Annals of the First African Church

Wm. DOUGLASS

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Item#: 121656 price:$5,500.00

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"THE FIRST BLACK CHURCH IN PHILADELPHIA AND ONE OF THE FIRST IN THE UNITED STATES": FIRST EDITION OF REVEREND WILLIAM DOUGLASS' ANNALS OF THE FIRST AFRICAN CHURCH IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA… THE AFRICAN EPISCOPAL CHURCH OF ST. THOMAS, AN EXCEPTIONAL COPY IN A PRESENTATON BINDING, COMPLETE WITH RARELY FOUND CARTE-DE-VISITE FRONTISPIECE PORTRAIT OF REVEREND DOUGLASS

DOUGLASS, Rev. Wm. Annals of the First African Church, in the United States of America, Now Styled The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, Philadelphia. In its connection with the Early Struggles of the Colored People to Improve their Condition, with the Co-operation of the Friends, and other Philanthropists; Partly Derived from the Minutes of a Beneficial Society, Established by Absalom Jones, Richard Allen and Others, in 1787, and Partly from the Minutes of the Aforesaid Church. Philadelphia: King & Baird, 1862. Small octavo (4-3/4 by 7-1/4 inches), early 20th-century red cloth, all edges gilt; pp. (i-ii), (1-3), 4-5, (i), (3), 4, (9), 10-13, (14-15), 16-172. Housed in a custom chemise and clamshell box. $5500.

First edition of Black abolitionist William Douglass' 1862 history, documenting the revolutionary beginnings of the Philadelphia church in the 1780s, the day it opened its doors in 1794, and its struggle to stand fast in a "slaveholding republic… where the prevailing sentiment was that Blacks were either innately handicapped or had been irreparably degraded by the experience of slavery," with rarely found frontispiece carte-de-visite of Reverend Douglass, who served as the second rector of the church following its founder, Reverend Absalom Jones, in a presentation binding.

"No pillar of the African American community has been more central to its history, identity and social justice vision than the 'Black Church'… the proving ground for the nourishing and training of a class of leaders" such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Gates, Black Church, 1, xxiii, 4). Seminal to that history is this rare work's documented chronicle of the emergence of Philadelphia's First African Church, which opened its doors in 1794, as the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, "making it the first black church in Philadelphia and one of the first in the country," with Reverend Absalom Jones "the first black Episcopal priest in the United States" (PBS). The church had its substantial beginnings in 1787, a year "known in American history primarily for the deliberations of the Constitutional Convention." That year, however, was also vital "for the growing community of former slaves in Philadelphia. In this year Jones and Richard Allen emerged as spokesmen among the city's Blacks." Their boldness "can be appreciated fully only if one understands the climate of opinion within which they operated… maneuvering within a slaveholding republic, where the prevailing sentiment… was that Blacks were either innately handicapped or had been irreparably degraded by the experience of slavery… With Jones leading them, the elders and deacons of the African Church of Philadelphia began to formalize the union with the Episcopal church… At the same time they secured internal control of their church through a constitution that gave them and their successors 'the power of choosing our minister and assistant minister.'" In mid-1794 "the African Church—renamed the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas—formally requested… Absalom Jones 'to act our minister'" and on July 17, 1794, "the African church of Philadelphia opened its doors for worship" (Nash, Forging Freedom, 99-128).

Notably featured here is the church's Preamble, whose early words make "clear the sharp racial identity that its members felt… 'We, the free Africans and their descendants, of the City of Philadelphia" (Nash, 98). Throughout are statements of support by Benjamin Franklin, Dr. Benjamin Rush and other prominent figures, along with coverage of the Free African Society, and detailed reports on the construction of the church "at the S.W. Corner of Fifth and Adelphi," which was still its home at the time of this work's publication in 1862. Included, as well, is a printing of a sermon delivered by Samuel Magaw, a white rector of St. Paul's, on the church's opening day in 1794. To historian Gary Nash, Magaw's patronizing speech stands as "a perfect display of white paternalism and Christian prejudice… Magaw emphasized the need for Black passivity… That the church had been founded amid discrimination and had arisen only when free Blacks defied the opposition of white churchmen received no mention" (128-129).

The book's author, Black abolitionist William Douglass, was rector of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas from 1834 until his death in 1862, the year of publication. He was also a leader in the Colored Conventions movement and a prominent educator at the Philadelphia Institute for Colored Youth. This presentation copy contains a carte-de-visite portrait, affixed in the position of a frontispiece opposite the title page, of Reverend Douglass. First edition: first printing. Mispaginated as issued without loss of text. Not in Blockson. Presentation binding with gilt-stamped "John W. Jones" on front board; his identity remains unverified. Within is a twentieth-century gift inscription to bibliophile Leon Gardiner from William H. Riley Jones, reading: "To my Highly Esteemed friend, Leon Gardiner, with all good wishes. Wm. H. Riley Jones, 4/7/36." With tiny bit of occasional underlining, annotations, marginalia.

Interior very fresh, faintest edge-wear to bright gilt-lettered cloth. A very handsome copy in fine condition.

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