Historian's Craft

The blog of Historian's Craft 3801 at Huron Unviersity College in London, Ontario, Canada

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Hirim Wilson: Lane Rebels, Oberlin Seminary and Upper Canada

Hirim Wilson is a central figure in the research done by Huron University College’s Promise Land Project, specifically in the Historians Craft. Utilizing the skills necessary as a historian we have been continuing the transcription of his letters as well as placing his life in the context of African American history. A wonderfully short biography of Hirim Wilson is available at the Oberlin University website here.

For our purposes the following post will follow the theme of the Lane Rebels and their connection with Canada. As an active abolitionist Wilson partook in the Slavery Debates which took place over 18 days at Lane Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio beginning in February, 1834. The abolitionist cause did not begin in Ohio, but this was still one of the foundational debates which took place and caused quite a stir amongst the local magistrate. The school board as well as local citizens were concerned about this “radical” expression of abolitionism and silenced any further debates. Hirim with about 40 to 50 other students left the college and formed an agreement with the newly founded Oberlin College.

The conditions for their joining the college were as follows: 1) Oberlin accepts students of any colour, 2) the college respect Freedom of Speech, and 3) that the city not interferes with the affairs of the school. It was here under the guidance of professor of theology Charles Finney that a young Wilson would receive his theological degree. With a small capital of twenty-four dollars Finney sent Wilson to Upper Canada in 1836 to investigate the situation with the escaped slaves.

By 1850 the Fugitive Slave Act was in effect and many of the free slaves in Ohio were in serious harm. With such close proximity to Upper Canada it became a safe haven for many fugitives. Unlike the earlier Fugitive Slave Act’s slave-owners could enter different states and could force the assistance of local authorities. By this point Wilson had established many different educational institutions for fugitive slaves and blacks; with the aid of Oberlin graduates and others teachers were available for the growing populous in Canada.

The following is part of a serious on Hirim Wilson.

Filed under abolitionist Huron University College Oberlin College Lane Rebels Hirim Wilson Black History free slaves

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Lane Rebels

The “Lane Rebels” were a group of about 50 students who revolted against the civil magistrate of Cincinnati, Ohio which prohibited antislavery agitation that was growing at Lane Theological Seminary. Oberlin College seized upon this opportunity and invited the rebels to join them. The result of this was both an agreement and the founding of Oberlin Theological Seminary with the famous Charles Finney as the Professor of theology. Oberlin College became an interracial which was committed to the cause of emancipation as well as education of African Americans. Unlike Cincinnati the magistrate of Oberlin were not permitted to infringe upon either the enrollment of students or their freedom of speech.  

While the slavery debates at Lane Theological Seminary were silenced their legacy lived on in Oberlin, Ohio, where the abolitionist cause would only grow. One of the leaders of the rebels Theodore D. Weld would be admitted to Oberlin Seminary. Calvin Ellis Stowe, the husband of Uncle Tom’s Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe was a professor at the theological seminary at this time. It was by this point that Oberlin became a vital and active point on the Underground Railroad as many slaves made their way to freedom. 

One very important person who is connected with both Oberlin and the Lane Rebels is the minister Hirim Wilson who left with the rebels for Oberlin.  After receiving his degree in 1836 the professor Charles Finney would give him some money to travel to Upper Canada and observe the slaves who travelled there. Hirim Wilson’s letters are central to the Historian’s Craft class at Huron and the research for Promised Land Project.

Filed under oberlin lane rebels abolition free slaves blackhistorymonth