Sarah was born on 6 June 1826 in Salem, Massachusetts, the second youngest child of the ten offspring of John and Nancy Remond. Salem was 14 miles from Boston and Sarah says that it contained “about 25,000 inhabitants, who are characterised by general intelligence, industry and enterprise and few towns in the States can boats of more wealth and refinement than Salem.”
Sarah says of her mother,
“Nancy Remond is a woman possessing every characteristic We were all trained to habits of industry, with a thorough knowledge of those domestic duties which particularly mark the genuine New England woman. With no private means, it was also most necessary. We were taught to knit and sew, and to cook every article of food placed upon the table. The most trifling affair was obliged to be well done. Her aim seemed to be to guard, and at the same time strengthen, her children , not only for the trials and duties of life, but also to enable them to meet the terrible pressures which prejudice against color would force upon them. Our home discipline was what we needed, but it did not – could not, fit us for the scorn and contempt which met us on every hand when face to face with the world, where we met a community who hated all who were identified with an enslaved race. While our mother never excused those who unjustly persecuted those whose only crime was a dark complexion, her discipline taught us to gather strength from our own souls; and we felt the full force of the fact, that to be black was no crime.”
Sarah took great pleasure in reading, devouring every book that came to hand. However their parents’ attempts to get into school were rebuffed time and again. Finally her eldest brother was admitted into a public school and much later, Sarah and two siblings were admitted. Sarah says that “all went on well for a time, and the children generally treated us well, although we were very frequently made to feel that prejudice had taken root in their hearts.” Sarah passed an examination and went to a high school for girls. However the school committee then set up a separate school for black children and the children were asked to leave their school despite the protests of their parents who did not want them to attend a school just for black children.
The memory of this stayed with Sarah “Years have elapsed since this occurred. But the memory of it is as fresh as ever in my mind, and…engraven on my heart”,
The family moved to Newport, Rhode Island but Sarah and her brothers and sisters were still refused admittance to public schools. Eventually she received some education at a private school set up by a number of the black residents of the town. The family returned to Salem, where Sarah continued her education at home from books and from visitors.
“Although I had few leisure hours, I read more or less daily. Our home was constantly supplied with the best daily and weekly newspapers, and I could obtain from public libraries and often from the private libraries of friends , some of the best English and American literature. These were resources of which even prejudice could not deprive me. A book once obtained, I could peruse it with pleasure and profit. When some abolitionist who had buried all prejudice against color which education and habit had taught…when such a one was the guest of my parents, I treasured up in the storehouse of memory the information derived from conversations in the society of some of the most gifted of the sons and daughters of America…These opportunities were not frequent , but they were valuable. Reading was the staple and never–failing resource.”
In theory black people in the non-slave owning states of the north were free and equal citizens of the United States. In practise they were subject to constant prejudice and racism. In addition to schools, many churches refused to admit them, while in cities such as New York and Philadelphia they were not allowed into hotels and not allowed to ride on an omnibus. Sarah herself was forcibly removed from the Howard Atheneum in Boston, suffering an injury to her arm.
Sarah’s family got to know William Lloyd Garrison, an abolitionist. Garrison was journalist in Massachusetts who joined the abolitionist cause in the late 1820s and came to believe that only complete and immediate abolition was sufficient. In 1831 he founded the weekly anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator in Boston which became an instrument for publicising the cause. In the first issue he wrote:
“I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice…. I am in earnest – I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat a single inch – AND I WILL BE HEARD.”
In 1832 he founded the New England Society which after a couple of years became the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society as other states set up their own societies. In 1833 the American Anti-Slavery Society was set up. .
Sarah says her mother “hailed the advent of this young noble apostle of liberty with enthusiasm…”
Her brother , Charles Lenox Remond, became one of the earliest black abolitionist speakers, working for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in 1838, speaking at many public meetings. In June 1840 he travelled with William Lloyd Garrison to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London.
Instead of returning immediately to the United States, Charles stayed on in England for nearly a year, giving lectures in different parts of the country on slavery and abolition.
Sarah also attended many abolitionist meeting from an early age. She reflected:
“As time rolled on, the antagonism between freedom and slavery became more conflicting. I was led to investigate, to the best of my ability the causes from which sprang such conflicting principles. At the same time, convinced that the anti-slavery element was the only source of hope for the slave, I also endeavoured to acquaint myself with the operations of the friends of freedom , whose principles will finally emancipate the bondmen.”
In 1857 Sarah also became an anti-slavery lecturer, speaking in New York State with her brother, and soon she found herself speaking every week. In late 1858 she was invited to speak in Great Britain, arriving in January 1859 in Liverpool. “I had an intense desire to visit England, that I might for a time enjoy freedom, and I hoped to serve the anti-slavery cause at the same time.”
She wrote to a friend “I have been received here as a sister by white women for the first time in my life…..I have received a sympathy I never was offered before”.
The United States embassy was less welcoming. The Assistant Secretary Benjamin Moran ordered her out of the building when she applied for a passport. The incident was reported in a number of newspapers. Sarah wrote in the Quaker journal The British Friend, “You may read the facts but no words can express the mental suffering we are obliged to bear because we happen to have a dark complexion. No language can give one an idea of the spirit of prejudice which exists in the States.”
In September 1859 she spoke at a meeting in the Athenaeum presided over by the Mayor of Manchester. The subject was American slavery. This is a report from the Manchester Weekly times
“She said that she appeared as the agent of no society, speaking simply on her own responsibility, of her own knowledge and experience: but that in feeling and in principle she was identified with the Ultra-abolitionists of America. Although the anti-slavery enterprise was begun some thirty years ago, the evil is still rampant in the land. As there are some young people present-and I am glad to see them here, for it is important that they should understand this subject – I shall briefly explain that there are thirty two states, sixteen of which are free and sixteen slave states. The free states are in the north. The political feelings in the north and south are essentially different, so is the social life. In the north, democracy, not what the Americans call democracy, but the true principle of equal rights, prevails-I speak of the white population, mind-wealth is abundant; the country, in every material sense, flourishes. In the south, aristocratic feeling prevail, labour is dishonourable, five millions of poor whites live in the most degrading ignorance and destitution. I might dwell long on the miserable condition of these poor whites, the indirect victims of slavery; but I must go on to speak of the four millions of slaves. The slaves are essentially things, with no rights, political, social, domestic, or religious; the absolute victims of all but irresponsible power. For the slave there is no home, no love, no hope, no help; and what is life without hope? No writer can describe the slaves life; it cannot be told: the fullest description ever given to the world does but skim over the surface of this subject.”
On 24 January 1861 she spoke in Birmingham in the Temperance Hall. The local newspaper reported:
“On Thursday evening Miss Remond, a coloured lady from America, delivered a lecture…before a , numerous audience gathered in the Temperance Hall, Upper Temple Street. His Worship the mayor presided, and Mr Recorder Hill occupied a seat on the platform. Claiming for the Negro , at the outset, the full rights given by God to those beings whom he made “a little lower than the angels” the lecturer demanded the authority by which America held four millions of her brethren in bondage; and turning to advantage the cogent arguments with which, in its burst of pre-eminent freedom, the Union had so abundantly furnished the opponents of the negro traffic, she left the slavemongers without a thread of right or reason on which to support their practices. She then gave a description of the state of society throughout America; showed how slavery was interwoven with the interests of every class; and pointed out the almost utter hopelessness of affecting the abolition of slavery by any home influence, other than by the fearful crisis that must come one day, if indeed it had not come already. That the agitation would not decrease, that the matter would not be compromised that the dislocation of the States would be completed she earnestly desired, for in that consummation and that only she saw hope for the slave; and having said this Miss Remond concluded with an eloquent appeal to the people of Great Britain for their sympathy and moral aid, observing that by a marvellous coincidence the opportunity of giving that sympathy had been thrust upon them at the right moment in the case of Anderson. The lecture, eloquent and powerful as it was, drew forth loud applause.”
When the Civil War began, Sarah worked to build support in Britain for the Union blockade of the Confederacy and influence public opinion in Britain to support the Union cause. The North blockaded southern ports leading to what became known as the “Cotton famine”. Starved of the raw material, the Lancashire cotton industry shut down by the end of 1861. Relief committees were set up in Manchester to prevent starvation a the working people. The Times on 21 November 1862 published a list of donations to the Lancashire and Cheshire Operatives Relief Fund which filled a page. It included a £1 from Sarah.
Sarah spoke at a meeting in London in March 1864. According to a report in the press, ““Miss Remond read a number of interesting extracts from the Anti Slavery Standard in evidence of the high efficiency of the black soldiers of the United States.” In her home state, the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry had been formed in 1863. (It’s story is depicted in a film called Glory)
At the end of the war, Sarah lectured on behalf of the Freedmen’s Aid Association , soliciting funds and clothing for the ex-slaves.
During her years in Britain, Sarah combined lecturing with studying at the Bedford College for Women. In 1866 she left Britain to study medicine in the the Hospital St. Maria Nuovo, Florence and eventually became a doctor. In 1873, when Elizabeth Buffum Chace, visited Sarah in Florence, she was able to report that “Sarah Remond is a remarkable woman and by indomitable energy and perseverance is winning a fine position in Florence as a physician and also socially.”
She was married to an Italian , Lazzaro Pintor, for a time, but the marriage did not last. Sarah died on 13 December 1894 and was buried in the Protestant cemetery in Rome,
Written for Sheroes of History by Michael Herbert