one house, five families, 200 years of history

Reform Begins at Home

In the 1800s, a new sentimental ideal of the family gained popularity among families like the Caldwells. It centered on the duty of mothers to raise virtuous children in an uplifting home environment.
A small group of activists, especially women like Lucy Caldwell, used this popular idea to promote their unpopular cause—extending the abolition of slavery from the North to the rest of the nation. Slavery destroyed family life. In the name of home and family, the Caldwells fought against human bondage.

Abolitionists Met Here

In 1839, Lucy Caldwell and other women in Ipswich founded the Ipswich Female Anti-Slavery Society, following similar groups in the North and parts of Europe. The Society met in the homes of its members, including Lucy 's.
Organizing, petitioning, and raising money to fight slavery were widely considered out of a woman's proper sphere of home and family. But these women insisted that it was their moral duty to spread the antislavery message even if some criticized them for their activism.
We consider that we are not moving out of our proper sphere as females when we assume a public stand in favor of our oppressed sisters.
Preamble to the constitution of the Canton, Ohio, Ladies Anti-­Slavery Society, 1836

Abolitionists Slept Here

Antislavery lecturers traveling across New England sometimes stayed with the Caldwells. To some Ipswich resident s, this hospitality looked like a political, even radical, act. Most white northerners, as well as southerners, rejected the call for an immediate end to slavery. In nearby towns, lecturers and their audiences often faced angry mobs.

Long before the Civil War, the issue of slavery had set neighbor against neighbor. For decades before the first shot was fired, skirmishes in that war were fought with words-including some right here within these walls.

Jonathan Walker, a sea captain and famous antislavery lecturer, was a guest in the Caldwells' house. In 1844, he was caught transporting slaves to freedom in the Bahamas. Walker was jailed and his right hand branded with the letters "S.S." for slave stealer.

I well remember [Jonathan] Walker with the hand branded S.S. [Slave Stealer], for his efforts in freeing slaves; and [Charles] Torrey, who died a martyr to the cause in a southern prison, spending nights at [my father's] hospitable Ipswich home.

-Margaret Caldwell Whipple's reminiscences, 1902

Frederick Douglass was a prominent African American abolitionist who was born into slavery and escaped. In the 1840s, he lived in nearby Lynn, Massachusetts, and lectured throughout the North.

Thursday the Miss Grimkes ... lectured....Not that I by any means approve of ladies coming this publick & forward for I do not, but I thought what I heard was likely to do much good.

–Mary S. Kimball, Ipswich, 1837, on prominent abolitionists Sarah and Angelina Grimke

Abolitionists Raised Here

Through books, handkerchiefs, quilts, and other goods for children, abolitionists spread the word in their own homes and in special antislavery groups they organized for their children.
A child's quilt made for an antislavery fair in Boston about 1836 includes an inked message that reads:

Mother! when around your child
You clasp your arms in love,
And when with grateful joy you raise
Your eyes to God above,— Think of the negro mother, when Her child is tom away,
Sold for a little slave-oh then
For that poor mother pray!

Antislavery slogans were often printed, stenciled, or stitched on products to carry the abolitionist message into the home and make it a part of everyday life-in the kitchen, the parlor , even in the cradle. These homemade goods were part of an international campaign against slavery.