Oberlin and Canada West: Antislavery Connections

The Oberlin community was established in 1833 in the Ohio wilderness by Reverend John J. Shipherd and was created to be a utopian community based on the ideals of the Great Western Revival.[1] One of the most prominent and influential focuses of Oberlin’s evangelical mission was abolition.[2] The Oberlin Collegiate Institute was among the first in the United States to admit men and women “irrespective of color” and admitted more black students than any other integrated institution in the nineteenth century.[3] Graduates of Oberlin continued to spread abolitionism and found schools throughout the United States and some such as Hiram Wilson worked with African American communities in Canada West and were part of Oberlin’s connection to the Underground Railroad.[4]  In 2011-2013, History students at Huron University College digitized and transcribed many of HIram Wilson’s letters written during his time in Canada.

American Missionary Association

The American Missionary Association (AMA) was established by a group of evangelical abolitionists in 1846 and was created in response to the inactivity of some contemporary missionary associations on the issue of slavery.[5] As Clara Merritt DeBoer argues in her dissertation, “The Role of Afro-Americans in the Origin and Work of the American Missionary Association” (Rutgers, 1973), the AMA was one of the most important interracial antislavery groups in North America. The AMA focused on political action as well as the founding of churches and schools throughout the United States. Their missionary work also extended to African American refugees in Canada West. Beginning in 1847, the AMA sent aid to black refugees, and later teachers and missionaries such as Lewis C. Chambers. Chambers worked for the AMA between 1855 and 1863 and reported on the status and needs of the black communities to the association’s secretary Charles K. Whipple, one of the “Lane Rebels”, and Professor at Oberlin College. .[6]  An overview of black activism and the AMA can be found here.


Click here for an interactive map showing the AMA antislavery network, based on primary sources found on our site

[1] Morris, Oberlin, Hotbed of Abolitionism 9.

[2] Ibid, 3.

[3] Hawkins, “Oberlin’s Celebrated, But Difficult History.” 1.

[4] Morris, Oberlin, Hotbed of Abolitionism 84.

[5] Blassingame, Slave Testimony vii.

[6] ibid