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George Luther Stearns
File:George Luther Stearns.jpg
Born January 8, 1809(1809-01-08)
Medford, Massachusetts
Died Template:Dda
New York City, New York
Occupation merchant

George Luther Stearns (January 8, 1809 – April 9, 1867) was an American industrialist and merchant, as well as a noted recruiter of blacks for the Union Army during the American Civil War.


Stearns was born in Medford, Massachusetts. His father died when he was nine years old, and, at the age of 15, he entered the work force to support his family. In early life he engaged in the business of ship-chandlery, and after a prosperous career undertook the manufacture of sheet and pipe-lead, doing business in Boston and residing in Medford.

Stearns one of the chief financiers of Emigrant Aid Company, which facilitated the settlement of Kansas by antislavery homesteaders. He identified himself with the antislavery cause, became a Free-soiler in 1848, and established the Medford station of the Underground Railroad to help escaped slaves reach freedom. Stearns was one of the "Secret Six" who aided John Brown in Kansas, and financially supported him until Brown's execution after the ill-fated raid on Harpers Ferry. Stearns physically owned the pikes and 200 Sharps rifles brought to Harpers Ferry by Brown and his followers. Following Brown's arrest, Stearns briefly fled to Canada, but returned to Medford after Brown's death.

Soon after the opening of the Civil War, Stearns advocated the enlistment of African-Americans in the national army. Massachusetts Governor John Andrew asked Stearns to recruit the first two Northern state-sponsored black infantry regiments. The 54th and 55th Massachusetts regiments and the 5th cavalry were largely recruited through his instrumentality. He was commissioned major through the recommendation of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and was later of great service to the national cause by enlisting blacks for the volunteer service in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Tennessee to serve in the U.S. Colored Troops. He recruited over 13,000 African-Americans, established schools for their children, and found work for their families while they served in the army.

He was the founder of the Nation, Commonwealth, and Right of Way newspapers for the dissemination of his ideas.

After President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, Stearns worked tirelessly for the civil rights of blacks. Among his many admirers and friends were Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, Charles Sumner, Frederick Douglass, and President Andrew Johnson. He helped found the Freedmen's Bureau to support emancipated blacks.

Stearns died in New York City, New York. Ralph Waldo Emerson gave the eulogy at his funeral at the First Parish Church in Medford (Unitarian).


  • Template:Appletons
  • Heller, Charles E., Portrait of an Abolitionist: A Biography of George Luther Stearns, 1809-1867. Greenwood Press, 1996. ISBN 0-313-29863-7.

Further reading[]

  • Renehan, Edward, The Secret Six: The True Tale of the Men Who Conspired With John Brown, 1997. ISBN 1-57003-181-9.
  • Stearns, Frank Preston, The Life and Public Services of George Luther Stearns. Philadelphia, London: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1907.

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