By Kristin Harris
Sarah Parker Remond was born in Salem on June 6, 1824 (though some records have her birth date as June 26, 1826), and was the seventh child of John and Nancy Remond. Born into the home of parents who had made names for themselves in abolitionist circles, Sarah quickly received an education in matters of black and womens’ rights from an early age, and went on to become one of the movement’s most prolific speakers.
Sarah’s parents came from humble beginnings. Her mother Nancy Lenox Remond was the daughter of Cornelius Lenox and Susanna Perry, two free black citizens who lived in Boston. Cornelius Lenox had served in the Continental Army as a Private in Captain Nathaniel Heath’s Company until being discharged in March of 1781. In 1803, Nancy met John Remond, who was in Boston to learn the barbering and hairdressing trade. John most likely learned his catering skills from Nancy Lenox who was a notable cake maker and decorator at the time.
John Remond returned to Salem in 1805 and “was given living quarters in an apartment on the ground floor in the newly built Hamilton Hall, probably as a caretaker for the premises.” When he was 19, he started his business as a barber and hairdresser, and also delved into the catering business. He became so successful, that he became known as the ‘Colored Restaurateur.’ On October 29, 1807 John Remond and Nancy Lenox were married by the Reverend Thomas Paul of the African Baptist Church in Boston. John and Nancy Remond’s catering business skyrocketed, with Hamilton Hall quickly becoming the centerpiece of Salem social life.
But, the Remonds were also active in Salem’s abolitionist circles, with John and Nancy Remond making sure that only the proper education and reading materials were brought into their home. “Books, anti-slavery tracts, the Liberator, the National Anti-Slavery Standard, and newspapers published by free blacks such as Freedom’s Journal,” and other such publications were of abundance. Their home was also frequently used to house fugitive enslaved persons, offering shelter, food, and clothing, as well as host to many anti-slavery and abolitionist speakers. It was in this environment that Sarah, and her other well-known brother Charles Lenox Remond (the first black abolitionist speaker for the American Anti-Slavery Society) were raised. “It was this background of family social consciousness that provided the impulse for the antislavery activities of the second generation of Remonds.”
In 1832, Nancy Remond, Sarah’s mother, along with a group of women of color from Salem organized the first female anti-slavery society in the United States. According to online archive Black Past,
“Like most free black antislavery societies, the Salem organization addressed a variety of issues important to free blacks in addition to the campaign against slavery. It supported secular and Sabbath schools for free blacks, assisted newly freed or runaway slaves, and opposed racial segregation and discrimination in the northern free states. Two years after its founding, the Society expanded its membership to include white women and officially re-organized as the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society.”
It is in this world that Sarah got her education. She and her brother were no strangers to discrimination based on race, and it is for this reason that after receiving her childhood education in the primary schools of Salem, she moved to a private school in Rhode Island. John Remond had moved the family there for fear that his daughters would suffer under the discriminatory practices of the high schools of Salem. In 1841, when Sarah was about 16 or 17 years old, the family returned to Salem. To keep up their education, Sarah and her sisters got their hands on every black written newspaper and Anti-Slavery society book they could find, hoping to continue their own education, and stay informed. This was probably highly encouraged in the home of two ardent anti-slavery advocates who had previously helped fugitive enslaved people escape bondage. As Sarah grew up in her mother’s household, Nancy did her best to prepare her and her sisters for the hardships they would face in the world, while also trying to shield them from it by teaching them domestic duties in the home. Sarah later remarked that “Our home discipline, did not—could not, fit us for the scorn and contempt which met us on every hand when faced with the world, a world which hated all who were identified with the enslaved race.”
It was this background that prepared Sarah for the challenges of life, and to face issues of equality head-on. By 1853, Sarah had started to make a name for herself, and was an active member of the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society. On May 4, 1853, she and her sister Caroline, along with some friends, decided to attend a performance of the opera Don Pasquale at the Howard Athenaeum in Boston. According to Porter’s article,
“While quietly proceeding to their seats, they were stopped by Mr A. Palmer, the manager of the house, who refused to let them take their seats. C.P. Philbrick, a police officer at the theater, was called and ordered the party out. They were told they could get their money back, or take seats in the gallery. They refused. Philbrick attempted to push Sarah down the stairs, tearing her dress and injuring her shoulder. Sarah made legal protest against this treatment, and Palmer and Philbrick were brought before the police court. The case was tried before Judge Russell. The lawyer Charles G. Davis appeared for Miss Remond. Shortly afterwards, Sarah Remond brought a civil suit to recover damages against Palmer and Philbrick in the First District Court of Essex County. She agreed to accept a small sum on the condition that she and her friends should have tickets to the opera, for seats as good as those originally purchased on the night they were rejected.”
Sarah’s case would become the impetus for her increase in popularity as a lecturer on race rights in America, and by 1856, “Sarah herself was appointed an agent of the American Anti-Slavery Society and spoke all over the east and midwest. She appeared at the National Women’s Rights Convention in New York City in May 1858.” Sarah would eventually travel to England, France, and Italy, speaking at antislavery rallies around the world. She finally settled in Rome, where she became a licensed medical doctor.
Kristin Harris is a Historian, with an M.A. in American Studies from UMASS Boston, focusing on Death in Popular culture. She has been a public historian in Salem for many years, interpreting at both the Witch House and Pioneer Village for 3 years from 2013-2016. She later went on to work as a public tour guide for Salem Black Cat Tours beginning in 2014, and served on the board of the Salem Historical Society from 2015-2017, until starting full time work as a Tour Guide/Reenactor at the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum in 2017. She now continues to work for the BTPSM as a Lead Actor in the Creative Department at the Museum, and to educate as a first person historical interpreter with many organizations including Newport Living History Spaces and Revolutionary Spaces. While researching for her Master’s thesis, Kristin met and joined with the Mass Ghost Hunters Paranormal Society as an investigator in training, and served as an investigator with the team from 2015-2017. Her time with MGHPS informed much of her continued research into the paranormal, and paranormal history. Beginning in 2019, Kristin started work with Intramersive Media LLC as a consulting historian and dramaturge for their third installment of Daemonologie, their yearly October production, which was entitled Smoke and Mirrors, and was sponsored by the Peabody Essex Muse
um and the Creative Collective. Kristin has since joined Intramersive as a permanent member of the production team.
She is also the host of Life After Midnight: Strange History, Salem Style, a podcast dedicated to exploring dark and macabre history, and its impact on popular culture and thought. All episodes are available on iTunes.https://lifeaftermidnightsalem.com/
1. Porter, Dorothy Burnett. The Remonds of Salem, Massachusetts: A Nineteenth Century Family Re-Visited.This paper was read at the annual meeting of the American Antiquarian Society held in Worcester on October 16, 1985. Pg 265.
2. Porter. Pg 266.
3. Porter. Pg 273.
4. Porter. Pg 273.
5. Yee, Shirley. FEMALE ANTI-SLAVERY SOCIETY, SALEM, MASSACHUSETTS (1832-1866). Article Written for online repository Black Past. October 16,2009.
6. Porter. Pg 283.
7. Additional Resources on the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society
8. Falk, Leslie A. “Black Abolitionist Doctors and Healers, 1810-1885”. Bulletin of the History of Medicine Vol. 54, No. 2 (Summer 1980). Pg. 270.