Abel Brown was a radical abolitionist and Baptist minister who was active in Albany, Troy and Sand Lake around the late 1830s, and early 1840s. He was noted as an uncompromising and provocative individual who went to great lengths for the cause of the abolition of slavery. He was very active in assisting fugitives and not at all secretive about it. He published a newspaper called the Tocsin of Liberty in which he daringly not only published the first names of fugitives he helped, but also the names of their former slave masters. He was so provocative and helped so many that slave owners sent arrest warrants from far away cities seeking his capture.
Brown was born in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1810. He began a career as a Baptist minister at age 22 as a temperance preacher. His provocative style provoked many enemies. He was driven out of Auburn for his temperance preaching early in his career by a mob.
“The Mob pursued me about eight miles,” he wrote in his journal “[I] fled to the woods and was hunted . . . until ten o’clock at night [a total of 11 hours]. His crime had been “visiting about one hundred Drunkards’ families, and telling to the community their wretchedness.”
Brown and Miss Mary Brigham of Massachusetts moved to Chautaqua County in southwestern New York state after they were wed in 1835. By 1836 Brown claimed to have become “an abolitionist in the full sense of the word.” While lecturing for the American Anti-Slavery Society he became an agent for the Anti-Slavery Society of Western Pennsylvania. During his residence along the Ohio River, he is known to have assisted fugitive slaves in their quest for for freedom. While there he attempted to open a school to train others in anti-slavery. The school was, “to be established at some eligible point on the river Ohio . . . to be instituted . . . by a body of men actively engaged in purifying the church from the contaminating influence of Slavery.” His confrontational style offended many local clergy and the lack of success with the school resulted in his move to Albany. He also was disappointed in the refusal of many of his ministerial colleagues to condemn those who owned slaves.
In April 1841 became pastor at the Sand Lake Baptist Church. The Albany area was well suited for his anti-slavery work as it was “a city which from its location on the banks of the Hudson, was the constant resort of fugitive slave, when travelling [sic] in the direction of the North Star, to seek shelter under the wings of Queen Victoria’s dominion, or happily, perchance, to find an Asylum in the nominally free States”, according to a biographical memoir published after his death in 1849 by his second wife, Catherine.