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James W. Pennington
October 22, 1807 – January 1870
Writer, Minister, Abolitionist


Essayist and slave narrator. James William Charles Pennington was born into slavery on the eastern shore of Maryland. In his slave narrative, The Fugitive Blacksmith, or Events in the History of James W. C. Pennington (1849), Pennington is particularly attentive to the effects of slavery on black children. Using the special abuses (lack of consistent parental attention, abusive white children, and brutal overseers)that slave children must endure as a gambit for his narrative, Pennington charted his development into an activist minister who witnessed, through word and deed, against slavery in the South and racism in the North.

At the age of four, he, his brother, and his mother were given to the son of his master, who moved to Washington County in the western part of the state. He would go on to work as a stonemason and blacksmith but when he was about twenty he escaped to Pennsylvania. He was looked after by a Quaker who taught him to read and write.

In 1828 Pennington moved to New York where he worked as a blacksmith. He joined the campaign against slavery and during this period became friends with William Lloyd Garrison and Lewis Tappan. He continued with his education and worked as a schoolteacher in Newtown, Long Island, before becoming pastor of the Temple Street Congregational Church.

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. In 1839 Pennington joined with Lewis Tappan in organizing help for Joseph Cinque and his fellow Africans who had been arrested as a result of the Amistad Mutiny. Eventually the Supreme Court ruled that the Africans had been kidnapped and had the right to use violence to escape from captivity.

Pennington's The Origin and History of the Coloured People was published in 1841. Two years later he represented Connecticut at the World's Anti-Slavery Convention in London. 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 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.

His autobiography, The Fugitive Blacksmith, was serialized in the magazine, the Afro-American in 1859. 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 in 1870 in Jacksonville, Florida.

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