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Isaac Hopper

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Subject: J Dakota Powell, Fugitive slaves in the United States, Underground Railroad
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Isaac Hopper

Isaac Hopper

Isaac Tatem Hopper (b. Deptford, New Jersey, December 3, 1771, d. New York City, May 7, 1852) was an American abolitionist who was active in Philadelphia in the anti-slavery movement and protecting fugitive slaves and free blacks from slave kidnappers.

He moved to New York City in 1829 to run a Quaker bookstore. From 1841-1845 he served as treasurer and book agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society. In 1845 he became active in prison reform and devoted the rest of his life to the Prison Association of New York.

Life and career

Isaac Tatem Hopper was born into a Quaker family in Deptford, New Jersey in 1771.

He became a Hicksite Quaker – a follower of Elias Hicks – although he lived in Philadelphia, while many Hicksites lived in rural areas.

Following the American Revolutionary War, Pennsylvania had abolished slavery before the end of the eighteenth century. The state, and especially the major port city of Philadelphia, became a destination and byway for fugitive slaves escaping the South. In the years before the American Civil War, Philadelphia was frequented by slave kidnappers, who often would capture free black children to sell into slavery, as well as hunt fugitive slaves to return to their owners for reward.

Hopper became an active and leading member of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, whose members frequently worked to protect the rights of African Americans, as well as to seek the end of slavery in the United States. In time, Hopper became known in Philadelphia as a friend and adviser to blacks in all emergencies.

Hopper was an overseer of the Negro School for Children in Philadelphia, which was founded by the early abolitionist Anthony Benezet before the Revolutionary War, and operated through the nineteenth century. Hopper also served as a volunteer teacher in a free school for African-American adults.

He was one of the founders and the secretary of a society for the employment of the poor; a volunteer prison inspector; member of a fire company, and guardian of abused apprentices. Married and with a large family, he and his wife often extended their limited resources to take in more impoverished Quakers. Their children learned early to care for others. He also transacted much business for the Society of Friends.

In 1829 Hopper moved his family to New York in order to run a bookstore established by the Hicksite Quakers. In the autumn of 1830, being called to Ireland on business connected with his wife’s estate, he visited England. In both countries he was at first treated somewhat cavalierly by the orthodox Quakers, and was pointed out as the one “who has given Friends so much trouble in America.” His amiable personality changed their unfavorable impressions.

By the spring of 1841, the demand for Hicksite books had greatly diminished. Hopper became the treasurer and book agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society in New York.

Prison reform advocacy

In 1845 he gave up his offices with the Anti-Slavery Society, and devoted the rest of his life to the Prison Association of New York, which sought reform in prisons and the justice system. His married daughter, Abigail Hopper Gibbons, by then also in New York, founded the Women's Prison Association, to work for prison reform. She also founded an asylum for women prisoners

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