Celebrations in Philadelphia

With a large free black population recorded at 11,000 in the 1810 census and with about 4,000 fugitives looking for freedom, Philadelphia had been a hotbed of abolitionism since the eighteenth century. It was the city of Anthony Benezet and John Woolman, and the home since 1787 of the Free African Society, a mutual aid association set up by Rev. Richard Allen — a former slave who founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church — and Rev. Absalom Jones.

On January 1, 1808, Free Blacks rejoiced at St. Thomas African Episcopal Church, established by Jones, an abolitionist and former slave who had bought his own freedom. Jones had been a student of Benezet's night school for free and enslaved black children. Rev. Jones delivered "A Thanksgiving Sermon" in which he too described the dreadfulness of the slave trade and slavery in moving terms. But he also repeated some clichés about the slave trade.

Europeans and Americans had always justified the deportation and enslavement of Africans on the grounds that the "heathens" needed to be Christianized, and Rev. Jones did not refute that assertion: "Perhaps [God's] design was, that a knowledge of the gospel might be acquired by some of their descendants, in order that they might become qualified to be the messengers of it, to the land of their fathers."

As a conclusion, in the same vein as Peter Williams Jr., he encouraged his audience to

let our conduct be regulated by the precepts of the gospel; let us be sober minded, humble, peaceable, temperate in our meats and drinks, frugal in our apparel and in the furniture of our houses, industrious in our occupations, just in all our dealings, and ever ready to honour all men. Let us teach our children the rudiments of the English language, in order to enable them to acquire a knowledge of useful trades; and, above all things, let us instruct them in the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, whereby they may become wise unto salvation.