At a time when slavery was accepted and practiced in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and throughout the world, there arose a movement against it in colonial America. One of the great intellects of our day, Dr. Thomas Sowell, who happens to be black, has written of this, saying,

Slavery was just not an issue, not even among intellectuals, much less among political leaders, until the 18th century–and then it was an issue only in Western civilization. Among 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: The Year that Defined America, 90).

This anti-slavery movement resulted in slavery in America having a short lifespan when compared to the rest of the world. The late Dr. Walter Williams, Professor of Economics at George Mason University, pointed this out saying that the unique characteristic of slavery in America was both the brevity of its existence and the moral outrage against it.

But what was the source of this moral outrage that arose against slavery in colonial America?

The Source of the Moral Outrage Against Slavery

The source of this sudden moral outrage against slavery is to be found in a Christian revival that became known as the Great Awakening. In this revival, that began in 1726, it seemed that entire towns repented and turned to God. In his Autobiography, Benjamin Franklin described the amazing transformation of his hometown of Philadelphia in 1739. He wrote,

It 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, 79).

In this revival, racial and cultural barriers were breached as blacks and whites worshipped together and shared the Good News to neighbors and friends regardless of race or social standing. For example, when George Whitefield, in 1739, preached night after night to thousands from the steps of the Philadelphia courthouse, blacks were part of the audience and there was no segregation.

After preaching his farewell sermon, many followed Whitefield to his place of lodging, including many blacks. He later recorded 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”  (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 70).

Evangelists of the Great Awakening, in fact, found blacks to be among the most receptive to the Gospel message. Gilbert Tennent, for example, was delighted that during a preaching tour in Massachusetts, “Multitudes were awakened, and several received great consolation, especially among the young people, children, and Negroes” (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 69).

Further south, Samuel Davies gave special attention to blacks, including slaves, during his time of ministry in Virginia. He was greatly encouraged by their enthusiastic response to the Gospel and wrote,

My principal encouragement of late has been among the poor negro slaves; in the land of their slavery they have been brought into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.

Davies not only preached to free blacks and slaves, but treated them as brothers and sisters in Christ, inviting them to share in regular church observances including the Lord’s Supper. In 1757 he wrote,

What 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 sixty black faces (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 70).

Although these early evangelists did not attack the institution of slavery, the inclusive Gospel message they preached, and their compassionate treatment of blacks, created a climate conducive to the anti-slavery sentiments that would burst forth through the next generation of Awakening preachers.

Second Generation Awakening Preachers Attack Slavery

Indeed, the revivalists who came after Whitefield, Tennant, and Jonathan Edwards, 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?

They, therefore, began a vicious attack on the institution of slavery. This is what historian, Benjamin Hart, was referring to when he wrote, “Among the most ardent opponents of slavery were ministers, particularly the Puritan and revivalist preachers (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 92).

These "ardent opponents of slavery" included the followers of Jonathan Edwards who expanded on his idea of the essential dignity of all created beings and applied it to the blacks of Colonial America. They included Levi Hart in Connecticut, Edwards’ son, Jonathan Jr., also in Connecticut, Jacob Green in New Jersey, and Samuel Hopkins in Rhode Island.

The Hypocrisy of Demanding Liberty and Tolerating Slavery

Samuel Hopkins (1721–1803), who had been personally tutored by Edwards, pastored for a time in Newport, Rhode Island, an important hub in the transatlantic slave trade. Like Paul, whose spirit was “provoked” observing the idols in Athens, Hopkins was outraged by what he observed in Newport. He, therefore, began to passionately speak out against this "violation of God’s will” and declared, “This whole country have their hands full of blood this day" (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 92).

After the First Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia in 1774, Hopkins sent a pamphlet to every member of the Congress, asking how they could complain about “enslavement” to Great Britain and overlook the “enslavement” of so many blacks in the colonies.

Indeed, as “liberty” became a watchword throughout the colonies, these second-generation Awakening preachers began applying it to the enslaved blacks in America. Like Hopkins, they pointed out the hypocrisy of demanding freedom from Great Britain while enslaving black Africans. One of the most vocal was the Baptist preacher, John Allen, who thundered,

Blush 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, 156).

God Speaks to Freeborn Garrettson

Freeborn Garrettson (1752-1827), a revivalist 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.

Garrettson began preaching against slavery and advocating for freedom, which provoked 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.

Garrettson took his message to North Carolina where he preached to black audiences and sought 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,

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 (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 95).

Garrettson also preached to southern white audiences and sought to convince them of the evils of slavery and that God’s will was liberty for all His creatures. In Delaware, Garrettson visited the Stokeley Sturgis Plantation and preached to both the slaves and the Sturgis family. He was able to convince Sturgis that slavery is a sin and Sturgis began making arrangements for his slaves to obtain freedom.

America's Black Founding Father

One of those who obtained his freedom was Richard Allen who had already been converted through the preaching of a Methodist evangelist when Garretson came on the scene. After obtaining his freedom, Allen set out to do what was burning in his heart – preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Allen, whom CBN correspondent, Paul Strand, calls “America’s Black Founding Father,” became a successful evangelist to both black and white audiences, further breaking down racial barriers. 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 preaching before.”

He eventually settled in Philadelphia and joined the Methodist church in that city. He also became close friends with Benjamin Rush, a Philadelphia physician, founding father, and signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Rush was also a passionate abolitionist who helped form America’s first abolition society in that city. He called slavery a “hydra sin” and admonished the ministers of America to take a bold, public stand against it, saying,

But 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 (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 100-101).

However, by 1787 the spiritual fervor of the revival had waned among the Methodists in Philadelphia and the elders of the Methodist church decided to institute segregated seating based on race. When this became known, Allen and other blacks walked out, not knowing where they would go or what they would do. They knew, however, they could trust God and that they had a friend in Benjamin Rush.

Rush, who was a Presbyterian, came to their aid with both moral and financial support. This founding father assisted them in obtaining property and putting up a building in which to worship. This became known as the Bethel Methodist Church in Philadelphia out of which emerged the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) denomination, with Allen as the founder. Allen later wrote,

We had waited on Dr. Rush and Mr. Robert Ralston, and told them of our distressing situation. We considered it a blessing that the Lord had put it into our hearts to wait upon those gentlemen. They pitied our situation, and subscribed largely towards the church, and were very friendly towards us and advised us how to go on . . . Dr. Rush did much for us in public by his influence. I hope the name of Dr. Benjamin Rush and Mr. Robert Ralston will never be forgotten among us. They were the two first gentlemen who espoused the cause of the oppressed and aided us in building the house of the Lord for the poor Africans to worship in. Here was the beginning and rise of the first African church in America (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 156).

America’s Founders Turn Against Slavery

Because of the power of the Awakening, and the “moral outrage” it produced against slavery, virtually every founder came to agree with John Adams who wrote,

Every 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 that Defined America, 101).

Two years before the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin released his two slaves and began to advocate for Abolition. He joined the Abolition Society in Philadelphia and later served as its president.

In fact, opposition to slavery was so strong in the North that, when the separation from England came in 1776, several states, including Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York immediately took steps to abolish slavery—something they could not do under George III.

George Washington was born in the South and inherited a large plantation with numerous slaves. The first evidence of the power of the Awakening on his thinking was during the War for Independence. Serving as commander-in-chief, Washington welcomed free blacks into the ranks, which resulted in one out of every six soldiers being of African descent. Blacks and whites fought together for freedom from Great Britain.

Confronted with the inconsistency of a Christian testimony with owning slaves, Washington set up a compassionate program to completely 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. He declared,

Not only do I pray for it, on the score of human dignity, but I can 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: The Year that Defined America, 103).

Deciding that slavery was wrong, however, was easier than deciding what to do with two million people from another continent and culture who were unprepared for freedom. In the end, concessions were made to the southern states, and slavery allowed to continue, in order to bring them into the Union. Sowell has said,

But don’t pretend that it was an easy answer—or that those who grappled with the dilemma in the 18th century were some special villains when most leaders and most people around the world saw nothing wrong with slavery. 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, 10).

That even the founders from the South struggled deeply about the slavery issue is clear from the statement of Thomas Jefferson, made in the context of slavery being allowed to continue in the South. He wrote,

God who gave us life, gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift from God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just and that His justice cannot sleep forever (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 125).

Colorblind Founding Documents

The founders’ moral rejection of slavery is obvious in the founding documents, which contain no mention of slaves or slavery. This was purposeful, for James Madison, the chief architect of the Constitution, said, “The Convention thought it wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in men."

Neither is there any mention of race or skin color in the founding documents. They purposely worded the Constitution in such a way that the rights guaranteed therein could not be denied to anyone based on race, ethnicity, or skin color. Yes, America’s founding documents are colorblind even if her history has not been.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood this. In his “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he declared,

When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

King did not want America to dispense with her founding documents, but to live up to them. Quoting from the Declaration of Independence, he said,

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 121).

Many today are insisting that America was founded on racist principles. They are wrong. David Azerrad was correct when he said, “The argument that the Constitution is racist suffers from one fatal flaw: the concept of race does not exist in the Constitution” (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 127).

America Defined by 1726

Although 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, the back of slavery was broken in that first Great Awakening that began in 1726, and America was defined as a land of liberty.

Contrary to this 1726 vision, many today are claiming that America was forever defined by 1619 when the first African slaves were brought to these shores. Interpreting everything through the lens of 1619, they insist that America is fatally flawed and racist at her very core.

America could have been defined by 1619, but there was 1726. Those who see America through the lens of 1726 believe that God has a divine purpose for this land, even though flawed by human sin. Dr. King expressed this in his “I Have a Dream” speech when he declared, “I have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.”

Recovering this 1726 paradigm of America’s history is critical, for as George Orwell said in his classic book, 1984, “Whoever controls the past, controls the future.” And commenting on the demise of nations in world history, Carl Sandburg, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, said,

When a nation goes down, or a society perishes, one condition may always be found; they forgot where they came from. They lost sight of what had brought them along (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 11).

America was birthed out of a great Christian revival and recovering the knowledge of what happened, beginning in 1726, is paramount to understanding our history. 1726 broke the back of slavery and marked a new beginning for this land. 1776 would never have happened apart from 1726, for it was the revival that unleashed the desire for liberty throughout the land.

Let us, therefore, remember 1726 and pray, “Lord, do it again!” 

This article is derived from Dr. Eddie Hyatt's book, 1726, available from Amazon and his website at www.eddiehyatt.com. He is also the founder of the "1726 Project" whose goal is to spread the message of America's unique birth out of the First Great Awakening and call on believers everywhere to pray for another Great Awakening across the land.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the fantastic post and the mention of the Methodist preacher, Freeborn Garrettson. For more on the early Methodists and especially the earliest black leaders in America, please visit the article: https://www.francisasburytriptych.com/strong-roots-can-buckle-the-pavement-the-earth-moving-efforts-and-effects-of-americas-first-black-leaders/

    The Strong Roots article debunks the inaccurate 1619 project's arguments.

    Again, great post.