William Henry Brisbane

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William Henry Brisbane
William Henry Brisbane, 1853.png
BornOctober 12, 1806 Edit this on Wikidata
DiedApril 5, 1878 Edit this on Wikidata (aged 71)

Reverend Dr. William Henry Brisbane (October 12, 1806 Beaufort County, South Carolina – April 5, 1878 Arena, Wisconsin) was a Baptist minister of the southern United States who, having convinced himself of the immorality of slavery, freed and settled a group of slaves he had inherited, and became an active abolitionist.[1]


His father, Adam Fowler Brisbane (1783–1830) appears, from Brisbane's own writings, to have suffered from alcoholism. He was adopted by his rich childless uncle William Brisbane (1759–1821) (whom Brisbane later described as "tho' not remarkably pious, yet one of the most excellent men I ever knew, in whom was combined almost every quality worthy of admiration") and aunt Mary Ash Deveaux (?–1845).[2] He married 28 May 1825 at Lawtonville Glorianna Lawton (15 July 1805 – 17 February 1878), who bore him eight recorded children, of whom three survived to adulthood.[2]

Brisbane inherited a large number of slaves, but became convinced that slavery was wrong, and in 1835 brought 33 of them to the north, manumitting them and aiding them to settle in life. Since much of Brisbane's wealth was in slaves this act resulted in a considerable loss of income and equity. At this time many family and friends in his social circle, including rice planters, led lives that were economically dependent on slavery. Freeing his slaves and becoming an outspoken abolitionist resulted in his making enemies with many of those closest to him.

Brisbane came to his abolitionist views because of his inability to refute the claims made by an abolitionist pamphlet he received in the mail.[3] He was especially disturbed by his inability to reconcile the values in the Constitution with those of the slavery institution.[4]

Because of his radical views on slavery for Antebellum South Carolina, he had to move north to Cincinnati. There he became the associate of prominent abolitionists, and a constant worker in their cause. In the decades of anti-slavery agitation before the American Civil War he was an active campaigner for abolition.[3]

In 1855 he moved to Wisconsin,[5] was chief clerk of the state senate in 1857, and became pastor of the Baptist church in Madison. He was able to return to South Carolina (temporarily) as an officer of the victorious Yankees in 1864 as a tax commissioner.[5] In June 1874, he took an active part in the reunion of the old abolition guards in Chicago.[5]

He died at his home in Arena, Wisconsin.[5]


  1. ^ Wallace Alcorn. "William Henry Brisbane 1806-1878". Biographical sketch. Wallace Alcorn Associates, Carol Stream (Wheaton), IL. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  2. ^ a b Eduardo Haviland Hillman (1913). "The Brisbanes". South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Society, Charleston.
  3. ^ a b Brisbane, William (1840). Dr. Brisbane's address : Delivered at the Anti-Slavery Convention, assembled in Hamilton, Ohio, July 3rd 1840, to which is added the constitution of the Butler County Anti-Slavery Society. Hamilton, OH: Butler County Anti-Slavery Society. pp. 1–8. OCLC 27480266.
  4. ^ Brisbane, William (1846). The Constitution of the United States versus slavery. Philadelphia: Office of the American Citizen. OCLC 29646777.
  5. ^ a b c d "A Good Man Has Fallen!". Wisconsin State Journal. April 6, 1878. p. 1. Retrieved May 21, 2018 – via Newspapers.com. open access


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