Although slavery was illegal in Wisconsin Territory, Southerners sometimes brought slaves with them anyway. Thousands of Wisconsin’s first white settlers grew up with slavery and considered it a normal part of life.
This appalled young Rev. Edward Mathews, who arrived in Milwaukee in 1838. He’d been sent west as a Baptist missionary to recruit for his church, but the anti-slavery cause was his true passion. As he crisscrossed the state, his audiences were more likely to hear about slavery than any other sin.
That was acceptable since there were a few abolitionists everywhere he went.
“During my ten years labours in Wisconsin,” he wrote afterwards, “I had travelled extensively; and there was scarcely a town or village in the whole Territory in which there was not some Anti-slavery friend ready to welcome me … .” He also met many former slaves who had escaped or been given their freedom.
After a decade-long fight for abolition in Wisconsin, Mathews could declare that, “Many of those who in my early efforts had opposed me as an extremist, now stood by me and strengthened my endeavors. …”
So in 1850 he jumped directly into the belly of the beast, taking his message into the Ohio Valley, Virginia and Kentucky, where he was nearly lynched.
His escape from the mob caught the attention of novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe, who used him as the model for Father Dickson in “Dred,” her sequel to “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
— Wisconsin Historical Society