Signal of Liberty

The Signal of Liberty newspaper

On November 10, 1836, delegates from southeast Michigan gathered at the First Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor for an ‘Anti-Slavery State Convention.’ After two days, delegates established the Michigan State Anti-Slavery Society, adopted resolutions denouncing slavery, and decided to publish an antislavery newspaper. Purchasing a printing press and selling subscriptions in the Michigan Territory was challenging – and risky.

In the fall of 1837, newspaper publisher Elijah Lovejoy was attacked by a pro-slavery mob in Alton, Illinois. Lovejoy was shot and killed when he refused to give up his printing press. Antislavery lecturers in Michigan faced angry crowds throughout the 1830s. In spite of the difficulties, brothers William and Nicholas Sullivan published the first antislavery newspaper, American Freeman, in 1838 in Jackson, Michigan. The following year, Seymour Treadwell agreed to act as the editor and publisher of the Michigan Freeman. Both newspapers were issued only sporadically.

Theodore Foster and Rev. Guy Beckley launched the Signal of Liberty in April 1841 and managed to go to press nearly every week. The printing office was located on the second floor of Josiah Beckley’s mercantile shop on Broadway Avenue in Ann Arbor. Guy Beckley helped in his brother’s store and worked tirelessly to promote the newspaper. Theodore Foster was co-editor and publisher of the Signal of Liberty until 1848.

Foster and Beckley were strong abolitionists who wrote in the Signal of Liberty of helping people escaping from slavery. The editors interviewed self-emancipated men and women, hoping to arouse sympathy for abolitionism. They published the story of Robert Coxe, helpless to stop the beatings of his sister and mother, grief-stricken as his family was sold and separated. The newspaper covered the “kidnapping outrages” of African Americans in Detroit, Marshall and Cass County, Michigan.

The Signal of Liberty achieved its goal of bringing the issue of slavery into the hearts and minds of the people. Nearly every issue included an antislavery poem, national news, and local notices. Minutes from antislavery meetings reveal a proliferation of organizations across the state and a growing desire to see slavery end in America. The events and movements described in the Signal of Liberty help us understand the issues that led people to resist slavery, change their churches and political parties, and fight for freedom.

~ Carol E. Mull

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This project is presented in partnership with the Bentley Historical Library and Digital Library Productions Services.

The Signal of Liberty

The Signal of Liberty was an abolitionist newspaper published in Ann Arbor from 1841 to 1847.

Related Sites

Time Line of Slavery, Resistance and Freedom, 1837-1893

Students on Site: The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad in Ann Arbor, by Grace Shackman (December 1998), from Ann Arbor Observer: Then & Now

Guy Beckley House, 1842, from the Ann Arbor Architecture Archive (original text from Historic Buildings, Ann Arbor, Michigan, by Marjorie Reade and Susan Wineberg)

Ann Arbor, Abolition, and the Civil War, a panel from the The Ford Gallery of Ann Arbor Founders exhibit online

The Underground Railroad, a panel from the Downtown Ann Arbor Historical Street Exhibit Program online

Michigan Freedom Trail Commission (MFTC): Established by a Public Act to preserve, protect and promote the Michigan Freedom Trail in Michigan.

Michigan Freedom Trail Commission Lesson Plans for grades 3, 4 and 8, (from the Michign Freedom Trail Commission)

Transcriptions of the "Meeting of Colored Citizens of Detroit" and the "Annual Report of the Colored Vigilant Committee of the City of Detroit" (from The Signal of Liberty, January 23, 1843)

University of Detroit Mercy Black Abolitionist Archive

The Adam Crosswhite Case

Deposition of Adam Crosswhite and deposition of Sarah Crosswhite (edited depositions from the Michigan Freedom Trail Lessons)

From the Signal of Liberty:

Re-capture of Slaves (February 6, 1847)
Re-capture at Marshall (February 20, 1847)
Slave Case in Marshall (April 10, 1847)
Astounding News! (April 24, 1847)
Interesting Trial (July 7, 1848)
Miscellaneous Items (July 7, 1848)
Circuit Court Of The United States For The District Of Michigan (July 14, 1848)
Circuit Court Of The United States For The District Of Michigan (July 21, 1848)
Circuit Court Of The United States For The District Of Michigan (July 28, 1848)


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