A “black lives matter” movement erupted in 18th
century colonial America that is generally ignored by modern historians. This
movement breached racial and cultural barriers in colonial America and
unleashed the spiritual and moral forces that eventually brought about the end
of slavery on this continent.
Instead of anger and political rhetoric, this movment was characterized by passionate faith and love that flowed out of hearts that had been transformed through the preaching of the Gospel in a great, spiritual awakening. This "Great Awakening," as it has been called, transformed colonial America and profoundly impacted the attitude of the populace about slavery and
Franklin told how the Awakening transformed his hometown of Philadelphia when
George Whitfield preached there in 1739. He wrote,
was wonderful to see the change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion,
it seemed as if all the world were growing religious so that one could not walk
through the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different
families of every street (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America,
and whites worshipped together in this Awakening, is made clear by
Whitefield’s account of the same revival. This is documented on page 70 of the book, 1726,
in the following paragraph.
preaching his farewell sermon to a massive crowd gathered in front of the
Philadelphia courthouse, Whitefield noted in his Journal, “Near 50
Negroes came to give me thanks for what God had done for their souls.”
Whitefield considered this an answer to prayer, saying, “I have been much drawn
in prayer for them, and have seen them wrought upon by the word preached."
Jonathan Edwards, Gilbert Tennant, and other early revivalists of trhe Awakening, all speak of the
response of blacks, both slave and free, to the Gospel message that was spread
far and wide during the Awakening.
For example, Samuel Davies (1723-1761) gave special attention to blacks, both slave and free, during his time of ministry
in Virginia and found them especially responsive to the Gospel message. In
1757, he wrote,
little success I have lately had, has been chiefly among the extremes of
Gentlemen and Negroes. Indeed, God has been remarkably working among the
latter. I have baptized 150 adults; and at the last sacramental solemnity, I
had the pleasure of seeing the table graced with 60 black faces (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 70).
the beginning of the Awakening in 1726, outreach to the black population was
evangelistic in nature; it was not characterized by opposition to slavery. The
early preachers, such as Whitefield, Tennant, and Edwards, saw their
primary purpose to be in getting people ready for the next world, not
necessarily improving their lot in this one. In their thinking, a slave on his
way to heaven was far better off than a king on his way to hell.
inclusive Gospel message they preached and their sharing of Christian fellowship with blacks broke down racial barriers and created a climate conducive to the anti-slavery sentiments that would burst forth through the 2nd generation Awakening preachers.
The Attack on Slavery Begins
who came after Whitefield, Edwards, Tennant, Davies and others carried the
message of their predecessors to its logical conclusion: if we are all
creatures of the same Creator and if Christ died that all might be saved, then
how can slavery ever be justified? The movement thus took on an anti-slavery
component and spread throughout the colonies.
Hopkins (1721–1803), for example, who had been personally tutored by Edwards,
pastored for a time in Newport, Rhode Island, an important hub in the
transatlantic slave trade. His response to what he saw in Newport was like
Paul’s response to the idols in Athens.
spirit was “provoked” by the idols of the Athenians, and Hopkins was offended
and outraged by the "violation of God’s will” he saw in Newport. He began
passionately preaching against slavery and declared, “This whole country have
their hands full of blood this day” (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined
1774, after the First Continental Congress had convened in Philadelphia,
Hopkins sent a pamphlet to every member of the Congress, asking how they could
complain about “enslavement” to England and overlook the “enslavement” of so
many blacks in the Colonies. He was, in effect, saying, “Black lives matter!”
liberty became a watchword throughout the Colonies, the preachers of the
Awakening began applying it to the enslaved in America. Like Hopkins, they
pointed out the hypocrisy of demanding freedom from England while continuing to
uphold the institution of slavery in their midst.
a sermon preached and published in 1770, Samuel Cooke declared that by
tolerating the evil of slavery, “We, the patrons of liberty, have dishonored
the Christian name, and degraded human nature nearly to a level with the beasts
that perish.” The Baptist preacher, John Allen, was even more direct, and
ye pretended votaries of freedom! ye trifling Patriots! who are making a vain
parade of being advocates for the liberties of mankind, who are thus making a
mockery of your profession by trampling on the sacred natural rights and
privileges of Africans (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America,
Opposition to Slavery Increases
Garrettson (1752-1827), an evangelist from Maryland, freed his slaves after
hearing God speak to him supernaturally. According to Garrettson, he heard the
Lord say, “It is not right for you to keep your fellow creatures in bondage;
you must let the oppressed go free.” Garrettson immediately informed his slaves
that they did not belong to him and that he did not desire their services
without giving them proper compensation.
began preaching against slavery and advocating for freedom, provoking intense
opposition, especially in the South. One enraged slave-owner came to the house
where Garrettson was lodging and swore at him, threatened him, and punched him
in the face. Garrettson did not retaliate but sought to reason with the man who
finally gave up and left.
took his message to North Carolina where he preached to slaves, seeking to
“inculcate the doctrine of freedom in them.” His opposition to slavery was
firmly rooted in the Gospel and he described a typical meeting with slaves, in
which, he says, “Many of their sable faces were bedewed with tears, their
withered hands of faith were stretched out, and their precious souls made white
in the blood of the Lamb.”
visited the Stokeley Sturgis plantation in Delaware and preached to both the
slaves and the Sturgis family. He was able to convince Sturgis that “black
lives matter” and that slavery is a sin. Sturgis proceeded to renounce slavery and
began making arrangements for his slaves to obtain freedom.
of those who obtained his freedom was Richard Allen who became a successful
evangelist to both black and white audiences. In 1784, he preached for several
weeks in Radnor, Pennsylvania, to a mostly white audience, and he recalled
hearing it said, “This man must be a man of God; I have never heard such
1787, he founded Bethel Methodist Church in Philadelphia out of which emerged
the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) denomination. On page 96 of the book, 1726,
is the following statement.
was out of the Awakening that the American black church was born and became a
positive force in American society, producing some of the nation’s greatest
preachers, singers, and musicians. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s-1970s
was anchored in the black churches of America and its most prominent leaders,
such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., (1929-1968) were ordained ministers—a
legacy of 1726.
The Methodists Join the Movement
1744, John Wesley (1703–1791) spoke publicly against slavery, declaring that,
in God’s sight, blacks and whites are equal and that Christ died for all. Many
Methodists in America, in both the North and South, picked up on Wesley’s call
and became some of the leading abolitionists in America. They believed that
“black lives matter.”
O’Kelly (1735-1826), for example, faced physical attacks because of his bold,
excoriating preaching against slavery. He painted slaveholding as a debilitating
and demonic kind of sin. It was, he said, “A work of the flesh, assisted by the
devil; a mystery of iniquity, that works like witchcraft to darken your
understanding, and harden your hearts against conviction.”
of the bold preaching of evangelists such as Garrettson and O’Kelly, an
anti-slavery movement gained momentum, even in the South. This movement faced
intense opposition, as was the case in 1800 when Methodists in South Carolina
circulated a petition calling for emancipation. A mob burned the handouts and
dragged one of the Methodist preachers through the streets and almost drowned
him in a well.
the opposition, the momentum against slavery continued to spread and proponents
of slavery scrambled to devise moral arguments to justify the institution.
commonly held notion was that it was God’s way of delivering Africans from
paganism in their homeland, giving them an opportunity to hear the Gospel.
Samuel Hopkins, however, dismantled this argument in his pamphlet entitled, A
Dialogue Concerning the Slavery of Africans.
Hopkins would acknowledge God’s providence in working out His plan—even through
human acts of sin, as in the Old Testament story of Joseph—he systematically
dismantled this argument as merely being an excuse for slavery. He thundered,
sort of “gospel” message is being conveyed when people are enslaved because of
the color of their skin? The Declaration of Independence says all men are
created equal with certain unalienable rights. Oh, the shocking, the
intolerable inconsistencies! (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America,
moral arguments were rooted in both Creation and Redemption. Creation tells us
that all people are equal, with the genealogy of all humanity beginning with
Adam and Eve. There is also equality in Redemption, for Christ died for all and
His salvation is equally available to all who will believe. The old value
systems that judged a person on the basis of race, gender, and social class
were abolished in Christ (Galatians 3:27-28).
A Founder’s Call for Action
all ministers and churches embraced the Awakening and the “black lives matter” movement
that accompanied it. Benjamin Rush (1745-1813), a Philadelphia physician,
boldly confronted these timid custodians of the status quo.
was a member of the Continental Congress (1774–1781), as well as a signer of
the Declaration of Independence. He helped found the first abolition society in
America and in the following address he admonished the Christian ministers of
America to take a bold stand against slavery. He wrote,
chiefly—ye ministers of the gospel, whose dominion over the principles and
actions of men is so universally acknowledged and felt, - Ye who estimate the
worth of your fellow creatures by their immortality, and therefore must look
upon all mankind as equal; let your zeal keep pace with your opportunities to
put a stop to slavery. While you enforce the duties of “tithe and cumin,”
neglect not the weightier laws of justice and humanity. Slavery is a Hydra sin
and includes in it every violation of the precepts of the Laws and the Gospels.
In vain will you command your flocks to offer up the incense of faith and
charity, while they continue to mingle the sweat and blood of Negro slaves with
their sacrifices. Remember, that national crimes require national punishments,
and without declaring what punishment awaits this evil, you may venture to
assure them, that it cannot pass with impunity, unless God shall cease to be
just or merciful (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 100).
The Founders Are Affected
spiritual power of the Awakening and the moral arguments it produced against
slavery were overwhelming. In fact, by the time of the writing of the
Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitution in 1787, virtually
every Founder had taken a public stand against slavery. All agreed with John
Adams, who stated the following:
measure of prudence . . . ought to be assumed for the eventual total
extirpation of slavery from the United States. I have throughout my whole life
held the practice of slavery in abhorrence (Hyatt, 1726: The Year thatDefined America, 101).
deciding what to do with over two-million slaves who had not been prepared for freedom
was another question. Dr. Thomas Sowell writes,
that slavery was wrong was much easier than deciding what to do with millions
of people from another continent, of another race, and without any historical
preparation for living as free citizens in a society like that of the United
States, where they were 20 percent of the population. It is clear from the
private correspondence of Washington, Jefferson, and many others that their
moral rejection of slavery was unambiguous, but the practical question of what
to do now had them baffled. That would remain so for more than half a century
(Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 102).
Despite the challenge of knowing exactly how to move forward at this point, the power of the Awakening is obivous in the words and deeds of the founders. For example, two
years before the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin liberated his two
slaves and joined the abolition society of Philadelphia, later serving as its
Washington’s situation was more complex. He had inherited a large plantation
with a large number of slaves, and he realized that to thrust them suddenly and
unprepared out into the world would have been unwise and harmful to many of them.
remedy the situation, Washington set up a compassionate program to disentangle
Mt. Vernon from the institution of slavery. Those slaves who wanted to leave
were free to do so. Those who chose to remain were paid wages, and he began a
program to educate and prepare the children of slaves for freedom. Concerning
the abolition of slavery, he declared,
only do I pray for it, on the score of human dignity, but I clearly foresee
that nothing but the rooting out of slavery can perpetuate the existence of our
union by consolidating it in a common bond of principle (Hyatt, 1726: TheYear that Defined America, 103).
obvious that something unique was happening in America at
this time in world history. Dr. Thomas Sowell has said,
those who turned against slavery in the 18th century were George Washington,
Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and other American leaders. You could research
all of 18th century Africa or Asia or the Middle East without finding any
comparable rejection of slavery there (Hyatt, 1726: TheYear that Defined America, 90).
it would take a Second Great Awakening (ca. 1800- ca. 1830), a Great Prayer
Awakening (1857-58), and a Civil War (1861-1865) to bring final closure,
slavery’s end was sealed in that First Great Awakening that swept Colonial
The Key for Racial Healing Today
18th century “black lives matter” movement is ignored by those on
the political left because it does not fit their narrative of America being an irredeemable
racist nation, forever defined by slavery. But as I argue in my book, 1726,
America became defined by Christian awakening and opposition to slavery because
of the Great Awakening and the "black lives matter" movment it produced, beginning in 1726.
ought, therefore, to take a lesson from history. Defaming the police and throwing money into new social programs will never heal the contemporary racial divides in our land. The modern Black Lives Matter movement, based in Marxism and with a stated goal of destroying the traditional, nuclear
family, will never be a channel of healing.
We must remember 1726 and turn to our Creator who created us all--black, white, red, and brown--in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27). The Creator has revealed Himself to this planet in the person of Jesus Christ and only in Him will we find individual and national healing.
should recall the words of Samuel Adams (1722–1803), a passionate abolitionist, a signer of the Declaration of
Independence, and known as The Father of the American Revolution.
serving as governor of Massachusetts (1793- 1797), he declared April 2, 1795 as
a Day of Fasting and Prayer for both Massachusetts and America. The words of
that Proclamation reveal the profound depth of Christian faith in America’s
founding generation. In part, it reads as follows:
Supreme Ruler of the Universe, having been pleased, in the course of His
Providence, to establish the independence of the United States of America . . .
I have therefore thought fit to appoint, and with the advice and consent of the
Council, I do hereby appoint Thursday, the Second Day of April next, to be
observed as a Day of Public Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer throughout this
Commonwealth: Calling upon the Ministers of the Gospel, of every Denomination,
with their respective Congregations, to assemble on that Day, and devoutly
implore the Divine forgiveness of our Sins, To pray that the Light of the
Gospel, and the rights of Conscience, may be continued to the people of United
America; and that his Holy Word may be improved by them, so that the name of
God may be exalted, and their own Liberty and Happiness secured (Hyatt, 1726:The Year that Defined America, 104).
This article is derived from Dr. Eddie Hyatt's latest book, 1726: The Year that Defined America, available from Amazon and his website at www.eddiehyatt.com. He is the founder of the "1726 Project," dedicated to educating American citizens about their nation's overt Christian origins and advocating for another national, spiritual awakening as the ultimate answer for the nation's ills.