James G. Birney papers  1816-1884 (bulk 1820-1856)
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Additional Descriptive Data

The William P. Fessenden papers at the Clements Library contain a letter from Birney to Fessenden (March 28, 1868)

The Weld-Grimké family papers contain many letters between Birney and Theodore Weld.

In addition to this finding aid, the Clements Library has created a Contributor List (.pdf format). For additional information see the Clements Library card catalog.

The following institutions also have Birney collections:

  • The Bentley Historical Library (within the Nathan M. Thomas papers)
  • The Boston Public Library, Massachusetts
  • The Library of Congress Manuscripts Division has a collection of James G. Birney papers, as well as American Colonization Society papers and also many items to Birney in the Lewis Tappan collection.


Biographical Timeline:

1792 James G. Birney born
1816 Marries Agatha McDowell
1818 Moves to Madison County, Alabama
1819 Elected Representative to the 1st Assembly of Alabama
1823 Moves to Huntsville, Alabama, to practice law
1830 Helps found a chapter of the American Colonization Society in Huntsville, Alabama
1830 Travels the east coast recruiting professors for the University of Alabama
1832 Became agent for the American Colonization Society and moves to Danville, Kentucky
1834 Resigns from the American Colonization Society
1834 Emancipates his slaves
1835 Forms the Kentucky Anti-Slavery Society
1836 Moves to Cincinnati, Ohio, and establishes The Philanthropist
1837 Resigns as editor of The Philanthropist, moves to New York, and becomes the corresponding secretary of the American Anti-Slavery Society
1838 Agatha Birney dies
1839 Birney's father dies and Birney emancipates his father's slaves
1840 Establishes the Liberty Party and is nominated to run for president for the party
1840 May-November Travels through Great Britain and is a delegate to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London
1841 Marries Elizabeth Fitzhugh
1842 Moves to Lower Saginaw (Bay City), Michigan, with his family
1844 Runs again for President for the Liberty Party
1845 Is partially paralyzed after a fall from a horse
1853 Moves to Eagleswood, New Jersey
1857 Dies in New Jersey
Alternate Locations

A portrait of William Birney, David Bell Birney, Fitzhugh Birney, and Dion Birney is located in the Clements Library Graphics Division

Related Materials

The Clements Library has many books and pamphlets written by Birney. Search "Birney, James Gillespie, 1792-1857" in the University's catalog for a complete list.


Birney, James Gillespie, and Dwight Lowell Dumond. Letters of James Gillespie Birney, 1831-1857. New York, London: D. Appleton-Century Co., 1938.

Fladeland, Betty Lorraine. James Gillespie Birney: Slaveholder to Abolitionist. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1955.

Fladeland, Betty. "Birney, James Gillespie." American National Biography Online. Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2000.