Reverend James Pennington Place

James William Charles Pennington (1807-1870) was an African American orator, minister, writer and abolitionist who served a congregation at what is now 90th Street and Corona Avenue in Queens, in the mid-19th century.

Born into slavery in Maryland, Pennington became an expert blacksmith and carpenter and taught himself to read, write and do math. In 1827, at age 19 he escaped via the Underground Railroad to Pennsylvania. In 1830, he traveled to Long Island, where he worked as a coachman and studied, teaching himself Greek and Latin, and devoted himself to Black education and antislavery. Pennington attended the first Negro National Convention in Philadelphia in 1829, and was a leading member, becoming the presiding officer in 1853. He was hired to teach school in Newtown (Elmhurst), and wishing further education, he became the first Black student to take classes at the Yale Divinity School, although he was not allowed to be listed as a student and was required to sit in the back row at lectures. Pennington was ordained as a minister in the Congregational Church and after completing his studies, he returned to Newtown to serve as a church pastor. In 1838, he officiated at the wedding of Frederick Douglass and Anna Murray.

Pennington continued to work as an educator, abolitionist and minister in the New York and Connecticut area. While working in Hartford he wrote "A Text Book Of The Origin And History Of The Colored People" (1841). In 1843 he attended the World's Antislavery Convention in London and toured Europe, giving antislavery speeches. His memoir, "The Fugitive Blacksmith," was first published in 1849 in London.


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Kari J. Winter, “JAMES W. C. PENNINGTON (1807-1870),”, March 8, 2007,

"Pennington, James W. C.," National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum, accessed January 17, 2023,

Additional information provided by James McMenamin.