The American Missionary Association was started by members of the American Home Missionary Society (AHMS) and the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), who were disappointed that their first organizations refused to take stands against slavery and accepted contributions from slaveholders. From the beginning the leadership was integrated: the first board was made up of 12 men, four of them black. One of its primary objectives was to abolish slavery. The AMA (American Missionary Association) was one of the organizations responsible for pushing slavery onto the national political agenda.
The organization started the American Missionary magazine, published from 1846 through 1934. (Cornell University Library has editions accessible online in its Making of America digital library.)
Among the AMA's achievements was the founding of anti-slavery churches. For instance, the abolitionist Owen Lovejoy was among the Congregational ministers of the AMA who helped start 115 anti-slavery churches in Illinois before the American Civil War, aided by the strong westward migration of population to that area. Another member, Rev.
Mansfield French, an Episcopalian who became a Methodist, helped found Wilberforce University in Ohio.
Members of the AMA began their support of education for blacks before the Civil War, and they recruited teachers for the numerous contraband camps that developed in Union-occupied territory in the South during the war. Rev. French was assigned to Port Royal, South Carolina and went on a speaking tour with Robert Smalls, who famously escaped enslavement, as well as met with President Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, jointly convincing them to allow blacks to serve in the Union military. By war's end, Union forces had organized 100 contraband camps, and many had AMA teachers. The AMA also served the Roanoke Island Freedmen's Colony (1863–1867). Located on an island occupied by Union troops, the colony was intended to be self-sustaining. It was supervised by Horace James, a Congregational chaplain appointed by the Army as "Superintendent for Negro Affairs in the North Carolina District". The first of 27 teachers who volunteered through the AMA was his cousin, Elizabeth James. By 1864 the colony had more than 2200 residents, and both children and adults filled the classrooms in the several one-room schools, as they were eager for learning. The missionary teachers also evangelized and helped provide the limited medical care of the time.