Peter Williams, Jr.: “Oration on the Abolition of the Slave Trade”

(1808)

On January 1, 1808, as part of the forenoon service at the African Church in New York City, Peter Williams, Jr., a young, free African American abolitionist, gave an address entitled “An Oration on the Abolition of the Slave Trade.” The church was celebrating the implementation that day of a law passed the year before, banning the external slave trade in the United States. The day’s events included two services with prayers, hymns, and orations as well as a reading of the 1807 act. Williams’s oration tells some of the history of the African slave trade and the sorrows of slavery, but it also praises God for hearing the slaves’ prayers and expresses gratitude to all the white abolitionists who had been striving for the end of the Atlantic slave trade and emancipation for African American slaves. After delivery of this oration, very little time was wasted before Williams was asked to put together a copy for publication. The result was one of the earliest publications on...

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Woodcut image of a supplicant male slave in chains (Library of Congress)

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