Charles De Berard Mills – Abolitionist made in New York and Ohio

Charles De Berard Mills was an abolitionist from New York and part of the anti-slavery movement and Underground Railroad network in Syracuse. He is also the father of the prominent suffragist and Democratic leader Harriet May Mills (1857-1935).

C.D.B. Mills was born on January 15th, 1821 in New Hartford (Oneida County), New York as son of Grace and Abram De Berard Mills, who was a abolitionist Presbyterian minister.

Charles attended Oneida Institute, a manual labor college, the most progressive school and the first racially integrated college in the country that enrolled black and white students on an equal basis without restrictions. Oneida Institute, led by radical abolitionist Beriah Green, was a center of anti-slavery thought and activism, an Underground Railroad station, and many future abolitionist leaders graduated from it, such as Theodore Dwight Weld, Alexander Crummell, Henry Highland Garnet, Jermain Wesley Loguen, and Samuel Ringgold Ward.

Mills then went to Lane Theological Seminary in Ohio, place of heated debates about colonialization versus abolition, led by Lyman Beecher. Beecher was the father of Harriet Beecher Stowe – abolitionist and author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin – and Henry Ward Beecher – abolitionist leader and minister at Plymouth Church (Brooklyn, NY), an important Underground Railroad station. In the following years, Mills was ousted from schools in New York and Ohio because of his abolitionist views and speeches.

In 1851 or 1852 he and his wife, Harriet Ann Smith Mills (1826-1928), moved to Syracuse, New York, where they met abolitionist leader Rev. Samuel Joseph May and became actively involved in the anti-slavery movement. Their house became a meeting place for abolitionists, women’s rights advocates, and an Underground Railroad stop and a place to stay for prominent leaders such as William Lloyd Garrison or Susan B. Anthony.

C.B.D. Mills was not only an abolitionist, but also a freethinker and author, who wrote about Buddhism and Mythology and eventually gave up on his religious beliefs after years of clerical service. He worked for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Bureau of Labor and Charities. He died on May 15th, 1900 (aged 79) in Syracuse.

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