Northampton's abolitionists were a heterodox group, yet most were intrepid devotees of democracy and racial equality, idealists who enjoyed genuine friendships and political alliances with African Americans. Several even took the bold step of hiring African Americans in their businesses. They avoided the doctrinal rivalries that sometimes troubled the antislavery movement in other places, skillfully steering clear of the xenophobic nativism that infected Massachusetts politics in the mid–1850s and divided the Republican Party at large. Although a prohibitionist faction disrupted the Northampton abolitionist movement for a time, the leaders prevailed on the strength of their personal prestige and political experience, making the seat of Hampshire County what one of them called an abolitionist "stronghold."
"A lively, lucid, and eminently readable study. Succinctly but in well-judged detail, Bruce Laurie tells the story of antebellum abolitionism through biographies of some of the movement's prominent local figures in Northampton, Massachusetts."—Christopher Clark, author of The Communitarian Moment: The Radical Challenge of the Northampton Association
"In writing of David Ruggles and four other local abolitionists--Sylvester Judd Jr. , John Payson Williston, Henry S. Gere, and Erastus Hopkins--Laurie also looks at the larger anti-slavery movement in western Massachusetts and draws links to national developments of the era, from the birth of the Free Soil party to temperance movements to the creation of the Underground Railroad, along which Northampton became an important stop."—Hampshire Daily Gazette
"Rebels in Paradise is a fine piece of scholarship for at least two reasons. First, the men profiled in the book left surprisingly few personal documents, meaning the Laurie had to construct their histories from a fairly scanty evidentiary record. Second, Laurie does not engage in interpretive overreach. He acknowledges that what he discovered about Northampton's abolitionists may not be universally applicable. Rather, he simply aimed to provide 'a deeper and richer understanding of the meaning of political abolitionism in a particular place and time.'"—New England Quarterly