Charles Spear was a Universalist minister in the mid-1800s who supported the abolishment of the death penalty in the United States. He was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1801 and worked toward social change throughout his life. Dismayed by the negative social view of the incarcerated, Spear began working to promote prisoner rights and prison reform. He worked with ex-prisoners and helped them to adjust back into society. Spear traveled the country speaking on the conditions of prisons and promoting new ideas and practices to reform both inmates and prison administration. He even traveled to England to seek support for the elimination of capital punishment in the United States.
The Charles Spear collection contains a signature book carried by Charles Spear and his brother during their travels and contains signatures of prominent people of the time including Julia Ward Howe, Samuel Fessenden, George Peadody, Robert Rantoul, John Jay, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry Ward Beecher, Arthur Tappan, Charles Barnard, Josiah Quincy, Thomas Starr King, Edward Everett, Jared Sparks, George Bliss, Marshall Wilder, Freeman Hunt, Lydia Sigourney, Henry Longfellow, Horace Greeley, George Copway, David Wilmot, Salmon Chase, William Seward, Henry Clay, Charles Sumner, Thurlow Weed, General Winfield Scott, and Jenny Lend. The book also contains copies of the signatures of Abraham Lincoln and Edwin Stanton.
The collection also includes Charles Spear’s original correspondence, prison journal notes, and his book, Essays on the Punishment of Death. The Charles Spear collection is located in Thomason Special Collections at the Newton Gresham Library, the finding aid can be accessed here: