Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and the Colored Conventions Movement
The Watkins Family
Born in 1801 in Baltimore, Maryland, William Watkins started his educational journey in the Bethel Charity School founded by formerly enslaved writer and educator Daniel Coker at the Sharp Street Church. After Coker migrated to Liberia in 1820 where he founded the West Africa Methodist Church, Watkins picked up Coker’s duties as headmaster and minister of the Sharp Street Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) when just 19. (1) By the time he was 25, he merged the Bethel Charity School with his own school, the Watkins Academy for Negro Youth, educated over 50 free Black students per year. Watkins taught at his academy for over 20 years. (2) Watkins was known by students as a “thorough” and “a great disciplinarian,” focusing on subjects such as English, reading, writing, music, philosophy and speech. (3) Frances Ellen Watkins was one of the plethora of students educated by her uncle’s academy until she decided to find work at the age of 13 sewing for a Quaker family. Some time before 1826, Watkins married a woman named Henrietta Russell, the daughter of Sharp Street Trustee Richard Russell. (4) Together, William and Henrietta had eight children with William J. Watkins being the oldest. Other siblings may have been born between 1826 and 1845 with their names being Richard R. (b. 1827), George T. (b.1828), John L. (b.1831), Henry G. (b.1834), Henrietta (b.1836), Robert P. (b.1841) and Lloyd N. (b.1845). (5) Richard, George and John would grow up to be teachers as well. (6) As they grew older, William J. Watkins and Frances Ellen Watkins would occasionally return to the academy to assist Rev. Watkins. In addition to being a prolific anti-slavery writer, Watkins also studied medicine and was integral in the Black Baltimore community in prescribing medicine to patients. Watkins was a member of the American Moral Reform Society which and attended the 1833 National Convention of Free People of Colour held in Philadelphia, PA and the 1834 National Convention of Free People of Colour held in New York, NY. Watkins emphasized in his writing the importance of education for Black people in the United States. He once wrote, “give them a good education, and then when liberty, in the full sense of the term, shall be conferred upon them, it will be something more than a “sounding brass or a tinkling cym-bal.” (7) His niece followed in his footsteps as a presence in the Black press. Watkins used the pseudonym “The Colored Baltimorean” to speak against the institution of slavery and oppose Black emigration to countries such as Haiti. He published in Black newspapers such as The Liberator and The Genius of Universal Emancipation. Some of his most famous articles include “Who Speaks for the Free Blacks?” and “Memorial by the Free People of Color.” (8) Watkins constantly challenged white ministers and white abolitionists to advocate for Black civil rights, causing them to reflect on what good they had done for Black people in the country. In 1852 Watkins migrated to Canada where he opened a grocery store and changed his pseudonym to “The Colored Canadian,” a name he continued to use until his death in 1858. (9)
 William Watkins (B. Circa 1803 – d. Circa 1858), MSA SC 5496-002535.” Archives of Maryland (Biographical Series). http://msa.maryland.gov/msa/speccol/sc5400/sc5496/002500/002535/html/002535.html, July 2011.
 Jackson, Tricia Williams. Women in Black History: Stories of Courage, Faith, and Resilience. Revell, a Division of Baker Publishing Group, 2016.
 Gardner, Bettye J. “William Watkins: Antebellum Black Teacher and Anti-Slavery Writer.” Negro History Bulletin, vol. 39, no. 6, 1976, pp. 623–625. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/44175779.
 Ibid, 1.
 Ibid, 2.
 Ibid, 3.
Edited by: Dr. Gabrielle Foreman.