Benjamin Lundy, pioneering abolitionist, was born in New Jersey on January 4, 1789, to Quaker parents, Joseph and Eliza Lundy. In 1808 Lundy moved to Wheeling, Virginia, to pursue a career in saddle-making. There Lundy experienced his first contact with slavery and developed a lifelong commitment to end the practice.
In order to escape the daily sight of slavery and its conflict with his Quaker religion, Lundy moved to Ohio in 1815. That year he and his newlywed wife, Esther Lewis, settled in St. Clairsville, Ohio, where Lundy opened a successful saddle-making business. In 1816 Lundy founded his first antislavery society, the Union Humane Society, and soon began writing abolitionist articles that first appeared in Charles Osborn's reform newspaper Philanthropist in 1817.
After Osborn sold his newspaper, Lundy began publishing his own antislavery newspaper, the Genius of Universal Emancipation, in January 1821. Following the death of Tennessee abolitionist Elihu Embree, who had published the Emancipator, state abolitionists recruited Lundy to continue the work. Lundy purchased Embree's printing equipment and moved to Greeneville in 1822, where he continued publication of the Genius of Universal Emancipation.
Lundy believed that abolitionism would be most effective if it emanated from a slave state. He circulated the Genius in more than twenty-one states and kept the abolitionist movement alive in the Upper South, especially in Tennessee, Kentucky, and North Carolina. The paper was not a financial success, however, and in 1822 he began publishing a second newspaper, The American Economist and Weekly Political Recorder, which reported farm prices, published poetry, and relayed local and national economic and political news.
While in Greeneville, Lundy joined the Humane Protecting Society and became president of the Greeneville branch of the Tennessee Manumission Society. As president he attended the 1823 national meeting of the American Convention for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery held in Philadelphia. This contact with well-financed eastern abolitionists induced Lundy to move his family and newspaper to Baltimore in 1824.
From the columns of his newspaper, Lundy had always advocated gradual emancipation and colonization as the most effective methods to end slavery. In 1825 he presented a formal plan for the “Gradual Abolition of Slavery in the United States without Danger or Loss to the South,” a plan very similar to the work of Francis Wright at Nashoba in Tennessee. Dissatisfied with the lack of interest in his proposal, Lundy traveled to Haiti in the summer of 1825 to look for possible colonization sites. While he was there, his wife died giving birth to twins. On his return, Lundy placed the infants and his three older children with various family members and continued his abolition work.
In 1829 Lundy recruited William Lloyd Garrison as associate editor of the Genius. After a falling out with Garrison, Lundy suspended the publication of the Genius and devoted himself to the search for suitable colonization sites for freed blacks; his search took him to Haiti, Canada, and the Texas republic. In 1838 Lundy rejoined his children in Illinois and reestablished the Genius of Universal Emancipation. He published twelve issues prior to his death on August 22, 1839. He is buried in McNabb, Illinois.