Benezet and the Quakers Aid the Forgotten

  • Religion
  • 1770

Anthony Benezet immigrated from France to North America with hopes of becoming a successful merchant. When he fell on hard times instead, he sought support from the Society of Friends, whose worship circles he had joined upon his arrival in Philadelphia. Soon Benezet began teaching at the Friends’ English School. In 1754 he founded the first school in Pennsylvania that offered girls more than an elementary-level education.

Later he made an even more unconventional decision for his day—he would offer classes for poor blacks during the evening. After several years, he secured Quaker financing to start the Negro School at Philadelphia in 1770. Amid his religious and occupational devotion to educating blacks, Benezet began producing written materials arguing that slavery was inconsistent with Christian beliefs. This eventually led him to found the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage. Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush would later reorganize the group in 1784 as the Pennsylvania Abolition Society.

Like numerous Quakers who would follow in his steps, Benezet’s work at aiding forgotten populations was motivated by a desire to improve the condition of men and women of all sorts. “Though I am joined in Church fellowship with the people called Quakers, yet my heart is united in true gospel fellowship with the willing in God’s Israel,” he wrote. “Let their distinguishing name or sect be as it may.”