Address given at the Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church on 4 October 2015.
Moncure Daniel Conway came from Virginia, where his early years were privileged and orthodox. He was born on 17 March 1832, on a plantation near Falmouth in rural Stafford County, where his father, Walker Peyton Conway, was a local planter and judge. His mother, Margaret Daniel Conway, was the granddaughter of a signatory of the Declaration of Independence. The family were devout Methodists. According to Conway's biographer, John d'Entremont, the atmosphere that would have surrounded the young Moncure would have been "patriarchal values, unquestioned devotion to slavery and white supremacy, and a world view that set politics and power above artistic and intellectual pursuits".
As Moncure Conway wrote years later, "Destiny had lavished on my lot everything but freedom."
The patriarchal values did not, however, apply to his female relatives. Two paternal aunts, his sister and a cousin were opposed to slavery, and so was his mother, who was also critical of Southern patriarchy generally. She encouraged him to read widely, despite his father's disapproval of fiction. She was also a practitioner of homoeopathy, and took Moncure with her on her rounds. John d'Entremont says that "Moncure spent more time with his mother; the central lessons he drew from her and other female relatives were the legitimacy of the self, the importance of reconciliation, the value of intellectual endeavor, and the immorality of arbitrary power."