History's HEROES? Dated 1713 - 1784

Anthony Benezet

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He ran a school, lived part of his life and died in the city.


  • His influence on the British and American abolition movement was great. His lobbying helped to persuade the London Society of Friends to bar members from owning slaves on both sides of the Atlantic, and later to set up a formal committee to fight for its abolition.
  • He set up the first school for the teaching of black people in his own home in 1770 and, with the support of the Society of Friends, set up a school for black children at Philadelphia.
  • He helped set up the first public girls' school in America.
  • He wrote many influential publications. His writings were thoughtful and well argued. He used philosophy and ethics as well as economics and statistics to illustrate his points in a very clear and precise way.
  • His pamphlet, 'Some Historical Account of Guinea', written in 1772, was read by John Wesley. It persuaded him to become a leading campaigner for abolition.
  • His appeals to the British legal system, to show that slavery was contrary to the founding laws of the Empire, also influenced Granville Sharp, who later went on to defended the rights of many enslaved people in England.
  • His works were instrumental in persuading Thomas Clarkson to embark on his abolitionist career. It was Benezet's writings that Clarkson read whilst researching his Essay on slavery. Describing the work, Clarkson said: "In this precious book I found almost all I wanted."
  • He also enlisted American sympathizers such as Benjamin Rush and Benjamin Franklin, among others, to the cause.


  • Brave / Courageous
  • Altruistic (puts other first e.g. risks or gives life for others)
  • Clever
  • Visionary (has far reaching ideas)
  • Good or moral (strong beliefs or principles)
  • Has integrity (stands up for what they believe and act accordingly)
  • Perseverant / Tenacious (keeps going despite challenges)
  • Single minded / Focused (has a purpose)
  • Determined
  • Honest
  • Kind and compassionate
  • Just and fair minded


"To live in ease and plenty by the toil of those whom violence and cruelty have put in our power, is neither consistent with Christianity nor common justice... " - Anthony Benezet

"The power of prejudice over the minds of mankind is very extraordinary; hardly any extremes too far, or absurdities too glaring, for it to unite or reconcile, if it tends to promote .. a favorite pursuit." " - Anthony Benezet (Benezet, Observatiions on Slave Keeping

A tireless campaigner for equality and justice

Anthony Benezet was a teacher and writer. He believed that slavery was unjust and inhumane and he laid the foundations for an abolition campaign on which many others built.

Anthony Benezet was born to a Huguenot (Protestant) family in France. When he was two years old, the family escaped to London to avoid persecution. His father Stephen was successful in business and able to send Anthony to school.

When he was around seventeen years old, the family emigrated to America. Anthony joined the Religious Society of Friends in Philadelphia and married Joyce Marriott, a Quaker minister. He was an avid opponent of slavery and worked to convince other Quakers that slave-owning was against Christian teaching. In 1739, he enrolled as a schoolteacher at Germantown and then moved to a position at the Friends' English School of Philadelphia. In 1750, in addition to his daytime work, he set up an evening class for Indian and black people, which he ran from his own home.

In 1754, he left the Friends' English School to set up the first public girls' school in America. He continued to teach black children and adults from his home until 1770 when, with the support of the Society of Friends, he set up a school for the children at Philadelphia. He insisted on equality for all people and felt slavery contradicted Christianity and lessened a person's humanity. He pointed out how cultured, intelligent and skilled the native Africans were. He campaigned for the Quaker Headquarters in London to denounce slavery and wrote and published, at his own expense, a number of anti-slavery tracts and pamphlets.

He corresponded widely with many people to lobby support for the cause. He even wrote to Queen Charlotte in 1783, to encourage her to consider the plight of the enslaved and the "divine displeasure" that may occur to the nation that promotes such injustice. Despite ill health, Anthony Benezet returned to teach at the school he had set up for black children in 1782, when it appeared to be in financial difficulty and remained there until his death.

He died at Philadelphia on May 3, 1784. He left money to ensure his teaching work continued and to support a Society that was being formed to help those, illegally detained in slavery, to fight for justice. He was buried, as he wished, in an unmarked grave. His funeral, however, did not pass unnoticed, for he was mourned by many hundreds people, of all religious persuasions and races, who turned out to pay their respects to one of the first abolitionists to wholeheartedly fight for the cause of human rights, justice and equality.

Life in Anthony Benezet's world

At the time that Anthony Benezet lived, most people saw nothing wrong in the idea that one human being could own another. The 'owned' person or 'slave' had no rights. More

Was Anthony Benezet a Hero?

  • At the time when Anthony lived there were only a few people willing to speak out against the powerful interest of the slave trade and even fewer willing to act. Anthony did both.
  • He had strong sense of justice, a clear sense of direction and followed his own conscience, although his views were in opposition to the culture of the time.
  • He wrote in great detail about the injustice of the slave trade and the need for human dignity and respect.
  • He worked hard to demonstrate how the claims of racial inequality, prevalent at the time, were wrong by setting up a schools and providing an education to those excluded from formal learning. He believed that his student's achievements were the best dem
  • He led by example, he visited the slaveholders and was prepared to lobby those in power to try and promote change.
  • He was motivated by a genuine concern to do the best for all people regardless of race, religion or physical ability.
  • He was willing to reach out and work with people of different denominations and faiths on both sides of the Atlantic to promote human justice and dignity.
  • He was kind and cared for people at an individual level as well as a philosophical level. For example, he left money in his will to Margaret Till: "An appresst & much afflicted black woman" (Brookes, 167).

Things you might not know about Anthony Benezet

Anthony's own family had suffered from prejudice. He said: "It was by intolerants that one of my uncles was hanged that two of my cousins died at the galleys and that my father, a fugitive, was ruined by the confiscation of his goods." (From 'Friend Anthony Benezet' by George S. Brookes, 1937)

Although he lived in an age intolerant of disabilities, he took the time to devise a special programme for one deaf and dumb pupil, so she could share in the fellowship of the school.

His teaching was very forward thinking for the time. He did not believe in strict punishment to keep control and proposed numerous innovations such as recreation and exercise times to break up the day.

He put forward ideas for a fixed stable income for teachers so that the profession could attract more permanent and dedicated members.

His funeral was described as: 'The greatest concourse of people that had ever been witnessed on such an occasion'. thus manifesting the universal esteem in which he was held. Among others who paid that last tribute, of respect were many hundreds of black people.' (James P. Parke, 1817 from Roberts Vaux, 'Memoirs of the Life of Anthony Benezet')


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