In January 1809 the African American community of New York celebrated the first anniversary of the passage of the Slave Importation Ban passed by Congress. That celebration, however, would be the last. By the following year it was clear that the law prohibiting the “foreign” slave trade was being ignored and the federal government seemed unlikely to enforce it. Yet, on January 2, 1809, William Hamilton (1773-1836), a carpenter by trade and the President and cofounder of the New York Society for Mutual Relief, used the occasion to give a stirring address at the Universalist Church in New York City. His talk marks the anniversary and explains the aims of the New York Society for Mutual Relief. Hamilton even manages to praise young Rev. Peter Williams, Jr. who gave an address the year before at the New York African Church. However he also uses the occasion to critique claims of black inferiority. The address appears below.
My Brethren and Fellow Members of the New York African Society, for Mutual Relief, I congratulate you on this first anniversary of a day which has produced an event that, for its importance to Africans and descendants, stands unrivaled; an event that long and arduous have been the exertions of many philanthropic characters to bring forth; an event that every benevolent mind rejoices to see. This day we are met with hearts big with gratitude, to celebrate an act of congress of the United States of America, which for its justice and humanity, outstrips any that have ever passed that honorable body; by an act bearing date March the second, eighteen hundred and seven, and which became an effectual law, January the first, eighteen hundred and eight, that species of commerce designated the slave trade was abolished.
This abominable traffic, the most execrable and inhuman that ever was practiced, had been carried on for olympiads and centuries, and the tide of misery flowing through this channel had arisen to an incalculable height. The wretched victims of the trade were not only deprived of lifes