Sunday, October 7, 2012

On Whose Shoulders Are You Standing?

He was a new name to me, one I discovered while reading about British and American Abo-litionists; Anthony Benezet was born in St. Quentin, northern France. He arrived 31 January 1713 to a family of Huguenots--French Protestants, during a period of increasing persecution following the revocation of the 1685 Edict of Nantes. In 1715, when two years old, Anthony emigrated to London with his family and received an education appropriate to the son of a prosperous merchant family.

London proved to be only a temporary home, for in 1731, at age seventeen, Benezet’s family emigrated again, this time to Philadelphia. They moved to the British-American colony of Pennsylvania, where young Anthony joined the Society of Friends, Quakers.

His early attempts at a career in trade proved unsuccessful, so in 1739 he launched at Germantown, as a schoolteacher. Three years later, he moved to a position at the famous Friends' English School of Philadelphia (now the William Penn Charter School). There, he became noted for being a fine teacher, and for disliking severe discipline more than was common.

In addition to his day duties, he set up an evening class for slave children in 1750 and ran it from his own home. In 1754, he finally left the Friends' English School to establish his own school - exclusively for girls, the first public girls' school in America.

Dogged by ill health, Anthony became unable to maintain an uninterrupted career. Nevertheless, he continued to teach slave children from home until 1770 when, with the support of the Society of Friends, he set up the Negro School at Philadelphia, and subsequently taught at both of these schools, almost until his death.

Beginning in the 1750s, Benezet increasingly opposed slavery. At first, his campaign remained very much a solitary effort, although taking two forms. At the first, he worked hard to convince his Philadelphia Quaker brethren that slave-owning was inconsistent with Christian doctrine. Second, he wrote and published at his own expense numerous anti-slavery tracts and pamphlets.

Of his published works, Some Historical Account of Guinea, written in 1772, became especially influential on both sides of the Atlantic. It was read, and to a certain extent, imitated by both Granville Sharp and John Wesley. Both men corresponded with Benezet and distributed his works in England.

Benezet's writings helped persuade Thomas Clarkson to embark on his abolitionist career a few years later. His publication, Some Historical Account of Guinea, was reprinted several times during the height of the abolition campaign, but he did not live to see anti-slavery become the tidal- wave that it did, either in Britain or America. He died May 3rd, 1784, and family and friends buried him in the Friends' Burial Ground, Philadelphia.

Although Anthony Benezet qualifies as more American than British, his influence on British abolitionism cannot be minimized or doubted. Irv Brendlinger reminds us in the Wesleyan Theological Journal that when Benezet moved in 1743 from Philadelphia to Germantown, he became a trustee of the Charity School that eventually became the College of Pennsylvania, now known as the University of Pennsylvania (32.1; 2007; 107-128).

Anthony Benezet serves as another of the more obvious and exemplary Christians on whose shoulders we stand as we continue working for a more Christian world for our families and friends to occupy. From Warner’s World, I am

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