The Vermont Anti-Slavery Society was formed in 1834 just one year after the formation of the American Anti-Slavery Society. One hundred delegates from 30 towns through Vermont came to the first meeting. The Chairman of the Executive Committee for the Vermont Anti-Slavery Society was Rowland Robinson. The purpose of the organization was to “abolish slavery in the United States and to improve the mental, moral, and political condition of the “colored population.”
The Anti-Slavery Society did not wish to interfere with slavery or encourage slaves to revolt. Rather, the Society tried to accomplish its goals in a moral way. They wished to “expose the guilt and danger of holding men as property” by publishing pamphlets, newspaper articles, and songs as well as lecturing in churches and at public meetings.
By 1837 there were 89 local anti-slavery societies in Vermont with over 5,000 members. Bennington’s anti-slavery society was founded in 1837 with 140 members. The Lincoln-Starksboro society had 485 members. African-Americans also belonged to the anti-slavery societies. Not all Vermonters agreed with the anti-slavery societies. Some people disapproved of the societies because they felt that slaves were too ignorant to be free, that abolitionists were taking away the rights of slave owners, and that anti-slavery societies were endangering the Union.
Objections to the Vermont Anti-Slavery Society were sometimes violent. In 1835 abolitionist Samuel J. May made a lecture tour through the state and was mobbed five times. The most famous riot took place at Montpelier where Mr. May had been invited to address the Society. Many of the members of the legislature then in session were abolitionists, and May was offered the use of Representatives Hall for his first meeting. In spite of a few rotten eggs and stones appearing on the capitol grounds as a warning to him, he gave his speech and accepted a second invitation for the next evening from the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church. In the morning, notices appeared about Montpelier advising “the people generally and ladies in particular not to attend the anti-slavery meeting, as...the person who is advertised to speak will be prevented by violence if necessary.” In the afternoon May received a letter, requesting him to leave town, “without any further attempt to hold forth the absurd doctrine of antislavery.” When May rose to speak, chaos began at once and a rush was made for the pulpit to the cry of “throw him over, choke him!”
By 1855, when Solomon Northrup, a kidnapped freeman, spoke at the Montpelier Free Church, there was little such excitement--more and more Vermonters were beginning to understand the anti-slavery goals. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln swept Vermont with 75.8 percent of the vote, and soon many Vermonters would go off to war.