- The Atlantic World of Anthony Benezetby Université Paris Diderot and Université Paris 8-Vincennes
In the international context of renewed interest in early North American antislavery and Quakerism, it is ironic that the only tribute to Anthony Benezet (1713-84), especially one celebrating the three-hundredth anniversary of his birth, would be held in France, the very country that exiled his family. Benezet was born in Saint-Quentin in 1713 and settled in Philadelphia in 1731, where he converted to the Quaker faith. His ideas had a major influence on late eighteenth-century Quaker communities and other antislavery activists on both sides of the Atlantic. In focusing on the first antislavery propagandist of modern times, this bilingual conference also enriches our understanding of the largely unexplored French Atlantic dimensions of Quakerism.
Addressing everything from Benezet's genealogy to the Huguenot diaspora in all its diversity, "The Atlantic World of Anthony Benezet" built numerous bridges. Academics and students from all over Europe and North America joined with members of the Quaker community. Emerging researchers shared panels with established scholars (including Maurice Jackson, Bertand Van Ruymbeke, Randy Sparks, and Marie-Jeanne Rossignol). Participants emerged from various disciplines (including history, genealogy, sociology, religion, and literature) to employ multiple historiographies (including antislavery studies, Quakerism, Protestantism, and Huguenot studies). This diversity made for highly engaging discussions—in sessions, coffee breaks, and other informal gatherings. This review provides a brief overview of what these scholars had to offer.
Though most papers were given in English, the first panel, "The French Origins of Anthony Benezet," was in French, with English summations [End Page 263]provided by the conference organizers. Bernard Douzil explored the Benezet ancestors' regional origins in relation to textile production, while Didier Boisson discussed the family's departure for the Refuge (a term used to refer to the diaspora of French Huguenots following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685) in the context of disproportionate urban persecution. Jeanne-Henriette Louis closed the session by suggesting that although Benezet never met William Penn, who died thirteen years before his arrival in Pennsylvania, he could be seen as one of Penn's transatlantic heirs for his faith in education, religion, nonviolence, and abolitionism.
Social historian Bertrand Van Ruymbeke delivered a vibrant first plenary lecture on the Benezet family's emigration to Philadelphia via Rotterdam and London. Its provocative title, "Was Anthony Benezet a Huguenot? Putting Benezet Back into the Refuge," pointed at the void that surrounds Benezet in French historiography. In his discussion of why Benezet is better known as a Philadelphia Quaker than a French Huguenot refugee, Van Ruymbeke situated Benezet's conversion in the context of religious instability, personal agency, faith, and social network. By the end of the talk, Antoine Bénézet had become Anthony Benezet.
The next panel focused on Benezet's influence on American Quaker abolitionists, with a special emphasis on African-American education and the difficulty of reconciling abolitionist ideals with economic interests. Anne-Claire Faucquez compared Benezet's educational ideas with those of fellow Huguenot refugee Elias Neau (1662-1722), demonstrating that both men had a lasting influence on the instruction of black pupils at the turn of the nineteenth century. Jerry Frost argued convincingly that the influence of Benezet's ideas was not as sudden as we might imagine, given that his status as a "weighty friend" depended on authorities' trust of his endurance in the community. Richard C. Allen focused on Nantucket Quakers' difficulty trading as neutrals in the revolutionary wars to argue that Benezet's support for pacifism and abolitionism posed a challenge to eighteenth-century economic policy. Sue Kozel provided another interesting example of the conflict between interests and ideals through the entertaining case study of Richard Waln (1737-1809), a lesser known and "complicated" Quaker who first chose to sell his wife's inherited slave instead of freeing her and "to earn his money in sugar, rum, and slave-made products from the Caribbean," before evolving "toward...