An Abstract of the Life of Anthony Benezet 

benezet signature 
Abstracted by James Quinn, Historian

Benjamin Rush on Anthony Benezet: "In one hand he carried a subscription paper and a Petition; in the other he carried a small paper on the unlawfulness of the African Slave Trade and a letter directed to the King of Prussia on the unlawfulness of war."

Anthony Benezet: "If we continually bear in mind the royal law of doing to others as we would be done by, we shall never think of bereaving our fellow creatures of that valuable blessing liberty, nor endure to grow rich by their bondage. To live in ease and plenty by the toil of those whom violence and cruelty have put in our power is neither consistent with Christianity nor common justice."

Sources: (1) Friend Anthony Benezet, by George S. Brookes, University of Pennsvylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1937; (2) Memoirs of the Life of Anthony Benezet, by Roberts Vaux, Published by W. Alexander, Philadelphia, 1817, available on Google Books; (3) Wikipedia biography. (4) Internet biography from brycchancarey. com. Note that at the back of Brookes' book there is a great deal of personal correspondence by Anthony Benezet which is not abstracted here.

1682, 16 August. Jean Benezet, of a family originating in Carcassonne, married in Picardy, Marie Madeleine Testart. They establish homes at Abbeville and St. Quentin. They have seven sons and a daughter.

1683, 22 June. Jean Etienne Benezet is born in Abbeville, France, the oldest child of Jean Benezet and Marie Madeleine Testart.

1685, The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes makes Protestantism illegal.

1709, 29 October. Jean Etienne Benezet marries Judith de la Mejenelle, daughter of Leon de la Mejenelle, linen merchant, and his wife Judith Lieurard, in the parish of St. Eustache in Paris.

1710, 1 November. Marie Madelaine Judith Benezet is born.

1712, 26 February. Marianne Benezet is born. She dies later that year.

1713, 31 January. Anthony (Antoine) Benezet is born. His birth is in the registry of the Church at St. Quentin where he was baptized 1 February 1713.

1715, Because he is a Protestant, the estate of Jean Etienne Benezet is confiscated.

1715, 3 February. The Benezet family leaves France, crossing the border secretly (emigration was illegal) near Malincourt after bribing a sentry.

1715, 29 February. Susanne baptized at Rotterdam. In 1717 (22 July) another daughter Susanne is born after this first one dies.

1715, 22 August. They set out for England from Rotterdam. Jean Etienne becomes John Stephen Benezet.

1716, 7 July. A second daughter named Marianne is born to Jean Etienne and Judith Benezet.

1719, 6 May. Pierre Benezet is born. 1721, 26 August: James born. 1722, 6 November: Philip is born. 1723, 26 December: Daniel is born. 1724/5, 15 January: Madelaine is born. 1726/7, March 5: Gertrude is born. 1727/8, 6 February: Jean is born. 1730, 12 June: Elizabeth is born.

1728 (Approximately). Anthony is apprenticed first to a counting house, and second to a cooper, but does not find either suitable.

1731. The Jean Etienne Benezet family (with seven children) emigrates to Philadelphia. Sons James and Daniel become peltry exporters and dry good importers. The family become Quakers soon after arrival (Jean Etienne later about 1742 becomes a Moravian, along with three daughters, Susanne, Judith and Marianne). Anthony Benezet later writes,
"Though I am joined in Church fellowship with the people called Quakers, yet my heart is united in true gospel fellowship with the willing in God's Israel, let their distinguishing name or sect be as it may."
1736, 13, 3mo. Marriage of Anthony Benezet to Joyce Marriott, daughter of Samuel and Mary Marriott of Burlington NJ, at Philadelphia Meeting. Joyce, in 1731, had been made a Quaker minister by Philadelphia Meeting. Joyce had been born 1713, 3rd, 12mo. Her father, Samuel, had died in 1717 and her mother, Mary, had married secondly Isaac Williams in 1720.

Children of Anthony and Joyce Benezet: Mary, b. 1737, 21 Aug. , d. 1738, 12 July; Anthony b. 1743, 16 June, d. 1743, 22 June.

1739 Anthony and Joyce Benezet remove to Wilmington, Delaware where he is engaged in manufacturing.

1739, The manufacturing enterprise fails and he removes to the environs of Abington Meeting, Philadelphia Co., PA. He succeeds Francis Daniel Pastorius as the school master in Germantown. He also works as a proof reader for the publisher Christopher Sower.

1742, 27th, 11mo. Anthony Benezet is offered a job as a school teacher at the Philadelphia Publick School (now Penn Charter) which he accepts. In those days this was a free school and the children of the poor attended it. Benezet was a tolerant and affectionate teacher in a time when severe discipline was the norm. "He loved children and they loved him" (Brookes). This was practically the opposite attitude of teachers of that day which are described by Roberts Vaux: "The individual who was to mould the mind of a child, lead it to the knowledge of its own energies, instil into it radical principles, and, in short, essentially contribute to form the character, could not better display his qualifications for this purpose, nor secure more certain, though misapplied patronage and confidence, than by the assumption of a demenaour, at once supercilious and pedantic. To complete his attributes, the teacher ruled his subjects by the exercise of punishments, as cruel and vindictive, as might entirely comport with the despotic office he sustained.

The discerning and conscientious mind of Benezet, preceived the injurious tendency of a system thus organized; he saw its operation was calculated to produce in the minds of those who were obnoxious to its influence, dispositions the most unhappy; whilst it must inevitably lessen the ability, if not altogether frustrate the design of communicating information to youth. With Lord Bacon, he was convinced, that what is learned willingly, and at the proper season, makes the deepest impression; and that much depends on the manner of conveying lessons of instruction...

The plan which Benezet pursued was therefore that of mildness. He investigated the natural dispositions of his pupils, and adapted his management of them, to their various tempers. Persuasion would secure attention and obedience in some, whilst proper excitement to emulation, would animate and encourage others. The sense of shame, and the fear of disgrace, could be roused in the minds of those, whose stubbornness the less acute remedies would not affect; and it is affirmed that he rarely had recourse to corporal punishment, and seldeom permitted an angry passion to be exhibited to his scholars."

1745. He removes to Germantown to a house formerly occupied by Isaac Zane.

About 1750. He begins the education of Black children in the evenings for no cost which he continues until a real school is set up in 1770. 1750 is also about the year he begins his crusade against the slave trade.

1751, 3rd, 5mo. The burial of Jean Etienne Benezet in Germantown, (he is the father of Anthony Benezet) beside his wife at the Old Hood Cemetery (corner of Germantown Ave and Logan St.).

1753, June. Removes to a house on Chestnut St., Philadelphia where he lives until he dies.

1754. Anthony Benezet resigns from the Publick School and opens the first school for girls in America under the auspices of the Society of Friends in Philadelphia.

1754, 25th, 1mo. Benezet presents an epistle to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Quakers) that demands the prohibition of the slave trade amongst Friends. The Meeting responds by ordering the epistle to be read and considered by the various Monthly Meetings. After consideration, the epistle was published, and Friends were discouraged from importing, buying and selling slaves. From this date, slavery begins to die out amongst Quakers in Pennsylvania.

1755. He resigns from the girl's school, citing helath, and becomes an Overseer of the Public Schools.

1755, November. The Acadian French are expelled from Nova Scotia and dispersed throughout the British colonies. Benezet is put in charge of the welfare of the 454 who were sent by the crown to Philadelphia. By this time they had already spent four months in transport ships and were in much need of food and clothing, as well as being unwilling, uninvited and unexpected guests of the city. By contributions from the colonial government and by begging door to door, Benezet was able to procure funds to build housing for the refugees on Pine Street between 5th and 6th Street. This was just after Braddock's defeat (July 1755) during a time of war with France, when hundreds if not thousands of Pennsylvanians were being scalped and driven from their homes in central Pennsylvania. On the day of the arrival of the Acadians, the French and Indians had attacked Lancaster. Benezet labored in this cause for about 10 years. About half his charges die of contagious diseases during their stay, of which Philadelphia always had its share.

1755-1757. He procures funds, food and clothing for refugees of the French and Indian War.

1756. The French and Indian war rages on. Benezet is deeply interested in the Quaker movement called the "Friendly Association for Regaining and Preserving Peace with the Indians by Pacific Measures." He was several times elected as one of the sixteen trustees who managed its affairs. Benezet's home was known to be open to Indians visiting Philadelphia. Benezet was present at the Treaty of Easton which ended the war in Pennsylvania.

1757. After the resignation of Ann Thornton, he resumes as the teacher at the girl's school in Philadelphia. Amongst his students are Sally Wistar, Debby Norris (later wife and biographer of George Logan), Ann Emblen (later a school teacher in Philadelphia), and Rebecca Jones (all members of some of the wealthier merchant families in Philadelphia). He remained the teacher there until 1766, when health required him to resign again.

1758 He translates, from German, the work The Plain Path to Christian Perfection. In the preface Benezet "sets forth the idea that true religion still remains the power of God to salvation, changing and purifying the heart, and showing its effectual workings of grace in a number of neighboring Indians. Much of the preface is the narration of his unusual experiences with these sons of the forest at treaties and private conferences." (quote from Brookes) Many times did Benezet journey into the forest to visit the Indians.

1759. His work, Observations on the Enslaving, Importing, and Purchasing of Negroes is published.

1760. Takes notes at an Indian conference in Philadelphia which he gave to his friends entitled An Account of the Behaviour and Sentiments of a Number of Well Disposed Indians Mostly of the Minusing Tribe.

1761, 4 August. Present at and take notes at another Indian conference at Easton. (passages are in Brooke's biography, pps 199-20.)

1762. A Short Account of that Part of Africa Inhabited by the Negroes is published.

1766. Anthony and Joyce Benezet remove to Burlington, NJ to a house he had previously built there. He is accepted there as a Quaker elder. There, recovering from illness he writes the antislavery work, A Caution and Warning to Great Britain, which was approved by the Yearly Meeting of Philadelphia (Quakers). A quote from this book:
"Much might be justly said of temporal evils which attend this practice, as it is destructive of the welfare of human society, and of the peace and prosperity of every country, in proportion as it prevails. It might also be shown, that it destroys the bonds of natural affection and interest, whereby mankind in general are united; that it introduces idleness, discourages marriage, corrupts the youth, ruins and debauches morals, excites continual apprehensions of dangers, and frequent alarms. But as these and more reflections of the same kind, may occur to a considerate mind, I shall endeavour to show, from the nature of the Trade, the plenty which Guinea affords to its inhabitants, the barbarous Treatment of the Negroes, and the observations made thereon by Authors of note, that it is inconsistent with the plainest Precepts of the Gospel, the dictates of reason, and every common sentiment of humanity."
He writes Thoughts on the Nature of War, and its Repugnancy to the Christian Life.

1767. He opens a new girl's school in Philadelphia, under the care of the Quakers, but this time for the poor. He continued to teach in this school until 1782.

1770. Benezet establishes a school for black children in Philadelphia, the first of its kind, and Friends raise funds for a building for the school. The success of this school is the inspiration that led the Abolition Society to establish other schools. Moses Pemberton is the first teacher of this school. In 1782, when it was hard to find a teacher for this school, Benezet himself became the teacher. In 1784, when he dies, he bequeaths his possessions to this school. Benezet quote: "I can with truth and sincerity declare, that I have found amongst the negroes as great variety of talents as among a like number of white; and I am bold to assert, that the notion entertained by some, that the blacks are inferior in their capacities, is a vulgar prejudice, founded on the pride or ignorance of their lordly masters; who have kept their slaves at such a distance, as to be unable to form a right judgement of them."

1772. The Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Quakers) was considering if emancipation of all slaves of members was to be official policy. Benezet at the Meeting, rises "with a crucified expression, and, weeping like Hosea for the sins of his people voiced the plaint of an oppressed race asking for justice, admonishing the Meeting with the words: "Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God." (Pslams 68:31, as reported by Brookes) After he is done, the Yearly Meeting decides to proceed with emancipation the official policy. He writes Some Historical Accounts of Guinea. He keeps a correspondence with John Wesley, one of the founders of the Methodists, who publishes in 1774, Thoughts on Slavery, which borrows phrases from Benezet's Guinea. The preacher George Whitefield, another founder of the Methodists, was a visitor of Benezet's in Philadelphia (he had known Anthony's father in England). Other correspondents with Benezet included Granville Sharp, John Fothergill, Benjamin Frankin (who was also a friend). Ben Franklin, it is said, was turned against slavery after observing Benezet's black students learning to read and write in the 1750s. It was Benezet who induced Benjamin Rush to take an active role in the crusade against slavery.

1776. Benezet worked to prevent war at the outbreak of the Revolution. He wrote, partly as a justification for the neutrality of the Quakers,
"War, considered in itself, is the premeditated and determined destruction of human beings, of creatures originally formed after the image of God, and whose preservation, for that reason, is secured by heaven itself within the sence of this righteous law, that at the hand of every man's brother, the life of man shall be required.

The consequences of war, when impartially examined, will be found big, not only with outward and temporal distress, but also with an evil that extends itself even into the regions of eternity. That property is confounded, scattered and destroyed; that laws are trampled under foot, government despised, and the ties of all civil and domestic order broken into pieces; that fruitful countries are made deserts, and stately cities a heap of ruins; that matrons and virgins are violated; and neither the innocence of unoffending infancy, nor the impotence of decrepit age, afford protection from the rage and thirst for blood; this is but the mortal progeny of this teeming womb of mischief; the worst, even the dreadful effect it has upon the immortal soul, is still behind; and tho' remote from those senses and passions that are exercised only by present good and evil, must yet, upon the least reconcilliation, impress with horror every mind that believes there is a righteous God, and a state of retribution that is to last forever.

How far, as followers of a Saviour who enjoins us to love one another, even to love our enemies, and who finally gave up his life for our salvation, we can readily continue in a war, whereby so many thousands and tens of thousands of our fellow men, equally with ourselves the objects of redeeming grace, are brought to a miserable and untimely end; not to mention the corruption of manners, the waste of substance, etc. thereby introduced, is a matter which certainly calls for the most serious consideration of those, who retain the least love for mankind."
1777. He writes, as clerk of a committee with other Quakers, Some Observations Relating to the Establishment of Schools and Some Necessary Remarks on the Education of the Youth in the Country Parts written to encourage literacy throughout Pennsylvania.

1778 He writes for use in schools A First Book for Children, The Pennsylvania Spelling Book and An Essay on Grammar. These books, besides teaching reading, spelling and grammar were full of moral lessons, thus serving a double purpose. They were used in many schools in Pennsylvania and went through more than one printing.

1779. He proposes the following courses be taught in the schools: Penmanship, English Grammar, Arithmetic, Mensuration of Superfices and Solids, preparing the way for Mathematics, A short but very plain set of Merchants Accompts in single entry (basic Accounting), a general knowledge of the Mechanical Powers, Geography, Plain elements of Astronomy, History, and Anatomy by a course of lectures. In other words, he wanted to give his students a practical course in knowledge that they could use, combined with an understanding of what science had contributed at that time to the understanding of the universe. Latin, a staple of schools at that time, was left out as less useful. (Vaux, pages 25-7)

1780. His Short Account of the People Called Quakers is published. The Plainness and Innocent Simplicity of the Christian Religion is published.

1780, 1 March. The act to gradually abolish slavery in Pennsylvania is passed. No child of any race born in Pennsylvania after Novermber 1, 1780 was made a slave for life. Slaves had to be registered or they were free, and Anthony's brother James, a non-Quaker slave holder in Bucks County, registered several slaves along with James' son Samuel Benezet. Anne Benezet (James' daughter) manumitted her slave.

1781. Short Observations on Slavery by the Abbe Raynal was published, with an introduction by Benezet.

1784. Some observations on the situation, disposition, and character of the Indian Natives is published.

1784, 3 May. Anthony Benezet dies. His works are the acknowledged inspiration for Thomas Clarkson who worked successfully with Wilberforce and others to end the slave trade in the British Empire. He was buried at the Friends Burial Ground in Philadelphia.

Roberts Vaux:

"His will, in his own hand writing, executed on the fourth day of the Third Month, 1784, bequeaths his estate to his wife during her natural life, and, at her death, directs the payment of several legacies to poor and obscure persons, in sums of from two to five pounds. The residue, he devises in trust to the overseers of the public school, 'To hire and employ a religious minded person or persons, to teach a number of negro, mulatto, or Indian children, to read, write, arithmetic, plain accounts, needle work, etc., and it is my particular desire, founded on the experience I have had in that service, that in the choice of such tutor, special care may be had to prefer an industrious, careful person, of true piety, who may be or become suitably qualified, who would undertake the service from a principle of charity, to one more highly learned not equally disposed.'

In a codicil to that instrument, executed three days previously to his demise, he directs his books to be given to 'the library of Friends, in Philadelphia.' They amounted to nearly two hundred volumes, principally on religious and medical subjects. He also bequeathed to the 'Pennsyvlania society for promoting the abolition of slavery, etc.' the sum of fifty pounds."
Anthony Benezet and family in the Quaker records:

Philadelphia 1736, 3, 13. Anthony son of J. Stephen of Philadelphia married Joyce Marriott of Philadelphia at Philadelphia Meeting.

Philadelphia 5-12-1738. Mary, daughter of Anthony and Joyce, buried.

Philadelphia 1739, 2, 28 Joyce requested a certificate.

Philadelphia 1739, 3, 26. Anthony and wife Joyce got a certificate to Wilmington MM.

Philadelphia 1743, 3, 27. Anthony and wife Joyce received on certificate from Abington MM.

Philadelphia 1743, 4, 23. Anthony, son of Anthony died.

Burlington 1766, 7, 7. Anthony & wife Joyce, received on certificate from Philadelphia MM dated 1766, 6, 27.

Burlington 1767, 4, 6. Anthony & Joyce got a certificate to Philadelphia MM. Received 1767, 4, 27.

Philadelphia 5-4-1784. Anthony Benezet buried, age 72.

Philadelphia, 7-9-1786. Joyce Benezet buried, age 74.

Source: William Wade Hinshaw, Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy, Volume II (Edwards Bros. Inc., 1938)

Will Abstracts

More detail for the will of Anthony is given above...

BENEZET, ANTHONY, of Phila. Teacher of the free school. March 4, 1784. May 19, 1784. Philadelphia, Book Q. 482
Wife: Joyce.
Kinsman Joseph Marriot, (schoolmaster of Burlington, NJ);
nieces Mary and Charity Pyrlens (of Bethleham); the Public School of Phila.
Execs.: Joyce Benezet, Jas. Pemberton, John Field, Samuel Pleasants,
Richard Wells, Henry Drinker, David Evans and James Cresson.
Wit: Zacharia Jess, Jos. and Elizabeth Clark.
Codicil. April 30, 1784.
Wit: Joseph Parrish and Joseph Clark.
John Field, Jas. Starr; Thos. Harrison; Negro Margaret Till; servant Barbarry Brown; Mary Reiner (Remer?); Margaret Brizo; Mary Vincent; Pelagie Minot; the Quaker Library of Phila.

Anthony's father:

BENEZET, JOHN STEVEN. Germantown, Co. of Philadelphia. Merchant. November 10, 1750. Proved May 20, 1751. Philadelphia book J.403.
Wife: Judith.
Children: Anthony, James, Philip, Judith, Marianna and Susanna.
Exec: Judity Benezet.
Wit: Christopher Sower, Senr., John Adam Gruber, Christopher Sower, Junr.

Anthony's mother:

BENEZET, JUDITH. City of Phila. Widow. July 8, 1754. Proved September 26, 1765. Philadelphia book N.
Children: Anthony, James, Philip, Daniel, Susanna Pyrlens, Judith Otto,
Mary Ann Lischey. Poor French Strangers.
Grandchildren: children of daughters Judith, Mary Ann and Susanna. Execs.: Anthony and Daniel Benezet.
Wit: John Drinker, John Wilson, Jos. Allicocke. N.411.

Anthony's brother:

Philadelphia W.186 No. 109 - 1791
BENEZET, Philip. City of Phil'a. Merchant. Signed Oct. 2. 1791. Wife- Sarah.
Daughter- Mary. Exec. Sarah and Mary Benezet, William Morris (Montgomery Co.)
Witnesses- Peter Thomson, Peter Thomson Junr. Prov'd. Dec. 6. 1791.

Source: Philadelphia PAGenWeb Archives
Arthur D'Adamo, 12/29/2020