Americaness of Absalom Jones and Phillis
Blacks were brought to America as slaves from Africa. These slaves were used as workers in the fields in southern states of America. The civil war of 1861-1865 fought between the southern and northern states of America ended the slavery in America. President Abraham Lincoln issued the emancipation proclamation which freed the slaves of southern states and basis were laid to end slavery around the whole country. But before all this the lives of black were miserable and they were subject to cruelty and inhumanity. During this era, two personalities Absalom Jones and Phillis Wheatly played their part in guiding the African Americans to the right path and helped them significantly.
Absalom Jones born in 1746 was an African-American born as a slave in Delaware. He was sold in Philadelphia were, he attended a school and learned to write. He later got married to a slave and worked her to purchase his and his wife’s freedom by the year 1784. He was a true Christian and served as lay preacher for the black members of St. George Methodist Episcopal church. The membership of the congregation increase but this was a disappointment to the white members of the congregation. The white congregation tried to segregate the blacks. This was the moment when Absalom Jones showed his Americanness and instead of creating upheaval he and his friend Richard Allen along with other black members of the congregation left the church as a group. In 1787 Allen and Jones founded Free African society. This organization was founded to help those in need.
In 1793 yellow fever epidemic swept in Philadelphia and killed many. Free African Society contributed towards taking care of the sick. African American under the leadership of Absalom Jones worked to builds new bonds with the larger community of the white (Will). They proved their citizenship and demonstrated their responsibilities as Americans. This shows the Americanness of Absalom who also guided other blacks to be good citizens of America. Absalom Jones became the first priest of African descent in the United States. Absalom Jones leads the congregation of St. Thomas church and it was a center of social and religious life for the African-American community in Philadelphia. His sermons advocated the abolition of slavery. In 1799 he sent a petition to Pennsylvania State Legislature for the abolition of slavery. And in 1800 to United States Congress. He was one of the first group of African Americans who stood against slavery. The life of Absalom Jones was dedicated towards the betterment of the lives of African Americans. He was also an educationist. He founded a school for blacks and was a teacher as well. He also stood against the sale of alcohol (Newman). The efforts by Absalom to make the lives of African Americans better and to work for the American society including both blacks and whites proved that he was an American who not only thought of African American but the whole country.
Phillis Wheatley was one of the most famous and well-known poets of the 18th century in America. She was a born in 1753. At the age of seven, she transported to North America and was sold as a slave. She was an example of art and intellect and a proof that blacks can also be creative and intelligent. Her poems were a catalyst for the antislavery movement. Phillis Wheatley applied biblical symbols to comment on slavery. In her poem On Being Brought from Africa to America, she emphasized that Africans should also be included in the Christian stream. This was her love towards African American her poems proved to be a source of freedom and relief of African Americans. She was the first person to applaud America as Glorious Columbia and this showed her love for America (Steele). In her poetry, she sometimes expressed that slavery is good in America as it brings the slaves close to God.
Looking the lives and efforts of Phillis Wheatley and Absalom Jones it is not wrong to believe that they were true Americans from their heart even though they lived in the era where African-Americans and the whites were not on friendly terms with each other. Both of these personalities played their parts in the events of America as true Americans. Absalom’s leadership towards caring for yellow fever patients and Phillis Wheatley’s love for America depicted in her poems showed that they were active citizens who were working for the welfare of their country. They were fully indulged in the events happening in America and never gave an impression of alienation towards the white people of America. The social thought of both Absalom Jones and Phillis Wheatley was to bring the African American and the whites close to each other. They struggled to create awareness about the conditions of the African-Americans.
During the 18 century, African-Americans lived as slaves of white people. The presence of two different races having different social-cultural backgrounds in the same region with grudges against each other was a worrisome situation. It was important to bring the two races together and for this, a right vision and a right leader was required. Phillis Wheatley was the source of right vision who not only supported the African Americans but also tried to build tolerance in the heart of Africans-Americans towards the white by calling the nation great and by showing her love and gratitude towards the country she was living in. Absalom Jones was proved to be a right leader of African-American who guided them towards being a better human being. Helping patients of Yellow fever was a positive gesture towards the Americans. His Episcopal Church was the center of social harmony and peace. Efforts of these two showed that race plays an important part.
The Americanness of two prominent personalities of the United States of America who belonged to African origin brought to America as slaves is an important question because they were the catalyst in shaping American history. Their work and efforts inspired many others who moved the anti-slavery campaign and were succeeded in changing the lives of millions of African-Americans who were living a life of distress and misery.
The anti-slavery sentiments in the hearts of white Americans belonging to northern states helped in the emancipation of the blacks and change in the constitution of America. It was essential to have someone in that era who could take lead the subservient race and create feelings of goodwill in the heart of the dominant race. Absalom Jones was a proof that blacks are not always violent and hateful. Under his leadership, he led a community of Blacks who worked for the welfare of the poor and the needy. This was quite contrary to the image of African Americans who were always portrayed as mean and arrogant. Phillis Wheatly was a symbol of intellect and art, her poetry was a source of awareness that African-Americans are not less human and they have equal abilities. I believe that Absalom and Phillis were prominent personalities who devoted their lives to make America a great country which provides equal rights and opportunities to all its citizens. Their love for America should be appreciated and adopted by every American citizen.
Newman, Richard S. Freedom’s Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers. NYU Press, 2008.
Steele, Thomas J. “The Figure of Columbia: Phillis Wheatley Plus George Washington.” The New England Quarterly, vol. 54, no. 2, 1981, pp. 264–66.
Will, Thomas E. “Liberalism, Republicanism, and Philadelphia’s Black Elite in the Early Republic: The Social Thought of Absalom Jones and Richard Allen.” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies, vol. 69, no. 4, 2002, pp. 558–76.