|This portrait of Samuel
Hopkins is on display in
our Reading Room, above
the door to the stacks.
"Are not the African slaves among us the poor, the strangers, the fatherless, who are oppressed and vexed, and sold for silver? And will not God visit and punish such oppression? Are you willing to be instruments of bringing judgments and ruin on this land, and on yourselves and families, rather than let the oppressed go out free?"
— Samuel Hopkins, A dialogue concerning
the slavery of the Africans, p.65
January 1st marked the 150th anniversary of the President Lincoln's delivery of the Emancipation Proclamation. Nationwide, commemoration of the anniversary has included a website dedicated to the history of the proclamation put up by the National Archives with images of the original draft, a PBS documentary series exploring of the lives of prominent abolitionists, and a limited edition stamp put out by the United States Postal Service.
As special attention is paid to the Emancipation Proclamation on this anniversary, it affords a welcome opportunity to delve deeper into the history of slavery and the abolitionist movement in America. At the Congregational Library and Archive, we are fortunate to hold many documents that illustrate the debate over slavery as it happened, from the colonial era, up through the Civil War. One document of particular interest is a pamphlet, written by Samuel Hopkins, entitled A dialogue concerning the slavery of the Africans: shewing it to be the duty and interest of the American states to emancipate all their African slaves: with an address to the owners of such slaves. (The pamphlet was originally published in 1776; the library holds a later edition, printed in 1785.)
Hopkins, a Congregationalist minister, studied under Jonathan Edwards and later rose to prominence as a theologian and an early advocate for ending slavery. He spent much of his career preaching at the First Congregational Church of Newport, Rhode Island and from that pulpit, he began to denounce slavery. Notably, under Hopkins direction, the congregation voted to exclude slave holders in 1784. His pamphlet against slavery stands out as one of the first anti-slavery writings by a Congregationalist minister giving it an important place in the history of Congregationalism as well as the history of the abolitionist movement. While Hopkins died in 1803, sixty years before the Emancipation Proclamation, as a pioneer of the abolitionist cause, his contributions should not be forgotten.