Anthony Benezet, born Antoine Bénézet (January 31, 1713 - May 3, 1784), was a French-born American abolitionist and educator who was active in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. One of the early American abolitionists, Benezet founded the first anti-slavery society in North America, the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage (after his death it was revived as the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery); the first public school for girls in North America; and the Negro School at Philadelphia, which operated into the nineteenth century.
Antoine Bénézet was born in Saint-Quentin, France, on 31 January 1713, to a family of Protestants, known in France as Huguenots. Because Protestants had been persecuted and suffered violent attacks since the Crown's revocation in 1685 of the Edict of Nantes, which had provided religious tolerance, his family, like many others, decided to leave France. They moved first to Rotterdam, Netherlands; then briefly to Greenwich before settling in London, England, where there was a sizeable Huguenot refugee community. In 1727 Benezet joined the Religious Society of Friends (also known as Quakers).
In 1731 the Benezet family immigrated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, founded by Quakers and one of the English colonies of North America. Then 18 years old, Anthony Benezet joined John Woolman as one of the earliest American abolitionists. Like Woolman, Benezet also advocated war tax resistance.
In Philadelphia, Benezet worked to persuade his Quaker brethren that slave-owning was not consistent with Christian doctrine. He believed that the English ban on slavery in the British Isles should be extended to the North American and Caribbean colonies. (After the Americans gained independence in the Revolutionary War, Benezet continued to urge the United States to ban slavery, and the state of Pennsylvania abolished it in 179x.)
After several years as a failed merchant, in 1739 Benezet began teaching at a Germantown school, then a separate jurisdiction northwest of Philadelphia. In 1742, he moved to the Friends' English School of Philadelphia (now the William Penn Charter School). In 1750 he added night classes for black slaves to his schedule.
In 1754, Benezet left the Friends' English School to set up his own school, the first public girls' school on the American continent. His students included daughters from prominent families, such as Deborah Norris and Sally Wister.
In 1770, he founded the Negro School at Philadelphia for black children. There was a growing free black community in Philadelphia, which increased after the state abolished slavery. Abolitionist sympathizers, such as Abigail Hopper Gibbons, continued to teach at Benezet's Negro School in the years before the American Civil War.
Benezet also founded the first anti-slavery society, the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage. After Benezet's death, Benjamin Franklin and Dr. Benjamin Rush reconstituted this association as the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery.
Benezet died on 3 May 1784, and was buried in the Friends' Burial Ground, Philadelphia.
- Observations on the inslaving [sp], importing and purchasing of Negroes. With some advice thereon, extracted from the Epistle of the yearly-meeting of the people called Quakers held at London in the year 1748., 1760
This brief work, written while Benezet was teaching at the Quaker Girls' School in Philadelphia, was the author's first publication to draw on sources documenting the African trade in slavery.
- A short account of that part of Africa inhabited by the negroes, 1762
- A Caution and Warning to Great Britain and her Colonies, in a short representation of the calamitous state of the enslaved negroes in the British Dominions. Collected from various authors, etc., 1767
- Some Historical Account of Guinea ... With an inquiry into the rise and progress of the slave-trade ... Also a republication of the sentiments of several authors of note on this interesting subject; particularly an extract of a treatise by Granville Sharp, 1767
- The mighty destroyer displayed, in some account of the dreadful havock made by the mistaken use as well as abuse of distilled spirituous liquors, 1774.
- Some observations on the situation, disposition, and character of the Indian natives of this continent, 1784.
Legacy and honors
- "Anthony Benezet: biography and bibliography", Slavery, Emancipation, and Abolition
- Claus Bernet (2008). "Anthony Benezet". In Bautz, Traugott. Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) (in German) 29. Nordhausen: Bautz. cols. 146–157. ISBN 978-3-88309-452-6.
- Vaux, Roberts (1817). Memoirs of the life of Anthony Benezet. Philadelphia, PA: W. Alexander.
- Jackson, Maurice (2009). Let This Voice Be Heard: Anthony Benezet, Father of American Abolitionism. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0-8122-4129-0.
- Webster's Biographical Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam Co., Springfield, MA (1980).