James Pennington from slave to international abolitionist leader

Rev. James Pennington
Thu, 1807-10-22

The birth of the Reverend James William Charles Pennington in 1807 is celebrated on this date. He was a Black educator, clergyman, orator, author, and abolitionist.

He was born a slave on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and he, his mother, and brothers were sold when he was four. He ran away from a harsh slave life to a Quaker family in Pennsylvania. Through the Underground Railroad, he found a home on Long Island, NY, where he was able to get a fundamental education. He taught in schools on Long Island, and in Connecticut. A blacksmith by trade, he settled in New Haven, CT, and audited classes at Yale Divinity School from 1834 to 1839--becoming the first black man to attend classes at Yale. He was subsequently ordained

In the late 1830s, he emerged as a leader in black churches in New England. He became political and was active in the Union Missionary Society, which encouraged boycotts on items produced by slaves. Soon after, Pennington took charge of a Presbyterian congregation of colored people, went to England, the West Indies, and returned to the Shiloh Presbyterian Colored Congregation. He was sent as a Delegate to the Peace Congress at Paris in 1849 to preach and attended the National Levee at the mansion of the Foreign secretary of state, Minister Alexis De Tocqueville, also a well-known author on America.

While in Europe, Pennington earned the degree of Doctor of Divinity from the University of Heidelberg in Germany. In 1843, he attended the World’s Anti-Slavery Society as the representative from Connecticut, the first of several international tours in Europe on behalf of the international abolition movement.

In the 1850s in New York, he helped to organize one of the nation’s earliest civil rights societies--the New York Legal Rights Association. He traveled to Europe in his cause for world human rights and anti-slavery. While abroad, his freedom was purchased from his former owner.

He was a prolific writer, and is noted for his prose, religious leadership, and abolitionist efforts. He continued to minister, educate, and agitate for abolition and equal rights up to his death on October 22nd, 1870 in Jacksonville FL.

Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century.
Edited by Leon Litwack and August Meier
Copyright 1998, University if Illinois Press
ISBN 0-252-06213-2

The Anti-Slavery Society

Person / name: 

Pennington, James