The First Crusader

One of the key themes emerging from my #SalemSuffrageSaturday posts is the activism and organization of women: there is a paper trail of organized advocacy for abolition, suffrage, temperance, and all sorts of reform and relief. The beginning of that trail might have begun in the 1820s with protests against the Federal government’s policy towards Native Americans: I don’t see a movement but I do see one fierce crusader in Salem. Elizabeth Elkins Sanders (1762-1851) is yet another woman about whom we never hear anything in Salem: she was born into privilege, lived a privileged life, but was aware of said privilege in an age when most of her contemporaries were not, and consequently became a fierce advocate for Native Americans and an equally fierce critic of American cultural imperialism from the 1820s on—expressing views that become much more current a century later. She was not just an armchair observer; she published Conversations, Principally on the Aborigines of North America (1828), the First Settlers of New England (1829), and the Tract on Missions (1844) as well as several literary essays and reviews. The intense presidential campaign of 1828, pitting notorious Indian fighter Andrew Jackson against Massachusetts’ native son John Quincy Adams, inspired her to pick up a pen in her sixties: the Tract on Missions was published when she was 82!

Women Sanders 2 (2)

Sanders Circular (3)

Sanders contextConversations, Principally on the Aborigines of North America, published by Elizabeth Elkins Sanders during the presidential campaign of 1828; Catherine Beecher’s Circular Addressed to Benevolent Ladies of the United States (from the Phillips Library, incorrectly attributed to Sanders), a call to action against the pending Indian Removal Act, 1829. Alisse Portnoy’s Their Right to Speak connects the anti-removal movement with the emerging abolitionist movement in the antebellum era.

Elizabeth Sanders (or Saunders) was a Salem representative of a larger movement against Indian removal which included the first national women’s petition campaign, organized by Connecticut educators Catherine Beecher (elder sister of Harriet) and Lydia Sigourney: in response to the Circular addressed to Benevolent Ladies of the United States nearly 1500 petitions were sent to Washington in 1830. I’m assuming Elizabeth sent hers, and wondering what other causes and organizations were the focus of her “expansive benevolence and strong mature intellect”.

Sanders Feb 22 1851

20200717_180254Salem Observer, February 22, 1851; 39 Chestnut Street, the home of Captain Thomas and Elizabeth E. Sanders.


8 responses to “The First Crusader

  • Jim Kieran

    Well done and very informative about fact we know little or nothing about in our city that is so full of History that often much of importance and its people go unknown. Thanks for being their spokesperson!!
    Looking forward to your next “shout out” for the silent Salem History Makers.

  • Helen Breen

    Hi Donna,

    Kudos for re-discovering and celebrating the life work of Elizabeth Elkins Sanders and her early advocacy for Native Americans – a woman before her time. Indeed, the election of 1828 between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson was pivotal in the American experiment.

    Interesting how “Old Hickory” has again been placed in the limelight, what with the recent assault on his statue in DC and our President’s admiration for Jackson as a role model.

    It’s particularly impressive that Mrs. Sanders could focus on such weighty matters while enjoying her life of privilege residing in that fabulous house on 39 Chestnut Street.

    And let us recall that JQA’s defeat in 1828 was not the end of his career. The former President then served seventeen years in the US House of Representatives where he championed the anti-slavery cause. Mrs. Sanders must have approved of that.

  • Eilene Lyon

    Excellent post, Donna. I was not aware of the anti-removal campaign. Such a devastating policy. And I have to admire any mature female author, particularly in that era of male dominance. I will have to give her husband some credit for being enlightened, too. And what a luxurious home!

  • franjurga

    Very interesting! I wonder if you’ve come across any mentions of the suffragist Claiborne Catlin Elliman, who rode her horse around Massachusetts to make the people more aware of suffrage. I haven’t found any references to her riding north of Boston, but surely she must have? I think a visit to Salem must have been on her list!

  • marybryne

    FYI if not already- Just posted by Mass Historical Society…love your blog!

    Online Programs

    Salem History Through the MHS Archive

    On Wednesday, 29 July, at 5:30 PM, Peter Drummey, MHS, presents Salem History Through the MHS Archive. In Salem, as in many cities and towns in Massachusetts, local patriotism is so strong that most materials for the study of local history have remained close to where they were created. Nonetheless, since soon after our founding, the MHS has collected and published materials about Salem. Drummey will lead a virtual tour of letters, diaries, manuscript records, publications, portraits, photographs, and artifacts ranging from the time of the witchcraft hysteria through Salem’s golden age to the height of the India Trade, the industrial city of 100 years, and the influenza epidemic in 1918-1919. Register for the online program.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: