American Civil War, he wrote to a friend:

The Hell of Slavery cannot prevail against the High Heaven of Liberty. The world's progress has passed that bound—and come what may, the ghastly head of southern despotism will never again arise in the west where it has gone down in blood. (qtd. in Wunder 318)

After he relocated to Florence in 1837 for the remainder of his life, he was a regular at Villino Trollope, especially for Fanny's séances (Neville-Sington 351). He died on June 27, 1873, ten years after Trollope, and is buried in the English Cemetery, as are three of his children.

Fanny and Thomas Adolphus (her eldest son, Tom) also resettled in Florence in September 1943, staying at first with Lady Bulwer at the Palazzo Passerini until they found an apartment, which they did shortly thereafter. This was in the Casa Berti, "next to the east end of the church of Santa Croce," which was having a new steeple built (Thomas A. Trollope 139). It was located in the Via del Giglio where Milton stayed when he was in Florence (142). The Trollopes remained there until the summer of 1844, when they returned to England, to their home at Penrith in the Lake District, where they met Anthony's new bride. On September 1, Fanny returned to Florence again, this time to an apartment in Palazzo Berti (Ransom 158) in the Via dei Malcontenti (Thomas A. Trollope 139). By July 1845, they were back in England, only to return to Florence again in September 1845, there to live in an apartment in the Via del Giglio (Ransom 162–63) until April 1847, when they returned to Penrith for the last time (166). By the middle of September 1847, they were back to stay in Florence (171). Thomas Adolphus bought a house in the Piazza Maria Antonia, now the Piazza dell'Independenza, which was to become known as the Villino Trollope. There they would live until Fanny's death in 1863, at the age of 84.

Fanny was a very sociable person and held Friday receptions every week. Villino Trollope was a must-visit for every traveler from Britain and America who wanted to meet not only meet the famous author, but also anyone who was anyone in Florence. In Florence Hildreth, Parker, Powers, Trollope, and Barrett Browning forged a friendship with each other that energized and directed their exertions to abolish slavery.

These expatriates—and several more besides—fought the war for independence from what might be considered their headquarters, Villano Trollope, in the Piazza Independenza. Except for Stowe, their names are etched in stone at the English Cemetery after a valiant fight for freedom. The engraving on Fanny's tombstone is an epitaph that memorializes them all:

"Here lies what is mortal, but the remembrance of her divine spirit needs no marble."

Works Cited

Ayres, Brenda. Introduction. The Social Problem Novels of Frances Trollope. London: Pickering and Chatto, 2009. vii–xxii.

Barrett Browning, Elizabeth. "Hiram Power's 'Greek Slave.'"

Cobbe, Frances Power. Discourses on Slavery. Vol. 5. The Collected Works of Theodore Parker. 14 vols. London: Trübner and Company, 1863.

Douglass, Frederick. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. 1893. Autobiographies. NY: Library of America, 1994.

Heineman, Helen. Mrs. Trollope: The Triumphant Feminine in the Nineteenth Century. Athens: Ohio UP, 1979.

Hildreth, Richard. Despotism in America or an Inquiry into the Nature and Results of the Slave-holding System. Boston: Whipple and Damrell, 1840.

———. History of the United States. 6 vols. NY: Harper, 1849–52.

———. The Slave; or, Memoirs of Archy Moore. Boston: J. H. Eastburn, 1836.

———. The White Slave or, Memoirs of a Fugitive. Boston : Tappan and Whittemore, 1852

Hildreth, William H. "Mrs. Trollope in Porkopolis." Ohio History 58 (Jan. 1949): 35–51.

Irving, Mary. "The Greek Slave." The Independent 11 Sept. 1851. Stephen Railton and the University of Virginia. 1999. http://www.iath.virginia.edu/utc/sentimnt/snpo12at.html

Kissel, Susan S. " Trollope, Dickens, Gaskell, Stowe and A. Trollope."  In Common Cause:The "Conservative" Frances Trollope and the "Radical" Frances Wright. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State U Popular P, 1993. 115–44.

Merrill, Walter M., ed. Let the Oppressed Go Free, 1861–1867.Vol 5. The Letters of William Lloyd Garrison, 1805–1879. 6 vols. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap P of Harvard UP, 1973.

Neville-Sington, Pamela. Fanny Trollope: The Life and Adventures of a Clever Woman. New York: Viking, 1997.

Newberry, Dr. J. S., Secretary Western Dept. of the United States Sanitary Commission, The U.S. Sanitary Commission in the Valley of the Mississippi, During the War of the Rebellion, 1861–1866. Cleveland: Fairbanks, Benedict & Co., 1871. http://books.google.com/books 06 June 2008.

Newstedt, J. Roger. "Mrs. Frances Trollope in Cincinnati: The 'Infernal Regions' and the Bizarre Bazaar, 1828–1830." Queen City Heritage 57.4 (Winter 1999): 37–45.

Parker, Theodore. "The American Idea." Speech at the New England Anti-Slavery Convention in Boston, May 29, 1850. Discourses of Slavery Vol. 5. The Collected Works of Theodore Parker. 14 vols. Ed. Frances Power Cobbe. London: Trübner & Co., 1863.

———. A Letter to the People of the United States Touching the Matter of Slavery. Boston: James Munore and Company, 1848.

———."To a Southern Slaveholder." 1848. Theodore Parker Web Site. 2002.


Pingel, Martha A. An American Utilitarian: Richard Hildreth as a Philosopher. NY: Columbia UP, 1948.

Ransom, Teresa. Fanny Trollope: A Remarkable Life. New York: St. Martin's P, 1995.

Scudder, Harold H. "Mrs. Trollope and Slavery in America." American Notes and Queries 187.29 (July 1944): 46–48.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin. or, Life among the Lowly. Boston: J. P. Jewitt,

Townsend, Peggy Jean, and Charles Walker Townsend III, eds. "Theodore Parker." Milo Adams Townsend and Social Movements of the Nineteenth Century. 1994. http://www.bchistory.org/beavercounty/booklengthdocuments/AMilobook/title.html.

Trollope, Frances. "The American Sculptor, Powers; Extract of a letter from Mrs. Trollope to an American gentleman in London." National Intelligencer 15 Mar. 1844.

———. Domestic Manners of the Americans. Illust. Auguste Hervieu. 2 vols. London: Whittaker Treacher, 1832.

———. The Life and Adventures of Jonathan Jefferson Whitlaw: or Scenes on the Mississippi. Illust. Auguste Hervieu. 3 vols. London: Bentley, 1836.

———. A Visit to Italy. 2 vols. London: Bentley, 1842.

Trollope, Frances Eleanor. Frances Trollope: Her Life and Literary Work from George III to Victoria. 2 vols. London: Bentley, 1895.

Trollope, Thomas Adolphus. What I Remember. 2 vols. London: Bentley, 1887.

Tuckerman, Henry T. "Greek Slave." New York Daily Tribune 9 Sept. 1847. Stephen Railton and the University of Virginia. 1998.

Van Thal, Herbert. Introd. Domestic Manners. 1832. London: The Folio Society, 1974.

Wunder, Richard P. Hiram Powers: Vermont Sculptor, 1805–1873. Taftsville, VT: Countryman. P, 1974.


Professor Sirpa Salenius teaches at the University of New Haven in Florence and comes to us from Finland.

Social Criticism in Richard Hildreth's The White Slave (1852)

Sirpa Salenius, Univesity of New Haven in Florence

Richard Hildreth (1807-1865) was a prominent figure in nineteenth-century America. The last years of his colorful life were spent in Italy. He was the American consul at Trieste from 1860 to 1865. After resigning from the position, Hildreth traveled from Trieste to Florence. He passed away in Florence in July 1865 and was buried in the English cemetery. During his life, Hildreth was successful in many fields: he was a historian, journalists, editor, writer and a reporter with a deep concern for social issues. Hildreth's strong antislavery protest is expressed in his novel The Slave or Memoirs of Archy Moore that was published in 1836.  When Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin came out in 1852, Hildreth expanded his own volume and changed the title to The White Slave; or Memoirs of a Fugitive. This new version of his novel was published in the same year as Stowe's story, in 1852. Hildreth's novel starts with a declaration of the purpose of writing the book: to awaken others to acknowledge the suffering of slaves.

The White Slave tells the sentimental story of Archy Moore, born in lower Virginia to an aristocratic whtie father and a slave mother. Hildreth's choice to let Archy narrate the events of his life and the sufferings involved with living in slavery induces the reader to identify with the slave's anguish and pain. Consequently, the behavior of the white, aristocratic and Christian American characters in trading and treating slaves, and the contradicitons that emerge in their actions and attitudes are emphasized. In addition, the novel continuously underlines the injustice and inequality present in American laws and society of the time period. For example, when he is denied the right to marry, Archy and his 'wife' Cassy escape, only to be caught later and cruelly punished. When they are waiting to find out their punishment, Archy concludes that ' . . . both the law and public opinion would amply justify him [their master] in the infliction of any tortures not likely to result in immediate death' (63).

This paper will analyze Hildreth's antislavery protest and social criticism in The White Slave; or Memoirs of a Fugitive (1852), while also comparing Hildreth's work with Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (18522) and Frances Trollope's The Life and Adventures of Jonathan Jefferson Whitlaw: or Scenes on the Mississippi (1836).

Go to Introduction
         I. Abolitionists in the 'English' Cemetery
         II. Hiram Powers, Kate Field, Amasa Hewins
         III. Joel Tanner Hart
         IV. William Wetmore Story
         V. Collectors and Visitors


With the Sponsorship of the Comune di Firenze, the United States Consulate General in Florence, Syracuse University in Florence, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, the Lyceum Club of Florence, the Chiesa Evangelica Riformata Svizzera of Florence, and the Aureo Anello Associazione Mediatheca 'Fioretta Mazzei' e Amici del Cimitero 'degli Inglesi'

Il giglio di Firenze   [Immagine] - Quadro
            di Teresa Poluzzi per il Centenario    


: Dante vivo || White Silence

To donate to the restoration by Roma of Florence's formerly abandoned English Cemetery and to its Library click on our Aureo Anello Associazione's PayPal button: