Benjamin Lundy, Ohio Abolitionist and Free Labor Advocate

Note: The Benjamin Lundy House and Free Labor Store is undergoing restoration and is not currently open to the public. 

Though Mount Pleasant may be hard to find on the map, this tiny, rural town in southeastern Ohio played a large role in the fight against slavery. In 1817, the first newspaper to advocate national abolition, The Philanthropist, was founded here. Five years later, in 1821, it became the birthplace of another paper advocating abolition when a resident named Benjamin Lundy founded the Genius of Universal Emancipation.

Benjamin Lundy was born January 4, 1789, in Hardwick, New Jersey. His parents belonged to the Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, and they raised their son to oppose violence and slavery.

In 1815, after being exposed to the slave trade while he apprenticed in Wheeling, Virginia, Lundy established the first society dedicated to the abolition of slavery west of the Appalachian Mountains. Based in St Clairsville, Ohio, it was known as the Union Humane Society. It originally had just six members but grew to include nearly 500 people.

Eventually, Lundy settled in Mount Pleasant and began publishing his newspaper The Genius of Universal Emancipation. In addition to his publishing work, Lundy was also an early proponent of the free produce movement; a boycott against goods produced by slave labor. On the property where the home is located is a Free Labor Store, operated by the Quakers in the 19th century. People who staunchly opposed slavery were drawn to free labor stores to engage in socially conscious commerce as it sold no goods that had ever been touched by slavery at any point in the supply chain. The Free Labor Store in Mount Pleasant is the last surviving store in Ohio, and as far as can be determined, the last surviving example in the United States.

Mount Pleasant is a National Historic Landmark District, a recognition by the United States government for outstanding historical significance. The rural town served as a stop on the Underground Railroad and was a force of leadership in the fight against the injustices of slavery. The historic character of the village remains intact, with more than 40 properties contributing to its story. The Historical Society of Mount Pleasant partners with the Ohio History Connection to manage the Quaker Yearly Meeting House and, once fully restored, the Benjamin Lundy House and Free Labor Store.

Ohio History Connection acquired what is known as the Lundy House and Free Labor Store in 2015. Prior to this acquisition, both properties were badly deteriorated and in danger of being lost forever. Now, a team of architects and preservationists from the state history organization are working to stabilize and restore the home.

Lack of roof maintenance had resulted in significant water infiltration, damaging the masonry walls by washing out the mortar from the joints, leaving just sand. As a result, the walls began collapsing upon themselves and bulging outward. In spring 2021, work began on the house to, one by one, dismantle and then rebuild those exterior masonry walls.

While this work goes on, structural repairs are being made to floor joists and roof rafters to secure wood heavily rotted from water damage. Once all the masonry work is complete, the Free Labor Store, which has developed a lean due to the structural issues of the attached masonry building, will be shift back into place, repaired and painted.

After the walls and structure are secured, a new wood shake roof will be installed with new gutters. Finally, windows and doors will be restored, or replaced when necessary, and reinstalled to finish the exterior restoration.

Once completed, the restored Lundy House and Free Labor Store will set alongside another Ohio History Connection historic site in Mount Pleasant, the Quaker Yearly Meeting House, to tell the story of the important role that this Quaker community played nationally to mobilize the nation to end slavery.

If you’re interested in supporting this project or other local history projects in Ohio, consider becoming an Ohio History Connection member or making a financial donation. Learn more here.

Posted June 3, 2021

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