The Origins of Isaac Knapp’s ‘The Negro Pew’

This call for stories and experiences by Christian churchgoers appeared in several issues of The Liberator while Isaac Knapp gathered material for his book.

Knapp’s completed book, based on his call for words on the topic, was titled  The ‘Negro Pew’: Being an Inquiry Concerning the Propriety of Distinctions in the House of God, on Account of Color and was published in Boston later in 1837.

The Negro Pew

It is intended, as soon as practicable, to publish a work with the above title, designed to show that the practice of making invidious distinctions in the House of God, is inconsistent with the Nature and Principles of the Gospel of Christ; injurious to the feelings, interests, and Souls of those who are affected by it; a reflection upon the Character of Christianity, and calculated to promote Infidelity: with answers to the common objections against breaking down these distinctions.

The Author, wishing to illustrate the subject with facts, would request his colored brethren to communicate such facts respecting their treatment in this respect, as they may have in their possession.

Address Isaac Knapp, at the Anti-Slavery Office, 46 Washington-street. All communications should be accompanied with responsible names, who can testify to every particular as stated.

Background Notes

The 1740s Great Awakening resulted in a great number of black converts, most of whom were slaves. The informal services of the Baptists and Methodists attracted the most blacks. Many black Christians moved towards Methodism because of its early antislavery position. By 1786, blacks made up about 10 percent of the Methodist church in the United States.

Isaac Knapp's The Negro Pew

Isaac Knapp's The Negro Pew

Although whites and blacks often worshiped together in the 18th century, blacks church attendees enjoyed no real freedom or equality–in the North or South. Most churches used a segregated seating system with the seating for blacks called the “Negro Pew” or the “African Corner“.

Such discrimination motivated blacks, where possible, to organize their own churches, though white leaders actively opposed that. On the eve of the American Revolution, the first black congregations appeared.

Isaac Knapp was an abolitionist publisher. When he was still a young printer he partnered with William Lloyd Garrison to found “The Liberator.”

Knapp became a publisher specializing in works on abolitionism and feminism. He published the Grimke sisters and several slave narratives. He was also one of the founders of the New England Anti-Slavery Society.


Collection: The Liberator
Publication: The Liberator
Date: January 2, 1837
Title: The ‘Negro Pew’
Location: Boston, Massachusetts

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