Class of 1978 Pavilion
Sixth floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library
Please join us Monday, October 24th, for the next meeting of the Workshop in the History of Material Texts. We will convene at our usual time and place: 5:15pm in the Class of 1978 Pavilion in the Kislak Center on the 6th Floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library.
We will be welcoming Joseph Rezek (English, Boston University) for a talk entitled “The Lost Sermon of David Margrett (1775), Black Moses”
This talk will tell the fascinating story of a lost material text: the transcript of a sermon given by the radical black preacher David Margrett, who ministered among enslaved people in Georgia and South Carolina on the eve of the American Revolution. In England in the early 1770s, Margrett came to the attention of the Countess of Huntingdon, the British evangelical patron of early black writers Phillis Wheatley, James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, and John Marrant. Huntingdon’s patronage of black authors followed her inheritance of George Whitefield’s orphanage, plantation, and forty-nine enslaved Africans in Bethesda, Georgia, in 1770 – an event that put America “much on [her] heart.” Soon she sent Margrett across the Atlantic to be a missionary among Africans and their descendants, including her own slaves. While preaching to bondsmen and women in Bethesda and Charleston, Margrett “raise[d] rebellion among the negroes,” as one local observer put it, and “put it in his head that he was sent here to be a second Moses.” Warrants were soon issued for his arrest, the white man who let him preach was called before a grand jury, Margrett was secreted back to England under the threat of lynching, and all ties between him and the Huntingdon Connexion were severed forever.
Fragments of Margrett’s still non-extant sermon survive only in letters written by Huntingdon’s agents and associates in the American colonies. Those letters reveal that a transcript had been produced by an observer of his preaching and was passed around at the Provincial Congress in Charleston in 1775 and then sent to England for examination. This talk will consider the lost transcription as a highly suggestive counterexample to the kinds of black texts the Countess of Huntingdon published in this period, including Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects (1773). When considered in light of Huntingdon’s effort to promote black authors as she increased her property in slaves, Margrett’s sermon is instructive as act of resistance; as an illustration of the contingencies of the archive, in its status as a lost object; and, through its compelling adjacency to other early black Atlantic texts, as a reminder of the radical limitations of print under the wing of the Huntingdon Connexion.
Joseph Rezek is Assistant Professor of English at Boston University, where he specializes in British and American literature of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, early black Atlantic print culture, and the history of the book. He is the author of numerous essays as well as London and the Making of Provincial Literature: Aesthetics and the Transatlantic Book Trade, 1800-1850, published in the University of Pennsylvania Press’s Material Text Series. He is currently an NEH Post-doctoral fellow at the Library Company of Philadelphia, where he is researching his second book project, Early Black Writing and the Politics of Print.