An Oration, Delivered on January 1, 1823 in Bethel Church: On the Abolition of Slave Trade
An 1823 sermon delivered by Jeremiah Gloucester, an African American minister, against slave-trafficking and slavery. Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.
See also: Teaching Guide to Early African American Antislavery Sermons, Joe Lockard
Jeremiah Gloucester (1799-1827) was pastor of the Second African Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He was the son of John Gloucester, an ex-slave from Tennessee who lectured in Europe to secure funds to purchase his wife from slavery, and then became a Philadelphia minister. All of their four sons trained at Princeton for the ministry and they were a leading Presbyterian family in the city. Jeremiah was too young to succeed his father following his death, but he later assumed a ministry at the Second African Presbyterian church. This was a small congregation originally located at 2nd & Norris Alley; it moved to 7th & St. Mary Street before being burned in Philadelphia’s August 1842 anti-black riots. See E. L. Carey and A. Hart, Philadelphia in 1830-1, or a Brief Account of the Various Institutions and Public Objects in the Metropolis Forming a Complete Guide For Strangers and a Useful Compendium for the Inhabitants (Philadelphia, PA: James Kay, Jun & Co., 1830), 49. Gloucester died on January 29, 1827 at age 28. See Freedom’s Journal, January 11, 1828 for obituary.
There are only two known publications by Jeremiah Gloucester, both orations; the second is Address, 1820 January 1, to the African Association of New Brunswick, New Jersey. John Young, who published this sermon, printed religious, legal and general materials at 34 North 3rd Street in Philadelphia for nearly thirty years from 1821-1850.
This oration appeared in the second decade of New Years sermons against slave trafficking. Apparently invited on short notice, Gloucester appeared at Bethel Church, the most prestigious of Philadelphia’s black churches, rather than his home pulpit.
After an introduction in which he speaks of his inexperience, Gloucester begins with a brief review of the history of slave-trading on the African coast. He suggests that instead of enlightening Africans through Christianity, Europeans were “giving them a monopoly on all the miseries of the world.” (6) He shifts towards a consideration of philosophical views rejecting slavery, including that of the still-living Thomas Jefferson (7), and thus opposes European practice and thought. Among opponents of slavery, Gloucester makes particular mention of the Quaker dissident Benjamin Lay as a “champion of justice and of human rights, [who] stood as a solitary combatant in the field…” (8-9) He argues that Lay and other Quakers were responsible for the first anti-trafficking legislation.
Gloucester hails the Haitian Revolution as the embodied spirit of republicanism. The United States, he suggests, needs a similar spirit because “slavery tolls the death bell of this republic.” (11) “Suppose this country was now violated,” he argues, “and the rights of whites, violated by Africans, just as cruelly as our rights are now violated; would not the whites say of us with truth, that we are such barbarians as to deserve at their hands no other return than final extermination?” (12) Gloucester holds that the republican demand for equality is the best political avenue and emphatically rejects colonization proposals. He predicts that “every one that goes to Africa will find that they have formed entirely a false estimate” (13) and concludes that colonization “militates against the liberation of my brothers who are in bondage.” (14) Gloucester’s passionate reaction against the American Colonization Society emphasizes the depth of African American opposition to the Society and its plans. The sermon concludes with a mixture of moral admonition and apocalyptic vision. (16)
The New Years anti-trafficking sermon was a flexible tradition, as Gloucester’s sermon illustrates. This sermon covers a number of current topics, ranging from the recent expansion of US slavery under the Missouri Compromise to opposition towards colonization advocates. The adaptability of such sermon occasions to the changing nature of US slavery helped establish this tradition.
- Joe Lockard