Charles Osborn, BiographyPorter County biographical sketches . . . .

Transcribed biography of Charles Osborn

Torch Bearer in Quakerism - The First to Preach Immediate and Unconditional Emancipation

Those who followed the star of abolition in the last part of the eighteenth and the early part of the nineteenth centuries in the United States were led by it to the altar of sacrifice. There they met persecution, the loss of property, and even of life. Elijah Parish Lovejoy, in 1837, at the age of thirty-five, fell a martyr to the cause of anti-slavery. He was mobbed and killed at Alton, Illinois, while defending his press from which he had sent utterances in the interests of freedom. William Lloyd Garrison, that peerless patriot, with perfect body, clean mind, penetrating vision, firm convictions and intrepid courage to carry out those convictions regardless of their cost, was dragged with a chain around his body through the streets of puritan Boston. Benjamin Lundy, whose name will be forever associated with that of William Lloyd Garrison, also met opprobrium and estrangement.

The third man, Charles Osborn, who also followed the star of abolition and who belonged in this company is not mentioned in the annals of history. His name does not occur in Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography. But it has been left for the Hon. George W. Julian of Indiana to rank him where he belongs. Mr. Julian has transferred the credit from Benjamin Lundy to Charles Osborn as the one who first proclaimed in the United States immediate, unconditional emancipation; and he was the one who first published an abolition journal, "The Philanthropist," at Mount Pleasant, Ohio, in 1816. (See the Indiana Historical Society papers, volume 2, section 6, page 233, and following.)

Charles Osborn was born of Quaker parentage in North Carolina in that memorable year of 1775. A few months before his birth the Concord fight had taken place, George Washington had taken command of the American army under the old elm tree at Cambridge, and Massachusetts was stirred by the patriotic utterances that had been thundering forth in the state for ten years through the tongues of Adams and Otis and Warren. The Virginia House of Burgesses was also aroused under the enthusiastic, patriotic outbursts of Patrick Henry, who was foremost in calling the Continental Congress.

In North Carolina, the birthplace of Charles Osborn, the first declaration of independence was declared at Charlotte, Mecklenberg County, in this year. One can imagine that the young Charles Osborn drew in the sentiments of American patriotism with his mother's milk.

It is as a preacher in the Society of Friends that we first know him. At the age of nineteen he removed from North Carolina to Tennessee, where he first became acquainted with the evils of slavery, and there dedicated his life to the cause of freedom. In 1816 he came to Mount Pleasant, Ohio, where he was engaged in the publication of a religious paper. It was in this year that he sent out the prospectus for The Philanthropist, an abolition paper, and in a few months the first number of this paper itself appeared. Benjamin Lundy was his agent for "The Philanthropist" and a contributor to it, and it seemed as if through this work and these columns the great anti-slavery work of Lundy was intensified and the way made for his future publications.

Three years after this Charles Osborn came to eastern Indiana and settled among the Friends in Wayne County. From his early life up to that time and afterward he belonged to the body of Orthodox Friends, and he had made a manful opposition to the theories of the followers of Elias Hicks, known as Hicksite Quakers. He was doomed to disappointment in his settlement among the Quakers of Indiana, for he found here great pro-slavery sentiments. In 1842, when the anti-slavery question ran high and Henry Clay was candidate for the presidency of the Whig party, Mr. Clay came to the Yearly Meeting at Richmond, Indiana, and sat in that body. After the meeting Osborn heard many of the members of the Yearly Meeting tell Clay how they sympathized with pro-slavery sentiments; the great abolitionist had now reached his climax of disappointment, and, with others believing as he did, withdrew from the body.

From Indiana he went northward into Michigan, and after a while he returned to Clear Lake, Porter County, of this state, where he remained the rest of his life.

The three strong tenets in the doctrine of Charles Osborn were immediate unconditional emancipation, the opposition to colonization of the freedmen - which Lundy advocated strongly and for which he made two trips to Hayti and also went to Texas in order to establish a freedmen's colony under the flag of Mexico, but was frustrated on account of the question of Texan annexation - his third tenet was against the use of the products of slave labor, advocating the establishment of societies everywhere for the manufacture of free-labor products. Charles Osborn said that colonization was only a cradle in which anti-slavery rocked itself and found ease. While he was bold in his denunciation against slavery until past middle age, he approached the matter from the side of religion and appealed to the individual conscience for doing away with it rather than by political measures. He was pre-eminently a preacher in practice and theory.

Indeed, slavery at the time of the birth of Charles Osborn was of rather minor consideration and taken for granted until after the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney, when the real internal slave-trade of the United States began. Charles Osborn did not take the stand taken by Garrison, that slavery was intrenched in the Constitution of the United States. He did not attack this document.

Other Quakers than those of Wayne County were also active in Indiana at this early time. The history of Henry County shows that in 1838 a joint meeting of the Friends of Henry and neighboring counties formed anti-slavery societies with auxiliaries; and when the annals of the contribution made by the Quakers to the cause of freedom are thoroughly understood, it will be found that these people, who believed in the inner light, proved to the world by their quiet protest the great doctrine of peace. These Quakers, it will be found, came mostly from the same state of Charles Osborn, North Carolina. It has been asked why so many Quakers went to North Carolina, and this tradition is told of the cause: After the revolutionary war Benjamin Franklin had assisting him on his Gazette a man whom he found difficult to place. He finally sent him south as a correspondent, and the result was that such charming letters were written about western North Carolina that Quakers began immediately to go thither until numbers of them made their home there. When the slavery agitation came on, descendants of these same people, true to the convictions of their doctrine, found that they could not remain under the atmosphere of the deadly evil of slavery and many of them at once freed their slaves and brought them to southwestern Ohio and to eastern Indiana.

The people of Indiana surely owe to the Hon. George W. Julian a great debt in placing this man, Charles Osborn, where he belongs, in the foremost ranks of abolition, and we surely owe to Mr. Osborn himself a great debt for the fearless announcement of his views and his fearless course as torch bearer of immediate unconditional emancipation.

Source: Dye, Charity. 1917. Some Torch Bearers in Indiana. Indianapolis, Indiana: The Hollenbeck Press. 327 p.
Page(s) in Source: 65-70

This biography has been transcribed exactly as it was originally published in the source. Please note that we do not provide photocopies or digital scans of biographies appearing on this website.

Biography transcribed by Steven R. Shook


CSS Template by Rambling Soul