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Rush's letter to Samuel Bayard

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Until the end of his life, Benjamin Rush continued to be an advocate among his elite contemporaries for Philadelphia's black community, as evidenced in a letter written to Samuel Bayard three years before Rush's death.

On October 23, 1810, Rush wrote to Bayard, a prominent resident of Princeton, New Jersey, to introduce "the Reverend Mr. Gloucester, an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church, [who] visits your town in order to obtain pecuniary aid to enable him to purchase the freedom of his wife and children."

Gloucester was a powerful preacher and a former Tennessee slave who had been brought to Philadelphia by his master in 1807. While white Presbyterians worked to obtain Gloucester's release from slavery, he founded the first black Presbyterian church in the United States. It would take another dozen years for Gloucester to raise enough money to buy his family.

In a postscript, Rush encouraged support for building more African churches and "purchasing evangelical ministers and their families." Perhaps noting the dramatic increase of blacks to 45% of the prison population in 1810 -- from a low of 3.5% just eight years earlier -- Rush suggested that "It will be cheaper to build churches for them than jails. Without the former, the latter will be indispensably necessary for them."

The black churches did indeed serve to reduce crime by attending to both the spiritual and the material needs of their destitute congregants; the majority of Philadelphia's black prisoners were migrants who had been convicted of petty thefts, usually of items such as food and clothing.

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