Arthur Cooper’s Escape from Slavery

Portrait of Arthur Cooper
Portrait of Arthur Cooper, 1825-35. Sarah (Sally) Gardner (1799-1862).
Gift of Eliza Ann King, 1899.131.1.

Arthur Cooper fled slavery in Virginia, settling on Nantucket around 1820 with his wife Mary and their children, who were likely free-born. They settled in an area southwest of town, known as New Guinea, where people of African, Pacific, Cape Verdean, and Irish heritage lived and owned property.

When slave-hunters arrived in 1822 to claim him under the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act, black neighbors from New Guinea turned out in force to protect the Coopers. White Quakers including Sylvanus Macy, Thomas Mackril Macy, and Oliver and Hannah Macy Gardner, hid the family and forced the agents to leave. Young Anna Gardner, daughter of Oliver and Hannah, only six years old, watched and internalized. She went on to live a life advocating for Black people and women.

At the age of 18, she was one of two subscribers to William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper The Liberator. The other subscriber, community leader Absalom Boston, introduced the paper to her.

Cooper became a highly respected member of the community, and a founder and deacon of the African Methodist Episcopal Church of Zion on West York Street. Anna Gardner became the teacher of the African School, located in the same building.


The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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