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Theodore Dwight Weld (November 23, 1803 – February 3, 1895), was one of the leading architects of the American abolitionist movement during its formative years, from 1830 through 1844.
Weld played a role as writer, editor, speaker, and organizer. He is best known for his co-authorship of the authoritative compendium, American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses, published in 1839. Harriet Beecher Stowe partly based Uncle Tom’s Cabin on Weld's text and it is regarded as second only to that work in its influence on the antislavery movement. Weld remained dedicated to the abolitionist movement until slavery was ended by the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1865.
Weld, the son and grandson of Congregational ministers, at age 14 took over his father's 100-acre farm near Hartford, Connecticut, to earn money to study at Phillips Academy. He attended from 1820 to 1822 until failing eyesight caused him to discontinue his studies. After a doctor urged him to travel, he started an itinerant lecture series on mnemonics, traveling for three years throughout the United States, including the South where he saw slavery firsthand. Weld then moved with his family to upstate New York and studied at Hamilton College, where he became the disciple of Charles Finney, the famous evangelist. He spent several years working with Finney as a member of his "holy band" before deciding to become a preacher and entering the Oneida Manual Labor Institute in Oneida, New York. While there, he would spend two weeks at a time traveling about lecturing on the virtues of manual labor, temperance, and moral reform. At age 28, he was hired by Lewis and Arthur Tappan, great moral reform philanthropists, as the general agent for the Society for Promoting Manual Labor in Literary Institutions. Weld’s report to the Tappan's as a manual labor agent reveals he "traveled 4,575 miles; 2,630 miles by boat and stagecoach; 1800 miles on horseback, 145 miles on foot. En route, he made 236 public addresses."
During his time as a manual labor agent, Weld scouted land and found the location for, the faculty for, and became a student at Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati in 1833. There he became the leader of the so-called "Lane Rebels," a group of students who determined to engage in free discussion, including the topic of slavery. They held a series of slavery debates over 18 days in 1834, resulting in a decision to support abolitionism. The group also pledged to help the 1500 free blacks in Cincinnati. When the school's board of directors, including president Lyman Beecher, prohibited them from discussing slavery, about 80% of the students left Lane seminary, most of these enrolling at the new Oberlin Collegiate Institute (later renamed Oberlin College). Weld, however, left for New York to head the new American Anti-Slavery Society's training session.
He discontinued lecturing when he lost his voice in 1836, and was appointed editor of its books and pamphlets by the American Anti-slavery Society. From 1836 to 1840, Weld worked as the editor of The Emancipator. He also directed the national campaign for sending antislavery petitions to Congress and assisted John Quincy Adams when Congress tried Adams for reading petitions in violation of the gag rule, which stated that slavery could not be discussed in Congress.
Weld married Angelina Grimké, a strong abolitionist and women's rights advocate, in 1838. In 1839, he and the Grimké sisters co-wrote the pivotal book American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses. As Weld used pen names for all of his writings, he is not as well known as many other notable 19th century civil rights advocates.
According to the Columbia Encyclopedia:
In 1854, Weld established a school of the Raritan Bay Union at Eagleswood in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. The school accepted students of all races and sexes. In 1864, he moved to Hyde Park, Massachusetts, where he helped open another school in Lexington dedicated to the same principles as his first academy. Here, Weld had "charge of Conversation, Composition, and English Literature," Among his pupils at this school for girls was Philadelphia poet, Florence Earle Coates–granddaughter of abolitionist Thomas Earle.
A member of the Weld Family of New England, Weld shares a common ancestry with William Weld, Tuesday Weld, and others. This branch of the family never achieved the wealth of their Boston-based kin.
He was the author of many pamphlets, and in addition: