Pennington, James W. C. Christian Zeal: A Sermon Preached before the Third Presbytery of New-York, in Thirteenth-St. Presbyterian Church, July 3, 1853. New York: Printed by Zuille & Leonard, 1854.
PHS Call number: PAM HT 917 .P7 P4 1854 test
See especially pages 13-15.
James W.C. Pennington (1807-1870) was a minister, abolitionist, author, orator, and the first African American to attend Yale University. Born James Pembroke to enslaved parents in Maryland, Pennington trained as a blacksmith at his master’s bidding. At age 19, Pennington made a harrowing escape from slavery, living first with one and then another Quaker family until he made his way eventually to New York City. When Pennington gave this sermon as moderator of the Third Presbytery of New York, he had just gained his freedom two years before. In this sermon, Pennington talks about the need to help the growing population of poor New Yorkers moving into the lower wards that had previously housed the middle and upper classes. He also addresses the question of slavery, pointing out that American Presbyterians were thought to own as many as 80,000 slaves altogether. He does not condemn his own denomination outright, perhaps because he did not want to seem ungrateful after being honored with the position of moderator, and some abolitionists felt he was too lenient towards his fellow Presbyterians regarding their general tolerance of slavery and slaveholding church members.
1. Who is the author of this source? What is the historical context in which it was written?
2. Why might Pennington urge the Presbyterian churches of the slaveholding states to reveal information about the number of slaves held by Presbyterians (page 13)?
3. How might Pennington’s listeners react to his claim that nowhere else in the world is slavery justified by referring to the Bible (page 14)? Why might Pennington choose to make this point?
4. How does Pennington’s treatment of the slavery question fit into the historical context in which he was writing it?
5. What is Pennington’s perspective on the Presbyterian church’s relationship to slavery, by the end of his sermon (page 14)? What action, if any, does he urge the church to take?