Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History
American to the Backbone: The Life of James W. C. Pennington, the Fugitive Slave Who Became One of the First Black Abolitionists
American to the Backbone: The Life of James W. C. Pennington, the Fugitive Slave Who Became One of the First Black Abolitionists. By Christopher L. Webber. (New York: Pegasus Books, 2011, Pp. 480. $29.95.)
Christopher Webber, known by Episcopalians as the author of a number of excellent manuals for vestries, liturgical commentaries, as well as a metrical psalter, has launched into new territory, chronicling the life of an African American abolitionist, James William Charles Pennington. Pennington was a teacher on Long Island, eventually finding his way to Yale Divinity School in 1833 where he was treated in paternalistic fashion but showed great promise and competence. He was ordained in the Congregational Church in 1838 and served a church in Newtown, Long Island, where he taught previously. The book reveals the tensions between the inclusion of free blacks into American society and the colonization movement. Pennington struggled with the emigration issue; he was, after all, an American by birth, "American to the backbone," as was his father, Bazil. Tensions between William Lloyd Garrison and Lewis Tappan are a frequent theme throughout the book.
One is struck with Pennington's three ministerial affiliations and the fluidity and ease with which he apparently moved between them. He was ordained in the Congregational church and made a transition to Presbyterian ministry at Shiloh Church in New York City. Later, when serving in the South (Natchez, Mississippi, among other places), after the Civil War, Pennington made another transition, this time to the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). …