William Lloyd Garrison was born on December 12, 1805, in Newburyport, Massachusetts, the son of British immigrants from New Brunswick in present-day Canada. His father, Abijah Garrison, was a merchant sailing pilot and master; he obtained papers from the United States under an act for the relief of sick and disabled seamen and moved his family to Newburyport. When the United States passed the Embargo Act of 1807, the intent was to injure Great Britain, but the result was a decline in American commercial shipping. Abijah Garrison became unemployed and deserted his family in 1808. William Garrison’s mother was Frances Maria Lloyd, described as “tall, charming, and of a strong religious character.” She began referring to her son as Lloyd in an effort to preserve her family name; she passed away in 1823 in Springfield, Massachusetts, then considered to be a town.
Garrison worked to help support the family by selling home-made lemonade and candy and also delivering wood. He was 13 years old in 1818 when he began working as an apprentice compositor for the Newburyport Herald. There he started writing articles, using the pseudonym Aristides, who was a statesman and general known as “the Just.” At the end of his apprenticeship, Garrison joined with Isaac Knapp (a printer) and the two of them purchased their own newspaper in 1826. Their newspaper, Free Press, did not last very long, but Garrison gained “skills he would later use as a nationally known writer, speaker and newspaper publisher.” He was appointed editor of the National Philanthropist in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1828; the journal was the first one in America to promote legally-mandated temperance.
Garrison had an interesting career life. At age 25 he joined the anti-slavery movement and was involved with an organization with some members that wanted to reduce the number of free blacks in society and promoted the resettlement of free blacks to a territory (now known as Liberia) on the west coast of Africa. Other members of the society simply encouraged the granting of freedom to all slaves. Garrison in late 1829-1830 rejected the practice of colonization, publicly apologized, and censured other who promoted it.
Garrison became the co-editor with Benjamin Lundy of a Quaker newspaper entitled Genius of Universal Emancipation in Baltimore, Maryland. At first he agreed with Lundy’s views to gradually free the slaves but later was “convinced of the need to demand immediate and complete emancipation. The two co-editors continued to work together even though they had differing opinions, but each signed his own editorials.
In 1831 Garrison returned to New England and co-founded The Liberator, with his friend Isaac Knapp. The weekly newspaper was anti-slavery. The newspaper had two thousand subscribers in 1834, with three-fourths of them being black. Nat Turner’s slave rebellion in Virginia took place seven months after The Liberator started publication. Garrison was indicted by a grand jury in North Carolina for “distributing incendiary material” while a $5,000 reward was offered by the Georgia Legislature for his capture and transporting him to Georgia for trial.
By 1861 The Liberator had subscribers across the northern states as well as in England, Scotland, and Canada. “It was received in state legislatures, governor’s mansions, Congress, and the White House.” After the Civil War ended and the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States, the last issue of The Liberator was published (number 1,820) on December 29, 1865.
Garrison was a well-known abolitionist, journalist, suffragist, and social reformer, being best-known as the editor of The Liberator. He was a founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society and became a prominent voice for the woman suffrage movement in the 1870s.
Garrison married Helen Eliza Benson, and the couple became parents of several children with five surviving the parents: William Lloyd Garrison (183801909), Wendell Phillips Garrison (1840-1907), George Thompson Garrison, Francis Jackson Garrison, and Helen Frances Garrison (m. Henry Villard).
In his later years Garrison spent more time at home caring for Helen who became increasingly ill after suffering a small stroke on December 30, 1863. She passed away on January 25, 1876, from pneumonia. Even though her funeral was held at home, Garrison could not attend because he was “overcome with grief and confined to his bedroom with a fever and severe bronchitis.
Garrison gradually recovered from the loss of his wife but attended Spiritualist circles with hopes of communicating with her. He suffered with kidney disease and became weaker in April 1879. He moved to New York to live with his daughter Fanny and her family. His condition worsened in late May, and his five surviving children rushed to his bedside. He lost consciousness on May 24, 1879, and died just before midnight. He was buried in the Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston on May 28, 1879.