William C. Nell

William Cooper Nell (1816-74), a black Garrisonian abolitionist, was the original publisher of the North Star. A graduate of Boston's segregated Smith School, Nell studied, but never practiced law, refusing on Wendell Phillip's advice, to take an oath to support the U.S. Constitution. During the early 1840s, he worked for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and the Liberator. From 1847 to 1851, he assisted Frederick Douglass on the North Star and served as acting editor when Douglass was absent on speaking tours. Nell remained a Garrisonian loyalist and severed his ties with the North Star when Douglass shifted his allegiance to the Liberty party. At meetings of the Colored National Convention and its Council in the 1850s, Nell, an opponent of racially exclusive organizations, attacked Douglass's plans for a black manual-labor college on the grounds that it would hinder, not help, the movement for racial equality. After Nell advised Boston blacks not to subscribe to Douglass's newspaper, Douglass branded his former associate as a "hanger on" and "contemptible tool" of Garrison. In addition to his abolitionist activities, Nell wrote important histories of African-American. His Services of Colored Americans in the Wars of 1776 and 1812 (1851) and The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution (1855) detailed the contributions of black people to the nation's founding. In 1858, Nell staged the first Crispus Attucks celebration. During Lincoln's administration Nell was appointed a clerk in the Boston post office. NS, 16 February 1849; FDP, 12, 19 August, 9 December 1853, 28 February, 31 March 1854, 12 January 1856; San Francisco Elevator, 27 June 1874; Quarles, Black Abolitionists, 111-12; Pease and Pease, They Who Would Be Free, 86, 245, 254; Robert P. Smith, "William Cooper Nell: Crusading Black Abolitionist," JNH, 55:182-99 (July 1970); NCAB, 14:306; ACAB, 4:489; DAB, 13:413.

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