What was the Free Produce Movement? It was a boycott against goods produced by slave labor. It came about as a method to fight slavery by having consumers buy only produce derived from non-slave labor; labor from free men and women who were paid for their toil. The movement was active from the beginning of the abolitionist movement in the 1790s to the end of slavery in the United States in the 1860s.

In 1830, Black American men formed the “Colored Free Produce Society of Pennsylvania“, subsequently, Black American women formed the “Colored Female Free Produce Society of Pennsylvania” in 1831. Some black businesses began to feature free produce; William Whipper (February 22, 1804 – March 9, 1876) was a Black American abolitionist, opened a free grocery next to Bethel Church in Philadelphia, and in the same city, a Negro confectioner used nothing but sugar from free will labor sources, who received the order for Angelina Emily Grimké Weld (February 20, 1805 – October 26, 1879), wedding cake. In New York, a supportive article in Freedom’s Journal calculated for its readers that, sugar purchased from slaveholders, only required one slave to cultivate sugar for 25 people. New York City’s small population of African Americans was said to require for their sugar the labor of 50 slaves.

Henry Highland Garnet (December 23, 1815 – February 13, 1882), preached in New York about the possibility that free produce could strike a blow against slavery. Black abolitionist Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (September 24, 1825 – February 22, 1911), always mentioned the free produce movement in her speeches, saying she would pay a little more for a “Free Labor” dress, even if it were coarser. Watkins called the movement “the harbinger of hope, the ensign of progress, and a means for proving the consistency of our principles and the earnestness of our zeal.”

In 1838, supporters from a number of states came together in the “American Free Produce Association”, which promoted their cause by seeking products from non-slaveholders, and by forming non-slave distribution channels. The Association produced a number of pamphlets and tracts, and published a journal entitled Non-Slaveholder from 1846 to 1854.


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