Julia Williams (abolitionist)

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Julia Williams (born July 1, 1811 - January 7, 1870) was an African-American abolitionist who was active in Massachusetts. Born free in Charleston, South Carolina, she moved with her family as a child to Boston, Massachusetts and was educated in the North. A member of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society, she attended the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women in New York in 1837. She married abolitionist Henry Highland Garnet and in 1852 they traveled to Jamaica to work as missionaries, where she headed an industrial school for girls. After the American Civil War, she worked with freedmen in Washington, DC to establish their new lives.

Early life and education[edit]

Julia Williams was born to free people of color in Charleston, South Carolina in 1811. Her family moved to Boston, Massachusetts when she was a child. She was 21 years old when she traveled to Canterbury, Connecticut to attend Prudence Crandall's Canterbury Female Boarding School, a school for "young Ladies and little Misses of color". After the school closed due to public violence, Williams went to the Noyes Academy in Canaan, New Hampshire. In 1835 it also had to close after violent opposition from local whites.[1] Williams completed her education at the Oneida Institute in New York.[2]

Williams became an outspoken advocate of abolition and African-American rights. Returning to Boston after her education, she became a member of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society (BFASS) during the 1830s.[3] She was one of four delegates from the BFASS who attended the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women in New York in 1837.[4][5]

In 1841 Williams married Henry Highland Garnet, a teacher, minister, and prominent African-American leader of the abolitionist movement who was based in New York City. They had first met as students at the Noyes Academy; he also completed his education at the Oneida Institute. They had three children but only one, a daughter, survived to adulthood.

In 1852, the Garnet family traveled to the Caribbean island of Jamaica to work as missionaries. Julia headed a Female Industrial School. They returned to the United States after a few years because of her husband's health needs. They settled in Washington, DC, where he was minister of the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church. After the Civil War, Julia Garnet worked with freedmen in the capital. She died on January 7, 1870(1870-01-07) (aged 58).[1]

In 2014 the Prudence Crandall Museum was preparing an exhibit interpreting the life of Williams.[6]


  1. ^ a b State of Connecticut (May 2005). "Students at Prudence Crandall's School for African-American Women 1833 – 1834" (PDF). State of Connecticut – Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism. p. 3. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 23 October 2013.
  2. ^ Jurmain, Suzanne (2005). The Forbidden Schoolhouse : The True and Dramatic Story of Prudence Crandall and Her Students. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. p. 123. ISBN 0618473025.
  3. ^ John C Van Horne; Jean Fagan Yellin (1994). The Abolitionist Sisterhood : Women's Political Culture in Antebellum America. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. p. 58.
  4. ^ Hansen, Debra Gold (1993). Strained Sisterhood: Gender and Class in the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. p. 19. Retrieved 23 October 2013.
  5. ^ Weston, Anne Warren (1837). "[Letter to] My Dear Debora[h] [manuscript]". Boston: Boston Public Library. Retrieved 23 October 2013.
  6. ^ Prudence Crandall Museum