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

(1808)

About the Author

Peter Williams, Jr., was born around 1780, in Brunswick, New Jersey. His mother, Mary Durham, was an indentured servant from Saint Kitts, and his father, Peter Williams, Sr., was a slave who purchased his freedom in 1785. Williams, Sr., had fought on the side of the Patriots in the Revolutionary War and instilled in his son a love for the nation and its government. The family moved to New York, where a growing number of free blacks were living. There the elder Williams sold tobacco, while young Peter attended the African Free School and had private tutors. In 1796, Williams, Sr., helped found the first African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in New York.

As an adult, Williams helped in the tobacco business and kept his father’s books. He also began to participate in activism against slavery and joined the Episcopal Church. On the first day of the new year in 1808, the young man delivered “An Oration on the Abolition of the Slave Trade” at the African Church...

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

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