Monday, February 4, 2013

Free Soilers in Boston

Found at
from the Emancipator and Republican, Boston, Massachusetts, "Free Soil Rally in Chapman Hall",  Thursday, 5 September 1850, Volume XV, Issue 19, page 3

The highlighted name,
Romanus Emerson, is my 4th great grandfather
 The Free Soil political party was active during the 1848 and 1852 presidential campaigns, and it's platform was strongly anti-slavery.  The name "Free Soil" came from opposing the expansion of slavery into new states forming out west.  The candidates for president in the Free Soil party were Martin Van Buren in 1848, and John P. Hale in 1852.  In 1854 the party evolved into the modern Republican party.  Other famous Free Soilers were William Cullen Bryant, Horace Mann, Charles Sumner, Walt Whitman, and John Greenleaf Whittier.

If you look at the news clipping above, my 4th great grandfather's name, Romanus Emerson, is highlighted in yellow.  Just to the right of his name is the name Charles Sumner.  In 1856 Sumner gave an impassioned anti slavery speech in the Senate called "The Crime against Kansas".  Two days after the speech the South Carolina Congresman, Preston Brooks, entered the Senate chamber and nearly beat Charles Sumner to death with a gold headed cane. This incident was a major cause of the coming of the Civil War five years later. The cane used to attack Charles Sumner is on exhibit at the Old State House in Boston.  There is a statue of Sumner in the middle of Harvard Square.

My ancestor, Romanus Emerson (1782 - 1852), was a progressive, much like Charles Sumner and the other members of the Free Soil party.  Romanus settled in South Boston in 1810, when the main thoroughfare in that part of the city was called the "Old Road" and it was renamed "Emerson Street" after his death.   He was a noted atheist, and a member of the Boston Infidel Society.  When the first abolitionists came to Boston, most of the established churches would not let them lecture in their buildings.  The Boston Infidel Society gave abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison permission to use their Julian Hall three times.

Romanus Emerson was like his cousin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, a philosophical man who was considered eccentric because his views were ahead of their time. They were considered progressives, in a very conservative Boston.   Other members of my family tree, Noah Martin Eaton (abt 1832 - 1909) and his wife Eliza Ruth Walton (1837 -1909), were also abolitionists and Free Soilers.  They were from Reading, Massachusetts and removed to Lawrence, Kansas.   Their first two children, out of six, were born in Lawrence in 1861 and 1864. Confederate guerrillas burned most of  Lawrence on 21 August 1863, destroyed anti-slavery newspaper offices, and killed 150 of the 200 men they found there.  Abolitionists from New England had resettled in Kansas in an attempt to keep it "Free Soil".  Noah Eaton removed his family back to Reading by 1868, where his last four children were born and where he stayed for the rest of his life.  He was a first cousin, one generation removed from Romanus Emerson. (Noah Eaton's story could be an entire blog post on its own!)

The newspaper where the above news clipping came, the Emancipator and Republican, from was in existence from 1848 to 1850. It was previously known as the Emancipator and Free Soil Press, and evolved into the Commonwealth & Emancipator in 1851.   You can view copies online at and also at the Library of Congress website

Chapman Hall, where the Free Soil committee met, was located where the Parker House Hotel is now located on the corner of Tremont Street and School Street.  The alley behind the Parker House is called Chapman Place. Chapman Hall also allowed abolitionists to speak, and also African American orators such as Dr. John Rock.  According to an article in the Boston Evening Transcript, "Anti-Slavery Landmarks in Boston", 1 September 1897, page 6:

 "August 17, 1855, a meeting was held in Chapman Hall on Chapman place, the little alley leading off School street, by the Parker House.  As near s the writer has been able to learn, the hall or a building occupying its site was removed in order to give room for the middle portion of the Parker House on that side.  At this meeting it was resolved that "the time has fully come for a united and earnest effort of the people of Massachusetts, in concert with the friends of freedom throughout the Union, whose object shall be to restrain the alarming encroachments of slavery." A memorable gathering! For out of it went a committee which, in the United States Hotel, drew up a call for the Worcester Convention , from which sprang the Republican party of Massachusetts."

The incident when Charles Sumner was caned has been written up in a new book by Stephen Puleo in The Caning: The Assault that drove America to Civil War, Westholme Publishing, 2012.  He is a teacher of history at Suffolk University in Boston, and recently a guest on the blogtalk radio show "Fieldstone Common" which aired on 31 January 2013 with Marian Pierre-Louis.

To view a previous blog post about Romanus Emerson, click here: 

Copyright 2013, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. Thanks for this post, Few people understand the efforts of NE organizations like the Free Soilers on Kansas (especially the settlement of Lawrence) history.

  2. I learned a lot from this post! I never knew exactly what "Free Soil" meant, though I had heard the term, but now it makes perfect sense. A lot of famous Free Soilers! And there's Charles Sumner in Chapman Hall in 1850, with your 4th GG. I don't know whether they jailed Preston Brooks, but they certainly should have.

    There's a truly wonderful historical novel about abolitionists in Kansas, including the violence in Lawrence. It's The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton, by Jane Smiley. Highly recommended.

  3. A very interesting story, Heather. Its true, we often forget how things become named whether it is political parties or locations. And it is amazing what you can find in the old newspapers. I usually only find mine when they were being fined or going to jail :D

    Janice Brown