David Walker the Abolitionist: Biography & Quotes

Instructor: Ashley Kannan

Ashley has taught history, literature, and political science and has a Master's Degree in Education

In this lesson, you'll learn about David Walker, an African-American man who was against slavery. You'll learn about his life and written works that showcased his belief in the abolition of slavery.

Early Life

David Walker was born in Wilmington, North Carolina. The exact date is not certain but was most likely to have been 1796 or 1797. He was born to a slave father and a free black mother. He was considered free because of his mother, but it did not prevent him from witnessing the horrors of slavery.

Walker saw slavery's brutality because it was widespread in North Carolina. David once watched a son forced to whip his mother until she died. Such events fueled his intense hatred of slavery. He eventually left the South saying, 'If I remain in this bloody land, I will not live long.'

Walker Settles in Boston

Walker lived and studied in different parts of the country. In 1827, he settled in Boston where slavery had been abolished. While Walker still experienced racial discrimination, he had begun to recognize that the cause of abolishing slavery appealed to him.

Walker started a used clothing business, developed a reputation for being generous to the poor and needy, and showed benevolence to runaway slaves. Over time, he had begun to emerge as a leader in Boston's Black community. Walker was part of the educated and socially involved local black leadership that distinguished Boston from other American cities. His graciousness was matched with his intense passion towards slavery's abolition.

Walker's Abolitionist Activity

Walker joined organizations that actively embraced abolition. He became a significant voice in civic institutions such as the Prince Hall Freemasonry, the Massachusetts General Colored Association, and church organizations whose leaders were committed to abolition. Walker used his education and connections in the business community to work as a subscription agent for the African-American newspaper, 'Freedom's Journal.' It was a New York periodical 'devoted to the improvement of the coloured population' and run entirely by people of color. Although only published for two years, Walker was impressed with what can be created through Black unity.

By 1828, Walker had become Boston's strongest abolitionist voice. It was at this time that he married and had to two children.

The Appeal

Walker felt compelled to channel his efforts towards abolitionism. In 1829, the full effect of his passion was realized with the publication of his work, Appeal in Four Articles. More commonly known as Appeal, it was an emotionally charged pamphlet that condemned slavery.

Title Page to Appeal
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Walker's target audience was the African men and women enslaved in the southern part of the United States. He was very clear in his expectation that 'all coloured men, women and children… will try to procure a copy of this Appeal and read it, or get someone to read it to them, for it is designed more particularly for them.'

Walker recognized that white Americans would read his writing. He wanted northern whites to embrace his approach of immediate abolition and sought southern whites to rethink their support of slavery. To whites who either supported slavery or did not think about it, Walker issued a rather stern warning against believing the 'outwardly servile character of the Negro,' for underneath this condition was 'a primitive force in the black slave that, once aroused, will make him a magnificent fighter.' It was evident that Walker's intent was for freed Blacks to read this and take up the cause of abolition, as well.

Frontispiece to the 1830 edition of Appeal
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