Benezet, Anthony

Benezet, Anthony an eminent philanthropist and opponent of slavery, was born at St. Quentin, Picardy, France, January 31, 1713. His parents, driven from France by Popish persecution, removed to London in February, 1715, and during their residence there became Quakers. The family came to Philadelphia in November, 1731. Anthony began a mercantile career early; but soon after his marriage, in 1740, when his affairs were in a prosperous situation, he left the mercantile business, and in 1742 he accepted the appointment of head of the Friends' English school of Philadelphia, which he held till 1782, when he resigned it to devote himself to teaching a school of colored children. "So great was his sympathy with every being capable of feeling pain, that he resolved toward the close of his life to eat no animal food. This change in his mode of living is supposed to have been the occasion of his death. His active mind did not yield to the debility of his body. He persevered in his attendance upon his school till within a few days of his decease, May 3,1784." Men of all classes of society, and of all churches, as well as many hundred negroes, followed his remains to the grave. An officer who had served in the army during the war with Britain observed at this time, "I would rather be Anthony Benezet in that coffin than George Washington, with all his fame." "Few men since the days of the apostles ever lived a more disinterested life; yet upon his death-bed he expressed a desire to live a little longer, 'that he might bring down self.' The last time he ever walked across his room was to take from his desk six dollars, which he gave to a poor widow whom he had long assisted to maintain. By his will he devised his estate, after the decease of his wife, to certain trustees, for the use of the African school." The chief object of Benezet's life, for many years, was to excite public opinion against slavery and the slave-trade. On the return of peace in 1783, he addressed a letter to the queen of Great Britain to solicit her influence on the side of humanity. At the close of this letter he says, "I hope thou wilt kindly excuse the freedom used on this occasion by an ancient man, whose mind, for more than forty years past, has been much separated from the common course of the world, and long painfully exercised in the consideration of the miseries under which so large a part of mankind, equally with us the subjects of redeeming love, are suffering the most unjust and grievous oppression, and who sincerely desires the temporal and eternal felicity of the queen and her royal consort." He published many tracts on the subject, and also an Account of that Part of Africa inhabited by Negroes (1762); a Caution to Great Britain and her Colonies, in a short Representation of the Calamitous State of the Enslaved Negroes in the British Dominions (1767); Historical Account of Guinea, with an Inquiry into the Rise and Progress of the Slave-trade (1771); Short Account of the Religious Society of Friends (1780); Dissertation on the Plainness and Simplify of the Christian Religion (1782); Observations on the Indian Natives of this Continent (1784). It is said that Benezet's writings first awakened Thomas Clarkson's attention to the question of slavery. — Allen's Biographical Dictionary; Allibone, Dictionary of Authors, 1, 169; Le Bas, Dict. Encyc. de la France.

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