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Dover's Anti-Slavery Newspaper

Abolitionist William Burr

WHITE NH ABOLITIONISTS

It was called The Morning Star. But what was an anti-slavery newspaper doing in a Seacoast town largely dependent on the cotton trade? Ask William Burr, the feisty editor who refused to give up the fight against slavery. Veteran writer and Dover historian Ed Wentworth tells a rarely told tale of NH black history.

 

 

READ: Whittier's Abolitionist Ode to NH

BURR TAKES CHARGE

Dover, New Hampshire seemed an unlikely place for an anti-slavery movement beginning in the 1830s. After all, the town had huge mills using millions of bales of cotton produced in the South by slave labor.

But Dover was the site of a radical tenaciously anti-slavery newspaper produced by Freewill Baptists. Its publishers stuck to their guns despite opposition, even within their own denomination, eventually winning over those who thought then that slavery was a subject outside the realm of religious discussion.

The newspaper was "The Morning Star." It had been published in Limerick, Maine, before moving to Dover in 1833 because of its more convenient location. Established in 1826, by the time it moved to Dover one of its up-and-coming stars was William Burr, then on its publishing committee.

But the newspaper was not involving itself in the anti-slavery movement. Its editor, Samuel Beede, wrote an article called "Slavery and Abolition," in which he stated that, although slavery was evil, the North was as guilty as the South. He denounced the course of emancipationists and "counseled the exercise of moderation and charity."

But Beede died suddenly on March 28, 1834. It was the last time such counsel would appear in "The Morning Star," because William Burr was named editor and the newspaper launched into a campaign to abolish slavery and continued its campaign until the close of the Civil War.

The anti-slavery position was a bold decision by Burr. After all, this was essentially a religious newspaper and many thought it had no business delving into social issues. Burr thought of slavery as a moral and religious issue as well, and he led a concerted campaign against the evil.

BAD TIMES FOR THE STAR

Morning Star office in DoverIt nearly ruined the newspaper financially. Subscriptions plummeted. The shrinkage continued for about two years. State officials refused incorporation papers because of its anti-slavery stance; mail brought abusive letters from all across the denomination; many wanted to force the editor to take a more moderate position.

When the General Conference of Freewill Baptists met in Greenville, RI in 1837, members attempted to water down "The Morning Star's" position "so as to avert from the denomination the public odium heaped upon abolitionists, and to reconcile the disaffected members." The delegates refused.

The paper's board of trustees chose principle over policy and decided to continue their anti-slavery campaign. So even though financially strapped, the struggle continued. That didn't stop opposition, however, and Burr's biographer says " . . . there continued both in and out of the denomination a deep-seated opposition to the anti-slavery positions of the Star, and there were those, ministers and laymen, who were untiring in their efforts to effect a change."

Isaac D. Stewart, who in 1851 wrote a history of the denomination's anti-slavery society, had kinder words. He wrote, "As our patriotic fathers, in their struggle for liberty, stood undismayed through the darkest gloom of our country's adversity, so the body of the denomination at this time proved themselves worthy of their noble ancestry, in opposing a system of oppression, with which British aggression bore no comparison."

The most outspoken opposition to the paper's position came from none other than the leading Democratic newspaper in town, The "Dover Gazette and Strafford Advertiser." It advised the Star to stick to the business for which it was designed instead of being "intermingled with Politics, Abolition, and the Lord knows what, until some of the most respectable members, Elders and others of their own persuasion, have become disgusted . . ."

There was continued fear of violence and police protection was used, but no documented evidence of racial incidents have been found. This was, ultimately, a white protest in a white NH town where blacks, mostly domestics, comprised a small percentage of the population. When Abraham Lincoln visited Dover in his run for President on March 2, 1860, he spoke at city hall across the street from the newspaper headquarters. William Burr, among others, was invited to sit on the speaker's platform with Lincoln.

CONTINUE for conclusion of MORNING STAR story

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