William Whipper, a thoughtful abolitionist
William Whipper, an African American businessman and abolitionist was born on this date in 1804.
Born in Lancaster, PA, he later lived in Columbia, SC, and Philadelphia. Whipper was the Black son of a White Pennsylvania businessman and a Black woman who was his servant. He inherited his father’s lumber business, and, with another free Black business partner, Stephen Smith, they created one of the state’s leading lumberyards where Whipper made a sizable fortune through joint ventures.
Their extensive investments included land holdings in Pennsylvania and Canada, lumberyards, railroad cars, and a steam ship on Lake Erie. Many of these assets were directly employed in aiding the escapes of Black fugitives from the south. Whipper came to believe that White prejudice against Black Americans came "not from the color of their skin, but from their condition." From this idea emerged his commitment to moral reformation and the cause of temperance. Although some did not see moral reform by Black leaders connected to the abolitionist cause and the plight of the southern black population, Whipper saw a direct connection between them.
But he changed his mind after the mid-1830s, because of a series of racially motivated riots directed mainly against the business establishments of wealthy Black Columbians, particularly Stephen Smith and likely Whipper's investments as well. In 1839, Whipper reversed belief that prejudice stemmed from the condition of African Americans and believed it was just because of their skin color. Despite this apparent change of heart, Whipper maintained his dedication to the cause of moral reform, although doubting its effectiveness as an anti-slavery tool. For several decades, William Whipper operated an active station of the Underground Railroad in Columbia.
Whipper was dedicated to nonviolence and rational persuasion, helping to found the anti-slavery American Moral Reform Society. He was a model of the positive attributes northern freedom offered Blacks. William Whipper died in 1885.
The Encyclopedia Britannica, Fifteenth Edition.
Copyright 1996 Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.
Today in American History