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The Unionist 1:10 
(October 3, 1833)

BROOKLYN, Ct. October 3.

On the evening of Friday Sept. 20th while Miss Crandall and her pupils were assembled in the school room for the purpose of holding a religious meeting, Rev. Mr. Potter of Pawtucket, R. I. having accepted her invitation to preach to them.) near the close of the services a clamorous rabble, without, assailed the house, a volley of rotten eggs and other missiles were thrown at the window, breaking the glass and lodging part of the filth on the curtain. The pupils, regardless of the assault, commenced singing the hymn which had just been read and went through without interruption.

On Thursday last [Sept. 26th] Miss C. was again brought before Esquire Adams for examination on two separate complaints, one for instructing and the other for boarding and harbouring {sic} colored persons from abroad. She was bound over to the Supreme Court which commenced its session in the place on Tuesday the first inst.

This last paragraph also appeared, with precise dating, in the state's paper of record, the Connecticut Courant, 7 October 1833

From the Brooklyn Unionist, October 3.

On Thursday last, [Sept. 26th.] Miss Crandall was again brought before Esquire Adams for examination on two separate complaints, one for instructing and the other for boarding and harboring colored persons from abroad. She was bound over to the Superior Court which commenced its session in this place on Tuesday the first inst.

Unionist Keyword Categories:

1. Canterbury Female Academy

2. African-American Students

3. Canterbury White Opposition

4. Peace and Non-Resistance

5. Religion

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from American Repertory, St. Albans, Vermont, October 17, 1833, p. 3 (12:51:3)

Newspaper archive at

Commentary and Analysis

The set of news items reported here - the visit of Rev. Potter, the vigilante harassment, the re-arrest of Prudence Crandall and Almira Crandall for violating the Black Law, and the reconvening of the court in Brooklyn to hear her case - is especially fascinating to me. Most writers on the Canterbury Female Academy focus (almost obsessively) on the Black Law, and the trials resulting from it. These trials have the advantage of being well-documented, followed assiduously by the press of the day. By contrast, the vigilante harassment and violence against the school remains shadowy, mentioned here and there as a constant, but nowhere near as well documented, coming as it does in "informal" ways, not in the "official" manner of laws and courtroom dramas. When the perpetual irritant of low-level persecution is mentioned, the anonymity of the perpetrators seems to limit the discussion further. But what interests me is two-fold. First is the impression created by the newspapers, in the public reading mind, when they report such constant pestering. But far more important is the consistent picture of courage and steadfastness on the part of the students.


Another fascinating item here is the cameo appearance of the highly controversial Rev. Ray Potter (1795-1858), a Baptist minister from Pawtucket, Rhode Island. In the midst of some revivals there in 1829, he was briefly working with Crandall's future husband, Calvin Philleo (Journal of George Foster Jenks, 1820s-1850s,  in Rhode Island Historical Society Library manuscript collection). Rev. Potter also had a roving eye, and more. Twice in his ministerial career he was involved in sex scandals, in which he was romantically involved with young women, and had children with them, despite his being already married.


But, no matter how desirable it might be, moral consistency is never found among all participants in movements for social change. There is no doubting that Rev. Ray Potter, for all his faults, took a strong stance against slavery and against racism, serving on the Providence Anti-Slavery Society's board as Vice-President (The Reports and Proceedings of the First Annual Meeting of the Providence Anti-Slavery Society. Providence: H.H.Brown, 1833). The November 1833 meeting of the Providence Anti-Slavery Society saw many people with direct knowledge of the Canterbury Female Academy in attendance - Potter, George Bourne, Henry Benson, and The Unionist editor, Charles C. Burleigh. We know that at least three of these people had personally met with the Black students at Canterbury. Perhaps as a result, this meeting twice forthrightly addressed the issue of Black citizenship:

"We insist that the colored inhabitants of our land have as good a right to the privileges and immunities of American citizens, as any other class of our inhabitants.  Those who were born here, i.e. a large proportion of the colored people, are Americans by birth.  They are no more Africans, than we are Europeans.  The United States is their home, as much as ours.  It is heinous wickedness, it is cruel persecution, in us so to treat them as to make them wish to flee from their country." (p. 7)

A resolution from George Bourne - one of the public endorsers of the Canterbury Female Academy - which the meting passed, "Resolved, That the improvement of the condition of the colored people in the United States is a debt of vast magnitude, which is owing by us to that class of American citizens, the full and prompt payment of which is enforced by all the claims of justice and the Christian religion." (p. 12)

Even after the school closed, Rev. Potter remained active in the anti-racist cause, delivering "An Address on Prejudice against Color" on July 3, 1835 in Pawtucket. But all of this work was for naught, and even in a sense dangerous to the Abolitionist cause, once his questionable sexual conduct was revealed, and he confessed to it in a public apology. 


Anonymous controversial pamphlet, in the collection of the Rhode Island Historical Society

The design of the cover illustration for this pamphlet that attacked Rev. Potter in the midst of his sex scandal suggests that, in the white public mind, his sexual exploits and racial politics were both perverse. Note, for instance, not only the color of the devil's skin, but the fact that he is extending both his hand at the table, and his foot under the table, to allure Rev. Potter. His features and horn look like stereotyped notions of African dress, as does his slight draped raiment. His tail, with its arrow pointing down to hell, and the scales along his thigh, suggest a barely-controlled animality.  In contrast, Potter's demeanor is modest. His hand and one of his legs are responding to the devil's overtures, but with the humility that a contemporary audience would have expected in a woman. Even the way his coat bunches and the elaborate length of the collar, as well as the soft facial features, suggest a polemical attack on Potter's masculinity.

I will continue to research and add more material on Potter as I uncover it. 

But it is high time to return to the students themselves, as they are represented in this brief article. Their school is under attack from village ruffians - eggs, "other missiles," and filthy stuff (one assumes dung or cracked eggs) hitting and breaking the windows. And what do they do? "The pupils, regardless of the assault, commenced singing the hymn which had just been read and went through without interruption." That requires discipline and commitment. And, I would maintain, this means more to our collective history and future than the sexual exploits of Ray Potter, or the snide callousness of white village boys and men. It resonates with the Civil Rights Movement, and the Black Lives Matter Movement. It is part of our national legacy of which we can all be proud - except for the necessity of it having to recur every hundred years. The students of Canterbury are in a direct line with the famous Black high school students who were attacked with hoses by Bull Connor's Birmingham Fire Department in 1963:


By Charles Moore, represented by the Black Star photo agency

Fair use


Photo credit (right)

These techniques were used by many in the Abolitionist movement, one of the most famous examples being Amos Dresser. Perhaps he knew of the fortitude of Crandall's students when he was arrested and publicly whipped in Nashville, Tennessee in 1835. His crime? Carrying copies of Abolitionist papers while visiting Nashville. His response to the punishment? In his own words ""When the infliction ceased, an involuntary feeling of thanksgiving to God for the fortitude with which I had been able to endure it, arose in my soul, to which I began aloud to give utterance. The death-like silence that prevailed for a moment, was suddenly broken with loud exclamations, 'G-d d--n him, stop his praying.'"

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