Susan Paul

Interior cover page of Susan Paul's Memoir of James Jackson
Cover page of Susan Paul's "Memoir of James Jackson." No known photographs of Susan Paul exist.

Quick Facts
Educator and abolitionist
Place of Birth:
Boston, Massachusetts
Date of Birth:
Place of Death:
Boston, Massachusetts
Date of Death:
April 19, 1841

Through her actions and teachings, educator Susan Paul instilled in her students a commitment to social justice, action, and change.

Born in 1809 to Reverend Thomas Paul and Catherine Waterhouse Paul, Susan Paul grew up in a family that valued education and community involvement. Her father served as Reverend to the African Baptist Church, now known as the African Meeting House, and her mother became headmistress at a school on Southac Street, which later moved to their family home. Susan Paul's exposure to her parents’ community roles deeply influenced her. As the daughter of an influential minister, she interacted with local activists such as Maria Stewart, William Cooper Nell, and David Walker, and she followed in her mother’s footsteps by becoming a teacher.1

Susan Paul taught at Boston Primary School No. 6 and later at the Abiel Smith School, both primary schools for Black children of the neighborhood. In addition to the standard subjects, her curriculum also included civic engagement. Paul taught her students about the evils of slavery and took them to anti-slavery meetings where they listened to local abolitionists. In 1832, she formed a Juvenile choir, which performed at anti-slavery meetings and held concerts to raise money for the cause.2

Paul's moral education extended beyond her students when she wrote The Memoir of James Jackson: The Attentive and Obedient Scholar, who died in Boston, October 31, 1833, aged Six Years and Eleven Months, published in 1835.3 Incorporating moral and religious themes, this biography educated children about living a life of character. It also made a statement about race – proving that children of color could become educated and responsible citizens. While the Baptist Sabbath School Society and the Orthodox Congregational Sabbath School Society refused to print or promote her work, Susan Paul received support from others, including James Loring, who printed her book, and William Lloyd Garrison, who advertised it in The Liberator. Historians credit Susan Paul for writing the first Black biography published in the United States.4

Activism became more central to Susan Paul's life over the years, as she actively engaged in both the abolitionist and temperance movements in Boston. In 1833, she became a life member of the New England Anti-Slavery Society and the following year she joined the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society (BFASS). In BFASS, Susan Paul held officer positions, assisted in the annual Anti-Slavery Fairs, and represented BFASS in national anti-slavery meetings in New York and Philadelphia. She similarly became a leader in burgeoning temperance organizations: the local Ladies Temperance Society and the New England Temperance Society of People of Color.5

While dedicating herself to these just causes, Susan Paul struggled with personal and family tragedy. After her sister Anne died in 1835, she became responsible for her aging mother as well as her sister’s four children. Just five years later, her fiancé died of tuberculosis. Paul herself contracted the disease and died from consumption in the spring of 1841--her life cut short at 32.6

Remembered as a "clear-sighted and steady friend," Susan Paul influenced the lives of her students and the community during her brief life.7 Mourning the loss of Susan Paul, abolitionist Benjamin Bacon wrote:

My heart is sad when I think of the loss which our cause sustains in the death of Susan Paul. Many are abolitionists from the mere force of circumstances. Not so with Miss Paul. The simple fact that oppression existed was enough to call forth her most self-denying efforts for its overthrow. Not but the wilful perversion of her mental constitution could have made her otherwise than the uncompromising enemy of slavery in every form. Peace to her memory!8


  1. Susan Paul, Memoir of James Jackson: The Attentive and Obedient Scholar, who died in Boston, October 31, 1833, aged Six Years and Eleven Months, By His Teacher, Miss Susan Paul, edited by Lois Brown (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000) 2, 6, 8-10.
  2. Susan Paul, Memoir of James Jackson, 11; James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton, Black Bostonians: Family Life and Community Struggle in the Antebellum North (New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1999) 69.
  3. Paul, Memoir of James Jackson, 15.
  4. Paul, Memoir of James Jackson, 1-2, 22, 32; Martha Jones, Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All (New York: Basic Books, 2020) 48; The Liberator August 1, 1835.
  5. Paul, Memoir of James Jackson, 15-17; Horton and Horton, Black Bostonians, 32-33, 69; Jones, Vanguard, 47-48.
  6. Paul, Memoir of James Jackson, 16-18; Obituary in The Liberator April 23, 1841.
  7. "Quarterly Meeting of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society," The Liberator, July 23, 1841.
  8. "Letter from B. C. Bacon," The Liberator, May 28, 1841.

Boston African American National Historic Site

Last updated: July 9, 2024