Benezet instructing colored children
Illustration in a book from 1850
January 31, 1713
|Died||May 3, 1784 (aged 71)|
|Official name||Anthony Benezet (1713-1784)|
|Criteria||African American, Education, Religion, Women, Writers|
|Designated||June 04, 2016|
|Location||325 Chestnut St., Philadelphia|
Anthony Benezet, born Antoine Bénézet (January 31, 1713 – May 3, 1784), was an American abolitionist and educator who was active in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. One of the early American abolitionists, Benezet founded one of the world's first anti-slavery societies, the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage (after his death it was revived as the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery); the first public school for girls in North America; and the Negro School at Philadelphia, which operated into the nineteenth century. He was a vegetarian and advocated for the kind treatment of animals; integrating this in his teachings.
Antoine was born in Saint-Quentin, France, on 31 January 1713, to Jean-Étienne de Bénézet (later known as John Stephen Benezet) and his wife Judith de la Méjanelle, french Protestants or Huguenots. The Protestants had been persecuted and suffered violent attacks since the Crown's revocation in 1685 of the Edict of Nantes, which had provided religious tolerance. For a while his family had received protection owing to their powerful connections. However in 1715 his father's goods were seized, like so many others, decided to leave France rather than give up their religion. They moved first to Rotterdam, Netherlands; then briefly to Greenwich before settling in London, England, where there was a sizeable Huguenot refugee community. In 1727 Benezet joined the Religious Society of Friends (also known as Quakers).
In 1731 the Benezet family migrated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, founded by Quakers and one of the English colonies of North America. Then 18 years old, Anthony Benezet joined John Woolman as one of the earliest American abolitionists. Like Woolman, Benezet also advocated war tax resistance.
In Philadelphia, Benezet worked to persuade his Quaker brethren that slave-owning was not consistent with Christian doctrine. He believed that the English ban on slavery in the British Isles should be extended to the North American and Caribbean colonies. (After the Americans gained independence in the Revolutionary War, Benezet continued to urge the United States to ban slavery, and the state of Pennsylvania legislated slavery's gradual abolition in 1780.)
After several years as a failed merchant, in 1739 Benezet began teaching at a Germantown school, then a separate jurisdiction northwest of Philadelphia. In 1742, he moved to the Friends' English School of Philadelphia (now the William Penn Charter School). In 1750 he added night classes for black slaves to his schedule.
In 1755, Benezet left the Friends' English School to set up his own school, the first public girls' school on the American continent. His students included daughters from prominent families, such as Deborah Norris and Sally Wister.
In 1770, he founded the Negro School at Philadelphia for black children. There was a growing free black community in Philadelphia, which increased after the state abolished slavery. Abolitionist sympathizers, such as Abigail Hopper Gibbons, continued to teach at Benezet's Negro School in the years before the American Civil War.
In 1775, he helped found the first anti-slavery society, the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage. After Benezet's death, Benjamin Franklin and Dr. Benjamin Rush reconstituted this association as the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery.
This brief work, written while Benezet was teaching at the Quaker Girls' School in Philadelphia, was the author's first publication to draw on sources documenting the African trade in slavery.