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(1808) Rev. Peter Williams, “An Oration On The Abolition Of The Slave Trade”

On March 2, 1807 Congress enacted a law that banned the external slave trade beginning January 1, 1808. With that act enslaved persons could no longer be brought to the United States. Although the law would be frequently violated until the eve of the Civil War, many black and white anti-slavery activitists hailed it as the first major step toward banning slavery itself. One of those activists, young Rev. Peter Williams, Jr. (1780?-1840), the son of the founder of New York’s African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in 1796, delivered the address that appears below in the New York African Church in New York City on January 1, 1808 celebrating the passage of the act.

Fathers, Brethren, and Fellow Citizens: At this auspicious moment I felicitate you on the abolition of the Slave Trade. This inhuman branch of commerce, which, for some centuries past, has been carried on to a consid¬erable extent, is, by the singular interposition of Divine Providence, this day extinguished. An event so important, so pregnant with happy consequences, must be extremely consonant to every philanthropic heart.

But to us, Africans and descendants of Africans, this period is deeply interesting. We have felt, sensibly felt, the sad effects of this abominable traffic. It has made, if not ourselves, our forefathers and kinsmen its unhappy victims; and pronounced on them, and their posterity, the sentence of perpetual slavery. But benevolent men have voluntarily stepped forward to obviate the consequences of this injustice and barbarity. They have striven assiduously, to restore our natural rights; to guaranty them from fresh innovations; to furnish us with necessary information; and to stop the source from whence our evils have flowed.

The fruits of these laudable endeavors have long been visible; each moment they appear more conspicuous; and this day has produced an event which shall ever be memorable and glorious in the annals of history. We are now assembled to celebrate this momentous era; to recognize the beneficial influences of humane