This is a story of inspiring individuals who moved Nantucket—and the nation—towards a more just and equitable distribution of political power. It begins with a simple will written in 1710 endowing a formerly enslaved man with property and runs up to the enactment of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920 granting voting rights to women.

As the title suggests, the story has two parts—the first looks at the scourge of slavery and the second highlights those individuals with Nantucket connections involved in fighting for civil rights for women. Curiously, the pursuit of whales mirrors the former, while the latter reflects Nantucket’s post-whaling period.

Early on, the virtue of tolerance, so prized in the Quaker community, paved the road for a multitude of ethnicities to engage in the pursuit of whaling. With the decline of the Wampanoag population, economic opportunity allowed African Americans, Pacific Islanders, Azoreans, and Cape Verdeans to step into those roles. The Underground Railroad had a stop here as escaped slaves, fearing capture, benefited from social distancing afforded by long whaling voyages.

With the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments that ended slavery and gave Black men the right to vote, women would need to wait another five decades. In the island’s post-whaling economy, women and men pressed for the full embodiment of that foundational phrase in the Declaration of Independence: “All Men Are Created Equal.” Finally it came in 1920, 72 years after the Declaration of Sentiments were adopted at the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848.

On the road from abolition to suffrage, Nantucketers today can feel a special pride for those who advocated for our civil rights. This is their story.

“My conviction led me to adhere to the sufficiency of the light within us, resting on truth for authority and not on authority for truth.”

— Lucretia Coffin Mott (1793–1880)

Early Times

American Revolution


Notable Black Nantucketers

Education Reform


Notable Nantucket Women

Timeline: The Road from Abolition to Suffrage

The Road from Abolition to Suffrage
is made possible with major support from
Amanda Cross
Theodore Cross Family Charitable Foundation

And generous support from

Patricia and Thomas Anathan
Ritchie Battle
Charina Endowment Fund
Connie & Tom Cigarran
Anne Delaney & Chip Carver
The H.L. Brown Jr. Family Foundation
Adrienne & Dillard Kirby
Sharon & Frank Lorenzo
Massachusetts Cultural Council
ReMain Nantucket Fund
Sara Roby Foundation
Janet & Rick Sherlund
Kelly Williams & Andrew Forsyth

Exhibition Credits

Next: Early Times