Pennington’s Christian Zeal

Publication Year: 1854

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

Reading suggestions

See especially pages 13-15.

Read more
Source note

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. 

Read more
Reading questions

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?

Read More
Source type
History Topics
Abolition and Anti-slavery
African American History
Presbyterian History
Time Period
Slavery, Sectionalism, and Social Reform (1815-1861)