Early American Places


NYU PressNYU Press

Colonization and Its Discontents:

Emancipation, Emigration, and Antislavery in Antebellum Pennsylvania

by Beverly C. Tomek

304 pages

11 halftones

ISBN: 9781479877652



An enlightening examination of the role of colonization in the state and national controversies over slavery, abolition, and civil rights in antebellum America.
— Nicholas Wood, Pennsylvania History

Pennsylvania contained the largest concentration of early America’s abolitionist leaders and organizations, making it a necessary and illustrative stage from which to understand how national conversations about the place of free blacks in early America originated and evolved, and, importantly, the role that colonization—supporting the emigration of free and emancipated blacks to Africa—played in national and international antislavery movements. Beverly C. Tomek’s meticulous exploration of the archives of the American Colonization Society, Pennsylvania’s abolitionist societies, and colonizationist leaders (both black and white) enables her to boldly and innovatively demonstrate that, in Philadelphia at least, the American Colonization Society often worked closely with other antislavery groups to further the goals of the abolitionist movement.

In Colonization and Its Discontents, Tomek brings a much-needed examination of the complexity of the colonization movement by describing in depth the difference between those who supported colonization for political and social reasons and those who supported it for religious and humanitarian reasons. Finally, she puts the black perspective on emigration into the broader picture instead of treating black nationalism as an isolated phenomenon and examines its role in influencing the black abolitionist agenda.


Beverly C. Tomek is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Houston-Victoria in Victoria, Texas. 

Colonization and Its Discontents is a well-researched and welcome reexamination of a movement that defies easy definition.
— Journal of American History
Colonization and Its Discontents is an interesting and useful contribution to the ever-growing historiography of nineteenth-century American antislavery movements.
— Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Pennsylvania Magazine of History of Biography
Tomek’s book constitutes an important contribution to the history of the nineteenth-century antislavery movement.
— Friederike Baer, American Historical Review
This is a much-needed addition to the growing body of scholarship dedicated to the nineteenth-century colonization movement.
— The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
In texturing this story, Tomek has made a thoughtful contribution to colonization scholarship.
— Joanne Pope Melish, Journal of Social History
Beverly C. Tomek offers an interesting analysis of antislavery movements in Pennsylvania, starting with the development of the opposition to slavery among Friends then focusing more intensely on the Pennsylvania Colonization Society and its relationships with other antislavery organizations during the early nineteenth century.
— Jean R. Soderlund, Historian
The payoff of such organization is a series of richly detailed vignettes that illustrate the complexity of their thinking. And it is the complex and overlapping nature of these ideologies that Tomek adeptly utilizes to problematize standard narratives of antislavery thought. Tomek’s argument that gradualists and colonizationists shared a commitment to gradual emancipation, working within the law, and social control over blacks is a significant contribution that challenges our understanding of what ‘antislavery’ should mean. Additionally, the recognition of the diversity within the colonization movement and reevaluation of its political, economic, and humanitarian wings are strengths of the book. This is a much-needed addition to the growing body of scholarship dedicated to the nineteenth-century colonization movement.
— Robert Murray, The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society