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Arthur Tappan


Arthur Tappan was among the participants in the first meeting Abdul Rahman had upon his arrival in New York City. He and his brother Lewis, wealthy businessmen, were active abolitionists and later key financial backers of the American Antislavery Society, which they helped found in 1833.

Arthur Tappan

Tappan also provided support to Prudence Crandall, a Connecticut abolitionist jailed after opening a school for African American girls. Both Arthur and Lewis were evangelical Christians, spurred in their antislavery efforts by a deeply-rooted faith. In his autobiography of Arthur, Lewis explained that Arthur believed "all men" were to be seen "without distinction of complexion or condition." Certainly, they were impressed by Abdul Rahman, of whom Lewis wrote, "Abdual Rahaman was . . . well educated, tall and dignified in appearance, and read the Arabic language fluently and wrote it with elegance. His princely bearing and intelligence excited much interest."

Over the course of Abdul Rahman's time in New York, he and Tappan spoke at great length about religion and more, including the possibility of building a partnership to build trade connections to the interior of Africa. Tappan was deeply invested in Abdul Rahman, purchasing a house frame to be transported with Abdul Rahman to Liberia and then later, after Abdul Rahman's death, endeavoring, though unsuccessfully, to purchase his children's freedom.

Lewis Tappan

Prudence Crandall

In 1833, Prudence Crandall opened a school in eastern Connecticut "for the reception of young ladies and little misses of color." This event sent a shock wave through Connecticut society and brought abolitionism center stage. Crandall, a Quaker, had, at the invitation of town leaders, originally opened a school for local white girls in 1831. In 1833, Sarah Harris, an African American girl, asked to attend the school and Crandall, having read copies of William Lloyd Garrison's Liberator given to her by one of her employees, agreed. She explained, "My feelings began to awaken . . . [I] saw the prejudice of whites against color was deep and inveterate."

Prudence Crandall

Immediately, there was a strong community backlash against Crandall. The white students were pulled out of the school by their parents, yet Crandall refused to yield to their demands, and the school was eventually closed. She reopened the school in 1833, specifically for young black women, again to strong community reaction -- local stores would not do business with her, the local doctor refused to treat the students, and neighbors threw rocks and eggs at the building. One local opponent explained, "The colored people can never rise from their menial condition in our country, they ought not be permitted to rise here."

In response to Crandall's school, the state legislature passed the "Black Law," which forbade out-of-state students of color from attending schools in Connecticut without the permission of the local community. Crandall was arrested in 1833 and stood trial; the school was closed in 1834. Arthur Tappan, a leading New York abolitionist, paid for Crandall's defense. Crandall's courage stood as a testament to many women of the time, fostering an emerging political consciousness.

To learn more about Prudence Crandall, click here

The Prudence Crandall Academy