Anthony Benezet (1713-84), universally recognized by the leaders of the eighteenth-century antislavery movement as its founder, was born to a Huguenot family in Saint-Quentin, France. As a boy, Benezet moved to Holland, England, and, in 1731, Philadelphia, where he rose to prominence in the Quaker antislavery community.
In transforming Quaker antislavery sentiment into a broad-based transatlantic movement, Benezet translated ideas from diverse sources—Enlightenment philosophy, African travel narratives, Quakerism, practical life, and the Bible—into concrete action. He founded the African Free School in Philadelphia, and such future abolitionist leaders as Absalom Jones and James Forten studied at Benezet's school and spread his ideas to broad social groups. At the same time, Benezet's correspondents, including Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush, Abbé Raynal, Granville Sharp, and John Wesley, gave his ideas an audience in the highest intellectual and political circles.
In this wide-ranging intellectual biography, Maurice Jackson demonstrates how Benezet mediated Enlightenment political and social thought, narratives of African life written by slave traders themselves, and the ideas and experiences of ordinary people to create a new antislavery critique. Benezet's use of travel narratives challenged proslavery arguments about an undifferentiated, "primitive" African society. Benezet's empirical evidence, laid on the intellectual scaffolding provided by the writings of Hutcheson, Wallace, and Montesquieu, had a profound influence, from the high-culture writings of the Marquis de Condorcet to the opinions of ordinary citizens. When the great antislavery spokesmen Jacques-Pierre Brissot in France and William Wilberforce in England rose to demand abolition of the slave trade, they read into the record of the French National Assembly and the British Parliament extensive unattributed quotations from Benezet's writings, a fitting tribute to the influence of his work.
1. A Life of Conscience
2. The Early Quaker Antislavery Movement
3. An Antislavery Intellect Develops
4. Visions of Africa
5. Building an Antislavery Consensus in North America
6. Transatlantic Beginnings and the British Antislavery Movement
7. Benezet and the Antislavery Movement in France
8. African Voices
Epilogue: Anthony Benezet's Dream
Chronology of Atlantic Abolitionism
"A masterpiece of its kind. . . . Jackson has made a major contribution to our understanding of the origins of abolitionism in the Western world. This book will exert considerable influence for many years."—David Brion Davis, author of Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World
"Let This Voice Be Heard fulfills the mandate of biography at its best because Maurice Jackson has captured the history of a great moral movement's origins in a single, extraordinary life. An indispensable addition to the antislavery bibliography."—David Levering Lewis, author of W. E. B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century
"A grand gift. Maurice Jackson has given us an invaluable examination of a remarkable man who stood at the very foundation of the antislavery movement in the eighteenth century. Anthony Benezet's extraordinary story of generosity and commitment is told in Jackson's thoroughly researched, readable book. Those of us who can appreciate what true greatness—in humble and lasting ways—should really mean, owe him our gratitude."—Edward P. Jones, author of The Known World
"A terrific book about a truly great American. . . . What is especially interesting about Jackson's biography of Benezet is that it reflects a new and applaudable trend of taking the religious views of early abolitionists seriously."—Journal of American Studies
"As Jackson demonstrates in his well-researched biography, Benezet was a major force in the transatlantic abolition movement through his publications and correspondence with people like Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush in America, and Granville Sharp and John Wesley in Britain."—Vincent Carretta, Eighteenth-Century Studies